Cleveland Browns Redraft:1999

I’m a Cleveland Browns fan. Always have been. That said, following my favorite team has been more heartache than celebration. The move to Baltimore to become the Ravens was the worst, worse than the AFC Championship games against the Broncos. Since the team was “reborn” in 1999, its been more heartache. In nine years, the team has had two winning seasons, one playoff appearance (where they blew a huge lead and lost), three head coaches, two general managers (three if you count Davis as one as coach), up until this past year only one Pro Bowl player, and a huge amount of disappointment.

During the draft season in April, I began thinking how horrible of a job the Browns have done drafting players during those first six years, and seeing why the team has struggled as much as they have. The more I thought about it, and looked through the draft histories on, the more that point hit home. For my own sanity, I decided to play Fantasy GM and go back in time to correct the problem.

I’m going to make a lot of assumptions. First, that the available players don’t change very much based on the changed picks of the Browns. I’m also assuming that the Browns draft position doesn’t change much the first couple of years from what they actually were (especially 2000 and 2001 drafts). Also that the players would have been just as productive with the Browns as they were with the teams that they actually played for. I’m also going to assume I can make a blockbuster draft deal in 1999 and sign a couple of free agents (one particularly) that went somewhere else in 1999 and had productive careers.

I also contemplated the idea of starting the franchise a year earlier in 1998. The Browns would have been off to an incredible start with a draft for the ages (based on 1999 draft picks). Imagine drafting Peyton Manning (QB, eight Pro Bowls), Patrick Surtain (CB, three Pro Bowls), Jeremiah Trotter (OLB, four Pro Bowls), Ahman Green (RB, four Pro Bowls), Hines Ward (WR, four Pro Bowls), Matt Birk (C, six Pro Bowls), London Fletcher (MLB, three Pro Bowls), and a couple of other solid starters. But since the team came about in 1999, that’s where I’ll start.

Front Office and Coaching Staff

Looking back, here’s where the problems all started. Dwight Clark as General Manager was a complete disaster. He was horrible in hiring both coaches and drafting players. In his stead, I would bring in Kevin Colbert as Director of Football Operations. He’s been nothing short of spectacular in that role with the Steelers. Here’s a great example of why the Steelers are one of the best franchises in the NFL — they hire great people to run the organization.

Next would be the head coach. The Brown’s first new coach, Chris Palmer was a disappointment. Few may remember that he was the ugly stepchild choice for coach. The Browns were pushing hard for Brian Billick to take the head coaching job. But when he said he wanted to interview for the Ravens position before making a decision, Policy threw a tantrum and said that he was no longer considered a candidate. I’m not a fan of Billick, nor was I ever. But there were several other better candidates than Palmer to turn to. My initial list of candidates (in order of preference) would be these five coaches:

  • Andy Reid. Quarterbacks Coach and Assistant Head Coach with the Packers, Reid was hired ass head coach by the Eagles in 1999. Although initially criticized by the fans as a bad choice, Reid was amassed seven winning seasons, five division championships, and a Super Bowl appearance in ten years.
  • Marvin Lewis. Defensive Coordinator for the Ravens, Lewis built the Baltimore defense into one of the most dominating forces in league history. He missed out on several head coaching positions before being hired by the Bengals in 2003. Although he’s only had one winning season in six years, the struggles are more due to the poor ownership and questionable personnel decisions than his coaching ability.
  • Russ Grimm. In my opinion, one of the most underrated assistants in the NFL during the last decade. Grimm has interviewed for a number of head coaching positions, but not winning any of them. He’s established himself as one of the best offensive line coaches in the league, and well deserving of a head coaching opportunity.
  • Jim Haslett. Defensive Coordinator of the Steelers, Haslett would be hired by the Saints as head coach in 2000. He is the only Saints coach in their history to win a playoff game. After six years, Haslett was let go by New Orleans following a dreadful year that few head coaches could have been successful with the adversity the Saints faced in 2005.
  • Gary Kubiak. Offensive Coordinator for the Broncos, Kubiak helped build one of the most effective offenses in the NFL for nearly a decade, despite having massive personnel turnover during that period. He became the Texans second coach in their brief history in 2006, and has gradually improved the team each year.

Free Agent Signings

Now let’s tackle the players. First off, we need to get an element of veteran leadership. The advantage of a “new” team is that you don’t have any money locked up in players salaries yet, so you have more to work with than most, if not all, other teams in the league. Here are a couple of key players I would aggressively pursue:

  • LB Jamir Miller. Cleveland did sign Miller from Arizona to be the cornerstone of their defense, and the investment paid off. Granted, the defense wasn’t great during the three years Miller played with the Browns (before an Achilles injury forced his retirement), but he was effective. Miller was elected to his only Pro Bowl following the 2001 season, and was the “new” Browns’ only Pro Bowl player until 2007.
  • CB Corey Fuller. Another actual Browns signing, Fuller did a good job during his three years with the Browns.
  • G Adam Timmerman. Timmerman was a key blocker for the Packers and Brett Favre during their Super Bowl runs in the ’90s, and signed with the Rams in 1999, where he played a key part in transforming their offense into the “Greatest Show on Turf.” He would come at a high price, but worth the money to be the veteran anchor on the offensive line. Timmerman made his only Pro Bowl appearance in 2001 with the Rams.
  • C Jeff Saturday. Saturday originally signed with the Ravens as an undrafted free agent in 1998, but was waived before the season started. He signed with Indianapolis the following offseason, where he went on to protect Peyton Manning since, earning three consecutive Pro Bowl selections (2005-2007).
  • QB Kerry Collins. The Browns need a veteran quarterback, at the very least to get clobbered until a true franchise QB can be drafted and protected behind a decent offensive line. Cleveland traded for Ty Detmer, and that was a disaster. Detmer was benched following the season opener, and watched as potential-franchise QB Tim Couch got clobbered behind a terrible line. I considered other free agent QBs such as Rich Gannon and Trent Green, whom both went on to have great careers with other teams since. But Collins is the most mobile of the three, which is important, and he had the most to prove at this point. He was a high draft pick for the Panthers and actually took them to the playoffs in his second year. However, 1998 was a disastrous year for him, both on and off the field. Collins would have come cheap, and would work hard to move past the previous year.
  • QB Jeff Garcia. Garcia was never drafted by the NFL and spent his first five years as a professional in the Canadian Football League. He signed with San Francisco in the 98-99 offseason, became the Niner’s full-time starter the following season, and has had a very good career. Although I would tab Collins as my starter, Garcia would make a good back-up.
  • QB Jake Delhomme. Undrafted in 1997, Delhomme spent the next couple of years on the Saints practice squad, participating in NFL Europe. He eventually left as a free agent to sign with Carolina and become their starter ever since.
  • K Phil Dawson. Another actual signing that worked out for the Browns. Dawson has been one of the few bright spots during an otherwise disappointing return of the Browns to the NFL.
  • P Chris Gardocki Originally signed by Cleveland as well, Gardocki, along with Dawson, were some of the most consistent kickers during the Browns early years since returning to the league.

Expansion Draft

With a core of quality veterans in place, let’s now turn our attention to the draft. Cleveland started out with an expansion draft, picking from the castaways and over-priced, past-their-prime veterans that the other teams made available. Needless to say, the Browns got very little from this other than players to fill out their roster. There was one oversight though. The St. Louis Rams made available a little-known quarterback that played primarily in the Arena League, Kurt Warner. I would make him a priority in the expansion draft, giving me four good quarterbacks on the team before I even hit the draft. Assuming Trent Green would still suffer his season-ending injury in preseason, I would then be willing to trade Warner back to St. Louis for future draft picks and/or ILB London Fletcher.

Pre-Draft Trades

The Browns traded two fourth round picks and a fifth round pick to San Francisco for a later fourth rounder, QB Ty Detmer and FB Marc Edwards. Neither trade worked out for Cleveland, so let’s scrap that deal. They also gave up a sixth round pick and two seventh-rounders to Chicago for a sixth-rounder. I’ll go through with that trade, as well as the one with Seattle, giving up an early sixth round pick for two later in that round.

The big draft trade in 1999 was between the New Orleans Saints and Washington Redskins. The Saints, under the direction of head coach Mike Ditka, swapped first round picks with the Redskins, and also parted with the remainder of their 1999 draft picks (3-7) and their first and third picks in 2000 to move up seven spots to select RB Ricky Williams. History shows they originally tried to pull off the trade with Cincinnati (3rd pick) for all their 1999 picks, 2000 and 2001 first round picks, and 2002 second round pick. I’m assuming I can make the exact deal offered to the Bengals, and slide down to the twelfth slot in the first round while picking up additional picks in rounds 3-7. I would also lobby for giving up the 2002 pick in exchange for defensive tackle La’Roi Glover.

I would also attempt to make a couple of trades to build a solid running game from the start. The first deal would be with Seattle for running back Ahman Green, a 1998 draft pick that played very little his rookie year. Seattle traded him to Green Bay the following year for a fifth-round pick and DB Greg Vinson, and also giving up a sixth-round pick. I would offer the fourth and seventh round picks from the New Orleans trade for Green. The other trade I would try to do would be giving up my last fourth round pick (110) to Kansas City for fullback Tony Richardson. Richardson was undrafted in 1994 and signed with the Cheifs in 1995. He would eventually be elected to four Pro Bowls (2003, 2004, 2005, 2007) blocking for Priest Holmes and Adrian Peterson.

Another trade I would attempt is with the Buffalo Bills. I would offer my fifth-round pick (148) for DT Pat Williams. Williams, an undrafted free agent the Bills signed in 1997, played very little to this point of his career. He, however, earned a starting spot by 2001 and played well. He signed with the Vikings  in 2005 and was elected to the Pro Bowl three times since. Another deal that I would attempt, although may be harder to pull off, is trading for De Jason Taylor at Miami. After his second year in the league, Taylor had an impressive 1998 season with nine sacks. I would be willing to part with one of the later third-round picks for Taylor. With those deals in place, here’s the draft picks I have (original Browns selections shown):

Round Number Player
1 12 (from New Orleans)
2 32 WR Kevin Johnson
2 45 LB Rahim Abdullah
3 62 DB Daylon McCutcheon
3 71 (from New Orleans)
3 78 DB Marquis Smith
4 99 (originally traded to SF)
5 139 (originally traded to SF)
5 144 (from New Orleans)
6 174 DT Marcus Spriggs
6 179 (from New Orleans)
6 187 LB Kendall Ogle
6 191 TE James Dearth
7 207 RB Madre Hill

That gives me 15 total picks in the draft, seven more than the original Browns draft. Looking back at the actual 1999 draft, its not exaggerating to say it was a disaster. Out of the original eleven picks, only four players had a career lasting longer than five years (Johnson, McCutcheon, Rainer and Dearth), and only one still active (Dearth). None of them came close to making the Pro Bowl. Let’s see what it could have been like:

1999 Redraft

Round Number Original Pick New Pick
1 12 none DE Jevon Kearse

Drafted by the Tennessee Titans as the 16th pick of the first round, Kearse showed his skilled immediately as a rookie, recording 14.5 sacks and eight forced fumbles, and named NFL Defensive Rookie of the Year. He was also named Defensive Rookie of the Month all but one month during the 1999 season. Kearse netted at least 10 sacks during his first three years, which earned him Pro Bowl selections in 1999, 2000, and 2001. He missed most of the 2002 season with a season-opening injury, but returned in 2003 to make 9.5 sacks.

Round Number Original Pick New Pick
2 32 WR Kevin Johnson T Jon Jansen

Although Johnson was a good choice and a productive player, but I believe in the philosophy that new need to start with building your lines. We started with defense in round 1, now we move to the offensive side. Jansen was a solid starter immediately for the Redskins, and didn’t miss a single game until 2004, when he ruptured his left Achilles in preseason. He then came back in 2005 and missed only one game the next two years, then broke his ankle in the season opener of 2007 and was out for the rest of that year.

Round Number Original Pick New Pick
2 45 LB Rahim Abdullah G Randy Thomas

A second round pick, Thomas started immediately for the Jets, and has been a solid anchor for the Jets and Redskins throughout his career. During his four years with the Jets, he started every game but three (in 2001) due to an injury. In 2003, Thomas signed with Washington, playing in all but three games his first four years with the team. In only played in three games during the 2007 season, but returned in 2008 to start every game that year.

Round Number Original Pick New Pick
3 62 DB Daylon McCutcheon OLB Joey Porter

Porter was drafted by the Steelers and was a starter from 2000 to 2006, when he signed with the Dolphins, where he continues to play. He went to the Pro Bowl in 2002, 2004, 2005 and 2008.

Round Number Original Pick New Pick
3 71 none WR Marty Booker

Drafted by the Bears in the third round, Booker had his breakout year in 2001 when he caught 100 passes for 1,071 yards and eight scores. The following year he nabbed 97 receptions for 1,189 yards and six touchdowns, and earned his only Pro Bowl selection. He signed with Miami in 2004, where he played for four years before returning to Chicago in 2008.

Round Number Original Pick New Pick
3 78 DB Marquis Smith CB Mike McKenzie

Taken in the third round, Mike McKenzie was an instant starter at cornerback with the Packers until traded to New Orleans in 2004. He is still a starting cornerback with the Saints.

Round Number Original Pick New Pick
4 99 none DE Aaron Smith

Aaron Smith was drafted by Pittsburgh and became their regular starter in 2000. He went to the Pro Bowl in 2005 as an injury replacement.

Round Number Original Pick New Pick
5 139 none ILB Eric Barton

Drafted in the fifth round, Eric Barton became a starter for the Raiders in 2002, and signed with the Jets in 2004. From 2002 to 2006, he amassed over 100 tackles each season except for 2005, when he only played in four games due to injury.

Round Number Original Pick New Pick
5 144 none DT Kelly Gregg

Gregg was originally drafted by the Bengals in the sixth round, but was cut during training camp, and signed with the Eagles. He signed with the Ravens in 2001, and became the starter at Nose Tackle in 2002. Since then, he averages over 66 tackles and 2.5 sacks per year.

Round Number Original Pick New Pick
6 174 DT Marcus Spriggs TE Desmond Clark

Drafted in the sixth round by Denver, Desmond Clark has had a productive career with Denver, Miami and Chicago throughout his nine-year career. Since signing with Chicago in 2003, he’s missed only four games and averages 30 catches for 414 yards and three touchdowns. He was voted as a Pro Bowl alternate in 2005.

Round Number Original Pick New Pick
6 179 none WR Donald Driver

Drafted in the 7th round, Driver is a three-time Pro Bowler (2002, 2006, 2007) with career statistics of 577 receptions, 7989 yards and 43 touchdowns. He has at least 70 catches and over 1,000 yards six of the past seven years.

Round Number Original Pick New Pick
6 187 LB Kendall Ogle C Todd McClure

McClure was originally drafted by the Falcons in the 7th round and became the starting Center midway through the 2000 season (he missed all of 1999 with an ACL tear), and has missed one game since. He’s started every game since 2002.

Round Number Original Pick New Pick
6 191 TE James Dearth G Jamar Nesbit

Undrafted, Jamar Nesbit became a starter for Carolina in 2000, and missed only two games until he left for Jacksonville in 2003. Moving to New Orleans in 2004, he is an anchor on the Saints offensive line, playing in every game from 2003-2007. In 2008 he missed nine games due to injury.

Round Number Original Pick New Pick
7 207 RB Madre Hill LS Mike Schneck

Mike Schneck was undrafted and signed with the Steelers in 1999, where he played until 2004. He then played with Buffalo for two years before signing with Atlanta in 2007. He went to the Pro Bowl as a special teams selection in 2005.

1999 Wrapup:

With fifteen picks, three have made multiple Pro Bowl appearances (Kearse, Porter, Driver), with four others making it once (Booker, Smith, Morey, Schneck). The redraft duplicates  just about every single position taken in the actual 1999 draft (one less linebacker and defensive back), but also addresses two areas the actual draft didn’t cover, defensive end and offensive line. That’s big, considering how many talented offensive linemen came out of that draft. So in comparison, the redraft puts the actual picks of 1999 to shame. Granted, any team can look back and see what they overlooked. But its clear by looking at this initial draft, the Browns did a horrible job of evaluating talent that first year in attempting to build a team. Outside of a few players, you can even go so far as saying this first draft was a complete waste of time and hurt the team more than helped. Next, we’ll tackle year 2 with the 2000 draft.

Five for Friday 2008.04.09

I have grossly neglected posting for awhile, but things have been a bit busy lately. To try and get into a routine of posting, I will attempt to at least give a weekly posting of other links that caught my eye from the past week.

Blue Flavor Redesigns

The folks at Blue Flavor, a Seattle-based interactive agency, have redeisgned there site. Keith has a great write up on the design and latest happenings there.

British Royal Mint Coin Redesign

Just beautiful. Compare that to the changes on the U.S. five dollar bill.

2008 Logo Design Trends

Nothing too surprising, and honestly, I think some of these were getting dated in 2007.

99designs: Bullshit 2.0

Scary post by Kevin Potts on the latest design service. Freelancers beware!

30 Must See Comment Designs for Web Designers

Nice collection of comment designs from Blog Design.

Design in Crisis

I’ve been noticing lately an alarming trend of horrid design and advertising. This is more than just your typical, idiotic car dealership ad. This is permeating even the upper levels of advertising. Think about it, can you really remember a single ad from this past year’s Super Bowl that blew you away by its creativity? Hell, I can’t remember a single ad over the last three or four years, much less anything of quality. The web is especially sensitive to bad design, but othes have written about it more recently, so I won’t touch on that subject.

One area of design and advertising that’s been alarmingly bad lately is outdoor advertising, whether its billboards or vehicle. Some bad trends I’ve noticed, primarily with the latest LED billboards is the cramming of anything and everything possible into the screen. And with both print billboards and vehicles especially, the abuse of vanity numbers … where someone uses the phone numbers to spell out a word. What some people don’t seem to understand with outdoor advertising, is that your audience has somewhere between two and five seconds to pick up your message, and that’s competing heavily with environmental distractions, like traffic. Too many businesses approach outdoor advertising the same as print, thinking the same rules apply. They don’t. People have less time to take in the message, and usually have to recall it from memory. This is where vanity numbers hurt. Unless its something easy to remember, they won’t. Vanity numbers that don’t follow the standard flow of phone numbers (3-3-4), will be quickly forgotten.

Why is this becoming more and more of a problem? This is all speculation, but I think the ease of access and cost to design and multimedia software is a big part of it. Go back 10-15 years ago. A lot of design was still put together by hand (paste up, lettersetting, etc.). Design software was limited, at least compared to today, and expensive. I am in no way blaming companies like Adobe, Quark and Microsoft (alright, maybe we can blame Microsoft a bit). I’m glad they’ve produced the software they have over the years, and that its getting more and more affordable every year. In this cost-conscious era, being able to afford quality design software is one less reason to think companies can do it themselves instead of paying huge fees to agencies. That didn’t used to be an option.

What’s the solution then? Honestly, I think the burden lies on the true professional designers. We need to do a better job educating and communicating with businesses about strategy, execution, and trends, as well as the quality of good design. We need to convince businesses that even though they probably know there business better than anyone else and they can afford to do certain design and marketing themselves, going that route can do more harm than good. This is where Return On Investment (ROI) comes into play. Does the money companies save by going in-house or to the lowest bidder translate into better communication to potential customers and hence, more sales and profit? Those of us that can do this are the ones that will not only survive this crisis, but be far better for it.

Determination Reaps Rewards

This past Saturday in the business section, The Columbus Dispatch ran an article about troubled tanning-salon chain under fire. I have very little interest in the legal issues of the Hottie Body franchise, but something did catch my eye. The article began talking about a woman who wanted to open a franchise and ran into problems:

Cindi Colley was on track to open her first business this spring, a Hottie Body tanning salon franchise. She had retail space arranged in a prime location in the South Campus Gateway development and had invested thousands, including a $25,000 franchise fee to the parent company of Hottie Body, a Columbus-based tanning salon owner and franchiser. But midway through construction on the site, “it became apparent that the parent company wasn’t going to keep their end of the bargain,” Colley said, leaving her unable to open her salon.

The article then preceeds to describe the Hottie Body legal issues. But like good writing, the article comes back to our “heroine”:

Colley, who had planned to open a Hottie Body location on N. High Street near the Ohio State University campus, has since made arrangements to open a tanning salon there under a different name, said Steve Sterrett, spokesman for Campus Partners for Community Urban Redevelopment, developer of the South Campus Gateway. Her salon, No Tan Lines, opened yesterday.

If you’ve seen my previous post, you probably now know why this article caught my eye, and I am blogging about it. About two months ago, I was introduced to Cyndi and learned not only of her dilemma with Hottie Body, but also her determination to open her business under her own name. I have had the fortunate pleasure to put together for her new tanning salon, No Tan Lines, a simple, one-page web site, business cards, and promotional flyers over these last few months.

However, the biggest pleasure was to meet Cyndi and help her dream come to fruition. Congratulations on the grand opening, Cyndi! I know No Tan Lines will be successful based on your determination and hard work alone. And if anyone is in the Ohio State area, stop by No Tan Lines and say hi. To celebrate their grand opening, No Tan Lines is offering one free tan with any purchase (see store for details and restrictions).

New projects

Things have been extremely busy here for the last several months, to say the least. I’ve started and completed a lot of new projects over the last six months as well as attended SXSW 2007. Blog posts have been too few and far between to my liking, but when it comes between client and personal work, the paid side of things usually will win out. If you’ve frequented my portfolio occasionally these last few months, you may have noticed a few additions. This entry is purposed to give a little info about those. Without further ado, here’s what I’ve been up to (based on timeline):

Yahoo! Small Business
Services template designs

I actually completed this project back in the Fall of 2006, but I had to keep it under wraps until it went live in February. I designed three different templates for this project, but only one, “Mansfield,” is up there at this time. I will post something once the other two are live as well.
This project was great to work on and I’m really happy with the results. Thanks to Dirk Knemeyer and the staff at Involution Studios for bringing me into the fold on this. They are a great crew and were a lot of fun to work with. I’m also proud to mention that the two online ads that I’ve seen on the Yahoo! site has featured Mansfield in promoting this service.

tattletale Alarm Flash presentation

Launched in March, this project was a unique challenge for me because it pushed my familiarity with ActionScript to a new level. Many thanks to Paul Mayne for unduring countless emails in helping me navigate through some of the tougher areas of ActionScript.

The WaterMan web site

If you’ve frequented my portfolio section in the fall, you may have noticed this site under the web design section. The site has been under development for a number of months, and after a couple of rounds of content editing, finally made it live in March. This is one of those projects that are fun to work on because you learn so much about the product in the process. I’ll never look at water the same way again.

No Tan Lines web site

A single page web site for a small start-up tanning salon in the Ohio State University area. The goal was to market the salon more like a hip retail clothiers than another day-glo tanning store.

Inspired or Stolen?

The online design community has been in an uproar this week (and rightly so) over the apparent thievery of Dan Cederholm’s logo design for his design studio, Simplebits. There are several opinions on the matter, and I felt compelled to share mine.

Innocent coincidence?

Was the Simplebits logo stolen, or was it pure coincidence that the company in question, LogoMaid, happened to have a logo very similar? This is the same question that software giant, Quark, was asked over a year ago about their new logo design. Not long after it was unveiled, the creative community uncovered a number of similar designs. The public reaction to Quark was similar to the reaction LogoMaid is receiving. Did Quark, or more specifically the agency that designed the logo, steal the idea from someone else?

I think this is a good spot to examine the business model of LogoMaid. LogoMaid offers pre-designed logos to businesses for a modest price. The selling point is that you can save a lot of money by getting a premade logo as opposed tousually spending more with a design studio or advertising agency to custom-design one for you. Their parent company, Vilords Media Network, operates another company with the same principle, Design Galaxy, but with the slant on web template design.

LogoWorks, another mass-produced logo manufacturer, has run into similar accusationsover the years of stealing ideas from established logos. Their mantra is to pay freelance designers a small fee to design company logos that they resell at modest prices as well. It begs the question, is it coincidence or theft? If theft, who’s to blame, the company itself or the actual designer?

Let’s face reality. The number of self-proclaimed graphic designers in the world are staggering. People will seek out other professional work to get inspired. Some will even go so far as to steal a design from another as a quick solution to a cheap buck. Companies like LogoWorks (and I assume LogoMaid) use a large number of designers to do their work. Can you honestly expect them to know if each and every design they buy is legitimately original?

Who to hold accountable

They say the true character of a person is shown when faced with diverse circumstances. With that in mind, let’s compare the responses between the Quark and LogoMaid situations:

Within six months after the logo contraversy, Quark unveiled a new logo. According to Glen Turpin, the company’s director of corporate communications:

“Quark listened to the feedback we received from the design community in relation to our re-branding initiative in September and decided to create a new logo that is both an evolution of our visual identity and a strong representation of the new Quark… Changing the mark to avoid any perception of similarity enables us to further define our unique identity.”

Compare that response to that of Paul Viluda of LogoMaid:

“The main shape according to our designer is a font symbol and you do not have the rights to claim ownership to freeware font symbols. Other than the actual shape, I see no relevance. Our logo was registered at c-site, the registration has been approved. According to c-site, we own the copyrights to that actual logo. We do not need to steal anyones ideas.”

And this:

“According to (Simplebits) website, you did the rebrand in December, correct? Please check the screenshot for RH Restyling (company from Holland) we did in October I believe. Hmm, I am just currious how it would be possible to “copy” your logo when your “rebranding” was done in mid December. You’ll find out the logo we sell at is one of the concepts the customer didn’t choose to use. We are strongly considering a lawsuit against simplebits not only because of the logo, but also the fact that you are harming our goodwill.”

Designer Nathan Smith, who has a similar issue with LogoMaid wrote that he received “a series of rude emails from Jan Kalvan and Peter Olexa of LogoMaid.” I don’t presume to know exactly what the people at LogoMaid are thinking or how they conduct their business, but the words and tone of their response in this matter casue me to be very suspicious of the legitimacy of the work they sell. Quark, in my opinion, had no intent of stealing someone’s logo design, and wanted to salvage their reputation and credibility with the very people they serve. This is evident by their willingness to redesign their logo without slinging mud at anyone else.

The reaction to companies like LogoMaid would have been completely different if their response was similar to Quark’s … apolgize for the coincidence and remove the logo under question. What would it have hurt them? Certainly removing a handful of questionable logos would not have hurt their bottom line and their “amazing collection of 3700 pre-designed logos” would it? To respond in such a defensive and threatening way questions their desire to be viewed as a legitimate design resource.

The solution

Unfortunately there isn’t a simple answer to design thievery. Regardless of how much the design community tries to regulate it, there will be people out there trying to profit off the hard work of others. I also, don’t think that lawsuits, as appealing as they seem, will solve the answer either. Copyright violations are difficult and extremely expensive to prosecute. The reason large corporations like Apple can do it effectively is because they have the resources to make it possible. Small studios and individuals like Simplebits, quite frankly, don’t have the time or resources to carry it through. And with the global nature of the internet, international enforcement of copyright is next to impossible. So what can we do?

I was asked last year about my thoughts on gas prices reaching $3.00 per gallon and what I felt should be done about it, especially when oil companies reported record billion-dollar profits. As much as I believe that the prices were the result of corporate greed, those prices were also being dictated by demand. As long as consumers would not change their driving habits (more fuel-efficient vehicles and public transportation), things would not change. Why should they? Consumers need to collectively bring the change against corporate injustice. Only then will companies truly listen.

I feel the same way about dealing with shady companies like LogoMaid. When businesses refuse to work with a company that has questionable ethics and practices, then they will either change or go out of business. Paul Viluda of LogoMaid said it himself:

“It’s about the market…if people wouldn’t be interested in our products, we wouldn’t provide it…as simple as that.”

This call is to all businesses out there that seem intrigued by companies like LogoMaid. Do your research. If they have a reputation of questionable business practices like this, avoid them. If you do buy stolen work, your company can be held liable as well if it would ever get to that point. Why would you want to risk your company’s reputation to something like that?

Books for Starting Web Designers

I’ve been asked to do the difficult task of recommending books of how to learn good web design by a few people lately. It’s difficult for several reasons. First, there are a number of quality books out there, it makes it hard to keep the list short. Second, this industry has changed and grown so much during the time I started designing web sites (late ’90s) that a lot that I read starting out is dated and no longer considered “best practices.” Lastly, the particular knowledge of the reader needs to come into play. Does the reader have any experience at all with designing web pages? Is their background more design or development?

To keep this short, I’m limiting my selection to only three books. With that said, here’s other criteria I heavily weighted in making my selections:

  1. Books aimed toward the designer and not the developer
  2. Assume the audience has very little experience with web design
  3. The three books should give a well-rounded exposure to good web design
  4. Limit selections to books I’m personally familiar with

With those factors in consideration, here’s what I recommend:
DWWS cover

Designing with Web Standards by Jeffery Zeldman

A must have for anyone wanting to learn the proper way to design and build web sites. This book does an excellent job of explaining why web standards and CSS is vital to effective web site design and development. Once you understand the “why,” the “how” falls into place nicely. It compares the options out there and how web standards and CSS are vastly superior to them. The second half of the book gives a nice walk-through of the basics of CSS and how to properly execute it.

According to Zeldman, the book is aimed toward the company decision-makers and why they should embrace standards. I believe anyone associated with designing, building or making any type of decisions regarding web sites needs to read this book.
Web Designers Reference cover

Web Designer’s Reference by Craig Grannell

This book is exactly what it claims to be — a step-by-step approach to the different aspects of building a web site. this book covers everything from basic layout, typography, working with images, and adding multimedia. There are several CSS reference books out there. To me, what makes this one stand out is that it’s written with the designer in mind instead of the programmer. Meaning, it’s easy to read, follow, and find what you’re looking for. Another thing that stands out from this book that I find missing in others, is that Grannell covers the little things that make a difference in a well-built site. A few he covers are robot visits, using PHP for mail forms, and comments. These things won’t necessarily ruin a site if not present, but it adds those little things that are often overlooked.
Web Standards Solutions cover

Web Standards Solutions by Dan Cederholm

Web Standards Solutions has its origins from the entries posted on Dan’s personal web site, where I personally learned a lot of the nuances of web standards. Its not surprising, then, that I found this book a great tool for CSS-based design. Dan uses a lot of what I like in the previous books I recommend. Like Zeldman, he begins with explaining the why of using web standards. And like Grennell, he writes with the designer in mind and uses a step-by-step approach in explaining the execution of standards in web design. What I like about Dan’s book is that he covers some areas either missing from the first two, or covered in much greater detail (forms, image replacement, print styles).

There’s my top three recommendations for learning web standards and CSS. Again, there are a number of other books out there that are helpful as well, but these three are a great place to start. If you get a good handle of the material covered in these three books, your skills in designing and developing web sites will put you in a small, elite class of designers.

For the web designers out there that are using CSS and standards currently, I’d like to hear which books have helped you or that you would recommend in addition to these three. Leave a comment and let me know.

Lithik Systems in GRAPHIC make-overs

lithik website

I’m proud to announce that the redesign of the Lithik Systems Inc. web site was recently featured on Creative Latitude’s GRAPHIC make-over section. Lithik Systems specializes in providing regulatory compliance and security services for IT systems. In short, they develop top-of-the-line systems to keep your electronic information safe and secure. And more importantly, if you’re a financial institution, they keep you in great standing with the FDIC.

This project was particularily enjoyable for me for a couple of reasons. Firstly, I’ve know Karl Fox, the man behind Lithik Systems, for a number of years. Not only is he a great guy with loads of integrity, but he’s an outright master at running an IT business. Not only does he know what he’s doing, but his staff is a clone of him, in both knowledge and values. It was a great opportunity to work with a company that has such an upside like Lithik does.

Secondly, they provided me tons of creative freedom to do what I do, and trust to do it well. Karl and Ron Kremm (the two I worked with directly) had a great vision for what they wanted the Lithik site to accomplish. With their vision and direction, I was able to explore ways to execute their goals visually. I think the end result speaks for itself, and everyone involved is pleased.

Lithik is a great example of a company that isn’t afraid to let people do their job well, and they provide the environment to allow that to happen. I’m not advocating that businesses be uninvolved in their communications and marketing materials, whether its web, print, or other. Those things are the face of the company, and it’s important that they have a voice of what that is. What I am advocating is that businesses should not micromanage the creative process. To me it seems pointless to spend money on creative services, whether staff or outsourcing, if you don’t trust them, and give them the freedom, to do their job. I’ve seen, and personally been involved in, enough projects that fall flat because the creative force isn’t allowed to be just that — a creative force. Let people do their job, that’s what they’re paid to do. Then you will learn if your money was spent well or not.

Thanks again to Karl, Ron, and the entire Lithik staff. It was a real pleasure working on this project for me.

Up and Running

It took awhile, but the redesign, and especially the blog, is working. Thanks to the many people that prodded me into finally blogging, and the input to get it operational. A big thanks to Austin Matzko for his help with the PHP subtleties that were completely escaping me. I’m still making a few adjustments to the layout when I get little breathers between client projects, so things will be tweaked over the coming weeks.