Five for Friday: 11.7.2008

This is a day late, but considering my goal was to do this weekly, but have only made one post for this category before now in two months or so, I’ll let it slide.

Really nice redesign by the folks at Airbag Industries. is a site for people to stay informed on social issues and get involved with causes and related non-profits.

Housing Works

Another recent redesign of another non-profit group. Started in 1990 by four members of ACT UP, Housing Works helps people who are homeless and have HIV or AIDS. Housing Works not only saves lives, it restores dignity, purpose, and hope to those whom society has cast aside. Excellent work by the folks at Happy Cog.

Is your (website’s) underwear showing?

Jeffery Zeldman, the man behind the previously-mentioned Happy Cog, wrote an interesting blog post this week regarding setting a background color on your web site. Check out the Flickr screen shots.

Pepsi Rebrands

Pepsi unveiled its new logo and branding this past month. Lots of mixed opinions of the design community. Honestly, I’m not sure what I think of it yet.

Portfolio Stadding Blog

Lastly, my friends at Portfolio Staffing added a blog to their site. There’s some very good posts worth reading, especially if you’re looking for a job.

To WordPress or Not to WordPress?

About a year-and-a-half ago, I switched from a flat HTML web site to using WordPress (WP), mainly because I wanted to start blogging (although you an’t really tell by the archives, or lack thereof). The current design was in the works several months before the actual switch to WP, and looked much better on paper (and Photoshop) than when executed.

A big part of that was trying to get comfortable with learning WordPress. I’m more of a designer than a programmer, and know very little about PHP, especially back when I went to WP. Frustration with picking up a new programming language, learning a new application, and trying to get a site up and running as quickly as possible led to me cutting some corners on the details that I normally wouldn’t cut. Once finally up, other professional projects, and life in general, has kept me fairly busy to where I haven’t sat down to adjust the little things about the execution of this current design that bother me.

Now, over a year has passed, and the purpose of this site has changed a bit over that time. Instead of trying to modify the current design, and fix those pesky quirks, to fit my new vision for the site, I began to seriously rethink the design and structure from scratch. Granted, it hasn’t gone much further yet than some great thoughts in my head and a few roughs in my sketchbook, but I’m still planning to do a redesign before the year is out. My grasp of subtleties of CSS have also grown dramatically over that time as well. Along with that, I can finally deal with the subtle details that just haven’t sat right with me these past 18+ months.

During the first part of 2008, WordPress issued a new release with a spiffy new dashboard, courtesy of the fine folks at Happy Cog. Mike Davidson even jumped on the WordPress bandwagon. Motivated to tie the upgrade with a redesign, and the fact that I am actually getting real sleep again, I’m itching to pull this off sooner than later.

Recently, another wrench is thrown into the works. Jason Santa Maria has redesigned his site. The design is well done with lots of great details that pull it all together. But what really caught my eye was Jeffrey Zeldman’s remarks on the redesign. Zeldman referred to Jason’s redesign post as a “call to arms” for web art direction. By switching to Expression Engine, Jason gains the ability to create and apply different templates to different blog posts, while keeping an overarching theme for the entire site, much like print design does.

I admit this has been one of my frustrations with most content management systems on the web. Coming from a print design background, I’ve accepted, but haven’t enjoyed, being locked into one design with no option of variations outside of hard-coding pages. Now, with the ability to do this in Expression Engine, I’m strongly considering making the jump as well from WordPress to EE. Ideally, I would like to see someone develop a plug-in for WP that allows this type of design flexibility. Maybe by the time I’m actually able to start building the new design for this site, someone will.

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.

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.

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.