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  1. Anakin

    I’m pleased to be able to say that Analog is joining forces with Fictive Kin! We already work together on Brooklyn Beta and other projects. We share the same ethics and ambitions. We have fun together. We’re good friends, and often old friends, too. They asked, we said yes. We had a beer. That’s pretty much how it went.

    The Analog adventure that started in 2009 continues, just bigger, and hopefully better, with more fun, inspiration, and collaboration. I like to think of it like assembling Dai-X from Star Fleet but Voltron may serve if that’s more familiar to you.

    It think Cameron came up with the word ‘Anakin’ from our two brands in 2010. It’s been used by us ever since whenever we get together to work or celebrate. It made me smile at the time, and even more so now, just like the echoes of the Analog identity in the lovely new Fictive Kin logo.

    Fictive Kin logotype

    If you fancy keeping an eye on what we’re up to, follow @fictivekin. There’s more on the Fictive Kin blog, and in a post by Chris. Thanks for reading. Onwards!

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  2. We, Who Are Web Designers

    What do you do?

    In 2003, my wife Lowri and I went to a christening party. We were friends of the hosts but we knew almost no-one else there. Sitting next to me was a thirty-something woman and her husband, both dressed in the corporate ‘smart casual’ uniform: Jersey, knitwear, and ready-faded jeans for her, formal shoes and tucked-in formal shirt for him (plus the jeans of course; that’s the casual bit). Both appeared polite, neutral, and neat in every respect.

    I smiled and said hello, and asked how they knew our hosts. The conversation stalled pretty quickly the way all conversations will when only one participant is engaged. I persevered, asked about their children who they mentioned, trying to be a good friend to our hosts by being friendly to other guests. It must have prompted her to reciprocate. With reluctant interest she asked the default question: ‘What do you do?’ I paused, uncertain for a second. ‘I’m a web designer’ I managed after a bit of nervous confusion at what exactly it was that I did. Her face managed to drop even as she smiled condescendingly. ‘Oh. White backgrounds!’ she replied with a mixture of scorn and delight. I paused. ‘Much of the time’, I nodded with an attempt at a self-deprecating smile, trying to maintain the camaraderie of the occasion. ‘What do you do?’ I asked, curious to see where her dismissal was coming from. ‘I’m the creative director for … agency’ she said smugly, overbearingly confident in the knowledge that she had a trump card, and had played it. The conversation was over.

    I’d like to say her reaction didn’t matter to me, but it did. It stung to be regarded so disdainfully by someone who I would naturally have considered a colleague. I thought to try and explain. To mention how I started in print, too. To find out why she had such little respect for web design, but that was me wanting to be understood. I already knew why. Anything I said would sound defensive. She may have been rude, but at least she was honest.

    I am a web designer. I neither concentrate on the party venue, food, music, guest list, or entertainment, but on it all. On the feeling people enter with and walk away remembering. That’s my job. It’s probably yours too.

    I’m self-actualised, without the stamp of approval from any guild, curriculum authority, or academic institution. I’m web taught. Colleague taught. Empirically taught. Tempered by over fifteen years of failed experiments on late nights with misbehaving browsers. I learnt how to create venues because none existed. I learnt what music to play for the people I wanted at the event, and how to keep them entertained when they arrived. I empathised, failed, re-empathised, and did it again. I make sites that work. That’s my certificate. That’s my validation.

    I try, just like you, to imbue my practice with an abiding sense of responsibility for the universality of the Web as Tim Berners-Lee described it. After all, it’s that very universality that’s allowed our profession and the Web to thrive. From the founding of the W3C in 1994, to Mosaic shipping with <img> tag support in 1993, to the Web Standards Project in 1998, and the CSS Zen Garden in 2003, those who care have been instrumental in shaping the Web. Web designers included. In more recent times I look to the web type revolution, driven and curated by both web designers, developers, and the typography community. Again, we’re teaching ourselves. The venues are open to all, and getting more amazing by the day.

    Apart from the sites we’ve built, all the best peripheral resources that support our work are made by us. We’ve contributed vast amounts of code to our collective toolkit. We’ve created inspirational conferences like Brooklyn Beta, New Adventures, Web Directions, Build, An Event Apart, dConstruct, and Webstock. As a group, we’ve produced, written-for, and supported forward-thinking magazines like A List Apart, 8 Faces, Smashing Mag, and The Manual. We’ve written the books that distill our knowledge either independently or with publishers from our own community like Five Simple Steps and A Book Apart. We’ve created services and tools like jQuery, Fontdeck, Typekit, Hashgrid, Teuxdeux, and Firebug. That’s just a sample. There’s so many I haven’t mentioned. We did these things. What an extraordinary industry.

    I know I flushed with anger and embarrassment that day at the christening party. Afterwards, I started to look a little deeper into what I do. I started to ask what exactly it means to be a web designer. I started to realise how extraordinary our community is. How extraordinary this profession is that we’ve created. How good the work is that we do. How delightful it is when it does work; for audiences, clients, and us. How fantastic it is that I help build the Web. Long may that feeling last. May it never go away. There’s so much still to learn, create, and make. This is my our party. Hi, I’m Jon; my friends and I are making Mapalong, and I’m a web designer.

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  3. Ampersand, the Aftermath

    The first Ampersand web typography conference took place in Brighton last Friday. Ampersand was ace. I’m going to say that again with emphasis: Ampersand was ace! Like the Ready Brek kid from the 80s TV ads I’m glowing with good vibes.

    Imagine you’d just met some of the musicians that created the soundtrack to your life. That’s pretty much how I feel.

    Nerves and all…

    Photo by Ben Mitchell.

    Jon Tan at Ampersand by Ben Mitchell

    For a long, long time I’ve gazed across at the typography community with something akin to awe at the work they do. I’ve lurked quietly on the ATypI mailing list, in the Typophile forum, and behind the glass dividing my eyes from the blogs, portfolios, and galleries.

    I always had a sneaking suspicion the web and type design communities had much in common: Excellence born from actual client work; techniques and skills refined by practice, not in a lab or classroom; a willingness to share and disseminate, most clearly demonstrated at Typophile and through web designer’s own blogs. The people of both professions have a very diverse set of backgrounds from graphic design all the way through to engineering, to accidentally working in a print shop. We’ve been apprenticed to our work, and Ampersand was a celebration of what we’ve achieved so far and what’s yet to come.

    Of course, web design is a new profession. Type design has a history that spans hundreds of years. Nevertheless, both professions are self-actualising. Few courses exist of any real merit. There is no qualifications authority. The work from both arenas succeeds or fails based on whether it works or not.

    Ampersand was the first event of its kind. Folks from both communities came together around the mutal fascination, frustration, challenge and opportunity of web type.

    Like Brooklyn Beta, the audience was as fantastic as the line up. I met folks like Yves Peters of the FontFeed, Mike Duggan of Microsoft Typography, Jason Smith, Phil Garnham, Fernando Mello, and Emanuela Conidi of Fontsmith, Veronica Burian of TypeTogether, Adam Twardoch of Fontlab and MyFonts, Nick Sherman of of Webtype, Mandy Brown of A Book Apart and Typekit, and many, many others. (Sorry for stopping there, but wow, it would be a huge list.)

    Rich Rutter

    Rich Rutter opens Ampersand.

    Rich Rutter opened the day on behalf of Clearleft and Fontdeck at the Brighton Dome. Rich and I had talked about a web typography conference before. He just went out and did it. Hats off to him, and people like Sophie Barrett at Clearleft who helped make the day run so smoothly.

    Others have written comprehensive, insightful summaries of the day and the talks. Much better than I could, sitting there on the day, rapt, taking no notes. What follows are a few snippets my memory threw out when prodded.

    Vincent Connare

    Vincent Connare at Ampersand.

    Who knew the original letterforms for Comic Sans were inspired by a copy of The Watchmen Vincent Connare had in his office? Or that Vincent, who also designed Trebuchet, considers himself an engineer rather than type designer, and is working at the moment on the Ubuntu fonts with colleagues at Dalton Maag.

    Jason Santa Maria declared himself a type nerd, and gave a supremely detailed talk about selecting, setting, and understanding web type. Wonderful stuff.

    Jason Santa Maria

    Jason Santa Maria at Ampersand.

    Jonathan Hoefler talked in rapid, articulate, and precise terms about the work behind upcoming release of pretty-much all of H&FJ’s typefaces as web fonts. (Hooray!) He clearly and wonderfully explained how they took the idea behind their typefaces, and moved them through a design process to produce a final form for a specific purpose. In this case, the web, as a distinct and different environment from print.

    Jonathan Hoefler

    Photo by Sean Johnson.

    Jonathan Hoefler at Ampersand.

    I spoke between Jason and Jonathan. Gulp. After staying up until 4am the night before, anxiously working on slides, I was carried along by the privilege and joy of being there, hopefully without too much mumbling or squinting with bleary eyes.

    After lunch, David Berlow continued the story of web fonts, taking us on a journey through his own trials and tribulations at Font Bureau when re-producing typefaces for the web crude media. His dry, droll, richly-flavoured delivery was a humorous counterpoint to some controversial asides.

    David Berlow

    Photo by Jeremy Keith.

    David Berlow at Ampersand by Ben Mitchell

    John Daggett of Mozilla, editor of the CSS3 Fonts Module, talked with great empathy for web designers about the amazing typographic advances we’re about to see in browsers.

    Tim Brown of Typekit followed. Tim calmly and thoroughly advocated the extension of modular scales to all aspects of a web interface, taking values from the body type and building all elements with those values as the common denominator.

    Finally, Mark Boulton wrapped up the day brilliantly, describing the designer’s role as the mitigator of entropy, reversing the natural trend for things to move from order to chaos, and a theme he’s exploring at the moment: designing from the content out.

    Mark Boulton

    Mark Boulton at Ampersand.

    The tone of the day was fun, thoughtful, articulate, and exacting. All the talks were a mix of anecdotal and observational humour, type nerdery, and most of all an overwhelming commitment to excellence in web typography. It was a journey in itself. Decades of experience from plate and press, screen, and web was being distilled into 45-minute presentations. I loved it.

    As always, one of the most enjoyable bits for me was the hallway track. I talked to heaps of people both in the pre- and after-party, and in between the talks on the day itself. I heard stories, ideas, and opinions from print designers, web designers, type designers, font developers, and writers. We talked late into the night. We talked more the next day.

    Now the talking has paused for a while, my thoughts are manifold. I can honestly say, I’ve never been so filled with positivity about where we are, and where we’re going. Web typography is here, it works, it’s better all the time, and one day web and type designers everywhere will wonder, perplexed, as they try to imagine what the web was like before.

    Here’s to another Ampersand next year! I’m now going to see if Rich needs any encouragement to do it again. I’m guessing not, but if he does, I aim to provide it, vigorously. I hope I see you there!

    Furthermore

    Last but not least, did I mention that Rich Rutter, Mark Boulton, and I are writing a book? We are! More on that another time, but until then, follow @webtypography for intermittent updates.

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  4. Design Festival, The Setup, and Upcoming Posts

    Wow, this has been a busy period. I’m just back from the Ampersand web typography conference in Brighton, and having a catch-up day in Mild Bunch HQ. Just before that I’ve been working flat out. First on Mapalong which was a grass-roots sponsor of Ampersand, and is going great guns. Then on an article for The Manual which is being published soon, and on 8 Faces #3 which is in progress right now. Not to mention the new talk for Ampersand which left me scratching my head and wondering if I was making any sense at all. More on that in a subsequent post.

    In the meantime two previous events deserve a mention. (This is me starting more of a journalistic blog. :)

    The Setup screenshot

    First of all, an interview with Simon Pascal Klien, the typographer and designer who’s curating the Design Festival podcast at the moment. We talked about all things web typography. Pascal cheekily left in a bit of noise from me in the prelude, and that rant pretty much sets the tone for the rest of the conversation. Thanks for your time, Pascal! If anyone reading this would care to listen in, the podcast can be downloaded or played from here:

    Secondly, Daniel Bogan of The Setup sent me a few questions about my own tools. My answers are pretty clipped because of time, but you may find it interesting to compare this designer’s setup with your own:

    I should note that in the meantime I’ve started writing with Writer, and discovered the great joy of keeping a journal and notes with a Midori Traveler’s Notebook. The latter is part of an on-going search I’m having to find Tools for Life. More on that, too at some point. Here’s my current list of topics I want to write about shortly:

    • Ampersand, the aftermath
    • Marrying a FujiFilm X100
    • No-www
    • Tools for life
    • Paper versus pixels

    There, I’ve written it!

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  5. Web Design as Narrative Architecture

    New Adventures Paper

    Stories are everywhere. When they don’t exist we make up the narrative — we join the dots. We make cognitive leaps and fill in the bits of a story that are implied or missing. The same goes for websites. We make quick judgements based on a glimpse. Then we delve deeper. The narrative unfolds, or we create one as we browse.

    Mark Bernstein penned Beyond Usability and Design: The Narrative Web for A List Apart in 2001. He wrote, ‘the reader’s journey through our site is a narrative experience’. I agreed wholeheartedly: Websites are narrative spaces where stories can be enacted, or emerge.

    Henry Jenkins, Director of Comparative Media Studies, and Professor of Literature at MIT, wrote Game Design as Narrative Architecture. He suggested we think of game designers, ‘less as storytellers than as narrative architects’. I agree, and I think web designers are narrative architects, too. (Along with all the multitude of other roles we assume.) Much of what Henry Jenkins wrote applies to modern web design. In particular, he describes two kinds of narratives in game design that are relevant to us:

    Enacted narratives are those where:

    […] the story itself may be structured around the character’s movement through space and the features of the environment may retard or accelerate that plot trajectory.

    Sites like Amazon, New Adventures, or your portfolio are enacted narrative spaces: Shops or service brochures that want the audience to move through the site towards a specific set of actions like buying something or initiating contact.

    Emergent narratives are those where:

    […] spaces are designed to be rich with narrative potential, enabling the story-constructing activity of players.

    Sites like Flickr, Twitter, or Dribbble are emergent narrative spaces: Web applications that encourage their audience use the tools at their disposal to tell their own story. The audience defines how they want to use the narrative space, often with surprising results.

    We often build both kinds of narrative spaces. Right now, my friends and I at Analog are working on Mapalong, a new maps-based app that’s just launched into private beta. At its heart Mapalong is about telling our stories. It’s one big map with a set of tools to view the world, add places, share them, and see the places others share. The aim is to help people tell their stories. We want to use three ideas to help you do that: Space (recording places, and annotating them), data (importing stuff we create elsewhere), and time (plotting our journeys, and recording all the places, people, and memories along the way). We know that people will find novel uses for the tools in Mapalong. In fact, we want them to because it will help us refine and build better tools. We work in an agile way because that’s the only way to design an emerging narrative space. Without realising it we’ve become architects of a narrative space, and you probably are, too.

    Many projects like shops or brochure sites have fixed costs and objectives. They want to guide the audience to a specific set of actions. The site needs to be an enacted narrative space. Ideally, designers would observe behaviour and iterate. Failing that, a healthy dose of empathy can serve. Every site seeks to teach, educate, or inform. So, a bit of knowledge about people’s learning styles can be useful. I once did a course in one to one and small group training with the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development. It introduced me to Peter Honey and Alan Mumford’s model which describes four different learning styles that are useful for us to know. I paraphrase:

    1. Activists like learning as they go; getting stuck in and working it out. They enjoy the here and now, and are happy to be dominated by immediate experiences. They are open-minded, not sceptical, and this tends to make them enthusiastic about anything new.
    2. Reflectors like being guided with time to take it all in and perhaps return later. They like to stand back to ponder experiences and observe them from many different perspectives. They collect data, both first hand and from others, and prefer to think about it thoroughly before coming to a conclusion.
    3. Theorists to understand and make logical sense of things before they leap in. They think problems through in a vertical, step-by-step logical way. They assimilate disparate facts into coherent theories.
    4. Pragmatists like practical applications of ideas, experiments, and results. They like trying out ideas, theories and techniques to see if they work in practice. They positively search out new ideas and take the first opportunity to experiment with applications.

    Usually people share two or more of these qualities. The weight of each can vary depending on the context. So how might learning styles manifest themselves in web browsing behaviour?

    • Activists like to explore, learn as they go, and wander the site working it out. They need good in-context navigation to keep exploring. For example, signposts to related information are optimal for activists. They can just keep going, and going, and exploring until sated.
    • Reflectors are patient and thoughtful. They like to ponder, read, reflect, then decide. Guided tours to orientate them in emergent sites can be a great help. Saving shopping baskets for later, and remembering sessions in enacted sites can also help them.
    • Theorists want logic. Documentation. An understanding of what the site is, and what they might get from it. Clear, detailed information helps a theorist, whatever the space they’re in.
    • Pragmatists get stuck in like activists, but evaluate quickly, and test their assumptions. They are quick, and can be helped by uncluttered concise information, and contextual, logical tools.

    An understanding of interactive narrative types and a bit of knowledge about learning styles can be useful concepts for us to bear in mind. I also think they warrant inclusion as part of an articulate designer’s language of web design. If Henry Jenkins is right about games designers, I think he could also be right about web designers: we are narrative architects, designing spaces where stories are told.

    The original version of this article first appeared as ‘Jack A Nory’ alongside other, infinitely more excellent articles, in the New Adventures paper of January 2011. It is reproduced with the kind permission of the irrepressible Simon Collison. For a short time, the paper is still available as a PDF!

    —∞—

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Lately in the Log

  1. Anakin Tue, 26th Jun 2012 {4}

    I’m pleased to be able to say that Analog is joining forces with…

  2. We, Who Are Web Designers Mon, 19th Sep 2011 {65}

    In 2003, my wife Lowri and I went to a christening party. We were friends…

  3. Ampersand, the Aftermath Wed, 22nd Jun 2011 {3}

    The first Ampersand web typography conference took place in Brighton last…

  4. Design Festival, The Setup, and Upcoming Posts Mon, 20th Jun 2011 {1}

    Wow, this has been a busy period. I’m just back from the Ampersand…

  5. Web Design as Narrative Architecture Wed, 30th Mar 2011 {12}

    Stories are everywhere. When they don’t exist we make up the…

  6. Ides of March Tue, 15th Mar 2011 {4}

    My friend and colleague, Chris, has shared a spiffing idea, the Ideas of…

Remarks from the log

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  5. By Sell Any Car Dubai in The Paragraph in Web Typography & Design:

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    His dry, droll, richly-flavoured delivery was a humorous counterpoint to some controversial asides…

People and XFN

Analog folks:

  1. Andrei Zmievski

  2. Chris Shiflett

  3. Jon Gibbins

Friends, colleagues, and authors with interesting voices:

  1. Ben Ramsey

  2. Dan Mall

  3. Denna Jones

  4. Ed Finkler

  5. Elizabeth Naramore

  6. Elliot Jay Stocks

  7. John D. Boardley

  8. Helgi Þormar Þorbjörnsson

  9. Joe Leech

  10. Jos Buivenga

  11. Kester Limb

  12. Nicola Pressi

  13. Patrick H. Lauke

  14. Piotr Fedorczyk

  15. Richard Rutter

  16. Rick Hurst

  17. Sean Coates

  18. Simon Pascal Klein

  19. Terry Chay

Live the questions and one day grow into the answers.