This is the archive of version one, made in 2006, launched in 2007, and active until 2012. It’s archived to preserve the original design and its content that was referenced in multiple posts, books and galleries. There’s a holding page before the new site arrives.

All entries from 2009


  1. Introducing Analog

    Analog logotype

    Just before Christmas, a few friends and I launched a new company, Analog. Writing this, I’m still a little surprised at the praise from all those generous people about the holding page. After all, to me, is just that: a little holding page. We did work hard on it and laughed a lot after the easter eggs started to appear. (Have you found all three, yet?) Then, we kept on laughing every time we saw them — a good sign. However, we never felt like the copy was quite right, and know we have more to do. Maybe that illustrates why I’m still chuffed a couple of weeks later.

    We stand on the shoulders of those who’ve come before, but we also lean on the shoulders of those around us. That simple truth is why I believe in collaboration, and co-ops in particular, and why Analog exists. It’s a company of friends.

    Analog is a change of tempo in a co-operative playlist that started a long time ago for me. I’m not sure where it began but I’m pretty sure it was way before I actually knew what a co-op was. (That is, apart from the Co-op supermarket near my Nan’s house.) Back in the early ’90s, running club nights and working behind the plates, I always ended up doing stuff with other people. I’d invite veteran jazz musicians to jam over the beats, with a mic plugged into the mixer. I almost always worked with other DJs. It was always so much more fun to have other people around. A friend who worked in a print shop was indispensable when I was designing flyers back in 1992. I remember designing a comp on a piece of paper. It was a logomark with a bit of copy. In the print shop we printed lines of text at different weights in different fonts, cut out the bits we liked, and stuck them into place with spray mount. We photographed the layout, and made a plate to print from. We chose the card together, and the dark silver ink. I would never have used either without my friend’s knowledge and help.

    Fast forward a bit to the early part of the ‘noughties’, and realising how working collaboratively across disciplines was so critical for web sites, I founded Grow Collective. I think of it as a test run for Analog. What it proved to me is that the co-operative principles made sense, and turned me into something of an evangelist. I believe that everyone working on a project should profit equitably from it according to the scope of their participation. I believe we should have the right to claim our own work irrevocably, without suffering the indignity of being white-labelled. (It still happens.) I believe that working for nothing in order to secure clients is daft, and reject the notion that designing ‘on spec’ has any benefit whatsoever for anyone involved. I believe that there are other choices than working either for an agency, or freelance. I believe that if democracy and freedom are important to us, then they shouldn’t be signed away when we take a job.

    It seems that everyone reaches a certain stage (or is that age) when the security of being an employee compares badly with the quality of life that independence can bring. I attach great value to being able to decide where the lines are drawn between profitability and quality; between when to rest and when to work; between what to do, how to do it, and who with. It’s a question of happiness. If independence is directly linked to happiness, but collaboration is the catalyst that makes good ideas work, a co-operative is an obvious choice, and Analog is my answer. I think it has all of the benefits of independence but a structure that could compete with the brand equity of agencies. It’s an hypothesis that is still unproven, but I believe in it. It feels right.

    Of course, the members of a co-op are all-important. If I may, I’d like to introduce you to my colleagues:

    • Alan Colville is a veteran user experience designer. He’s worked both sides of the fence as the customer experience guy for large companies like BT, and a user experience design consultant for Blackberry, Vodafone, and Visa. If ever there was someone who understands design thinking as well as design doing, it is he. He’s a serious man on a mountain bike, too!
    • Andrei Zmievski is the former open source fellow at Digg. He was previously a platform engineer at Yahoo, and is a core developer of PHP. He co-wrote PHP Developer’s Cookbook, and is the architect of the Unicode and internationalization support in PHP 6. If there’s a technical conference somewhere, the chances are Andrei’s giving a talk. Oh, and boy, does this guy know his craft beer.
    • Chris Shiflett wrote the HTTP Developer’s Handbook, and PHP Security, as well as having numerous articles and other book contributions to his name. He’s given talks at the best developer conferences for a decade, combining the sensibilities of a designer with the rigor of an engineer. He’s also pretty decent with a (real) football, too (for an American).
    • Jon Gibbins used to develop accessible music software for people with disabilities. He’s the best accessibility researcher I know — formerly an admin at GAWDS and moderator of Accessify forum — and a priceless interface engineer to boot (every designer should know one). After calmly wrestling with browsers for years, he can still play a mean guitar today.

    These guys are some of the best people I know. Not just in their work, but personally, too. When we wrote ‘good people, good work’ in our opening paragraph on the Analog site, it was a manifesto rather than a statement. Leaning on their shoulders has already given us great fun with JavaScript and CSS (the Analog easter eggs), with GeoIP, the Twitter API, and our little #grid. All of them can be seen on the Analog holding page. I’m proud of the work we’ve done already, and we’ve barely started. Sitting here in a lounge chair at home, with my feet up, and Ommwriter soothing my ears and eyes, I’m smiling to myself at the thought of things to come. Remembering some of the kind words people have said, I’m pulling that wry face we sometimes get when the praise of others is humbling, warm, but still a little embarrassing. Thank you if you’re one of them.

    After a brief excursion to wrestle a three-year-old (involuntarily), I guess I should wrap this up. I don’t know how this Analog gig will play out. Sometimes, back in the early 90s, I would often start with familiar tracks that I and the audience knew and loved. After a while, I always had an urge to try and play something different. Maybe an accapella over an ancient break-beat, or the intense Pao De Acucar from Pacific Jam. Analog is one of those gigs.

    If you fancy keeping up with how we do, follow analogcoop. If you’d like to work with us, please get in touch. If anyone has questions about co-operatives, feel free to ask, or keep an eye out for follow-up entries. One of them is sure to be about how to form an international co-op, as well a bits about the brand, the site, and things I’ve learnt so far.

    Here’s wishing all of you a happy, healthy 2010!


  2. SxSW Pick ’n’ Mix for 2010

    I know I’m woefully late. Voting ends today! I don’t really mind, though. It embodies this restful period I’m having. However, I did want to write a bit about SxSWi 2010. I loved Austin when I went for the first time earlier this year. Perhaps it was the grumpy dude at Bobalu on 6th street making cigars by hand who Matthew Smith and I visited on a leisurely stroll. Perhaps it was sharing a room with Chris and Elliot. Maybe it was the Brit invasion. It could even have been the polar bear nochalantly strolling down 6th Street.

    SxSW Interactive logo

    I’m hoping for a return visit to Austin from March 12th to the 16th, next year. If you have the chance to go, go! You honestly won’t regret it. This post is part plea for your endorsement and part top picks from some friends who were panelists last year, with some juicy bits thrown in at the end. Panel voting ends today!

    Homemade sweets:

    1. Web Typography: Get Your Glyph On 2

      I was so surprised at how packed the room was last time out. In the last few months, we’ve seen Kernest, TypeKit, and Fontdeck emerge (I should mention I’m invloved with the latter). Proposals have been flying around like chilli in a Singaporean kitchen. Foundries and designers are optimising for the Web. It’s all about to explode, beautifully. Who knows what the next six months will bring. We’ll try and explore it all. Richard, Elliot, Samantha, and I will be pontificating and hosting the discussion again. Join us!

    2. Is Your Website Heading for a Car-Wreck?

      Behind the ominous title are a few simple questions that have plagued many a good idea for a web project: How can ideas be successfully brought to life by design? Why do so many good ideas fail, and how can designers help make a good idea become a good product? Join Giles Colbourne, Rich Rutter (penciled in), Alan Colville and I for a few insights into successful collaboration. We are (in order) user experience designers, a UX designer who used to be a product manager, and a web designer. We don’t necessarily share the same viewpoint; should be fun!

    Friends’ favourites:

    1. Where the Sidewalk Ends

      Elliot Jay Stocks:

      ‘I’m really intrigued by Where the Sidewalk Ends because I’m fascinated by the difference between good design and great design — a concept I personally find very difficult to put into words — so it’ll be interesting to see what sort of definitions the panel come up with.’

      Elliot Jay Stocks

    2. Samantha Warren:

      ‘My #1 panel for SXSW 2010 is Where the Sidewalk Ends. I am really in favor of seeing more design thinking content at SXSW, not just web design content and feel confident that anything these guys would talk about would leave me feeling reinvigorated.’

      Samantha Warren

    3. Secrets of Open Source Communities

      Ed Finkler:

      ‘For me, it’s Secrets of Open Source Communities mainly because I’m trying to build a FOSS community around Spaz and SpazCore. As the project lead, I find it challenging to know how to encourage involvement, manage devs, and work with commercial interests.’

      Ed Finkler

    4. Cross Device Accessibility: Is This For Real?

      Jon Gibbins:

      ‘Accessibility is so often portrayed as a boring subject, so I’m excited to see some interesting accessibility panels proposed. My #1 pick would be Cross Device Accessibility: Is This For Real?, which touches on the Mobile Web and geolocation, which should be very interesting, even for beginners.’

      Jon Gibbins

    5. Delight

      Alan Colville:

      ‘Delight, inspiration, pleasure are all words that we as designers strive to deliver. However, at the pinnacle of the hierarchy of needs, delight is often hard to achieve. So, I’m very interested in hearing how to replicate delight first time and every time.’

      Alan Colville

    6. Design Thinking: Create Lasting Ideas and Better Brands

      Matthew Smith:

      ‘I’m a huge advocate of the idea that design is about problem solving more than about exercising one’s visual skills. Design Thinking is a topic that parallels some of the work of Edward DeBono who promotes thinking as an exercise you should practice to perfect. I don’t plan on just designing pretty things the rest of my life, I want to effect change, I want to solve real problems, and I think Design Thinking is addressing that. Plus I’m hoping Ian Coyle will sign my chest.’

      Matthew Smith

    Other sugary treats:

    1. Social Web Security: From Psychology to Programming

      Put Ed Finkler, Simon Willison, Alex Payne, and Chris Shiflett in a room together. It’s like a talent and experience super collider. Have them talk about where user experience and security overlap. It can’t be anything but interesting.

    2. Travelog With Maps: When 1000 Photos Aren’t Enough

      Maps, pictures, and GPS. I’ve seen the little app that luminary developers, Andrei Zmievski, Helgi Þormar Þorbjörnsson, and Chris built for their trip to Iceland. It’s a wonder. Definitely worth a vote if you’ve ever wanted a better way to record your travels.

    3. New Publishing and Web Content

      The future of publishing is a subject I find fascinating. I wrote a piece for OmniTI around it, and with Jeff Zeldman hosting a panel on the topic, there’s bound to be some erudite opinion.

    4. Web Fonts: The Time Has Come

      When it comes to designers who know about publishing, you’d be hard-pressed to find anyone more knowledgeable than Roger Black. I’m curious who else might appear, but I’ll be there, regardless. Definitely worth your vote!

    5. For more hand-picked goodness, there’s Joe Leech’s south west picks, and to give the Brit contingent in general some love, see the 60 Brit panels in a handy list from Chinwag. For the designers reading this also see Ian Coyle’s panels for designers, or Samantha Warren’s top ten panels.

      Thanks to everyone who made ‘South-by’ such a blast last time, and here’s to seeing you there in 2010!


  3. Review: HTML and CSS Web Standards Solutions

    HTML and CSS Web Standards Solutions (A Web Standardista’s Approach) by Christopher Murphy and Nicklas Persson

    I’m so glad that this book exists. I’ve been hoping someone would write a book almost exactly like this for a long time. I have to be honest, when I first heard about it I sighed a little. Part of it was the word ‘standardistas’ in the title which made me wince a bit. The other part was wondering if this wasn’t just another book to add to the pantheon of web standards texts that have been published in the last few years. Yes, cynical, I know. However, I was wrong. After being approached by one of the authors, the publishers, Friends of Ed, kindly sent me a review copy. It took me a long while to get around to reading it after the carnage of the last few months, but I can honestly say that HTML and CSS Web Standards Solution: A Web Standardistas’ Approach is excellent.

    The authors are Christopher Murphy and Nicklas Persson — both lecturers in interactive design at the University of Ulster. As they make clear in the introduction, they wanted to:

    …cover everything our students needed to embark on a well-grounded, web standards-based approach in one package: namely, a solid foundation in XHTML coupled with a comprehensive introduction to CSS.

    That’s exactly what they’ve done. Here’s two reasons from my own experience why I think it’s so important:

    1. A long time ago, a film editor friend of mine who moved to Bristol found scant local opportunities. (It’s a very nepotistic world.) I knew a web editor job was coming open in a few weeks time. It would only require entry-level HTML and CSS skill. Almost on a whim I suggested he do a crash course in the basics then work next to me in my office. So, for a week, he read everything I directed him to on the Web, did some basic tutorials, and soon after got the job. Using me as a kind of organic bookshelf to solve problems, he quickly became self-sufficient. Today he earns his bread coding HTML and CSS daily into beautiful, accessible, commercial web sites.
    2. Sometime later, I was interviewing students for an entry-level job. By far the most disappointing aspect of their portfolios was the web design elements. They could write HTML, apply CSS, but were missing what I consider core principles that underpin everything we do. Things like a knowledge of plain old semantic HTML, some understanding of accessibility, and the basics of web typography.

    Both examples made me realise that there was something missing amongst the excellent, but often niche or advanced books we know and love. We needed a starter kit, a crash course in basics. That’s the book that Christopher Murphy and Nicklas Persson have written. HTML and CSS Web Standards Solutions is the missing primer of web design.

    In an industry where much of the critical knowledge has been researched and published by self-taught designers, and design schools have traditionally lagged behind (inevitably doing a disservice to their students) this book does what all good teachers do: teaches people the core skills and gives them the knowledge to continue learning.

    It would be easy to dismiss the detail in the book as entry-level, or incomplete. I could debate resetting body font size to 10px using ems, or grids, or XHTML versus HTML. However, to do so would be missing the point completely. The authors have successfully navigated a huge range of passionately held opinions to present good, solid, core knowledge in an entirely practical format. The common denominators they impart will enable students to be discerning later on when they stumble across niche techniques that can range from brilliant, to totally useless. Those who start with this text may well find it useful later when trying to understand how a technique can be appropriate and superb to use in one context, and awful in another.

    Every design school on the planet should make HTML and CSS Web Standards Solutions a required textbook. As well as a perfect primer for students, there’s many a formally-trained graphic designer, or self-taught web designer, who might find it useful. I recommend it to you. Careful, though, some people may find themselves arguing the finer points of web typography or debating DOCTYPEs faster than they think.

    Further reading

    1. Companion web site:
    2. @standardistas on Twitter
    3. Publisher’s (Friend of Ed) blurb
    4. HTML and CSS Web Standards Solutions: A Web Standardistas’ Approach on Amazon (associates link)


  4. All Change, Please

    Exit door.

    ‘One door closes, another opens’ is an idiom that has always resonated with me. It reminds me that serendipity† is the salve of change, and returns to mind when I have news like this: I’ll be leaving OmniTI at the end of August.

    †Coined by Horace Walpole in a letter of Janurary 28th, 1754, and based on The Three Princes of Serendip.

    I have a natural reluctance to go into details. Suffice to say we have very different views on how design should be done; each are valid, but I have to be true to my own. Those who know me will probably have a good idea what my opinions are, and some may have gleaned them from talks or articles. If friends wish to know more, drop me a line via the usual means.

    The dynamics of how OmniTI wanted to implement design changed in a way that made me reassess everything. After a lot of reflection, discussion, and valiant attempts on both sides to satisfy everyone, it became clear to me that my future would be elsewhere. An amicable disagreement followed, and here we are.

    It’s been a roller-coaster time at the company, keeping me very busy going back and forth across the pond. That was always supposed to be temporary. My intention was to move my family across to the States as soon as it was reasonably possible. Running a design team across time zones and an ocean was never going to be sustainable in the long-run — you lose too much of the natural osmosis that physical proximity converts into inspiration, energy, and ultimately, good work. Reading back over the post when I joined the company sharpens my disappointment that what we set out to do wasn’t possible at OmniTI, but I’m looking forward to pursuing the same goals in the future.

    I still hold the people there in high regard; they are without doubt some of the best in the business at what they do. If you need a company to optimize infrastructure, databases, or scale a site to serve millions of people, they should be your first choice. I’ve also been lucky enough to get to know Brooklyn, and Dumbo, pretty well. I still love the city, and I’m certain I’ll be back, devouring sushi from the Rastafari chefs at Gen, or a croissant from Almondine, with hot chocolate from Jaques Torres very soon.

    So, to the future. For the moment, I’m going to be taking some time to refresh. There are some interesting discussions going on in the background. I’ll have a little more time to get involved with all of the discussions around web design and typography. I will write more, perhaps give a few more talks if folks are kind enough to invite me. One thing’s for sure, my sorely neglected blog will probably be groaning under the keystrokes again shortly, and I’ll be assaulting your eye with my version of design soon after.


  5. OSCON 2009: incoming!

    Just a quick note. More of a test really. Can I crank out a quick post in the lounge at Bristol airport? Will the wifi not fail? Faced with the prospect of spending the next 17 hours in planes and airports, and a manic schedule that always seems to halt any attempt at the usual essays, can I post something this in a brief hiatus? We shall see!

    I’m on my way to OSCON for the second time only. Last year was a blast, and I’m hoping for more of the same. This year I’m lucky enough to have had a talk accepted called, Grokkin’ Design — an introduction for developers to the principles of design. I have to be honest and say this is very much a talk for developers, focussing on the 80% science that makes up much of what designers do, rather than 20% art that we love so much. It’s hopefully going to be a mix of practice and theory, with a bit of my own opining thrown in about ways designers and developers can collaborate to go from good to great. It’s in meeting room J3 on Wednesday 22nd at 10:45am. Love to see you there if you can make it. Feel free to bring questions in abundance   I’m hoping it can have a good chunk of debate in it, as well as my monologuing.

    There are other bits of goodness in the design and usability sessions as well as many friends and colleagues giving tutorials and speaking at sessions. Here’s a few:

    There’s a lot of technical stuff in that list for a lowly designer like me, but I often think that the more diverse the interests of your circle of friends, the more you get exposed to the intellectual food for interesting ideas. All of the people in my list are super smart and definitely worth listening to no matter what your primary discipline may be.

    If you’re heading to San Jose next week, stop by and say ‘hi’!

    PS. They’re boarding so I have to dash. No proofing time! Please forgive any typos but feel free to email me and let me know!


  6. SkillSwap Goes Typographic

    Right. I’m blitzing this. Two posts in one day. It’s unheard of! I’ve finally managed to put up my slides together from SkillSwap Goes Typographic:

    The night was fun and informal — heaps of people thinking, talking, and asking about web typography; a treat! The Clearlefties were great hosts in the day, and a special thank you goes to James Box for looking after and inviting me, and to Natalie Downe for helping James organise a fun, relaxed night. The pub inevitably followed with more type talk, and Señor Richard Rutter generously gave me a bed for the night in his fantastic house. The walk to the office in the next morning along the seafront was also a treat. Almost as good in fact as riding the travellators at Gatwick when changing trains on the way there and back.

    Rich’s Facing up to Fonts talk had a lot of very well-researched detail about the technical aspects of web typography. I recommend downloading the slides. Mine had some food for thought and a bit on technical legibility. Between us we seemed to cover quite a lot of ground. Thanks for all the kind feedback both on and offline. Hopefully, I’ll make it back sometime and share a few drinks with the fantastic Brightonians again.

    Coming up on Saturday at SxSW, there’ll be more typographic musings from Richard Rutter and nefarious others including myself at Quit Bitchin’ and Get Your Glyph On. I tagged them good in the previous post. If you’re going to be in Austin, say hi!


  7. Seven Things

    Stylized 7

    Meme is a funny word. I remember interrogating the hive mind of Google to understand what it meant not that long ago. Participating in one (or rather, perpetuating one) is something that always escaped me, but it seems I’ve been stitched up by my mate, Chris Shiflett, and new colleague, Rob Treat. When infected with this meme, you post seven things people might not already know about you. There’s no penalty for not doing it, but apparently you get props for passing it on to seven other people after you’ve done your bit. I’m going to pick on designers!

    Meme: ‘A cultural item that is transmitted by repetition in a manner analogous to the biological transmission of genes’ — a term created by Richard Dawkins in his 1976 book, The Selfish Gene.

    An Internet meme is an evolved term. Cough — neologism — cough.

    Before I get to picking on anyone, I’d better get to the meat of this memetical sandwich:

    1. I once had a farm in Af-ree-ka. No, well, sort-of. I once helped to run a guest house and restaurant in The Seychelles. We did grow things. We used the radical method of throwing papaya seeds out of the kitchen door and being swamped by saplings a few weeks later. There were no lions. The guest house was in a place called Anse Volbert or the Cote D’Or (gold coast) — a seven kilometre strip of white coral sand on the island of Praslin.
    2. I once MCd with drum and bass DJs at a full moon party in Haad Rin, on Ko Pha Ngan in Thailand. It was an accident. The DJ box was open, Sang Som (sugarcane whiskey) was flowing freely, and Bob’s your uncle (or Jon’s your MC). The DJs were happy to oblige after cresting the anxiety curve and realising the dude who looks at least partly farang wasn’t completely awful. It was fun. I think.
    3. Wellington harbour in New Zealand has a shipping lane. You can hire Kayaks, too. When hiring a kayak they warn you explicitly not wander into the shipping lane because the ships will not stop (and probably can’t). The problem is that Wellington harbour is so stunning that it’s easy to spend your time rubber-necking rather than looking out for ferries. The shipping lane is not marked. The slightly-less-than-ambient signifiers that one might be doing it all wrong is a fog horn and the sight of a large ship’s bow heading towards you. I once did a cartoon-style, arm-flailing kayak-sprint in Wellington harbour.
    4. I love the water. I dream of living on a boat one day. For a while, I hunted octopus for food and trade. I’d go out with fins, mask, and the masters of Indian Ocean small boat fishing. While they practiced their craft with mercenary grace, I would flounder, spike in hand, barely making the bottom to chase the octopods before bursting to the surface gulping air. The best bit was hunting in the dive areas. While we hunted, the tourists observed, often slightly wild-eyed and with a disapproving air. Tenderise octopi by boiling them for three hours. The skin falls off and all rubberiness evaporates. Chop, mix with salad and a classic dressing and it’s heavenly grub.
    5. Once upon a time I wrote a book. It was never published, but had fans who used to sit at my mother’s kitchen table and read the lastest chapter. It was a tale of dashing up and down motorways in the dark from weekend to weekend, and occassionally from gig to gig, DJing. An autobiographical coming-of-age story, wrapped in a raw dose of youthful mischief and carnage. Sometimes I revisit it, smile indulgently at the sparse, brutal journalistic prose, and really wish it was indeed an improvement on the style of Ernest Hemingway, or Dale A Dye in Citadel, rather than a bad facsimile.
    6. My father is Singaporean Chinese. My mother is a bit of a mixture. You may have guessed this already. I love all sides of my heritage equally which may also be an obvious thing to say, but it’s not: When I grew up in what felt like a deeply racist place during the 70s and 80s my tendency was to fight the bigots with an exaggerated pride in my Chinese heritage. Things have changed since then. Now I’m just quietly proud of both. I like being from Blighty just as much as I like eating eating Singaporean food. I could sum it up in a sentence: Keep calm and carry on eating prawn sambal on toast.
    7. Eating a Granny Smith apple makes unmentioned parts of my anatomy itch. True story. I have no idea why. Some things are beyond explanation. If that reads like too much information, you have a dirty mind. :)

    I’m done! Ah, now who to tag? Well, as promised, some erudites from the design community. I’m late to the party as usual (the meme is dying if not dead) but what the hell. These guys are appearing on the SxSW panel, Quit Bitchin’ and Get Your Glyph On with me this coming Saturday, so finding out more about them if they have time would be great:

    Do your best, guys! Also being tagged are a few folks from around my way (type and geography):

    • John D. Boardley because he loves typography and lives in Japan
    • Rick Hurst who skates and rides, but what does he do when he arrives?
    • Joe Leech for his UX super brain and tales of adventure

    Oh yeah, and last but not least I’m supposed to post the rules:

    1. Link your original tagger(s), and list these rules on your blog.
    2. Share seven facts about yourself in the post — some random, some weird.
    3. Tag seven people at the end of your post by leaving their names and the links to their blogs.
    4. Let them know they’ve been tagged by leaving a comment on their blogs and/or Twitter. (JT note: Referrer stings do this for you mister rule-writer.)

    So, that’s the lot. A random post, I realise, but I hope it gave a little insight into yours truly. In mitigation I should say I have been threatening to write it for something like two months. If anyone has a spare day a week to lend me I’d be very grateful!