Fall Malaise

I fully realized I hadn’t posted in about 3 weeks, and I really wasn’t that concerned. Late fall and early winter are kind of down seasons for me, at least historically. I’ve trimmed back my video game binging to merely a game or two, baseball cards have ended most production runs for the year, the holidays happen whether we want them to or not, and work generally grinds to a halt. That would be the perfect time for reflection and insight into the year thus far, but the lack of motivation usually takes it’s toll.

I’m also unsatisfied with my own web projects in general (don’t worry, it happens every year). About now I start noticing how dated my designs looks, I contemplate redesigning it, and it’s pretty much a 50/50 that I actually get around to it. This year in particular my general design is bothering me. It’s bland. It’s lacking any visual interest, probably because it was intended to emphasize text and fontography, which I then ignored. It’s also minimalistic, which of course was the trend at the time I rolled it out. That’s the problem with trends, they die. Currently, “massive fonts” and “full screen images” are in. Don’t worry, not going in that direction.

Oh, and I also smoked a turkey for Thanksgiving. How’s that for a random segueway?

I think I had mentioned my love for the barbeque arts in passing on previous posts. It’s gotten slightly out of hand. I’m smoking whole briskets and pork shoulders now. My pulled pork is actually quite good. I’m catering a small party next weekend. Go figure.

The turkey was actually pretty easy. Quick Simon & Garfunkel rub (Parsley, Sage, Rosemary and Thyme, get it?) inside and out, and some butter injected into the breasts. Smoked at 325° for 2 ½ hours with apple wood. Easy as pie. Nice and golden and crispy on the skin, smoked and juicy on the inside. Completely blew our previous fried turkeys out of the water.




While the turkey was awesome, the highlight of the day was my kiddo finding snails in the backyard. She’s completely fearless, and just all around awesome. Not that a snail would hurt anyone, but most girls would run away screaming. I’m a proud daddy.


After dinner I settled in for some traditional Call of Duty. I’m actually pleased with this years offering. It’s clear what the extra year of production time did for it’s development. I don’t think you’d get anyone is disagree that Advantaced Warfare is far more polished that the previous few years. It’s good to get that fix of “twitch” shooter back. I had been missing it for quite a while. It’s like wearing that old comfortable hoodie, the one you just dug out of the closet because the weather is finally cold enough to wear it. Turkey, apple pie, and headshots, what could be better?

There have been some baseball cards purchased over the past few weeks. Most of them are going towards a rainbow that I’m nearly finished with. I’ll tease it with the best of the bunch, and you can clearly see why. Puns!


Yeah, that’s pretty sweet.

There’s not really that much else going on. I’d post more cards if I actually cared about any of the sets released in the last couple weeks. What I should do is round everything up and make some end of the year checklists for things I’m missing. There we go, I just gave myself a to-do list. That might actually get done. The website redesign, meh, 50/50.

Destiny – The Vanilla Ice Cream of Gaming

I was talking to several friends who occasionally and casually game and they all asked me my thoughts on Destiny, the latest shooter/mashup from Bungie. They had seen the marketing blitz and were wondering if the game was worth playing. The best analogy I could come up with (and after some deeper reflection, the one that still fits) was that Destiny is a good bowl of vanilla ice cream. Not just any vanilla ice cream, a really good kind. Ben & Jerry’s good. However, it’s the only thing in the bowl. The realization here is that for all the marketing hype about the greatness of Destiny, it’s incomplete. It’s ice cream without any sunday accoutrements. It has no chocolate sauce, no whipped cream, no jimmy’s and no cherry on top. While there’s nothing inherently wrong with good ice cream, it’s just that without it being made into a full dessert experience, you’re left wondering how good it could have been if only they had opted for the waffle cone. (more…)

E3 Disappointments

With E3 still in full swing this week, I’m conflicted about calling it so early, but unless someone unveils something huge in the next 24hrs, I’m going to call this one of the most disappointing E3’s in recent memory.

Since it’s the closest to my wheelhouse, I’m going to start with Microsoft. Right off the bat I was completely floored by the amount of Kinect bullshit being peddled during the keynote. Let me be clear, the keynote speech, at 11:30 on a Monday morning, it not for casual gamers. Your Mom is not sitting at home waiting to hear about the next Dance Revolution game, I promise. No, that keynote is for the media and the hard core fans. The most hard of the core. Every single fucking game, whether it needed it or not, now includes some form of asinine Kinect integration. I will not play Ghost Recon by waving my hands around like a dumbass. I will not play Mass Effect by talking to it. I will not make big giant air circles to cast spells in Fable. There is ZERO desire in my gaming heart to do any of those things. I can’t believe that Microsoft is so completely ignoring it’s base.

Let’s look at it by the numbers, and just to show that I’m not making these up, you can check both the VGCharts and ESA for these. On estimate, worldwide, in this console generation, there have been 190 million units sold. 86 million Wii, 56 million 360’s and 50 million PS3s. That’s a fact. Also a fact is that in an ESA survey, 42% of gamers own 2 or more consoles. Seeing at how the Wii nearly doubles the sales of the other two, it’s a safe bet to assume that most people own either a PS3 OR a 360 AND a Wii. That means that half the “hardcore base” already has a device that does motion. Add to that the fact that Microsoft has sold 10 million Kinect devices (stand alones and bundles) and you get slightly less than 1/5 of the Xbox community embracing the technology. That’s 20%. That leaves 80% of the market filled with people who already own a system AND don’t want to jump around the living room like ADHD sufferers without their meds. As far as I can tell, that 80% just got completely fucking ignored this week.

Also aggravating is that most “Kinect support” fells tacked on and pointless. Why on earth do I need a Kinect to do voice recognition in Mass Effect 3? Doesn’t the console already come with a headset? If there’s no motion being captured, why is Kinect a requirement? Isn’t it just software at that point? Also, why make a menu system for Ghost Recon that takes LONGER to select a gun from than just using the controller. It would give me tennis elbow just to customize my weapons. And adding in the feature to tell the game to “randomize” my gun choice? What the hell? I’m in a menu, SELECTING a gun. If I wanted to randomly select one, I wouldn’t be in a fucking menu in the first place! The worst example is Fable, a series I’ve now completely given up on. I finished the first two, struggled half way through the third and I have no desire to play the fourth. With the nature of that game and the number of enemies that spawn in dungeons (because, according to Lionhead studios, quantity of enemies clearly equals quality), you’d have to endure full-on gymnastic routines just to get to the next village if you played it with the Kinect. Drawing huge circle in the air and “throwing” spells is the fastest way to get me to turn the game off, or to have Tommy John surgery, either one. Lastly, show me ONE hardcore football guy that’s going to sit in his living room, with his guy friends, and take fake snaps of the football while everyone watches. Not. Going. To. Happen.

Thank goodness Call of Duty and Battlefield 3 have stayed true to their roots. If I had to hold my hands in a mock steering wheel position to drive a tank I would have gone mental. A couple other titles did squeak into the corner of my periphery, and not from the MS keynote either. EA released a new game play trailer for SSX which looks ridiculously perfect. Also Overstrike from Insomniac looks promising, although I would have liked to see some gameplay footage. Mass Effect 3 is still in the running for a quality release, despite a poor voice acting bullshit audition on stage. I can’t wait to play the game… with my microphone unplugged.

Everything else looks completely bland and uninteresting, including Gears of War 3 which managed, somehow, to make me really not give a crap. Minecraft for the 360 is quite possibly the biggest sell-out I’ve ever seen, the Star Wars demo was so terrible even the 40yr old virgins were unimpressed, Tomb Raider was nothing but heavy breathing and claustrophobia, Fable was incredibly weak and Halo is now officially a cash grab. The entire thing was a weak attempt to either woo a demographic that wasn’t watching or a desperate attempt to win over the hardcore demographic that might have been on the fence about Kinect. It really did neither.

The Nintendo presentation was equally troublesome. After all these years, after all the wonderful childhood memories, the best they can come up with is a controller the size of a iPad and the 134th version of the same Legend of Zelda game. Oh, but wait, now you can play buy MarioKart, again, for the other new console your kids are going to make you buy. Because, let’s face it, as an adult, there’s really only so much Mario one person can play. It’s really just gotten sad at this point. Seriously, all Nintendo is offering and a terribly named (even worse logo’ed) console that they should have made 3 years ago, 12 Zelda titles, Mario, Luigi, MarioKart, Smash Brothers and Star Fox. Their line up hasn’t changed since 1999. Even the games they “teased” were Mario Party, Ninja Gaiden and Kirby. Everything else isn’t a console exclusive. Dirt, Ghost Recon, Tekken, Batman.

I’m glad they actually solidified the release of non-kid games for their console, but the fact that half their current audience already has a system that they prefer to play those games certainly won’t make them just ship. What’s my motivation for playing Batman on the LimpDick Wii:U instead of the Xbox? Or why would I play a weird downgraded Ghost Recon on the Nintendo instead of Xbox Live or PSN, where my friends already are? Also, can we talk about the name. Really? You followed up the console named for a penis with, literally, a logo that looks like a dick. No one in the marketing department thought this was a bad idea? Wow.

I hate to say it gamers, but we’ve got to start demanding better or else they’re going to keep getting away with this. Every time you hear someone say it’s “ground breaking” or “revolutionary” or “the next step/stage of gaming”, you have my full permission to call them on their bullshit. The only things that are revolutionary in gaming are brand new IPs, which we saw very few of, and major console launches which only happen once a decade. Until we get there, it’s the same old crap, just with higher numbers on the boxes.

Matt out


Ad-Blockers Rock

It seems the good folks over at Smashing Magazine have started a bit of a shit storm. To be honest, the article was written by a guest columnist as an opinion piece, but, as with a newspaper, once something is published under your banner, it’s hard to retract. The article in question, “Why Designers Should Not Use Ad-Blockers” seems to suggest that most anyone that uses an ad-blocker plugin/application is tantamount to a thief and should mend their evil way less the web is thrown into a state a choas and anarchy. For starters, I can’t believe Smashing Magazine would publish something this obviously slanted, to which I hold them and their editorial staff exclusively responsible, but I also can’t believe that this train of thought actually exists, let alone that it’s some sort of prevailing wisdom.

Just for fun, let’s examine some of the author’s, Louis Lazaris, points.

I’ll start this article with a positive statement: Most people frequenting the web design community understand that nothing is truly free and appreciate the fact that many blogs, design resources, and tech news sites rely on advertising to keep them afloat.”

Hardly a positive statement Louis. Let’s simplify that into “Most designers appreciate that ads make them money”. I think that’s a fair distillation of his point. I would argue that most designers loath advertisements. We don’t like creating them, we don’t like using them, they take up space and steal attention away from our content and designs all for the benefit of a few pennies. Web marketing has been both ineffective and intrusive since it’s birth in the 90’s. I’m glad I’m old enough to remember the beginning of the web with a feeling of nostalgia and pride that it was something truly unique. Pages, of content, linked together to form a rough web of documents, serving the greater good. With in evolution of advertising, we’ve completely and totally lost the original purpose of the web: the information.

But unfortunately, not everyone gets this, and not everyone understands that with some viral pushing of certain trends and ideas, we as a community could be inadvertently shooting ourselves in the foot while we try to make our own browsing experience less ad-intrusive, and more comfortable.”

This entire statement is confusing. It basically says “Because people don’t “get” the trends that “we” are pushing, we could be hurting ourselves because “we” don’t want to see ads”. Gee-wiz Louis, what a deep and thought provoking statement. “People are too stupid to understand the garbage we’re hocking, and since we’re smart enough to not want to see our own ads, our campaigns clearly aren’t working.” Let’s cut to the chase here. If YOU don’t want to see your own ad, it’s not a good ad! This entire statement also insults two entire groups of people. The first un-named group of “not everyone” clearly doesn’t understand marketing. The second group, those nefarious ad-blockers, are selfish pricks for not wanting to see ads. The underlying statement is that people are either too stupid or too selfish, which doesn’t take into account the all important “choice” of the user, but we’ll get to that.

Because of the advent of social media and the apparent ease with which trends, habits, and ideas can be spread, and because of the incredible speed with which such ideas can be spread, the mere discussion of ads being too intrusive on web design blogs could cause a serious problem in a presently-thriving community.”

“Because trends spread fast, talking about ads is bad”. Did I get that right? Why? Why would talking about ads being too intrusive possibly be a bad thing? Advertisement ARE intrusive. What 99.9% of the population forgets is that we allow these advertisements into our both our public and personal spaces. Ads will go as far as we let them. Period. If ads become too intrusive into our lives it is not only our right but our obligation to stand up and say “no, I do not want to see these ads in this manner”. Let’s take an example or two. Nike brands their t-shirts and hats with their “swoosh” logo. People, identifying with the brand, purchase these items and wear them. They are essentially advertising for Nike every time they wear one. What if they took the next step? If Nike invented some sort of e-ink t-shirt that displayed an animated, ever changing ad on the back of it, and essentially turned people into walking billboards, I would hope that those t-shirts wouldn’t sell very well. People can tolerate and accept a small “swoosh” on fabric. But if a shirt started talking to you about the virtues of Nike, that would be the line. It would have been crossed. No one would want that.

To break it down even further, you have the right, as a consumer (regardless of your occupation as a designer) to not view intrusive advertisements. Period.

Ad Blocks Hinder the Community: The design blogging community would not be what it is today without ads.”

I’m not really sure I could actually disagree more. That statement reaches maximum disagreement with me. To infer that websites are what they are because of ads is simply retarded. If it’s more a statement of longevity than quality, than this website is a perfect example of how that’s horribly misguided. This might be a quiet, less-visited corner of the internet, but this website (and my many others) have been running for over TEN YEARS. I have never had advertising on my site. I generate ZERO revenue from these websites. I have no intention of EVER generating ad revenue from these sites. I support this site out of my own pocket. I write content on my own time and for my own enjoyment. If you’re started a website solely to generate ad revenue YOU are what’s horribly wrong with the internet today.

We should be proud that we are part of a community whose advertisements are often from high-quality software and app development companies.”

Huh? Why would I be proud of someone else’s work? Even if it is high-quality and useful, I don’t feel “proud” about it. Oh, and this “community” you’re talking about, doesn’t include YOU. The application developers have a community, and trust me, they don’t consider advertising designers to be part of it. If you actually think you, as a designer, are part of their community, you’re got bigger problems than a crappy ad campaign.

Oh, and by the way, when you title a paragraph something like “Ad Blockers Hinder the Community”, you might want to actually talk about HOW it hinders the community. Your entire train of though consisted of “ads are good” and “isn’t it nice that applications are cool”. Wow.

Ad Blockers Promote a Me-First Attitude. Nothing succeeds when individuals are selfish. Ultimately, selfishness will lead to demise because a community cannot truly thrive if the individuals that comprise it are only in it for themselves. When you choose to block ads while you surf the web, you’re basically saying “I only care about my own comfort, and I don’t want anyone else to benefit from my web surfing.” It’s a shame that any web designer would have that attitude.”

I’ll give you partial credit for that one, but only for the first part. Yes, communities are built by 2+ people. You can’t have a “community” of 1. That extends to just about everything web related. You need people to read and respond for a community to be active. What on earth does that have to do with advertising? Just curious. “When you choose to blocks ads….” Ok, here’s where my problems really begin. I don’t block ads for “my own comfort” any more than I let prison convicts frolic on my back yard because they could use the exercise. I block ads, especially Flash ads, because they are a huge security nightmare. Ads on webpages and in emails are, realistically, responsible for about 75% of all viruses on computers these days. If you don’t block normal ads, you won’t block malicious ads and if you don’t block malicious ads, you’re reinstalled operating systems every weekend. Fuck you for thinking I’m selfish for not wanting my computers to be gaping security holes. Also, I “have that attitude” and I’m a web designers. I don’t put ads on any of the sites I design, and I’m fucking proud of it.

What would happen if ad blocker plugins started spreading like wildfire throughout the design community, rendering virtually all ads useless? That would be a terrible thing, and would effectively destroy many of our favorite blogs…”

No, that would be fucking Utopia. Xanadu. El Dorado. If everyone blocked every ad we might possibly get back to the golden age of the internet, when people wrote and communicated, not for points on some imaginary SEO scoreboard, but because they genuinely wanted to share information with people. Louis’ argument is that without ad revenue, the internet would shrivel up and die. I just don’t see that happening. You would see a drastic reduction in websites that solely existed to generate revenue, yes. I don’t really see the downside to that. My website would still exist. I would still do what I do. I know a half dozen people in the “community” that would still create Photoshop tutorials, plugins, tips and tricks, just because they would want to share it with their fellow man, not for some ad-revenue greed. Sure, ads might help a site that’s struggling to help pay for their hosting bandwidth, but so might any alternative source of income. Premium content, subscriptions, sponsored contests and giveaways. I could go on and on.

Ad Blockers Could Cause a Mini “dot com bust”. I’m in no position to intelligently analyze the dot com bubble burst or “dot com bust” of the late 90s, but if we promote an “everything should be free” industry, then we’re just setting ourselves up for something similar.”

You’re right, you are in no position to intelligently analyze anything. Neither am I, but here we are. I don’t claim to know what websites ad revenues are, but I would imagine that it’s only a smart part of their financial situation. The “bubble burst” wasn’t even based on ad-revenues. The burst happened because web-based companies were taking on huge sums of venture capital cash and then realizing that they only income they had WAS advertising and that it wasn’t enough to keep them afloat. Learn your web history before you bash it.

No, these advertisers are not making these website owners rich, they’re putting thousands of dollars into the design community, which is positively affecting all of us.”

Really? Did you get a check from someone else’s website recently? You can only speak to what you know, which is what you said in the paragraph before, so why would you assume that website owners aren’t making money and why would you assume that it’s benefiting YOU at all if you’re not directly seeing results/income?

When I worked for a big design agency here in Toronto, I almost always used Internet Explorer for my browsing. My co-workers didn’t understand why I used IE so much. Mainly I did so because I was used to it from years of using IE6. But it was also great because it gave me a realistic view of the web, because I saw things the way our clients did.”

Wow. You know what, your co-workers were right. All this time I thought you were just in the pocket of ad agencies. Now it seems pretty clear that you’re simply disillusion as well. I can’t believe you actually just said the phrase “I used IE6 because it gave me a realistic view of the web”. Wow, just wow. That’s so wrong on so many levels. You websites, while they should “work” on IE6, should never have been designed specifically for it. Hell, even when IE6 was brand-new, everyone knew it was crap. Back then, you designed in tables, in the simplest code you could, so that IE6 wouldn’t mangle it all to hell. I can only imagine the nightmare your IT department must have had with your machine if you were running IE6 without any safe-guards. Wow.

As a community, we should take a stand against any person or blog that promotes the use of plugins or other methods that effectively take money out of the pockets of the very people who are willing to put money into our community.”

No. As a community we should take a stand against people telling us how we should and should not view the web. The web would be a wonderful place without ads. I firmly believe that. I think I’ve even stated my case pretty well to that end. All you’ve managed to do is tell people that they’re selfish assholes for taking money out of your the community’s pocket.

If you run a web design blog, don’t promote the use of these browser plugins, and don’t complain about the amount of ads that appear on your favorite blogs — because you probably wouldn’t even know about those blogs if they didn’t have ads on them.”

I would know about those blogs because I READ content and when people talk about other websites, and leave these little things called “links” all over the place, I generally follow them if I’m interested. I do not “know” about a website because of it’s ad on another website. Perhaps if more people like those in your make-believe “community” wrote quality content, shared links and had open discussions (like we’re having now) we wouldn’t need ads in the first place. What a wonderful world that would be. Oh, and just to rub salt in the wound.

AdBlock Plus 1.2 for Firefox

AdBlock for Chrome

NoScript for Firefox

Designing in the Corporate Environment

Corporate web design is becoming increasingly common in the workplace. Companies that expand over time are hiring more internal designers every day. This runs counter to the thought in the design community that smaller, quality focused design firms will become the norm. While design firms do typically create better designs on the average, believe it or not, “quality” is often a term that corporate clients ignore entirely when working with their web properties. I’ve experience most of this first hand, and let me tell you, it’s a very strange world inside corporate America, and it’s only getting weirder by the day.

I’ve decided to write this article to help designers such as myself. I started out in small firms, designing really high quality sites, eventually doing it on my own as a freelancer, then on the side while I took a full-time job in photography. Now I’ve moved on and I’m part of a design department in a medium sized corporation. It’s day and night compared to what I was used to. The transition has been hard and I’ve learned quite a few lessons along the way. It’s those that I’d like to share with you.

I’d like to outline this by discussing first some very common problems with designing inside a company environment and then by offering some suggestions and tips to help you keep your sanity. These are things that, had I known them two years ago, probably would have helped me avoided a lot of migraines.

Now, some of you might suggest that I’ve in some way “sold out” by discussing how to work in the corporate environment. I would suggest that you take one look at the current job market and ask yourself what’s more important, your high horse and “artistic values” or putting food on the table? No one “likes” to be involved in a corporate environment, especially artists. Sometimes we have to take jobs that might benefit our families rather than our sense of moral superiority.

At any rate, I hope that the fresh-out, struggling designer in the corporate world can appreciate some of these tips. If you’re a successful, independent, freelance designer who only works with the best of the best, this article probably isn’t for you. You wouldn’t happen to have any openings at your small design firm would you?

I kid.

The Problems with Corporate Design:

Management IS your client

This may sound completely foreign to artists who are used to having “clients” and juggling them and their crazy demands around, but you really don’t have any in the corporate world. The company, and more directly, your boss are you clients. Their boss is in turn their client. Everyone is trying to make everyone above them on the food chain happy. If the boss is happy, everyone is happy. It’s a hard concept to grasp at first, but you can let go of the “client” mentality right from the beginning. Not only does no one want to be treated like a client, you won’t be able to get feedback and input from “the client” in the first place.

Clients, for as much as designers complain about them, at least usually have a goal. There’s something they wanted, even if they can’t articulate that to you. Corporations simply want things done and usually don’t care how you do it, how long it takes you, or why you picked that particular shade of blue. By the way, you don’t get to charge by the hour anymore, you’re on salary, you don’t even get overtime. If a website takes you 120 hours, you’re still only going to get paid for 40. Just a friendly heads-up. Oh, and that shade of blue, it’s going to change, so don’t stress over it. Speaking of thing changing…

Design by Committee

This is the single greatest threat to your sanity in the corporate workplace. You’re used to making EVERY decision, picking colors, deciding on layouts, designing interfaces. You no longer have the authority or expertise to make ANY of those decisions. Instead, you, your boss, your art department co-workers (if you’re incredibly lucky) as well as random (often bored) employees from the office will form what’s typically referred to as a “design committee”. It’s the committee’s job to “help you” decide on all of the aforementioned things. Unfortunately, because your co-workers are engineers, accountants and secretaries, they’ve never been to art school or had any sort of design training. Quite often, they’re actually opinion is that orange and green go together, words should blink, everything should be at least 24pt font and that most things look awesome in Comic Sans. These are the people you’re going to have to work with. You have a long road ahead of you.

Design committees are bad for two main reasons. First, as I mentioned before, they’re totally unqualified to help you in the first place and second, without the committees approval you can’t move forward. Everyone needs to be happy with a design before it’s given the all-clear. Unfortunately, as the old saying goes, you can’t please all of the people all of the time, and that goes doublely-so around a conference table.


I know email is typically a wonderful thing. It’s a great way to communicate and discuss things with friends and co-workers. It is not however, designed to be a tool of mass destruction for your inbox. Since the design committee can only meet every Tuesday at 2pm, the rest of your week, when you’re not working, you’ll be receiving what I like to call “email carpet bombs”. A ECB is when one person sends out an email to someone in the group with everyone else CC’ed in on it. In turn, everyone “replies all” to the email, and CC’s everyone again. This goes on for most of the day, with no one ever bothering to change the subject line of the email. This results in 40 emails with the same exact subject, hitting your inbox within seconds/minutes of each other. I don’t care what kind of email client you have, none of them are prepared to search or index those in any sort of meaningful way. You will never remember which one of those 40 emails was the response you were actually looking for. You’ll spend at least 30 minutes every morning just trying to figure out which email it was that you were supposed to be working from.

Unfamiliar Audience

This can be a tricky one, but it usually applies to specific design project requirements. Sometimes you’ll get a project that might be specialized to only a small portion of the company. An internal webpage just for the Sales department, a login form for HR, something of that nature. By the vast wisdom of your design committee, they’ve decided to also include “Marge from accounting” on the team because she’s an “outside opinion”. Some times outside and impartial opinions can actually be helpful if you’ve been looking at a problem for so long that you can’t see outside the box anymore, but in the corporate world, it’s simply one more person on your team that you need to get up to speed as fast as possible. This often leads to a lot of first-round “I’m lost” or “I don’t get it” statements. If a design committee hears from your outsider that they don’t understand what you’ve made, they’ll think they (and more accurately, YOU) have failed in the implementation of the design and therefor the entire project needs to be re-evaluated and sent back to the drawing board.

Technology Barrier

This happens more often than not at companies that only invest partially in their technology infrastructure. I’ve had instances where I’ve been told that we can’t install a certain type of software on the server because it’s still running Windows NT 4.0, or we can’t upgrade the database servers because Accounting is using some piece of software that needs a FoxPro database to run. Sometimes it’s the physical machines themselves. Your first corporate “work station” computer might be running Photoshop 7 on Windows XP SP1 before you beg for an upgrade. Your “server” might also be a cobbled together old Windows 2000 box with a couple extra network cards in it. These are the kinds of things to prepare yourself for. Not everyone will have a brand new machine, running the latest OS with the best software. That leads me to…

Backwards Compatibility

Yes, this is the IE6 part of the article, and I have a real life example of the horror that can arise from having an office full of old, dying machines.

Months into a design project, after rounds and rounds of revisions on paper, before anything electronic was ever made, we decided to create a new site based around the latest HTML and CSS specs. I pulled out all the stops, using 32-bit transparent PNGs, new CSS 3 features, CSS roll overs, javascript libraries, all sorts of things. When I was done, I emailed the URL to the group. No one could see it, especially the boss. I didn’t understand, it looked fine on my screen, I had even checked it in multiple browsers. I of course, had forgotten that I was working mostly off my laptop, which I keep up to date with the latest versions of everything. After being called into an office by a grumpy manager and told to simply “make it work”, I realized that they were all running IE6. All of them. IT has specifically told everyone in the company NOT to upgrade to IE7/8 because our timesheet software wouldn’t work with it, and no one would be able to fill out their time-sheets. This actually happened.

Now, I chose the high-road on this one. I made a plea to the IT department to first upgrade our timesheet software and then everyones browsers. I got the ball rolling by pointing out the security hazards involved with staying in the dark ages. You might not be so lucky. I’m absolutely NOT saying it’s ok to design for IE6. Let it die. If they can’t see it, I would suggest the same road I took. If that doesn’t work, hell, carry around your laptop with you and show them all one at a time what your website looks like “in the real world”.

Project Managers

This, in my opinion, is a scam. There is no such thing as a project manager, except perhaps in construction. Those folks are call foremen, and they have a tougher job than I do and I wish them all the luck in the world. We’re talking about designing websites. You, as the designer and coder, are the only person qualified for the roll of “Project Manager”. You will, however, never been one. You are a worker bee. You work. Your boss, or a random middle manager from some other department, will be the “project manager”. You will not have final say in anything. Get used to it.

There is, believe it or not, an entire “school” and governing and licensing body, solely devoted to the training of project management personnel. I strongly believe that this too, is a scam. There is not one single thing that can be taught in a class room, virtual or otherwise, about managing people or projects that can’t be taught more accurately in real life. You simply need to have the combination of organizational and people skills, to let your people work to the best of their ability, in order to be considered a good manager. Unfortunately, we here in the US believe in a different sort of management hierarchy. As my father always says “they promote the idiots and the assholes in order to keep them out of trouble”. Middle managers have always been useless, and having classes to help them manage projects better is an insult to managers with a brain everywhere.

Multiple Designs

This is the last, but sadly most common, problems I’ll mention. Because of all of the above reasons, the odds that you can make it to the end of a project and only create one design, are nearly a billion to one against. At some point, someone is going to say something like “I wonder what it would look like in red” and from then on, you’ll be doing two versions. One blue, as you designed, and one red, as Ted from Sales suggested. Now, you may get lucky and do both versions, but be able to quickly eliminate one at your next meeting. It does not however, let you off the hook from making new versions of anything else someone might suggest. You will also hear the phrase “show me a couple options” from managers, meaning that they don’t like something, but they can’t quite but their finger on it. It’s also summed up in the old expression “bring me a rock, bring me a rock, any rock… no, not that one.” You can, and will, end up making more designs that you’ll throw away than ones that you’ll actually use. This is incredibly common. At one point I’ve personally be working on four complete and functioning websites, only to have all four shot down and the group to ask for “better options”. Not only were all four totally awesome designs, but I spent the time to make them all actually function.

This is a hard lesson to learn, but an important one. Unless they ask specifically to see them working, send screenshots. Trust me.

Solutions and Suggestions:

There is good news however. You can actually survive all of what I’ve already talked about with your sanity intact. The key is two-fold. First, you need to understand the limitations of the corporate world, the people in it, the non-creativity inherent in the system and the constraints in which you’ll be expected to work. Secondly, take up drinking, or any other stress and aggression relieving activity, like paintball. I took up both.

I do however have a few tips and suggestions for those weary travels on that tough corporate road. I have successfully used all of these in my own work environments. Most of them work quite well, but don’t underestimate a good deal of luck either.

Have a Strong Outline & Plan of Attack

Since you’ll never be able to actually be the project manager of a project, you must, at the very beginning, establish that you’re there to get shit done, that you’ve done this before and that you have a plan. This is really hard for artists. Most of us simple “do” things as they come to us. We work best at the last minute and under pressure. We don’t write business plans or action items. Well, it’s time to start. Remember that you’re playing a different game now. You can’t play football with the rules from baseball just like you can’t play starving artist in the corporate world. Send memos, write outlines, make action items, assign jobs to members in the group. By asserting your dominance in the project at the beginning and, more importantly, keeping everyone busy, no one will have the time to question why you’re the one running the show. This is the hardest thing for the quiet, introverted, artist type.

The one caveat to this plan is that YOUR plan actually has to work. You can’t give everyone some fake BS plan and then go do your own thing. Try and keep it simple at the beginning. Start with your goal. Why are you redesigning the corporate website? Are you not getting enough traffic, does it need a graphic refresh for aesthetic reasons? These are important things to nail down at the very beginning and try and stick to. If you’re only updating the look, then you’re keeping all the content, and if you’re keeping all the content, no one can suggest they rewrite/reorganize entire sections. Try to write down the goal and scope and make sure everyone is on board.

Design Guidelines

This might sounds similar to the scope and goals I just mentioned, but this is even more specific. This is how you’re going to define colors, fonts, sizes and the general look and feel. That way, when anyone has the notion that “it would look better as…” you can point to your design document and say that, while that’s a very good idea (always pad their ego), that wasn’t the direction you were going. It’s important to agree that everything will be Arial at this point, rather than having the “Comic Sans” discussion later.

Design 101

Perhaps this is just an extension of my own personality, but I always try to “teach” a little as I go. Most people don’t have an art background, they don’t know what looks good, that’s why you have a job in the first place. That’s why there’s an entire world full of web designers, photographers, artists, painters, interior designers and product designers, because the other half of the world is full of accountants, engineers, IT professionals and administrative staff. Those two sides of the world need to work together and that’s one of the first things you need to figure out. Just remember, most things that you’re saying to them, they won’t understand. Try and help them, and not in a condescending “art snob” sort of way. Tell them about color theory, tell them around the golden ratio, about the rule of thirds. Help them to understand and they’ll feel smarter, they’re learning the “tricks” of those crazy artists. Be nice about it. If you can get everyone to agree one some basics, you’ve got a great foundation to discuss the rest of the project with them.


This is an obvious result of your situation. You have two choices. Be patient, explain things clearly, try to make your opinions know in a nice, slow, constructive way, OR go insane and be carried out on a stretcher after to try and feed your neck tie into the paper shredder. Those are really your only two options. If you’re not patient, you’ll have high blood pressure, no sleep, a caffeine addiction and unhappy friends and family because they have to put up with your grumpy ass. Take a breath, count to ten, whatever works for you. Pick your battles and remember, this is not YOUR website. It’s not your baby, it’s not your pride and joy. This is going to be a corporately designed march through design death valley and the sooner you just let it go and let it happen the happier your going to be. Now, I’m not saying you shouldn’t stand up for your designs, or your design decisions, but you need to realize that sometimes you’re not going to win. You have to be ok with that. If the CEO of the company comes down and personally demands Comic Sans, you had damn well better give it to him. You can suggest politely that it’s not really the best idea, but after that, let it go. Or go nuts. Your call.

IT is your friend

Make nice with your IT guys. They are, more often than not, just as over worked and underpaid as you. They have to put up with viruses, broken email servers, the broken laptop from the VP who needs a powerpoint off of it this instant, and any other computer horror story you can think of. These are also the guys who would love to upgrade their equipment but for some reason can never get their budgets approved. You can work together for the greater good. You’re going to need fast computers, a high-speed connection for uploading content, modern operating systems with updated browsers, and these are the guys that can help you out with all of that. Be the champion for upgrades and innovations in your design and make sure that the IT guys are on-board with it and have your back. If you suggest they upgrade to a new server to handle the traffic your new uber-site will no doubt get, you had better talk to them about it BEFORE bringing it up in a meeting. If you’re both on the same page, then two people making a compelling argument for new hardware is a heck of a lot better than one.

More Patience

At this point, you’re convinced “they” are all idiots. It’s ok, they are. You know it, I know it, every other artist knows it. Breath. Ask yourself if it’s really worth the fight. If yes, then go for it, make your case and hope for the best. If not, then chill. You tried to tell them, you tried to change their minds, they didn’t go for it. It was their call to make. Who cares. Go home, have a beer, and collect your sweet sweet paycheck at the end of the month. Pro tip: Take whatever design you thought worked best, and save THAT work for your portfolio, not whatever they ended up going with. With the way the web works, whatever site you work on today will be down, redesigned or completely different inside of two years anyway. You may as well just keep the ones you like, no one will ever be able to see if live anyway, even if you did like the end results. I can count on one hand the number of designs I’ve made in the past 15 years that are still online. Two. That’s it. Chill. Breath. Go have some green tea or something.

Things To Avoid At All Costs:

Design Comparisons

This is at best an insult to your design and at worst it’s a dangerous road to travel down. The second you let other people bring in “designs” they like and compare them to yours they’ll become fixated on the bright, shiny widgets and not what you’re trying to accomplish. Now, I’m not say that you can’t look other places for inspiration, most of the time that’s actually quite helpful. What you should try to avoid all together is a group “hunting” expedition into the wild of the internet to “find” a design that you like. It’ll steer your group and all it’s discussions from that point forward. If you go to Apple, and everyone likes that website, and you try to do something “similar”, they’ll never be happy with it because it’s not exactly like Apple. Instead, try setting goals or features you want. For example, list that you want a feedback form, a slider on the home page and icons for categories, then, if you happen to discuss other websites you have context to do it in. You can discuss how they did X but you’re going to be different and try Y. If they see X before you have that conversation, they’re going to simply want X and want to know why you can’t deliver it. They won’t understand that you don’t want to get your ass sued for plagiarism.

Competitors Websites

What’s even worse that stealing random website ideas? Stealing the look and feel of your closest competitor. This happens. More often that I care to admit. People become so obsessed with what the other guy has on their website that they lose all focus on their own. “They have widgets, we need widgets!” Ok, but we’re rewriting content for section A, not redoing the front page. “I don’t care, give me widgets!”… That project is doomed from the start. Not only will you spend months making widgets, but you’ll never rewrite that section, your content will be out of date and you’ll have a widget that doesn’t quite work right because it wasn’t designed for YOUR site in the first place. Avoid “studying” the competition at all costs. Stress that your company is so awesome, it should be a market leader, not a follower. Copying websites make you look like a follower. That usually puts them back on track.

Too Many Shiny Buttons

As I mentioned before, you can easily get caught up in what software developers call “feature glut”. It’s the opposite of “feature creep”, where features get added slowly over time. If you focus on simply adding “cool stuff” all at once then you run a real risk of making an entire project of just that. Listen, I’m all for the latest stuff. I love it to. I want to use it everywhere, but you’ve got to walk the line between bringing your company into the 21st century and having load times in the “minutes” range. Have a couple cool things, but don’t go nuts. Does your railroad shipping company really need a chat room? These are the questions you’ll need to ask yourself.


This is mostly me. I hate non-standard web development. Nothing makes me more angry than a website with a flash navigation using some beta version of Flash that I’ve never heard of. Stop making pages that only work in IE. I don’t care if that’s what the boss uses, make it work in IE, Firefox, Safari and Chrome. Make most of your design plain old regular HTML and CSS, or, if you’re using a content management system try to keep it simple, don’t load all sorts of extra scripts you won’t need. If you’re especially lucky, you might even have some say in the CMS. Steer clear of CMS systems based on any specific language or platform. For example, WinUberCMS 4000.Net is probably not going to play nice on a Linux box running Apache. Do yourself a favor and stick with more commonly known, well supported and open source CMS systems. You’ll thank yourself later.

Final Thoughts:

No one said selling out to the man would be easy, and if you’ve spent any time in the corporate environment, you’ll know that’s especially true. If anything, I’d almost say that working for a large company can be at times harder than working independently. Look, I’m not trying to be a downer, but eventually the freelance “business” you have with your two college buddies isn’t going to keep the lights on. At that point you’ve got to put on your big boy pants and either get a real job, a better job, or take that huge risk and go out on your own. For all of you who have done that and are successful, I applaud you. You deserve a standing ovation and I don’t want to take anything away from your accomplishments. You’re a huge part of the industry, one that I respect very much. It is an unfortunate reality however, that some of us need to take corporate jobs from time to time. I used to feel really horrible about it. I used to feel like I sold out, like I was somehow not the artist I used to be. I was really depressed about it for a long time. Then I realized that I made a decision that was best for the people that I love, and that it was simply nothing to be sorry about. I make good money, I get to work on cool projects and for every nightmare project that I’ve outlined in this article, there are dozens that I’ve enjoyed. I didn’t sell out, I upgraded.

I wish everyone in corporate design, in corporate art departments and in “design committees” the best of luck. Just remind yourself that what you do between 9am and 5pm, Monday through Friday does NOT define you as a person or as an artist. Just remember to breath, be patient and above all, don’t panic.

Politically Incorrect

You all know I’m historically not the most politically correct person. Actually, I try and be the least politically correct I can be on a regular basis. There is simply nothing I hold higher than the first amendment, and I deeply feel that not only is it being used against us, but twisted and distorted, or discarded all together.

Normally, I wouldn’t bother to mention South Park. Parker and Stone are certainly strong enough individuals, who believe in their own first amendment rights, and who have exercised them numerous times in the past. Which makes this deal with the thinly veiled death threats from cowardly Muslim groups all the more aggravating.

Residing in OUR country, and citing OUR laws, they point to the first amendment and say that their religion is offended because someone is showing a picture of their profit. They say that their first amendment rights mean that everyone has to respect their believes and not show their religious icon. What they fail to understand is the rest of the amendment, the law in it’s entirety.

Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.

If you’re reading that as any normal person would, you’d see a couple things stand our. First, that it’s talking about laws being created, not about you living your daily lives. It says that Congress can’t make a law taking away your freedoms, not that your freedoms can never be ignored by other people. Second, the amendment, if we’re putting it in the context of “personal freedoms” also includes the right to free speech. They are in the same law. They don’t trump one another. You being religious does not trump me or anyone else being able to freely talk about it.

Radical Islamic groups, operating in this country, have realized that we’re such fucking pussies that they can use their religion and their beliefs and our 1st amendment as a trump card and get whatever they want. How long will it be until a Muslim person, in a Muslim community beats and kills a girl who’s seen in public with a man and claim it’s legal and justified under their Sharia law? How much do you want to bet that it’ll become a serious test of our legal system when his murder trial goes to court? I’ll save my view of our legal system being bent over for another time, but if you’re vaguely interested (and like spy novels), check out The Last Patriot by Brad Thor. Great Book and it has similar themes to what I’m talking about.

Anyway, my point is that it’s not so much an act of cowardice on the part of Comedy Central to ask them to so heavily censor the last episode as it is an abuse of OUR basic freedoms so that retarded radical fuck heads remain unoffended. I can understand the reasons behind it. The terrorists sent them threats of violence and included the names and addresses of Comedy Central head quarters, South Park studios, etc. Under the threat of death, I can see how they would decide that a cartoon is simply not worth having people die over. I understand that completely. What I can’t understand is why Parker and Stone didn’t say “fuck you” to them anyway and why this obviously dangerous group hasn’t been charged and arrested. If it’s their first amendment rights to threaten someone, then its our first amendment rights to offend them in the first place.

I’m sorry. Maybe I’m dumb. Maybe I can’t wrap my head around it. But one persons “right” to not be offended doesn’t override another persons “right” to offend them in the first place. You DON’T have the right to go through this life and not be offended. I’m offended daily by people wearing Yankees hats. Do I threaten them with bombing their place of business? No, of course not. Am I offended by threats against my faith, yes, on occasion, but I don’t insight violence in retaliation. I also know that it was the offenders right to say/do/create whatever they did. I have no right to stop them because they’re being intolerant of me. My beliefs are not their concern, nor should they be.

That entire premise has been both distorted and forgotten by everyone from government to media to people on the street. Why? Because, these particular people wrap towels around their heads and claim to have bombs. You know what, I’m with John Stewart. Go fuck yourselves. I hope you’re offended.

The Daily Show With Jon Stewart Mon – Thurs 11p / 10c
South Park Death Threats