Branding Fun

 

If there are any small business owners in Colorado or Washington looking for a brand identity for their new recreational drug company, the one I created for my senior project in college is available for a very fair price.

(Yes, I was the original designer of every Web 2.0 leaf logo.)

New digs

For someone whose job title is “designer,” you’d think I’d remember to think about the design of my blog more often. Truth is that I used to fiddle with it constantly, but since I started blogging with WordPress a few years ago it became easy to get comfortable with a theme and forget about it. I switched to Twenty Ten after I finished building it, then to Twenty Eleven because I had to have the awesome responsiveness. But yesterday I purchased my first premium theme, Portfolio by The Theme Foundry. The amount of customization that’s possible is really amazing. I took it a step further with some custom CSS and fonts from Typekit. Sometimes people assume that I’m able to customize my site beyond what a normal WordPress.com user can — but actually, everything I do here is using the same upgrades available to everyone. The end result probably looks nothing like Portfolio as it’s meant to be used, but that’s how I like to roll.

It’s Getting Worse

It Gets Worse

The state of web design in the news business has always been bad, but it seems to be getting progressively, demonstrably worse. It’s not just that the designs are bad. It’s that the people making the designs don’t appear to have any desire at all to make the experience pleasurable for the reader — how likely you are to click an advertisement (intentionally or not) is clearly the only measure of success in this type of design.

NOLA.com recently “redesigned” their site — I use dick quotes because the design of articles has not changed at all — they’ve just added a terrible webfont, a lot of yellow, and a bunch of extra links in the header. Once you get beyond all the yellow, the article still looks exactly like it did 10 or so years ago when the site first launched, Verdana body text and all. They did add a “responsive” stylesheet — one so responsive that it’s been broken ever since the day it launched (prompting this initial reaction from me):

https://twitter.com/#!/iammattthomas/status/200693238976356353

How bad does the business of publishing free news articles in exchange for banner clicks have to get before something fundamental changes? Hard to say — even NYTimes.com, which now requires a subscription to read regularly, still hasn’t even attempted to use the design talents of their staff or modern web technologies to roll out a site more focused on article readability than ad visibility. But looking at the example above, I’d like to hope that we’ve almost hit the bottom.

UPDATE: On May 23, Advance Digital rolled out this new design to al.com, home of the major Alabama newspapers. There’s a great roundup of reaction to the redesign at Wade on Birmingham.

UPDATE 2: On May 24, the news broke that the New Orleans Times-Picayune will cease daily publication, scaling back to a thrice-weekly schedule. I’m sure I’m going to have more to say on this later, but for now, it’s just sad. I don’t know who at the Times-Picayune is being laid off as a result of this decision, but I have a feeling it’s a pretty safe bet to say it includes their entire design staff.

Engineering Windows 8 for mobile networks

Engineering Windows 8 for mobile networks

We wanted to eliminate the guesswork in locating and installing device drivers for mobile broadband. We did this by working with our mobile operator and mobile broadband hardware partners across the industry, designing a hardware specification that device makers can incorporate into their device hardware. In Windows 8, we developed an in-box mobile broadband class driver that works with all of these devices and eliminates your need for additional device driver software. You just plug in the device and connect. The driver stays up to date via Windows Update, ensuring you have a reliable mobile broadband experience.

The way that Microsoft has built in native support for mobile broadband in Windows 8 is kind of great. The more of Metro I see the more impressed I am, and I hope Apple’s user experience engineers and designers are taking note.

Page Layers converts websites to Photoshop documents

I love finding a piece of software that does one thing this simply, this well. Page Layers, a Mac app created by Ralf Ebert, turns any web site into a layered Photoshop document. Each element, each line of text, everything beautifully separated into transparent layers, which can be manipulated independently of one another. This is pure genius for web designers who want to try new ideas on a page without spending hours drawing a picture of their web site in Photoshop. Works beautifully; worth every penny of its $11.99 price.

Design in WordPress 3.2

The focus for this release was making WordPress faster and lighter. The first thing you’ll notice when you log in to 3.2 is a refreshed dashboard design that tightens the typography, design, and code behind the admin. (Rhapsody in Grey?)

— Matt Mullenweg, WordPress 3.2 now available

Back during the development of WordPress 2.8, the core team decided to solicit some ideas for dashboard refreshes. Two designs inspired by Dean J. Robinson’s Fluency Admin plugin, submitted by Dean and myself, led the informal poll the core team conducted. Ultimately the team decided to save the update for a later version of WordPress and that version came today, when WordPress 3.2 was released with the new dashboard design. A thread on the Make UI blog follows its progress as it came together. We removed unnecessary chrome, refined typography, lightened the page, and generally listened to Alan Cooper‘s advice on interface design:

“No matter how beautiful, no matter how cool your interface, it would be better if there were less of it.”

An aside on typography: I’ve seen a few people question why we chose Arial over Helvetica for most text in the dashboard. I actually believe Arial is a better option when you’re working with text that will be displayed at 13px or below. I know that’s heresy for a graphic designer, but consider this. Helvetica, when it’s installed on Windows PCs, does not work well as a web font. Helvetica Neue is available primarily on Macs and at sufficient weights it looks great, which is why we do use it in some places. But at the default font size in the WordPress dashboard, I think Arial’s readability trumps the dogmatic purity of using Helvetica. I know this is purely subjective and this reasoning won’t change the minds of those who believe Arial is on the same level as Comic Sans — but if the sight of Arial truly offends you, I suggest disabling it OS-wide. You’ll get Helvetica in its place, and everyone will be happy. :) (Update: In the forthcoming 3.2.1 update, WordPress will use the browser-default sans-serif instead, so Mac users will see Helvetica, Windows users will see Arial, and if someone actually specifies what they want their browser default to be, we’ll use that.)

I’m proud of the updated typography and cleaner look of the new dashboard, but my favorite aspect of WordPress 3.2 was a great surprise when I first saw it. It’s also Matt Mullenweg’s favorite new feature — the new distraction-free writing mode. Combined with the Editor Styles feature popularized in last year’s Twenty Ten theme, composing in WordPress is akin to using a minimalist web-based text editor.

Composing this post in Distraction-Free Writing mode

Speaking of Twenty Ten, it’s got a beautiful successor in Twenty Eleven, the new default theme for WordPress. Following up on the improvements we made with last year’s iteration, Twenty Eleven adds a responsive design, post formats, customizable color schemes and layout configurations and more. Read Ian’s introduction to Twenty Eleven for the full rundown. This blog is using Twenty Eleven now with the one-column layout and a custom background.

There’s a ton of other features in 3.2, including faster performance, Browse Happy integration, a more useful admin bar, and hundreds of behind-the-scenes improvements. Read the exhaustive official list to see everything that’s new — then go update your blog, or start a new one!

VVery Good Week

Two projects I’ve been working on for a long time saw the light of day this week. The first, VaultPress, has a simple mission: protecting WordPress-powered sites. I’ve seen it in action, and it’s pretty remarkable. VaultPress constantly syncs your entire WordPress site — your posts, pages, comments, themes, uploads, plugins, options, and everything else — with no user intervention needed once it’s installed. The VaultPress Safekeepers have set up something pretty sweet, and it’s very cool to get to help out with the design. In branding VaultPress, we wanted a design that reflected Automattic’s expertise and competence when it comes to WordPress development. We sought to tell users a story that brought to mind the importance of securing their irreplaceable data without using fear as a marketing tactic. With humor, pith, and a little inspiration from the Crown, we hope that your first impression of VaultPress has made you want to give it a try. While the developers prepare for VaultPress’ public debut, I’m working with the artists at the Delicious Design League on its public face. More about that later. ;)

At the end of the week, VideoPress launched a brand new Flash player that’s totally rewritten for improved performance and better usability. The design changes are subtle, but give the player a much cleaner and more polished look. It’s much easier to copy embed codes or to even download the full-quality H.264 or Ogg Theora video. Try that with YouTube. There is a ton more to come with VideoPress; stay tuned to their blog for more.

For now, check out the new player with — what else — Michael Pick’s video introduction to VaultPress.

Automattic has released an updated versi…

Automattic has released an updated version of P2, the tiny theme for WordPress that’s gotten a few big ideas. Custom post types, more customization, and a better iPhone theme are all included. And we’ve made it easier to use P2 as a “parent” theme, so it’s way easier than ever to create a totally different-looking site that’s got all the great functionality of P2. If you’re on WordPress.com you can take it for a spin today — it’ll be freely available for self-hosted WordPress bloggers soon.