The Control Freak’s Guide to Design for the Web

Want to narrow the distance between a compelling mock-up and a realized Web presence? Tired of compromising your vision to combat unforeseen challenges in layout, type, color, graphics and more? Wish your designs remained consistent browser-to-browser?

If you answered yes to any of the questions above, you may be a control freak—and we can help.

Join me for an intensive 3.5-hour workshop celebrating the journey to pixel-perfection. You’ll learn practices and tricks you can apply to your work immediately for consistency in your design and development processes, including:

  • Setting up the perfect mock-up
  • The essentials of color
  • Controlling typography with CSS and dynamic Flash type
  • Graphics, backgrounds and alpha-transparency
  • Multi-column and complex layouts
  • Cross-browser and cross-platform consistency
The workshop takes place Thursday, May 22nd from 9:10am to 11:45am at the WebVisions Conference, located in the Oregon Convention Center. Register before March 31st for the early bird discount, and all workshop purchases come with a discount on the general conference pass. Keynote speakers at this year’s event include Lynne Johnson of FastCompany.com and Jeffrey Veen of Google.

For more information, visit the event page or send me a note. It’s going to be a blast for all in attendance, and I’m looking forward to seeing you there!

This is Not a Graphic Design

This is Not a Graphic Design Next Wednesday, I’ll be giving a presentation at DevGroup NW entitled This is Not a Graphic Design: Exposing the web’s unique challenges as opportunities for innovation.

Since 1994, the DevGroup has provided a forum for developers to network, share knowledge and find out what’s happening in the Web, Multimedia and Interactive worlds.

We’ll be taking a look at past art and media upheavals in order to identify the true challenges of the new media, subsequently doing our best to propose a sound philosophy for tackling each. An optimistic view of web design tomorrow yields realistic solutions today for topics such as layout, typography, accessibility, identity, community and more.

The presentation is free-of-charge and takes place on March 5th from 6 to 8pm at the PCC Cascade Campus auditorium (map). For more information, visit events at DevGroup NW.

I hope to see you there!

My 10 Favorite Albums of 2007

albums1.jpgMusic is undoubtedly the most visceral art form, constructed from patterns of vibrations which are interpreted by our eardrums as they penetrate our bones. While I believe most genres of music offer their own geniuses, breakthroughs and pitfalls, I am hopelessly intrigued by and entranced with the continually progressive (and just as self-referencing) genre of rock and roll.

I recently pitched the idea of the “Daily DJ Afternoon” to my colleagues at work. The concept is simple; from 2pm to 4pm, one of us will have the opportunity to commandeer the office speakers and choose the music which will push us past the potential afternoon slump and onward through creative breakthroughs.

It was in choosing music for my upcoming playlist that I decided to rank my favorite albums of the year. They serve as a startlingly accurate soundtrack to the last twelve months’ creative output.

10. Von Südenfed – Tromatic Reflexxions

albums_vonsudenfed2.jpgWhile dance music possesses a unique relevancy in this age of mainstream mass communication and technology, far too often I find it omits the flaws and humanity inherent in some of the best rock music. This record is an industrious marriage between the two; the lazy-yet-confrontational speech of Fall frontman Mark E. Smith set against the crunchy, inhuman backdrop of electronic group Mouse on Mars. Deliciously abrasive and captivating.

9. Spoon – Ga Ga Ga Ga Ga

albums_spoon.jpgThis band won’t stand still. After last year’s infectious throwback-catchy breakthrough single “I Turn My Camera On” (through which I discovered the group), I figured we may be in for a phoned-in follow-up performance. I couldn’t have been more wrong; Ga Ga Ga Ga Ga is Spoon’s best album. Equally danceable and challenging, the album is extremely satisfying despite it’s relatively short running time. Better yet, the CD version was priced at $9.99 the week it came out with a full second disc of material.

8. Menomena – Friend and Foe

albums_menomena.jpgThough Menomena’s live performances and eccentric debut album earned them a respectable fan-following in the Portland area (and hipster communities beyond), the unimaginative production of their previous records kept me from investing in their studio output. Their latest offering remedies this problem with layers of inventive harmonies, brilliant instrumental arrangements and fervor-inducing lyrics. I’d talk about the fantastic packaging if I hadn’t already.

7. Prinzhorn Dance School

albums_prinzhorn.jpgThe Horn possess a rare impact. They are Bauhaus rock in the strictest sense, simultaneously minimalist and calculating. Sparse-yet-predatory instrumentals lend a humorously haunting air to everday subject matter. While the full sixteen-track LP may prove too formidable for the casual listener, those with an intense appreciation for the avant-garde will enjoy this subtly aggressive batch of Bowie-by-way-of-LiLLiPUT punk rock gems.

6. Black Francis – Bluefinger

albums_blackfrancis.jpgThe Pixies are one of my favorite bands of all time, but it’s no secret that frontman Frank Black’s output since the group’s breakup has been incredibly polarizing. While records like Frank Black, Teenager of the Year and Pistolero have been heralded as accomplishments in their own right, other efforts (most notoriously The Cult of Ray) have served as curiosities at best. While many were disappointed at the lack of a new Pixies album following their 2004-2005 reformation, fans should take note that the regained Black Francis moniker is not merely a marketing gimmick. Bluefinger is Frank Black’s most Pixies-like record, but it’s also one of his strongest ever. Regaining the naked aggression that was once his trademark, songs like “Threshold Apprehension” and “Tight Black Rubber” re-establish the artist as one of the gods of modern art rock.

5. The Good, The Bad & The Queen

albums_tgtbatq.jpgDamon Albarn flexes his songwriting muscles the most since Blur’s The Great Escape, painting a bleak yet beautiful picture of English atmosphere in theatrical arty pop-rock. Paul Simonon’s bass is essential but not singular. Simon Tong’s guitar is rhythmic and drives the songs forward, while Tony Allen’s drumming is playful, creative and purposeful. What this should have been is the worst, muddled bit of Britpop supergroup stew. What it ended up being is a beautiful, individual work that is undoubtedly Damon’s baby. It sounds a little like Blur, a little like Gorillaz, and a lot like The Good, The Bad and The Queen.

4. Wilco – Sky Blue Sky

albums_wilco.jpgWith Yankee Hotel Foxtrot, Wilco hit something of a creative peak. They managed to perfect their alt-country-meets-60s-rock song structures and marry them with sophisticated textures, the result being a series of songs simple in impact and complex in execution, considered flawless by many a hardened critic and fan. Having pillaged the full range of arty songwriting solutions, 2004’s A Ghost is Born sought to do the same with an immensely scaled-down palette; the result was a rewarding-yet-lukewarm follow-up that bewildered many listeners. Foreshadowed in Kicking Television‘s energetic live arrangements, the songs on Sky Blue Sky seek to recapture Wilco’s breadth without, as Spinal Tap’s Nigel Tufnel would put it, “all the mucky-muck.” Foregoing the studio trickery that complimented songwriter Jeff Tweedy’s heartfelt, poetic lyrics in the past, Wilco takes another left-turn by producing more straight-forward songs driven by a guitar that sounds like something from an Adventure-era Television single. While not as innovative or singular a work as Yankee Hotel Foxtrot, Sky Blue Sky is one of the band’s best and deserving of a top place in their catalog.

3. The Clientele – God Save The Clientele

albums_clientele.jpgLilting and dreamlike, God Save The Clientele is an amazing work of “Daydream Believer”-style English pop. While it doubtlessly brings about nostalgic feelings of the era it lovingly references, the songs featured therein and the emotions they trigger are wonderfully unique. In a postmodern age where artists are struggling to maintain their relevancy, The Clientele still manage to delight and surprise through the classic art of unabashed, ear-pleasing songwriting.

2. Radiohead – In Rainbows

albums_radiohead.jpgGroundbreaking and controversial distribution methods aside (I plan to write another post about them), In Rainbows could be one of Radiohead’s best albums. While 2003’s Hail to the Thief was an interesting mixture of the band’s foundational guitar rock and subsequent electronic experimentation, it lacked the lasting effectiveness that’s kept the majority of the group’s catalog in consistent rotation on many a fan’s iPod and turntable. In Rainbows recaptures Radiohead’s respect for the album as a work while serving songs projecting an increased confidence and creative spirit. The record could be taken as a document of the band’s output as a whole, covering their audial spectrum all the way from crunchy garage rock (“Bodysnatchers”) to electronic faux-dance (“15 Step”) to Thom Yorke’s unnerving-yet-passionate ballads (“Weird Fishes/Arpeggi”). With the release of In Rainbows, Radiohead have managed to extend their own legacy while lighting the way for the younger musicians in their shadow.

1. LCD Soundsystem – Sound of Silver

albums_lcdsoundsystem.jpgWhen I purchased LCD’s debut album, I was absolutely enthralled. The record encapsulated catchy intellectualism, a balance between art and pop but also between art-rock staples and electronic, dance principles. What the album had in spades were killer songs; what it lacked was the sort of cohesion that makes an album’s running order memorable as an entity in and of itself. Sound of Silver possesses that quality in nine immensely revelatory tracks I believe I’ll still be enjoying thirty years from now.

What LCD mastermind James Murphy has accomplished with this record is a progression of rock and dance genres in tandem with a mindfulness toward the performers which preceded him. Despite the consistent throwbacks to (in no particular order) Lou Reed, The Fall, The Contortions and others, Murphy never seems suffocated by his influences and instead applies lessons learned to songs which sound decidedly now. Like the output of Television in the late 70s, Murphy’s strengths lie in his ability to orchestrate tracks between four and nine minutes in length that feel purposeful and lack the pretension and self-indulgence of typical marathon electronica.

Every track is a winner, from the infectious opener “Get Innocuous” into the rowdiness of “Time to Get Away” and the crowd-pleasing “North American Scum,” to the amazing performance of “All My Friends” and the album closer, “New York, I Love You But You’re Bringing Me Down.” Another perfect marriage of dance and post-punk with a newfound element of glam rock injected, Sound of Silver is a picture of where rock and roll should be. With accolades from college campuses and established art-rock elite secured, I have no doubt that this album will be mimicked (and rightfully so).

Art as conversation and the power of cartooning

Groo and Buddy HollyI was grinning ear-to-ear as I walked up to Sergio Aragonés at this year’s San Diego Comic-Con, opened the souvenir book to a page of the Groo 25th Anniversary section and proudly proclaimed “I drew this.”

Sergio was one of the first cartoonists I had been exposed to outside the traditional newspaper page, initially by my father who helped me a acquire a second-hand copy of the paperback In MAD We Trust! While many of my tastes have changed since, I’ve never lost my love for Sergio’s deceptively economic line work and an impeccable ability to distill basic human nature and emotion to its most effective (and humorous) form.

Cartooning is powerful and possesses a uniquely universal resonance because it focuses on the important aspects of an object and omits what isn’t relatable. As Scott McCloud said in his fantastic book Understanding Comics, “By stripping down an image to its essential ‘meaning,’ an artist can amplify that meaning in a way that realistic art can’t.”

Though my opinions are constantly evolving, I’ve recently noticed that this philosophy carries through all aspects of the aesthetic works I enjoy. While I can admire the craft evident in representational artworks (especially that of David and da Vinci), I gravitate much more powerfully toward modern art movements such as impressionism, cubism, expressionism, futurism and modernism itself. While I attempt to maintain a fairly eclectic collection of music, I am hopelessly enthralled with rock and roll.

What do cartooning and animation in visual entertainment, modernism in art and design and rock and roll in music all have in common? All three respect a conversational view of art and communication. Purely representational works are mind-blowing for the events they describe and their impeccable level of detail, but they allow little room for personal interpretation. On the opposite side of the spectrum, more arbitrary works operating on pure expressiveness provide little foothold for comprehension. Conversational artworks are those possessing enough elements to interest, inform and/or enlighten the viewer, but with enough mystique that the audience might impart their own experiences and insight.

Like any good conversation, the best art is give and take. Of course, I maintain the prerogative to change my mind.

Game design made simple?

Happy SphereI have been absolutely bowled away by the gracious response to my Flash game Ramps, which debuted the same week as my new site and identity. So far, the game has received over 43,000 views here, with another 28,000 views on Newgrounds, over 7,000 views on deviantART and many more on at least 20 different sites that I’ve discovered hosting it. I’ve had the opportunity to watch people compare high scores in different languages, given that players have originated in over 110 countries.

All of this has been intriguing as well as surprising for me; the game isn’t exactly the most far-out concept I’ve ever concocted. The player simply positions ramps to get translucent spheres to roll into a metallic bucket. It started as a simple learning experience through which I gained many skills in dynamic ActionScript animation and economic programming techniques, and grew into something with far more reach than I could have anticipated. This leads me to believe that, for mainstream audiences, the enjoyment of a game relies less on its visual impact than it does on other factors, including the following:

  • Intuitive controls
  • Straightforwardness
  • Variety
  • Surmountable challenges
  • Feedback/rewards
  • Fun!
If one can accomplish most of these in a way that is reasonably interesting, I would expect that three-quarters of the game’s players would probably be delighted to participate. Subconsciously or not, approaching the development of Ramps as a learning tool rather than an artistic statement may have forced me to acknowledge those foundational elements more prominently than if I had been slaving over my markers, mouse and tablet, agonizing over every detail in a series of intricate sprites and textures.

That isn’t to say I didn’t make some mistakes in the game, but where mistakes were made there were lessons learned that I’m thrilled to have the chance to remedy in the future. With the positive response of this experience fueling me, I hope to attack my sketchbook for ideas for a new game utilizing the pick-up-and-play simplicity established here, but presented in a much more imaginative way. Inspiration is easy to come by with the amazing-yet-unique visuals found in current or upcoming properties like Michel Gagné’s Insanely Twisted Shadow Planet, Nintendo’s Super Paper Mario and the unforgettably quirkiness of the Katamari series. I’m sure I’ll learn a whole slew of lessons as a result, and I hope to have you playing along right beside me!