April 24, 2008

Alphabet City

Alphabet City Flickr Set thumbnail

Last weekend I attended a typography walking tour around the Lower East Side of Manhattan led by Tobias Frere-Jones (of Hoefler & Frere-Jones fame). The tour focused mainly on engraved and painted signage from bygone years. Some examples were presented because they were so damn beautiful, and others were presented for the exact opposite reason, but all were very intriguing, representing a place, time, and cultural inheritance in the history of the city and its people. Tobias told us that the tour was inspired by his research leading up to the design of Gotham—a gorgeous typeface, though fast approaching ubiquity—in which he crisscrossed all the blocks below 14th street taking photos of every bit of preserved type he could find. At multiple points over the course of the walk we were treated to some of Gotham’s ancestors and original inspiration. Tobias has only done a few of these tours, and they sell out within a couple of hours, but if you are in the NYC area, I highly recommend signing up (check out the AIGA NY events page for updates). There are few chances to be lead around such a historic city to look at interesting typography by someone so knowledgeable of craft and heritage. I managed to take photos of all the type we stopped to study, as well as a couple other examples along the way, and dropped them on to Flickr for continued viewing pleasure.

March 31, 2008

WordPress Admin Redesign

Over the weekend WordPress 2.5 was released, and oh what a release it is. The WordPress admin has had a complete facelift, a joint effort from Automattic, Happy Cog, and many individuals from the WordPress community, amounting to over 90 contributors. The new admin was re-built from the ground up, with clean markup and a shiny new design.

I first worked with Matt Mullenweg about three years ago when I had the pleasure of redesigning the WordPress logo, so I was very excited when he approached Happy Cog to help redesign the WordPress admin. Though many talented people have had a hand is this project, Happy Cog’s was just one piece of the whole. We were tasked with re-architecting the admin (expertly done by Liz Danzico), creating a revamped design (done by me), all overseen by Jeffrey. We worked on a good handful of pages which the Automattic team coded and extrapolated to create all of the other pages. WordPress has grown so organically over the years, that certain areas of the old admin became like little serfdoms, complete with their own unique styles and functionality. One of the biggest goals we sought to achieve in the redesign was to bring a system of consistency to the different admin pages, forms, and content types.

WordPress logo

I won’t go into all of the new features and advancements, Matt has already thoroughly covered those, but I do just want to mention that this is an iterative process. A lot of things have been reorganized, streamlined, or altered. Little odds and ends of the design work we executed haven’t made their way into the system yet (or will be included in the .com rollout of the admin). So, some things may take some getting used to. It’s important to understand that this project is setting the groundwork for the new WordPress, and that this is just the beginning of development. And of course, if something is missing or broken in this release, you can always file a support ticket.

We are very excited by the results, and hope you will be too. My hat goes off to Matt and the Automattic team, and to all of the passionate members of the WordPress developer community. If you are interested in checking out the new WordPress, take 2.5 for a spin or watch a screencast of the admin in action.

March 17, 2008

So Long, South By

Another South By Southwest Interactive has come and gone. This year’s conference was once again bigger than its predecessors, packed with the heaping portions of both really good and so-so content. I told myself this might be my last for a while, but now I’m not so sure; this was the best time I’ve had at SXSW in a few years, all because I avoided the parties.

Instead of braving the long lines and frustration of losing my voice while trying to shout above the the music—assuming I even managed to get in the door—I opted to get swept away with smaller groups at bars that weren’t hosting a parties. This resulted in a much more relaxed time full of really great conversation with new and old friends.

I presented twice this year, first as part of a panel on Day 1 called “Respect!” accompanying Jeffrey Zeldman, Liz Danzico, Erin Kissane (all Happy Cogs), and Doug Bowman from StopDesign and Google. I was nervous about presenting with so many co-workers fearing it would end up very one-sided, but it turned out to work really well, giving everyone a good glimpse into our group and how we work together, while Doug provided a good in-house balance to our points.

The second talk on Day 3 saw my longtime friend Rob Weychert and I team up again to tackle critiquing in “Everyone’s a Design Critic”. Battling both a time change for daylight saving, the first slot of the day, and less sleep than I’d like, we and the crowd managed to drag our butts in and pull off a really engaging conversation. There was a lot of audience participation, which helped everyone perk up. Below is the podcast for “Respect” and the slides for “Everyone is a Design Critic” (podcast coming soon).

  • Respect!: Podcast | Video Clip (I love that they label me “Santa Monica” and renamed our panel. Great job, guys.)
  • Everyone’s a Design Critic: Podcast | Slides (8.1MB PDF)

Perhaps the biggest eye-opener of the conference was the nature of how people interacted with one another and the content being presented. I saw very few people taking pictures, blogging, or even using laptops during the talks, and I collected far fewer business cards than ever. What I did see was an incredible amount of was Twitter action. In the past year Twitter has certainly exploded, but its presence at SXSW was palpable. People were not only using it to converse during talks as a sort of back channel, the Mark Zuckerberg interview being a good example, but also to organize flash meetups and impromptu parties instead going of the official events. Lots of people were using Twitter last year too, but it didn’t have the kind of saturation of followers to create the network it did this year.

Even stranger still are the implications of a possible drop off in Flickring and blogging. In previous years, blog posts and photos were the way people archived SXSW, you could skim through both to piece together a good semblance of the story for what occurred during the conference. I’m going to venture a guess and say that this year everything was archived by tweet, not solely, but most accurately. Twitter really became the story and storyteller of the conference. (I can’t take credit for this observation, it sprang out of a conversation with Liz). There are some pleasant exceptions to this, notably Mike Rhode’s sketchnotes, but wow.

This year’s SXSW has left me optimistic about the conference. Last year I felt like grew too big for its own good. This year it grew bigger still, but everyone seemed to find ways to make it work to their advantage. One of these years the conference will probably just turn into a large Katamari ball, but until then I think I’ll keep showing up. Actually, that might be even more incentive to show up.

February 27, 2008

Clever Veggies

The Pirates Who Don't Do Anything: A VeggieTales Movie poster thumbnail

As I stood on the subway platform the other day, zoning out at the posters that line the walls, I snapped to attention as a most peculiar thing caught my eye: a poster for a movie called The Pirates Who Don’t Do Anything: A VeggieTales Movie. I can honestly say I don’t know much about VeggieTales (the TV show or the films), but damned if this poster, and more specifically, the character on it, aren’t clever.

Do you see it? Right there on the hat. At first glance you might see a skull and crossbones (or in this case, flatware), but that same shape is also a flourished letter “P” for “Pirates” and a sliced mushroom viewed from head-on. So simple and smart. Small details that carry multiple meanings like these are design gold, and this one hit me that much harder because it wasn’t very obvious at first glance. This isn’t going to get me into the theater for the film, but it sure made me stop and stare like a idiot for a few minutes. High fives to whoever the designer might be.

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On The Subject Of Me

Jason Santa Maria is a Graphic Designer living in sunny Brooklyn, NY. more »

Oddities & Diversions

Last Updated May 20, 2008
  • A List Apart: Issue 259, Get control of your career and your projects, and stop waiting forever for the client to deliver the content. Articles by Pepi Ronalds and Keith Laferriere.
  • Children & Proverbs, A first grade teacher gave each child in her class the first half of a proverb and asked them to come up with the remainder of the proverb. Awesome.
  • Crusher, ad-free, heavily customizable, and just downright awesome invite website. I’ll never use Evite again.
  • Children’s drawings lovingly recreated as surreal photographs. (via Quipsologies)
  • In 1945 the Nazis fled to the moon. In 2018 they are coming back. Iron Sky, a very interesting looking new film. Looks reminiscent of old Sci-fi pulp, and Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow.
  • The Iconfactory is celebrating the lead up to the release of Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull with some delectable Indy icons inspired by the films.

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