design marketing strategy sweet spot

The Design and Marketing Relationship

When most people think of marketing, they think of sales and advertising. The thanks for this is in no small part due to employers and agencies that lump sales and advertising under “marketing,” and advertise for positions within their companies as such. Just look at Craigslist or Monster.com or any want-ads under marketing jobs, and lots of people obviously want “sales” to mean marketing. But it’s not; it’s only a factor of it, and moderate at that.

But marketing management isn’t the topic today. It’s what design and marketing have to do with each other, which increasingly with time is a lot.

We used to wax philosophical in graduate school about where the next great (and possibly last) frontier lies in business. And more specifically, within the realm of marketing and marketing strategy.

Supply chain and logistics were always mentioned, and that view was supported by the business school, by including logistics and supply chain courses as part of the marketing strategy concentration. Whatever.

But I always argued, and still do, that it’s design that’s the last frontier. Whether that’s the design of a physical product or how you handle your services, both internal and external, it’s what differentiates the industry leaders and losers. And as technology improves as do the margins and customer service that can be enhanced with better logistics, the competitive edge will get thinner and thinner.

I believe design will be what sets businesses apart. We already see a huge number of startups that simply improve on OLD, BAD design, and have no trouble gaining significant market share quickly. We’re also in the middle of a giant rush for everyone to “disrupt” everyone else, which pressures innovation. One thing that will always need to be considered, as markets and consumers tastes evolve, is the design of the products and services. The design is ultimately innate to the business.

If you think design is secondary in marketing, tell that to Apple. The resources devoted to design are large, for every aspect of the company. From the store layouts, to the service, to the website design, to the app store and icons, to the products themselves, to the company campus layout, and more. Then look at Blackberry. Blackberry’s have very similar basic technologies as Apple’s products. But where they got left in the dust was design. In fact, Apple is a marketing company, and what they market is well-designed products. And they’re very good at it.

It’s easy to market good design though. Design is what’s hard. There are few marketers alive that wouldn’t want to work on marketing Tesla motorcars, for example. Just look at their design, and how the company is designed. I assure you the marketers and designers for Tesla are very integrated.

As someone who has a pretty strong background in marketing, design is a natural fit and they complement one another perfectly. But it’s hard to see that on the surface because good design should be invisible. Good marketing, of course, is not.

tesla model s interior design

adobe illustrator keyboard shortcuts

Adobe Illustrator Keyboard Shortcuts

I love Adobe Illustrator and use it more than Photoshop, which I’ve noticed is a controversial topic on the web. You should use them both, I think, so what’s the argument about? Everyone has their personal preferences, and every project is usually different anyways.

In fact, I’m the owner/moderator/whatever of an Adobe Illustrator Google Community, which I’m kind of proud of. It’s not hyperactive, but I’ve managed to keep the spam away and make sure, as best as I can, that we get high-quality material, which does appear consistently. The group’s grown to over 700 people, which I know isn’t an eye-popping number, but still, it’s pretty cool, and more importantly is that it’s growing at a steady rate. And online, a steady number of awesome new people soon has a multiplier effect, so I’m optimistic. What about, I don’t know. But it’s fun. There are all levels welcome, and I get the impression there are some serious artists among us, including instructors. When I started it, I was worried it would be nothing but noobs asking how to download it for free or something. That fear has been allayed.

OK, end of shameless Google Community promotion. Here are a ton of Adobe Illustrator keyboard shortcuts, which is the only way to fly in my opinion. Don’t be overwhelmed by the number; just learn a couple at a time for the functions you use the most, and you’ll soon have a decent repertoire that saves a huge amount of time with your workflow. Just learn one a day, and you’ll be shaving time off which quickly becomes significant.

Adobe Illustrator Keyboard Shortcuts

 

Files
Ctrl-N New Document dialog box
Ctrl-O Open dialog box in Adobe Illustrator
Ctrl-W Close
Ctrl-S Save
Ctrl-Shft-S Save As dialog box in Adobe Illustrator
Ctrl-Alt-S Save a Copy dialog box
Ctrl-Alt-P Document Setup dialog box
Ctrl-Q Quit/Exit Illustrator
 
Tools
V Selection
A Direct-selection
Y Lasso
Q Direct-select Lasso
P Pen
T Type
L Ellipse
M Rectangle
B Paintbrush
N Pencil
R Rotate
S Scale
O Reflect
E Free Transform
W Blend
J Column Graph
U Gradient Mesh
G Gradient
I Eyedropper
C Scissors
H Hand
Z Zoom
+ Add-anchor-point
- Delete-anchor-point
Shft-C Convert-anchor-point
 
Dialog boxes
Tab Highlight next field/option in Adobe Illustrator dialog boxes
Shft-Tab Highlight previous field/option
Esc Cancel
Enter OK
 
Palettes
Tab Show/hide all palettes
Shft-Tab Show/hide all palettes except Toolbox
Enter Apply value in palette field in Adobe Illustrator
Shft-Enter Apply value in field, keep field selected
Tab Highlight next field (pointer in palette)
Shft-Tab Highlight previous field (pointer in palette)
 
Views
Ctrl-Y Preview/Outline view toggle
Ctrl-Alt-Y Pixel Preview view on/off in Adobe Illustrator
Ctrl-Alt-Shft-Y Overprint Preview view on/off
Caps lock Use crosshair pointer (drawing tools)
Ctrl-H Show/Hide Edges
Double-click Hand tool Display entire artboard in Adobe Illustrator
Ctrl-0 Fit In Window
Double-click Zoom tool or Ctrl-1 100% view size
Alt-click Zoom out (Zoom tool selected)
Ctrl-Spacebar-click or Ctrl-+ Zoom in (any tool selected)
Ctrl-Alt-Spacebar-click or Ctrl–(minus) Zoom out (any tool selected)
Drag with Zoom tool, then Spacebar-drag Adjust Zoom marquee position
Drag Zoom tool or Ctrl-drag in Navigator palette Zoom in on specific area of artboard
Spacebar Use Hand tool (any tool selected)
Ctrl-Alt-Shft-3 Hide all unselected objects in Adobe Illustrator
Ctrl-Alt-3 Show All
Ctrl-Shft-W Show/Hide Template(s)
Ctrl-Shft-B Show/Hide Bounding Box
Ctrl-Shft-D Show/Hide Transparency Grid
F with menu bar/Full screen mode Standard screen mode/Full screen mode
 
Undo/redo
Ctrl-Z Undo last operation in Adobe Illustrator
Ctrl-Shft-Z Redo last undone operation
 
Create objects
Alt-drag Draw object from center using Rectangle, Rounded Rectangle, or Ellipse tool in Adobe Illustrator
Shft-drag Draw circle with Rectangle or Rounded Rectangle tool; square with Ellipse tool
 
Polygon, Star, Spiral tools
Spacebar Move object as you draw with Polygon, Star, or Spiral tool
Shft Constrain orientation as you draw with Polygon, Star, or Spiral tool
Up or down arrow Add or subtract sides as you draw with the Polygon tool, points as you draw with the Star tool, or segments as you draw with the Spiral tool
Alt Align shoulders as you draw with Star tool
Ctrl Increase or decrease outer radius as you draw with Star tool or decay as you draw with Spiral tool
 
Select/Copy
Ctrl-6 Select Again (last used command on Edit menu > Select submenu)
Ctrl Use last-used selection tool (any non-selection tool chosen)
Ctrl-Tab Toggle between Selection tool and Direct-selection tool or Group-selection tool
Alt Toggle between Group-selection and Direct-selection tools
Ctrl-A Select All in Adobe Illustrator
Ctrl-Shft-A Deselect All
Ctrl-Alt-[-click Select an object hidden behind another object
Shft-drag Add to selection with either lasso tool in Adobe Illustrator
Alt-drag Subtract from selection with either lasso tool
 
Move
Double-click Selection tool Move dialog box
Alt-drag Drag copy of object
Any arrow key Move selected object the current Keyboard Increment (Preferences > General)
Shft-arrow key Move selection 10x Keyboard Increment in Adobe Illustrator
Shft Constrain movement to multiple of 45º
 
Clipboard
Ctrl-X Cut
Ctrl-C Copy
Ctrl-V Paste
Ctrl-F Paste In Front
Ctrl-B Paste In Back
 
Transform
Alt-click Transform tool dialog/set origin (any transform tool except Free Transform)
Shft-drag Transform object along multiple of 45º (Shear, Reflect, Rotate tool)
Shft-drag Scale object uniformly (Scale, Free Transform tools)
F-11 Show/Hide Attributes palette in Adobe Illustrator
Ctrl-D Transform Again
~ drag Transform pattern fill, not object(any transform tool)
Start dragging, then Alt-drag Transform copy of object (any transform tool) in Adobe Illustrator
Modify value, then press Alt-Enter Transform copy of object (Transform palette)
Modify W or H value, then press trl-Enter Scale object uniformly (Transform palette)
Ctrl-Alt-D Transform Each dialog box
 
Bounding box
Shft-drag handle Scale object uniformly using bounding box(Free Transform or Selection tool)
Alt-drag handle Resize object from center using bounding box in Adobe Illustrator
 
Blends
Ctrl-Alt-B Blend > Make
Ctrl-Alt-Shft-B Blend > Release
 
Free Transform tool
Alt-drag a handle Transform from center
Start dragging corner handle, then Ctrl-drag Distort
Start dragging side handle, then Ctrl-drag Skew
Start dragging corner handle, then Ctrl-Alt-Shft- Make Perspective
 
Pen/Reshape
Alt Add-anchor-point and Delete-anchor-point tool toggle (either selected)
Alt Use Add-anchor-point tool (Scissors tool selected)
Alt Use Convert-anchor-point tool (Pen tool selected)
Alt Smooth and Pencil tools toggle in Adobe Illustrator
Shft-drag Constrain direction line angle to multiple of 45º with Direct-selection or Convert-anchor-point tool
Ctrl-J Join two selected endpoints
Ctrl-Alt-J Average two selected endpoints
Ctrl-Alt-Shft-J Average and Join two selected endpoints
Drag, then Alt-release Close path while drawing with Pencil or Paintbrush tool
Alt-drag tool Cut in a straight line with Knife tool in Adobe Illustrator
Alt-Shft Cut in 45º increment with Knife tool
 
Fill & Stroke
F-10 Show/Hide Stroke palette
D Default fill/stroke
Alt Eyedropper and Paint Bucket tool toggle (either one selected)
X Fill/Stroke box toggle (Toolbox and Color palette)
< (comma) Apply last-used solid color in Adobe Illustrator
/ Apply fill/stroke of None
 
Color palette
Ctrl-I or F-6 Show/Hide Color palette
Alt-click or drag color spectrum bar on Color pale Change fill color if Stroke box on Toolbox is selected, or vice versa
Shft-click color spectrum bar Cycle through color models in Adobe Illustrator Color pallete
Shft-X Swap fill/stroke
 
Swatches palette
Ctrl-Alt-click list, start typing name name Select a swatch name in Adobe Illustrator Swatches pallete
 
Layers
F-7 Show/Hide Layers palette in Adobe Illustrator
 
Grouping
Ctrl-G Group
Ctrl-Shft-G Ungroup
 
Restacking (keyboard)
Ctrl-Shft-] Bring To Front
Ctrl-Shft-[ Send To Back in Adobe Illustrator
Ctrl-] Bring Forward
Ctrl-[ Send Backward
 
Select
Click selection square or Alt-click name Select layer, sublayer, group, or object
Shft-click square Add to selection in Adobe Illustrator
Alt-drag-square Copy selection to new layer, sublayer, group
 
Views
Alt-click eye icon Hide/show all other layers
Ctrl-click eye icon View a layer in Outline/Preview view
Ctrl-Alt-click eye icon View all other layers in Outline/ Preview view
Alt-click blank box in second column Lock/unlock all other layers in Adobe Illustrator
 
Create top-level layers
Ctrl-L Create layer above currently selected layer
Ctrl-click New Layer button Create layer at top of list
Ctrl-Alt-click New Layer button Create layer below currently selected layer
 
Lock/unlock (keyboard)
Ctrl-2 Lock (selected object)
Ctrl-Alt-Shft-2 Lock all unselected objects
Ctrl-Alt-2 Unlock All
 
Type
Ctrl-T Show/Hide Character palette
Ctrl-M Show/Hide Paragraph palette
Enter Hard Return
Shft-Enter Soft Return
Ctrl-Alt-Shft-M Highlight font field on Character palette
Ctrl-Shft-T Show/hide Tab Ruler palette
Ctrl-Shft-(hyphen key) Force hyphenate a word in Adobe Illustrator
Ctrl-Shft-O Create Outlines
 
Type tools
Alt Use Area Type tool (Type tool selected, over open path)
Alt Use Path Type tool (Type tool selected, over closed path)
Shft with any type tool Switch to vertical/horizontal type tool equivalent as you create type in Adobe Illustrator
Double-click with any selection tool Switch to Type tool when selecting type block
 
Selecting type
Double-click Select a word
Triple-click Select a paragraph in Adobe Illustrator
Ctrl-A Select all the type in a block
Ctrl-left/right arrow Move insertion pointer left/right one word
Up/Down arrow Move insertion pointer up/down one line
 
Alignment
Ctrl-Shft-L Align left
Ctrl-Shft-C Align center
Ctrl-Shft-R Align right
Ctrl-Shft-J Justify
Ctrl-Shft-F Justify last line
 
Point size
Ctrl-Shft-> Increase point size in Adobe Illustrator
Ctrl-Shft-< Decrease point size
 
Leading
Alt-down arrow Increase leading
Alt-up arrow Decrease leading
Double-click leading button on Character palette Set leading to the current font size in Adobe Illustrator
 
Horizontal scale
Ctrl-Shft-X Reset horizontal scale to 100%
 
Kerning/tracking
Alt-right arrow Increase kerning/tracking in Adobe Illustrator
Alt-left arrow Decrease kerning/tracking
Ctrl-Alt right arrow Increase kerning/tracking 5x
Ctrl-Alt left arrow Decrease kerning/tracking 5x
Ctrl-Shft-Q Reset kerning/tracking to 0
 
Baseline shift
Alt-Shft up arrow Increase baseline shift
Alt-Shft down arrow Decrease baseline shift
Ctrl-Alt-Shft up arrow Increase baseline shift 5x
Ctrl-Alt-Shft down arrow Decrease baseline shift 5x
 
Curly quotes
Alt-0146 (numeric keypad only)
Alt-0145
Alt-0148
Alt-0147
 
Brushes
F-5 Show/Hide Brushes palette in Adobe Illustrator
 
Combine Paths
Ctrl-8 Compound Path > Make
Ctrl-Alt-8 Compound Path > Release
Ctrl-4 Repeat last-used Pathfinder command in Adobe Illustrator
 
Gradients
F-9 Show/Hide Gradient palette in Adobe Illustrator
> (period) Reapply last-used gradient
Ctrl-click thumbnail Reset gradient palette to black and white
Alt-drag Duplicate color stop
Alt-click swatch Apply swatch color to active color stop in Adobe Illustrator
Shft-drag with Gradient Mesh tool Move mesh point along one of its lines
Shft-click with Gradient Mesh tool Add mesh point using adjacent mesh color
Alt-click with Gradient Mesh tool Remove mesh point
 
Clipping masks
Ctrl-7 Clipping Mask > Make
Ctrl-Alt-7 Clipping Mask > Release
 
Transparency palette
Alt-click mask thumbnail View only opacity mask in mask edit mode in Adobe Illustrator Transparency palette
Shft-click mask thumbnail Disable opacity mask
 
Effects
Ctrl-Shft-E Apply Last Effect
Ctrl-Alt-Shft-E Last Effect (reopen last effect dialog box)
 
Appearances
Ctrl-/ Add new fill
Ctrl-Alt-/ Add new stroke
Alt-Shft-click with Eyedropper Sample style and append appearance of selected object in Adobe Illustrator
 
Filters
Ctrl-E Apply Last Filter in Adobe Illustrator
Ctrl-Alt-E Last Filter (reopen last filter dialog box)
 
Precision Tools
Ctrl-R Show/Hide Rulers
Ctrl-; Show/Hide Guides
Ctrl-5 Make Guides
Click selection square on Layers palette, then Ctr Release Guides
Ctrl-Shft- double-click guide Release a guide
Alt-drag new guide Convert guide between horizontal/vertical orientation in Adobe Illustrator
Ctrl-Alt-; Lock/Unlock Guides
Ctrl-” Show/Hide Grid
Ctrl-Shft-” Snap To Grid
Ctrl-Alt-” Snap To Point (Pixel Preview off); Snap To Pixel (Pixel Preview on)
Ctrl-U Smart Guides
Shft-drag with tool Constrain Measure tool to multiple of 45º
 
Preferences
Ctrl-K General Preferences dialog box in Adobe Illustrator
 
Export/Print
Ctrl-Alt-Shft-S Save for Web
Ctrl-Shft-P Page Setup/Print Setup dialog box
Ctrl-P Print dialog box in Adobe Illustrator
F-8 Show/Hide Info
 
Shortcuts/Help
Ctrl-Alt-Shft-K Keyboard Shortcuts dialog box in Adobe Illustrator
F1 Illustrator Help (online)
New Perspectives in Web Design

The Differences Between Web Designers and Web Developers

Web designers and front-end web developers of course have their contrasts as individuals: left-brain, right-brain orientation, a noticeable imbalance in average incomes, and the stereotypes that we all know, love and laugh about. For those in the business, the differences and responsibilities are very obvious. Developers may grumble about short-sighted designers, and the two are often paired up on projects to produce a beautiful, functional application or website. But the expectations and responsibilities with those roles are changing. Here I offer my take on the whole thing, and it appears I’m not alone in my opinion.

web-designers-vs-web-developers

But for the typical person on the street, they’re one and the same. It’s a person that makes websites. Simple enough.

In a world not too long ago, the line of demarcation was bold, with a 10 pt stroke. But that line is becoming more opaque quickly as it becomes more common for a front-end developer to be expected to work seamlessly in Photoshop and Illustrator. Same with designers–not knowing at least the basics of HTML, CSS, JavaScript, AJAX, PHP, and other languages is foolhardy as we zip into the future of the internet. And mobile. And Apps. And thousands of screen sizes and high resolutions.

The basics of the primary, concrete differences between the two sets has been covered pretty well. What inspired this post is a (great) book I’m currently reading from Smashing Magazine, New Perspectives on Web Design. At about 500 pages, however, the book is no magazine.

New Perspectives in Web Design

I’m about a quarter of the way through it, and despite the book title, so far what’s been covered has been nothing but code. How best to write it, organize it, how to build it as an architecture, scalability, forward-usefulness of it, semantics, etc…Nothing about “web design” at all per se. And that’s not only fine, it illustrates my point here today: that what we’re soon going to have on our hands are three distinct brands of web-worker. The hybrid generalist primarily, and a specialist of both the web design and programmer varieties. A programmer and guy I admire professionally, as do many others, Tom McFarlin, recently also reflects on this phenomenon: Developers Must Know Everything, Or I’m Out of a Job

The hybrid generalist

This is what I currently count myself as, and it’s befitting of my personality and interests. It’s also the way I believe the wind is blowing and what we’ll be seeing more and more of. And although the moniker may imply a shallow level of depth, that’s not necessarily the case. It’s just that building a wall around ourselves professionally is going to make it harder and harder to get work, as websites become more and more complex, dynamic and robust. Niches don’t seem to be more widespread as time goes on, even though the amount of skills and knowledge involved in building a high-quality website or application is large and wide, to use an understatement. You simply must know how a design will impact the code base, and vice-versa.

No matter a designer or developer, both require an innate sense of curiosity, an urge to perpetually learn, and a utilitarianism that seems like it would be absent if someone were to focus strictly on one platform, for example. It’s all so intertwined, that personally, I find it hard to know when to say “that’s enough” when delving into a new language or learning a new design skill which may currently seem superfluous, but probably won’t be for long. The web is a really fickle and amorphous place, and rabbit holes run very, very deep.

I’m not dissing specialists by any means. I liken them to PhDs or even some MDs I know that are highly talented and hardcore at their specialty or sub-specialty. But beyond orthopedics or operations management or whatever, they’re a lost cause. And with nearly any task or object an obviously bright person shouldn’t struggle with. Handling money, home repairs, technology…you name it. There are exceptions, of course, but I’m always amused when I recognize one of these one-trick ponies. Fortunately for them, specialists make a lot more money, so hiring others to do the dirty work solves the problem(usually), unless they’re poor at hiring and managing others, and are swindled or otherwise exploited. I’ve seen that quite a bit as well.

The specialist

Specialists, as I just mentioned, tend to pull in higher payments for their work, but to do so they typically must be known as “the go-to” person for their skill, which can take decades. It involves a dedication to a sole discipline, to master it, become an influencer in their field, and establish themselves as the expert. Not everyone is capable of that focus, and I know for some, the tedium and monotony would become pronounced rather quickly. But some people thrive on it and it’s greatly fulfilling.

The opportunities for specialists should be increasing, as nearly everything is becoming more technical, more complex, more integrated, and more than one human can manage when compounded with everything else. If I were to set up an agency of any formidable size, I would certainly find designers that were the best at their particular talent. And hire developers and engineers that are experts at more narrowly-focused tasks. As a manager, that’s usually more efficient and easier to manage, versus a group of people who have projects all over the place. Of course, I run a small studio consisting of myself and do, in fact, have projects all over the place. However managing myself is much easier than a team of generalists. I’ve led many teams, and always have more success when I assign specific roles befitting each team member. You don’t make your kicker a lineman, unless you have a death-wish for him.

If I look into my crystal ball, I believe we’re going to see more animation, interactivity, and feature-rich sites, that utilize developing technology such as 4k, 8k, 3-D, mobile apps for wearable devices, such as Google Glass and iWatches that communicate with other devices. Sure, the tools used to build it all are also progressing, but learning to to master those tools (and which ones are going to be the industry leader and not just disappear after a few months) is another time-consuming challenge in itself. An example that comes to mind is the recent obsession with responsive web design. Suddenly web designers and developers are expected to know how to create sites that function perfectly across thousands of different devices, at any resolution, on a variety of browsers, and at different levels of accessibility. And that’s only a handful of the considerations that must be taken into account.

This is a reason open-source works so well for developers. By making the code communal, within constraints of course, it’s much more manageable and efficient. But that’s a topic for another day.

Where do you think the industry is headed?

coca-cola-no-pepsi

Some Personal Thoughts on Walking The Walk in Order to Be Happy

At the risk of sounding preachy and narcissistic, I’ve decided to wrap up 2013 with a little lesson I’m learning that I feel is important to share, for accountability reasons and possibly to help others achieve their goals as we put a somewhat dreadful year behind us, depending on how you look at it. The lesson is wrapped around a little to-do list for me and hopefully reflects a bright ray of optimism for the future, a thing to be grateful for.

We often find ourselves managing others and evaluating their actions and results to measure and encourage success, but it’s easy to neglect that activity for ourselves. Walking the walk, of the talk of which we so easily talk, involves being self-critical, and executing a well-crafted plan, which isn’t any more fun than it sounds. For anyone. A lot of what I do in life involves telling others what to do to succeed. Whether that’s as a consultant, professor, stepfather, husband, counselor, cousin, lifeguard, designer, developer, mentor or any other role I tend to find myself in. I spend lots of time helping ambitious people set goals and prepare paths to reach their goals in the optimal way for them. I find it rewarding when they do and that preparation is crucial to reach some pretty complex or lofty goals that remarkable people bring to me. But in doing so, it’s easy and often more comfortable to avoid doing the same for myself. 2014 is the time for me to address this. Past time, really.

Part of my advice to others that aspire is to make themselves very accountable. Heap on the personal risk here, because the worst that can happen will still give great value, even if at some personal discomfort. It fades quickly with time. If we keep our goals secret, it’s far too easy to set them aside. No one will know anything about them, which is part of the secret, and we’re just asking for extra difficulty in achieving them, which is self-defeating. And to that end, we have this very post, which is a statement of accountability. I’m going on record. But I doubt I’m alone in this behavior of not practicing what I preach, so for the people that stumble across this blog and see a similarity, hopefully it will help you as well as you search for ways to make notable improvements. I’m sure even the most sterling among us could use a little polish, and for some of us, a sea-change is in order. I’ve been hanging closer to that group more and more and I’m beginning to see it take its toll.

2014 will be a year I change some things that are pretty big for me personally:

  • I stop drinking Coca-Cola like a fish needs water.
  • I stop being a creature of the night.
  • I start eating healthier again.
  • I go to the doctor, optometrist and dentist.
  • I attack debt like a cancer.

The synergistic precipitation from these actions will be gigantic. Individually, they hold a lot of potential for a change in my mood, health and well-being, including my marriage and therefore my wife’s mood. But collectively, they’re even more significant.

For years I’ve been quietly arm-wrestling depression. That may be for any number of coincidental reasons, but I knowingly and willingly exacerbate it by not taking care of myself and working myself to the bone. Those would be the first things I would tell a friend to change; advice I completely ignore myself. Some people seem to have greater self-destructive urges than others, but its just plain common sense despite our individual tendencies. I’ve also chosen a career that is rife with depression. Including some big names. It’s a monster that needs to be closely watched and I certainly shouldn’t be feeding it so well.

Coca-cola bottles through the years

The Cokes, by which my office has become a veritable Coca-Cola Emporium via Coca-Cola reward points and marketing swag, has been a staple of my diet since birth. My tee-totaling, granola-baking, wheatgerm-forcing mother shared this very same vice and was also hooked, which may have something to do with it. Being born in Atlanta may have as well, as the Motherland. And yes, I hate Pepsi with all of its sugary foaminess. But enough is enough when your main source of calories is carbonated high-fructose corn syrup and your teeth are dissolving before your very eyes. If you hold stock in Coke, you may want to sell, because their sales volume is about to take a big hit. I also used to drink a lot of it with bourbon. I stopped drinking alcohol nearly 10 years ago, so I already know such changes can have a dramatic and an unbelievably positive impact on your life. The biggest, and only, downside of that decision for me has been an annoying tendency for others that I’d like to get to know better to mislabel me as a “square.” I can, and do, hang.

And speaking of adrenaline and gallons of sweet caffeine, the same goes with staying up all night working in my office. I’ve been working 36 hours straight at times in an effort to advance myself professionally as quickly as possible. Manic is the word, I believe. Thomas Edison is my prototype which I try my best to emulate. Not surprisingly, that takes a toll on relationships and emotional states. My excitement to have a work/life balance has tilted to all work, no life. Even though creatively I’m able to produce some work of which I’m most proud during the wee hours of the night, I’m sure I can make that happen when the Sun is up as well with some schedule-shifting. Daily distractions are disruptive to workflow, and there are plenty when the humans are stirring about. However, considering I have no windows in my relatively luxurious office and I prefer to work in the near-dark, it doesn’t really matter anyway. Even as I write this at 5:25am I’ll be up for hours more with a long to-do list involving learning a new development tool and practicing with Github, the bane of my existence. I’m passionate about what I do. Red is my favorite color.

And with that pace, I said goodbye to general health long ago, praise be to my youthful genetics and wife. I remember days of eating bushels of sprouts, exotic super-foods, drinking gallons of water daily, and exercising deliberately and routinely with the determination of a serious athlete. Several years ago, almost on my birthday, I snapped something in my left knee that ended the exercises of my youth. Decades of running, I think, took its toll and a ligament popped when I twisted suddenly. I began running track in 7th grade, and ran in 5k fun-runs before that and was a runner up until that day, off and on. It eventually happens. I’m thankful it wasn’t my Achilles, which is a common injury to active young men in their 30′s and 40′s. Please believe that you don’t want to hear how they fix that. But that inflated a bubble of physical caution that ironically now has me huffing and puffing after climbing too many stairs. Not good. To my credit, I’m responsible for the entire maintenance of 2 properties, which is often physically rigorous, especially in the hot Summer months. People join gyms because they can’t get the type of workouts I get, plus I walk our sweet old dog 2 miles around our nice, hilly neighborhood most days militantly.

As the one in charge of planning and preparing meals in our house as well as acquiring most all the consumables, I do my best to make sure my wife and stepdaughter eat like Olympians. My stepdaughter will one day compare me to The Great Santini in my regimen. Yet I’ve all but thrown in the towel with my own personal diet. One meal a day, in the middle of the night, of whatever is left over and available to mix and match in the pantry, which usually isn’t much since I grocery shop every couple of days. That’s to keep the freshest fruits and vegetables on hand for others and imminent recipes. It’s a dietitian’s worst nightmare, even though I avoid fast food and chain restaurants whenever possible. I have my limits. The last time I ate a McDonald’s hamburger, I remember thinking “this is what the color grey tastes like.”

Any doctor would tell you to stop, which is counter-productive in the lunatic’s mind, so that’s one of several reasons I stopped going to the doctor for regular checkups, the dentist for cleanings, and the eye doctor for a new prescription, despite having premium insurance and the need for all of it. My doctors have been a deteriorating series of cartoonish quacks, and I’ve been fighting the idea of getting bifocals for several years out of sheer pride. Although my farsightedness leveled off long ago, my need for reading glasses is becoming more pronounced each year. Sitting in a dark room banging out code for hours on end may have something to do with that, possibly… But something I advise clients of for best results is to locate the very best tools available and embrace new technology. The right tools truly make all the difference, and glasses for eyesight are no different. Time to level up. And I already have a Warby Parker box en route to me for some new frames. My current frames? Some Ralph Lauren wire-rims from 1995, which is a reason I never wear them.

eyeballs and glasses

My ex-father-in-law was a pretty good oral surgeon, and used to say there are only 2 reasons people don’t go to the dentist: fear and money (the lack of money, more precisely). But there’s also a third: apathy. Get out of a routine, and that’s just the end of that sometimes. Just look at the British and how their teeth have wound up. There’s a dentist somewhere in Louisville that’s about to be horrified when I embarrassingly tell him when my last cleaning was. My salvation is a seriously awesome electric toothbrush, which wasn’t cheap, but at least adheres to my rule of using the best tools possible. There’s simply no going back once you’ve used a new-fangled brush–they’re great.

One of the reasons for the self-imposed Hellish workload is to wipe out our familial debt. Student loans, although meager by most measures, linger, as do ugly credit card bills. While financial help was needed as lowly graduate students several years ago, carrying an interest-bearing balance at this stage is irresponsible. Milestones must be placed with an actual plan to eliminate the balances, and then it has to be executed like a boss. Just what I would tell anyone who asks me how to do it.

And thinking, wanting or planning to invoke any of these changes isn’t worth a hoot if no one knows about these decisions but me. Which is why I’m bravely posting them for the entire universe to feast its eyes upon. Public humiliation can be a pretty good motivator, and in some instances support can even be generated which is appreciated and helpful when the chips are down. That’s an excellent reason to have a mentor (and mentor others). And if you aren’t going to change these things now, then when?

Who’s with me?

hide text using css

A Better Way to Hide Text Than the Text-Indent Hack

For some reason, I see developers using and recommending other people hide their text (or whatever) using the -9999px text-indent hack that has been popular for so long. But a better way has been around for a while, and I don’t know why it’s not caught on. If anyone has any theories, please share.

Consider when you push your item off the screen by almost 10,000 pixels, you’re actually making the browser create a box, albeit invisible of course, that’s 10,000px wide. That’s a big box. Does that sound like a good idea? It didn’t to me either.

Scott Kellum simply decided to do this:

.hide-text {
text-indent: 100%;
white-space: nowrap;
overflow: hidden;
}

Simple and elegant, but I still see the -9999px trick all day, every day, and JUST saw a well-known developer tell someone else to do it. Perhaps alone it doesn’t account for a huge load issue, but many little ones together do, and since this is a place for (easy) optimization, I’ve long-since said goodbye to the -9999px hack. Why wouldn’t you?

Me and my lovely wife

A Quick Tour of Louisville

This has absolutely nothing to do with web design or development, but it’s a very good stop-motion tour of the city in which I live.

Louisville’s a great city, and my family was lucky to be able to settle here. It’s mid-size and fairly compact, so traffic isn’t usually a problem. All the bridge construction going over the Ohio river to Indiana is the biggest issue right now, but that’s temporary and a sign of growth.

Louisville is a global port, so many large companies have a presence here, like Amazon, UPS, Papa Johns, Ford, GE, etc… We have nationally ranked college football and basketball teams, which most people may shrug off, but it makes a difference in city pride, plus the money that comes here because of it. Churchill Downs, Louisville Slugger, KFC, Muhammad Ali, Pappy Van Winkle’s bourbon and My Morning Jacket are all indigenous to Louisville. If you like bourbon, horses, baseball and diversity, Louisville’s the place. Being a crossroads of sorts, Louisville attracts people from California, New York, Chicago, Florida, Texas, and literally everywhere, as well as many internationals. I’m from South Carolina and my wife’s from Alabama. It’s a big soup of backgrounds, which is an asset but also causes the city to have a HUGE identity problem that it can’t seem to solve despite a lot of money and effort.

Louisville has the largest neighborhood of Victorian houses in the U.S., and has a lot of architectural diversity as well, which I think is great. (By contrast, Montgomery, Alabama is about 85% ranch-style homes.) There is a tech scene here that has huge aspirations, which I include myself in, and lots of artists and a thriving artistic community. All sorts of performing and visual arts and venues, a killer music scene, and lots of individuality makes Louisville a really fun place to live. Oh, and the food here rocks as well.

London underground

Free Stock Images

I find myself sending links to clients that want sources of free stock images frequently, so to make things easier for everyone, I’ve posted some of the lesser-known places I go for free images here, as well as some other quality resources and some stock image sites that may not be free, but are worth bookmarking. Although creating these images is a work of love for many folks, providing high-quality, high dpi, large-scale images that are personally edited by someone with creative talents and software skills is worth paying something for. Otherwise we’d do it ourselves. I think most artists are happy to get anything. I will alert you that some websites aren’t inexpensive however, and quite a few require you to deposit “credits” to purchase items, so just be aware there different market and price structures out there.

Free Stock Images

Free With Attribution

Premium, but often worth it

Image Optimizers

Other Image Tools

mark down

Markdown is Taking Over the Internet

If you’re not familiar with what markdown is, you soon will be. (Like after reading this :-)) To quote Matt Wiebe over on the WordPress.com blog, who I thought gave a succinct definition:

Markdown is a quick way to add formatted text without writing out any HTML.

Markdown was developed originally by John Gruber of Daring Fireball notoriety, and it has slowly been adopted on many writing and publishing platforms. You can count WordPress.com as one now, and soon the WordPress JetPack plugin will feature an option to write in markdown as well for self-hosted sites. [edit- WordPress has now introduced Markdown capabilities using Automattic's JetPack plugin module]The new blogging platform Ghost ships with it, GitHub has it’s own variety of it, as do others, and you don’t have to look hard to find it being implemented more and more. There are plenty of great text apps that can help with writing in markdown, but it’s so intuitive most people can pick it up quickly.

The reason is simple: it really is a more fluid way to write once you learn it. And until then, there are plenty of guides and even a cheat sheet built right into Ghost that includes keyboard shortcuts. According to John Gruber:

“The idea is that a Markdown-formatted document should be publishable as-is, as plain text, without looking like it’s been marked up with tags or formatting instructions.”

There should be fewer errors using markdown as well. I know for me, at least, the opportunity to leave off a bracket somewhere is a lot less. The punishment for incorrect markdown isn’t a big problem that it may often be with HTML. Your formatting will just appear incorrect, so you know to head straight there to remedy the issue. It’s straight text, so it can be edited in any editor really. Even so, a bonus is that many platforms that are adopting markdown also allow integrated HTML, so the best of both worlds are available. That’s a real time-saver too.

Here’s a site that is appropriately named that can get you started: Markdown Tutorial. I’d recommend reading the docs on Daring Fireball first to get an overview of what it’s all about if you aren’t familiar. Then try writing in it some with a cheat sheet nearby. You may be surprised at how quickly you pick it up.

EDIT(02/19/2014) Chris Coyier wrote a nice post about adding code blocks to your posts, which ended up really focusing a lot on markdown. Instead of summarizing it and rewriting it and posting the same links he has, I’ll take the lazy route and direct you there. It’s worth the click, believe me: Posting Code Blocks by Chris Coyier

musgrove

Hey, Look! A Website Redesign.

Just as I spent last weekend cleaning and fixing up a rental house of ours down in Tuscaloosa, Alabama, home of the Crimson Tide(roll tide)this weekend I spent fixing up MichaelMusgrove.com with a total website redesign. The house was much easier.

As I’ve mentioned before, websites are temporary things, in every way. The domain is licensed, as is probably most of the software running it, and even to kill a site as big as Amazon would only take a few code adjustments. So giving this site an overhaul over the weekend wasn’t particularly challenging. But needed and desired for far too long. Although artistically I liked the design of the old site, it was a bit gloomy and getting a little stale.

previous iteration of mm.com

Ironically, and perhaps hypocritically, I’ve never used Genesis on this website. Over the years I’ve had a string of custom themes, a Twenty Thirteen child theme, then a custom site I made, and now a Twenty Fourteen child theme. Although that theme hasn’t been officially released, you can still grab it from the WordPress nightly build. It’s just that I use Genesis all the time for other sites, and this site is a good place to experiment and play. I basically found some cool fonts over at Typekit, ripped off the color palette from my work website, added some custom elements, and moved things around until I was reasonably satisfied. I’m still not totally happy with it, however, and I can’t put my finger on what’s bothering me about it. So I’ll keep tweaking little things here and there, until I just get tired of this design and make another. I’ll at least wait until the Twenty Fourteen theme is officially released.

I like that the theme guys at WordPress are getting braver with their designs. The earlier default WordPress themes were fine, and were useful as jumping off points, but were as bland as anything. Minimal and elegant is one thing; boring and institutional is another.

pre-register your domain names

The Internet is About to Grow. A Lot.

If you haven’t heard, there are about to be hundreds of new domain names appearing around the interwebs. To be specific, there are about to be hundreds of generic top-level domains (gTLD)s slowly squirted out to the domain-buying public. Some have already been released, but they were in Chinese and Hebrew or some other non-romantic language. (Romantic in the sense they’re Roman, not that they give flowers to their girlfriends). The number is expected to go from the (currently) 22 available gTLDs, like .com and .net, and the lamer .co and .info, etc… to possibly 1,400 new ones! Holy Schnikies!

You’ve probably seen news of this sort over the past few years and given it a quick gloss-over, but the time is nigh. The process of choosing the names was long and probably more technical than I want to know. According to ICANN, who oversees domain names:

ICANN’s New gTLD Program was designed to facilitate a measured rollout of new domains so as not to disrupt the Domain Name System. The gTLDs from the New gTLD Program will be introduced into the Internet securely and steadily over the next few years. The Program is the result of eight years of study, and 47 different solicitations of comments from the public, which produced more than 2,400 comments, 55 explanatory memoranda and seven versions of the New gTLD Applicant Guidebook.

So, this isn’t something that was spontaneous. In fact, I’m surprised it took that long, since you or I could have written down a list of what’s likely and have been 99% accurate. Most of the new gTLDs are aimed at professionals and commercial interests($), but not all. They also get very specific, as you may imagine, such as .blog, .law, .design, .luxury, .mba etc…

Domain registrars have been taking “pre-applications” for a long time–I remember filling out one for .webdesign over a year ago as well as some others that I can’t even remember now. More registrars are being added at an increasingly frequent rate, and even GoDaddy is gearing up for this. Many names have been scooped up, like .bmw by BMW, and Google has staked a pretty big claim on a chunk of them as well. They pay handsomely, of course. If you want to see a list of who has applied for new gTLDs, you can look here. If you are interested in learning more about the new gTLD program you can go here.

pre-register your domain names

OK, I get the point. So What?

Well, there are a few things to consider.

Although the market is about to be flooded with all sorts of unfamiliar domain name endings, .com, .org and even once-lowly .net will actually increase in popularity, until there’s simply nothing left worth owning. No one’s going to buy a 30-digit .com full of vowels and hyphens, for example.

Search engines are going to have to adapt quickly and in what surely must be an enormous algorithm update. Suddenly .com, .net and .org, which are nonsense words, save .net if you’re a fisherman, are going to be replaced wholesale by suffixes that have meaning. Schema, if you will. Hmmm.

Internet users are going to be complaining about them for longer than anyone will want to hear. What’s happening is the same as if someone came into your neighborhood and built all new streets and posted new, unfamiliar signs, but a lot of familiar businesses and faces will now be there. People hate change and being confused, so this will be uncomfortable for a while.

This is going to be a time for many, many businesses to update their websites, or even get online. Business for people like me, who design and build websites, should be very good. All the businesses that got stuck with dud URLS that are a mile long, have nothing to do with their business, or are a source of some other form of regret will now be able to resolve that. That’s something that should be pushed and reminded to clients and prospects if you also stand to see an increase in volume from this, and a time for other devs and designers to adjust their practices accordingly as well. I’m considering offering a packaged service that revolves around the new gTLD program. But that’s another post.

If you’d like to see what’s about to land, I recommend signing into GoDaddy(you know you have an account) and scroll through the 897 they have listed. Some of the more uncommon: .gripe, .party, .silk, .shoes, both .watch and .watches, .ged, .shiksha, .soy, .boo, .fire, .goo, .ieee, .pid, .tattoo, and, of course, .sucks.

As an aside, I personally can’t imagine having the ego, or insecurity, or whatever would lead someone to put a .mba after their name, unless it’s a business school. But people never cease to amaze, and this was an 8 year study, after all.

What do you think about all the new gTLDs? How can we use this news for good, and not evil?

Top