About this site's lack of design: Yes, it's supposed to look this way — I'm helping create a new sandbox theme for WordPress (see it on GitHub).

Dan Rubin's SuperfluousBanter

Design, random musings, and the Web. Since 1977

Archive for 2008

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Screencast: Finder Window Icon Trick

Monday, June 9th, 2008

To celebrate Mac Day (any Steve Jobs keynote address deserves a worldwide holiday as far as I’m concerned), I’ve decided to do my first screencast, so you’ll have something to play with while waiting for the MacWorld madness to begin (it also helps justify my purchase of ScreenFlow a few months ago).

Thanks to the awesome folks at Viddler for making my life a bit easier once I got past the “export” stage…

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Sidebar Creative: Collective Realignment

Thursday, April 10th, 2008

Sidebar Creative logo
Two years ago in Austin, Texas, at SXSW Interactive 2006, an idea was conceived by 4 friends, and nine months later Sidebar Creative was born. That was a little over a year ago, and now that our fledgling design collective has had a chance to stretch its limbs, open its eyes, and all the other lovely things that newborns do, it’s time for some changes (no, not the diaper kind; and yes, all positive). But first, a mini-retrospective of “Year One: The Awakening.”

Let’s go back

Over the course of the first year, Bryan, Jon, Steve and I have learned more about each other and ourselves than any of us expected — and more about what Sidebar means to each of us, and how different that is from what we all expected at the beginning. We expected that joining forces would be a good way to attract larger projects and clients (which it was, and continues to be), but none of us anticipated the attraction of bringing our own ideas to the table and using our combined experience to bring them to life.

Has anyone seen my shoes?

Though the prospect of more client work was a key incentive at the start, our individual consulting businesses saw increases around the same time Sidebar launched (either a coincidence or potential clients hoping to get a lower price by contacting one of us individually — false logic for what it’s worth), and though we received RFPs for large, lucrative projects from day one (the stream of requests has remained steady since January 2007), scheduling and availability became a barrier to accepting many of them. The projects we have been able to work on, however, have been lots of fun, in one case even allowing us to stretch beyond the computer screen to design for pixels of another sort (more on that when we’re allowed to talk about it ;)

Having more than enough client work has served us two-fold: on one hand, we’ve become even more selective about the clients we choose to work with than we were before (being selective is the key to staying interested and engaged: only accept projects you can be passionate about for clients you’ll enjoy working with), but it’s also afforded us the time to indulge our own interests.

Dude, I hear a car

And indulge we have: the Sidebar Network is home to four projects so far, with more on the way (use the network navbar at the top of any of the sites in the network to bounce between them).

MyMileMarker promotional image

My Mile Marker

Known within our ranks as “M3”, MyMileMarker tracks your vehicle’s mileage, MPG, and provides projections so you can judge just how much gas you’re really guzzling. The original idea was Steve’s, and we all chipped in during our spare time to make it happen, from brainstorming to IA to design (with Steve taking on all the Ruby on Rails programming duties), including a handy mobile site that features a lick-able custom stylesheet for iPhone/Mobile Safari users.

SMS via Twitter and Edward Scherf’s beautiful custom icons are the icing on the cake for this lovely little app that already has almost 10,000 users, spreading purely by word of mouth (thanks in large part to the Twitter community).

Snitter promotional image

Snitter

What do you get when you put Snook and Twitter together? Why, you get Snitter, of course. What started as an experiment of Jon’s to become familiar with Adobe AIR has turned into one of the most popular 3rd party Twitter clients on OS X and Windows. The programming (including loads of cool filtering options) is all Jon’s — the rest of us chipped in feature suggestions and improvements, with Steve and I providing designs for the default set of themes. If you haven’t tried it yet, what are you waiting for? Get Snitter and start Twittering!

Overheard.it promotional image

Overheard.it

With Twitter clearly playing a large part in our online lives, it was only logical for our minds to wander in its direction. After integrating MyMileMarker with Twitter, and seeing Dan Cederholm’s Foamee introduce the concept of a “barnacle app”, we decided to follow the most popular word on Twitter (“overheard”) and see what people were talking about. After a few nights worth of sketching, design, development (by Jon, using CakePHP) and testing, Overheard.it was released upon the world (the domain itself makes it a site worth visiting ;)

Future plans for Overheard.it include event-specific filters (for those great conference quotes we all love), voting, and all manner of other potential silliness.

Django Plugables promotional image

Django Plugables

Bryan is quickly becoming a Django savant (and has been toiling away at various projects for a year or so), and in addition to doing his best to convert the rest of us to Django-ites, he likes to find problems that need solving — a few days ago (this past Friday, to be exact) he decided the Django community needed an easier way to access the growing library of 3rd party “pluggable” applications without having to dig around Google Code for hours hoping to find the diamond in the rough.

Three days later, he had designed, built and launched Django Plugables, and if you have any interest in Django, you should check it out. Speaking of Django, you should also dig around Bryan’s recently relaunched Avalonstar, which, in addition to sporting a terrific design, is all Django, baby.

It’s a miracle in a bowl

The design community uses the term “realign” to describe an adjustment of direction rather than a bottom-up transformation, and that’s a good way to describe what has been happening within Sidebar since last summer (the course-correction was already evident in our Digital Web interview with Matthew Pennell back in September). It was clear that we needed to reflect our realignment on the site, while also taking the opportunity to realign the site itself, showing more of what makes us who we are as individuals, and with more emphasis on consulting, training and education — areas we all intend to spend more time focusing on in the coming year, including a series of full-day workshops we’re planning to bring to cities normally overlooked by larger conferences.

There are a ton of amazing ideas bouncing around the Sidebar Campfire, and I’m more excited than ever to be a part of this group. So go check out our little realign, and stay tuned: the best is yet to come.

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Email Doesn’t Scale

Wednesday, February 27th, 2008

I’ve been wanting to write about my problems with email for a while now, but keep coming up short when it comes to explaining exactly why it fails for me. That is, until reading Tantek’s latest on the subject:

“I’m probably responding to less than 1 in 10 emails that are sent directly to me, even fewer of those that are sent to a set of people or a list. The usability of email for me has deteriorated so much that I exclaimed on Twitter recently: EMAIL shall henceforth be known as EFAIL.”

He goes on to explain his thoughts on why point to point communications do not scale, and how emails in general are becoming too bloated (the lack of a singular focus in many emails I receive definitely impacts my likelihood of responding), as well as how 1:many or 1:all mediums are superior to 1:1 methods (e.g. email). This is exactly what I’ve been trying to figure out how to say.

Semi-solutions

Tantek certainly isn’t the first to write about the the problems with email – Mike Davidson’s solution last year was to reduce the length and detail of replies to a specific number of sentences, but that hasn’t allowed me to make a sufficient dent in my inbox.

Similarly, Inbox Zero (a process many of my friends use to keep the noise down) just doesn’t seem to work for me. Plus, having an empty inbox won’t stop people from communicating with me via email when they should be using another medium.

It’s not you, it’s me

Both Inbox Zero and Sentenc.es aim to reduce the impact of the full inbox by making it easier to empty on a regular basis, but for me that doesn’t solve the problem as I see it–it isn’t a matter of finding a way to work around what email has become, it’s just that email is being used improperly, and I’d rather use other methods of communication that are more appropriate to the type and relevance of the message.

How do we fix it?

Email isn’t broken for everyone (or at least, if it is they don’t realize it yet), but I find more people becoming frustrated with email every week. Add the whole SPAM problem into the mix (over the last 6 months, more and more of my valid incoming/outgoing messages are getting caught by SPAM filters than ever) and I just see email continuing its downward spiral.

I’m not sure of the solution – as long as my clients continue to send me emails and expect a response, I’m a bit nervous to tell them to shove it (it’s hard enough to get them to all use Basecamp instead for project communication, let alone stop using a method that still works for them), but perhaps that’s what it will come down to. Tantek’s article ends with a list of suggestions that can serve as a decent starting point, and his Email Reduction project is also worth checking out.

Does email = efail for you? How do you feel about the future of email?

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Pardon Our Dust

Wednesday, February 27th, 2008

If you’re visiting this site for the first time, and are seeing the default WordPress theme (aka Kubrick), please rest assured that a custom designed theme is hiding somewhere within the WordPress installation–WordPress is just having a bit of a tantrum lately, and has decided to keep reverting back to the default shortly after I reset the custom theme in the admin.

Those of you who are return visitors are hopefully missing the usual orange and brown goodness that has graced these pages for almost 2 years.

Hosting Woes

For the last few weeks, my homepage hasn’t been loading at all – Dreamhost didn’t seem to think it was a problem on their end (though I’d made no changes to the site between it working and ceasing to work). After going around in circles with them for too long, I uploaded a fresh install of WordPress, moved my plugins and theme directories, changed a few hard-coded absolute URLs, and things were working again. For about 5 minutes.

Artificial Intelligence?

Perhaps my blogging software is trying to tell me something? I’ve planned a redesign for well over a year, but other endeavors have taken priority (e.g. Sidebar Creative, Webgraph, Rounders, various client/consulting work, presentations, workshops and toying with things like Virb). I’ve also been seriously thinking about hitting the redesign over the last month or so–is WordPress now smart enough to read my mind? Or is my soon-to-be-replaced theme getting jealous? It’s creepy from where I’m sitting…

Separating Content From Presentation

Okay, so it’s not the use for which that phrase is intended, but in a way, it’s interesting to see my content without its custom skin. I’ve been reading through many of the articles I’ve written, and paying more attention to the text. Perhaps this is a normal issue with designers trying to objectively read their own content while getting distracted by their own designs–if you haven’t tried it, give it a shot sometime; it may help expose issues with your design, or your content, or at the very least allow you a fresh perspective on your own writing.

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