Month: August 2007

A bookstore as a means of inspiration

Jason Santa Maria of Happy Cog likes to look at lots of different things as a means of inspiration for his design work (I know this because he told me so in his An Event Apart presentation ;). Riffing on that theme myself I headed out to a place that never ceases to grab my attention and imagination when I’m there: the bookstore.

The bookstore in question is a local Barnes and Noble and I had not been there in a long time mainly because it, or any bookstore really, is also a major inspiration for me to liberate cash from my wallet. I intended to go there this evening though with the sole mission to take a look around at all sorts of books and magazines with an eye towards their design and not buy anything. Inspiration only, no debt :)

I can easily spend hours browsing in a bookstore but I have to say that going there with the intent to look at how books and magazines are designed was very cool. I can honestly say that while I have always enjoyed thumbing through books and magazines I’ve never quite seen them the way I saw them tonight.

Normally I’m focused on the content because I’m an avid reader but with the focus on the elements of design I started noticing things like how different publishing houses format their books or magazines in the exact same format across authors (or magazine titles). A very simple example that most programmers would readily know is O’Reilly Publishing.

Their titles are instantly recognizable: a plain white cover with an illustration of an animal of some kind usually just above the title of the book. The title itself, or most of it, is in white text on a background of a certain color. Here is an example:

O'Reilly JavaScript: The Definitive Guide bookcover

The O’Reilly web design series always has the same green background for the title. The scripting books have blue or pink. You get the idea. This is all about a brand and making sure that brand is consistent and easily recognizable. Other publishing houses have done the same thing with their technology lines.

What was far more interesting though was to look at the use of color and type in the magazines. I looked at a pretty wide range of magazines to see how color, type, and layout were handled depending on the title. Not surprisingly colors tended towards the warm, inviting hues in the house and decorating magazines. There were exceptions but generally most people don’t paint their houses in jarring colors and the magazines tended to reflect that fact ;) Quite a few artsy photo magazines were in black and white. History magainzes trended towards historical color schemes, etc. Typefaces matched the color schemes (ie: more formal type in the history magazines). My biggest hit came from the books in the arts and crafts section.

I have to say that at one point I thought my head was going to explode with ideas when I was looking through a book in the Art section called Euro Deco: Graphic Design Between the Wars ;) I really, really, identify strongly with the artwork during this time period. It never fails to grab me and start pulling me in. If I didn’t know better I’d say I had a past life as an artist during that time period – it affects me that strongly (not surprisingly I feel the same way about swing music/dancing). Flipping through the pages of that book and looking at the art (not surprisingly a lot of it was advertising art) my brain was dripping with ideas of how I wanted some personal things I need to work on to look. Obviously I need to peruse the bookstore more often ;)

That all is fine and dandy I guess but where I then get socked in the gut is when I need to recall those ideas when it’s time to actually get some work done. Jason (Santa Maria that is…I’m not referring to myself in the third-person) had ideas for that as well that I need to try. More about that in another posting.

Farmers Markets – Not this week

Ouch. I missed all of the markets this week because of work. I was out at a conference on Tuesday and today I missed the Daley Plaza market because of work. However I found out about another market that is closer to my office on Thursdays that is over by the Sears Tower. I’ll have to check that one out next week.

Update 2: Indiana Allows BP to discharge more waste into Lake Michigan

I had wanted to follow up on this a lot earlier than today but all things being what they are I didn’t so I am right now ;)

According to several sources BP has stated that it will find a way to not increase the amount of pollution it is dumping into Lake Michigan while still moving forward on it’s plan to expand the refinery.

The interesting quote to me is this:

BP officials have stood behind the expanded permit, saying it meets state and federal guidelines and complies with the Clean Water Act, but outrage from citizens and lawmakers from several states have created an “unacceptable business risk” for the company, BP said in the Northwest Indiana and Illinois Times report.

Reports like this are why businesses totally confound me sometimes even when I know the #1 reason they’re in business is to make money. BP sells itself as an environmentally sound company yet they propose to dump more pollution into Lake Michigan and then act surprised when people start to complain? Whether or not they would still be in compliance with the EPA is irrelevant really. What does matter is that we should not increase the amount of pollution in our waterways for any reason, especially when the waterway in question is such an important part of the natural resources of the region.

When are companies like BP going to realize that they would have had themselves quite a bit of good publicity had they decided from the beginning to increase the size of the refinery while keeping pollution levels the same, or better yet lower the pollution levels? As it stands they’ve created a lot of bad blood out there because lawful or not the reality is that people are sick and tired of corporate polluters fouling their water.

This is not rocket science folks. If you’re going to tout yourself as good for the environment prove it.

“Deadline Über Alles!” Software Engineering

After expressing my current frustrations with work to a friend who happens to be a software developer he shared with me this link to a blog posting titled Asshole Driven Development by Scott Berkun. The article provided five different kinds of tongue-in-cheek development methodologies currently employed by companies world-wide in their quest for really awful software. The comments to the article provided even more options and here is mine: “Deadline Über Alles! Software Engineering”.

You know you might be stuck in this type of development/engineering when you start receiving emails with lines like:

In the interest of delivering DeadlineBreaker on time, I think we should only be fixing things that are broken. The time for implementing best-practices has passed.


I’m trying to get the projects delivered. We are in QA and DeadlineBreaker has issues. I’m not looking for someone to blame – I’m just trying to identify how to move the project forward to meet our expectation of deliverables.

The emailer is really saying:

I don’t give a damn about niceties like quality code and design….I just want something out the door. Screw the best practices…we can fix that stuff later. Wait…didn’t you say something about design too? Isn’t that just something art dorks do?

Of course later never happens, a crappy product goes out the door, and your group ends up looking like a bunch of stooges who can’t program their way out of a paper bag.

Thoughts on An Event Apart Chicago 2007

Well, An Event Apart Chicago 2007 just wrapped up (brought to you by the folks at Happy Cog and Eric Meyer) and all I can say is WOW! What a conference! If you take a look at the schedule you can see just what an incredible line-up we had at this event.

What sticks out in my mind immediately is that there was never a boring moment. Oh…some of the talks were more hard-core than others (Louis Rosenfeld on search analytics and Eric Meyer’s CSS talks for example) but there was such a wonderful breadth of information provided that attendees were never loaded down with too much of the same material at once. That along with the strict timing of 1 hour for each talk followed by a 15 minute break really made for a well-run conference that was just fantastic to be a part of. The facilities and food were wonderful as well. Thanks all around to the wonderful people at An Event Apart.

Being a server-side Java guy the one thing I do not get to do often (hell….at all really) is talk to designers so being able to hear thoughts on writing copy by Jeffrey Zeldman, site design by Jason Santa Maria, etc. was simply fantastic. I had pretty high expectations but this met those and went way beyond what I expected. I can not recommend this conference highly enough. It simply was that good.

Better yet I’ve really been inspired to get my butt in gear and write in my blog(s) much more often than I do (among other creative endeavors). I keep coming up with the excuse that there isn’t enough time but that really isn’t true and doing so enables me to not only hone my writing blades but also to maybe help others out in different ways (code lightbulb moments and/or goofs here or maybe tips on sustainability over at Greenability). At any rate it was inspiring to say the least. That is the biggest thing I took that away from the conference and I’m really glad I was able to go.

Would have been worth the $800 of my own money had work not been paying ;)

Week 15 – Federal Plaza Farmers Market – 8/21/07

I skipped last week because we were out of town and the week before because we were going out of town and I didn’t want vegetables or fruit sitting around going to waste. This week I returned to a bunch of new stuff available for sale.

Most notable this week were the many different varieties of apples available as well as numerous options for peppers. As always all of the other offerings from each of the farms present were fantastic and looked wonderful but once again I’m restricting myself to things I know will transport well on the train ride home.

Here is the take for this week (most from my friends at Nichols Farm except the peppers which, unfortunately, I forgot to write down the name of the farm from which they came):

  • Apples
    • Ginger Gold
    • Paula Red
    • Luster Elstar
  • Green Beans
  • Bi-color sweet corn
  • French fingerling potatoes
  • Sweet peppers (not sure which variety)

Given the lack of veggies and fruit at our house at the moment this is a much-needed infusion of food ;)

Farmers Market while Traveling – Pittsford, NY

We stopped at the Tuesday edition of the Pittsford farmers market just to check it out. I was just curious to see how things were in places other than the Chicago area. The market was fairly small with about 5 vendors tucked into the back parking lot of a strip mall near downtown Pittsford. The quality of the produce was fantastic however and we ended up picked up a cucumber, a cantaloupe, and a small bag of Williams Pride apples.

I do have to say that the people manning the booths seemed friendlier than what I’m used to in Chicago. Not that those people aren’t friendly but the people at this market were far more willing to talk to us and one of the women even gave my daughter a free apple. Big deal? Maybe not but its good customer service and it costs them virtually nothing.

I had hoped to get to the bigger market in downtown Rochester but there just wasn’t enough time.