• Ghosts are Fine?

    someone: *link*
    david: GHOST BUTTON
    steven: lol websiteswithghostbuttons.tumblr.com

    And thus websiteswithghostbuttons.tumblr.com was born. 

    I'm not sure who came up with the name Ghost Button—probably Steven—but it's a great term.

    We use them on our site.

    And the first post we did was of our own Ghost.

    The tumblr isn't a statement about whether this style of button is good or bad. It's more of a documentation of a trend, an ongoing inside joke, and an exercise of how long we can keep updating a tumblr before we get tired of it.

    This post is a direct reaction to comments on Designer News, which I made the mistake of reading this morning. I was suprised that a page of button screenshots, devoid of any commentary, was interpreted as a takedown of What's Wrong With The Web. 

    Ghost Buttons aren't What's Wrong With The Web.

    Ghost buttons are fine. 

  • Bicycle Motocross

    There were several boxes of notebooks, pinewood derby cars, and photographs waiting for me when I went home over the holidays this year. I shot a lot of 35mm film between the ages of 16 and 19. Most of those pictures are strange self portraits, or, for some unexplainable reason, a blurry series made up of every pair of Converse my friends ever owned. A small group of friends can go through an extrodinary amount of Chuck Taylors in three years.

    But those pictures also containted a lot of great memories. I worked at a camp for a couple years. I moved to Ohio. I set myself on fire at school once. And I rode my bike A LOT. 

    I was never good at BMX. There were several old videos in those boxes that my parents had graciously transfered to DVD, and they were really really really embarrassing. But my friends looked pretty good when I was filming them. And some of the many many many pictures I took turned out well—well enough to highlight both their skill and the fun times we shared. 

    I watched a compilation of 'The Best Vines of 2013' last night, and it was horrible. Full of kids doing bad things to impress their peers. It reminded me of the videos I watched last week, the ones I filmed with my friends. 

    I had no aspirations of other people watching me on the internet—VHS tapes were as good as it was going to get. But I still did awful things to my body because a camera was rolling. Seriously—I had knee sugery at the age of ninteen. I'd never attempt the things I watched myself do this weekend. 

    But there's a nice skatepark nextdoor to the offices MC's moving into next year. No one's interested in watching me flail on a bike, but I've begun to wonder if I can recapture the feelings I got from those videos.

    I'm not planning on getting another bike. I can't spend every daylight moment at a park. But nostalgia runs deep, and I've begun to wonder how those Fourth Ward bowls feel. 

    Probably painful. 

  • My Six Favorite Albums of 2013*

    *Three were released in 2012. One was technically a promotial mix. But they were all albums I listened to over and over this year. 

  • Iteration—Always Be Creating

    This post first appeared on the designlab.mailchimp.com. Lots of other great stuff there—check it out.

    A few months ago MailChimp was redesigned—the app, the site, the logo. Nearly everything changed. It was a lot of work, with a lot of cooks and kitchens and appetizers and Yelp reviews and well, it got kinda crazy, is what I’m saying. But one of the cool things that happens when you have great cooks involved is crossover—ideas bleed over from from one project into another, and you get weird flavors in your dish you never would have put there yourself.

    This is a year long story about how our homepage was made in a week.

    Our photographer—and designer and artist and hirsute gentleman—Jason joined MailChimp about a year ago. One of his first DesignLab assignments was to photograph header images for our music, blogger, and nonprofit vertical pages. The decision was made to use isolated items to represent each archetype. Paper rolls were ordered, and Jason photographed the items with a natural “lifestyle” organization, with real shadows and real colors. The pages looked great, and we proceeded to order more rolls of seamless paper and use them for portraits, mugshots, and various other weird stuff.

    A year later, we’re redesigning the MailChimp website. Lots had been accomplished, and we were getting close to the end. We had done “some stuff” (sorry, can’t share everything) for the homepage, and were refining it. A few people were standing around, looking at it, when someone uttered those fateful words…

    “I don’t know. It just doesn’t feel right.”

    I can’t remember who said it, but we were all feeling it. I can’t remember who came up with the next idea, either—too many pots. But when we’d been coming up with our initial photography directions for the new site, Jason had taken a picture of a laptop on a desk, surrounded by deskthings.

    It was kind of cliché, but something about it felt right. Right enough to push further, at the very least. We abandoned our initial direction and charged towards new concepts.

    The desk picture wasn’t in front of a seamless. We headed into our studio, pulled up a white desk, and tried the shot again. At this point, we’d had a year of practice, and things came together quickly. 

    One shot became a few shots. At some point the MailChimp app was divorced from the device, and a piece of cardboard became a browser window.

    It was perfect. A hovering browser followed, and we knew—thought, hoped—that we had something special.

    Jason took the concept and really pushed it as far as it could go. Our mantra was “Make it weirder.” At one point the browser was surrounded by a literal forest of shrubbery and small flowers—the next day Jason bought a grocery store’s worth of fruit for his shoot.

    The weird threshold was hit, and our head chefs decided to dial things back. Our creative director, Ron, and Jason set up a few scenes, shot them, and they’re what you can see on our site today .

    Always Be Creating

    We recently replaced our old mantra with a new one: “Always Be Creating.” Because we’d spent the past year creating tons of things, most of which no one ever saw, we had a bunch of weird pots with strange things simmering in them. When the heat turned up and we started mixing projects together, we were able to create something new very quickly.

    Not everyone works the way we do, and fortunately, there’s no right or wrong way to cook up something delicious. But constant creation means our kitchen is always full when we need it to be, and we’ll never go hungry.

    Edited by Austin L. Ray

  • ATL Collective & FOUNDFONT™

    This post first appeared on the designlab.mailchimp.com. Lots of other great stuff there—check it out.

    The ATL Collective is a group of various Atlanta musicians who get together now and then to perform a classic album live, from start to finish. MailChimp sponsored two of their most recent shows—Bruce Springsteen’s Born to Run and Johnny Cash’s At Folsom Prison. We wanted to provide something special for the Collective and the people attending, something tangible they could take with them. For Born to Run, we screen printed a program with song titles, album history, and artist bios for the musicians. For Folsom Prison, we had gig posters printed.

    Both pieces prominently displayed type created by the folks at FOUNDFONT™. FOUNDFONT™ creates complete type sets based on old found typography. Their fonts have a distinct, vintage Americana vibe, which was a perfect fit for these two records. Their sets are available individually, but we used so many on these projects that we ended up buying them all.

    We’re a huge fan of passion projects here at MailChimp, and we like supporting people who are doing what they love. We hope you’ll support them, too, by picking up some type at  FOUNDFONT™’s site or coming out to the next ATL Collective‘s show.

  • Typography

    The pieces I really enjoy are often the ones that I struggle the most to create. 

    We had an ad that was going in a magazine about typography. I was really struggling with the piece—I was creating patterns in our brand colors surrounding our logo, but I didn't feel like it made sense. My strengths lie more in the conceptual parts of design, and I didn't feel like the ad had a point. Unfortunately, this was reflecting in my work. It was bad.

    I went home, and my wife and I went out for a drink. She's a great person to bounce ideas off of, because she doesn't immediately think about the form an idea will take—she's really interested in what it means. We talked about the ad and filled up a few pages in a notebook with ideas, one of which was hands signing. I loved the juxtaposition of a magazine for people obsessed with the form of letters and American Sign Language—letters, but in a completely different context. Plus there's all these layers—hands making letters for people who often hand-create letters... I thought it was great.

    My first mockup used clipart. Fortunately, people liked the idea, even though the execution wasn't there. 

    Creating custom lettering/hands didn't work any better. At this point I was also pursuing a few other ideas in my notebook, but this was still my favorite, and I wanted to make it work.

    I sit next to a great photographer named Jason Travis. After mocking up an idea using photos ripped from google image searches, we roped our coworkers into being our hand models for a quick photo shoot.

    The piece finally felt like it was coming together. 

    There was a lot of iteration. We felt like some people might not know much about ASL, and wanted to make our name a little more overt. This version, with the different colors, was my favorite, but we were getting a pretty heavy Warhol vibe from it. While it can be cool to reference other people's work sometimes, we really wanted this to stand on its own, and not have those heavy overtones. It was the right call, but I still love this. 

    This was my creative director's version. "Make it weirder! Make it neon! Make it trippy!" It's good to have these kinds of things drilled into my head, because my work can initially be really conservative. Pushing the boundries allows me to figure out a good middle ground that I might not have discovered.

    And the final piece. It really executes on the initial concept, which can sometimes get buried through rounds of iteration. I was excited to flip through and see these photos between pages and pages of type. This piece was a grueling—it took too long to finish, had too many false starts, went through lots of versions. But despite/because of that, I really enjoy this finished piece. 

    Photography by Jason Travis. Direction from Mark DiCristina and Ron Lewis. Ideas from Kari Sizemore. 

  • Made with Kare

    Designing for your family members and close friends is the worst. You work for free, they give bad briefs, you take too long, and they have bad taste. 

    I just completed an identity project for my wife, Kari, and it turned out really great; like, suprisingly well. 

    She's started to sew more the past few months, to the point where she wanted to be able to brand the projects she was doing. Her name is Kari, and she came up with a great name for her projects and blog—Made with Kare. 

    It was a fantastic name, and I excited agreed to create an identity system she could use for her blog, labels, and packaging. She wanted a lockup of KARE that could be stacked, with the KA over the RE.

    My initial concepts were really bad. 

    It took me about two months to create this logo. I went through ten concepts, three of which I developed pretty extensively. Each time, Kari and I weren't happy with either the ideas or the execution. She was very patient, at one point agreeing to use a logo that I ended up killing.

    There was no good way to turn that I into an E.

    After banging my head up against the wall off-and-on for eight weeks, I sketched out this logo. It came together quickly, and we both loved it. 

    Kari made my mom a set of placemats recently, with her KARE tags. My mother said that she was excited when she got them, because Kari had made something for her, but was disappointed when she flipped them over and saw that they were store-bought. Then she got confused. "Wait... k-a-r-e? DID she make these?"

    It was great to be able to create something for Kari that she's proud to use. Working with family might be difficult, but when they trust you and give you time, sometimes the results can turn out really well. 

  • Blue Collar Design

    Exerpt from a blog post about Brand New Conference 2012

    I’ve been thinking a lot about the idea of blue collar graphic design. I’ve been thinking about it ever since I read an interview with Derek Webb, who is not a designer, on The Great Discontent. He talks about the difference in the music industry that’s come about due to the changes in technology. Everyone can make and distribute music now, compared to the relatively few people who could do that years ago. It seems like we’re in a similar space with design. In the music industry that lead to rock stars. We have our own design stars; one of them spoke at Brand New. But what Derek Webb said in his interview was that there’s a living to be made doing what you want to do in the music industry today. You no longer have to be a rock star, you can just work hard and appeal to a small group of people who support you. For him, that has been a very liberating thing.

    I thought about that again last night while Draplin was speaking. He spoke about how the work he does for Nike, a rock star, lasts for a season, while the work he does for his friend’s hot dog cart will last… pretty much forever. One of those jobs paid off his mortgage, and the other made his friend’s mom proud. And now his friend is franchising, and bringing him more work, and he’s making some cash from it. But the things that he cares about aren’t making him tons of money, they’re making him enough to live a really comfortable life.

    Webb said it like this: “If your ego can bear it, there’s a great blue-collar living to be made…” I kind of want to be a Vignelli, and, let’s face it, Draplin’s kind of a star in his own right. But I’m trying to figure out if my ego can take hammering out a solid living for myself and my family doing good, smaller work. I’m still thinking about it.

  • Failed Kickstarter

    Last summer I launched plans to start a small shirt company revolving around Charlotte. I had some shirts printed and started up a Kickstarter. Earlier today, that Kickstarter came to a close, falling far short of its goal. 

    I’m not a huge fan of failing, especially in front of my friends. This was mostly in front of internet friends, but internet friends are people, too.  

    I learned a few big things from failing.

    • People who are successful have a lot of good advice. 
      I had a few people who’ve run Kickstarters give me advice, and it was really good advice. I’m really appreciative for the emails they answered, the meals they sat down and ate with me, and the phone calls they answered. 
    • Kickstarter might not be the best use of your time and energy.
      Right after I launched my project, I totalled up how much time I’d spent getting it ready. If I’d been fully funded, I still would have “made” less per hour than I charge for freelance work. 
    • It’s OK to be blunt.
      Part of my strategy was sending free shirts to people in Charlotte who I thought would talk about them and send traffic to my Kickstarter. But I didn’t specifically ask them to do that—I just kind of hinted at it once they mentioned getting my packages. I wish I had been more blunt. 
    • Bloggers really like things that have been featured on other blogs. 
      I actually had a few folks ask if other blogs were covering my Kickstarter. Initially I assumed they wanted an exclusive scoop, but I soon realized the opposite was true. If you ever have something take off and 'go viral,' take that exposure and run with it. Build off of it, and use it as a catalyst to make what you want to make.
    • Failing isn’t that bad. 
      Don’t get me wrong. It’s not fun. But I’m very glad I decided to try to start up this shirt company and run a Kickstarter campaign.   

    I’m not an extremely adventurous person. I don’t enjoy taking risks, and I don’t enjoy when things don’t turn out like I want them to. But I did enjoy this process, even though it was a failure. I learned to embrace a teeny-tiny failure, and I think it’s given me the willingness to fail at bigger things. 

    Thanks for your support. It meant a lot.