Archive for ‘simplebits’ category

Re-Brand New

For the first time ever, SimpleBits has a logo! Roughly six years ago, I took a stab at creating an isometric set of three boxes (cardboard, to be specific). It was really an icon — and one that sat in the header alongside my personal site at the time, the now-defunct Over the years, it’s always been there, and I’ve probably overdone it in terms of branding: I put the boxes everywhere. It became the brand. But it was always awkward, and highly inflexible. It worked terrible in print, where at small sizes, the pixelated blocks looked more like botched clip art.

Several months ago, I finally started on a new logo design — something I’d been meaning to do for years. It went rather quickly, playing with four curly brackets set in Avenir that created a frame around a hand-drawn cube (vector this time!). I finally had something I didn’t hate the next day. I’m excited to have a mark that’ll be flexible going forward, and it was crucial for me to create one that could be any size, or color (even looking intact using a single color).

(fig). old and new logos
I owe Greg Storey (Airbag Industries) thanks for suggesting Whitney for the logo’s type, after I realized that the previously-utilized Triplex just wasn’t working.

It was the logo refresh that forced me to rework the site design as well. I’m not one to change things for the sake of changing things, but the new logo was a good excuse to update the templates as well. And what you see now is the result of several weeks of tinkering.

Much of the structure and layout of the site remain the same. Nothing earth-shattering here. This time around, I’m trying out an elastic (Elastic Design) em-based layout. If you’re unfamiliar, try resizing the text in your browser to see what happens. For this particular site, I think it works well. If I had the need/desire/requirement for an additional column, then I would’ve explored other fluid or variable fixed-width (clagnut: Variable fixed width layout) options. But for this simple, two-column set-up, I thought it’d be interesting to try something with ems.

I’m hoping the revised logo will help swing the rest of the company forward. I have a lot of ideas and things in mind for the future, and this is merely step #1. Here goes nothing. But first, new business cards need ordering.

Workshopp’d (and a break)

I’ll start off by mentioning that the Carsons (Gillian and Ryan) are two of the nicest people you’ll meet in the business. I’m grateful to them for setting up Thursday’s “workshop”: at Boston’s Museum of Science.
I think it went well, and I’ve received some good, positive feedback. As with anything, I’ll now be focusing on the parts that I thought could’ve been presented better — but all-in-all I had a _great_ time, managed to still have a voice after talking for eight hours, and those that attended (suprisingly many from outside of New England) brought along great questions. It’s clear that the majority of people attending conferences and workshops are gaining more and more knowledge about CSS, standards, semantic markup, etc. So much so, that I wonder what the heck I should speak about in the future. Hrm.
So thanks to all who came out to the workshop, and again to the “Carsons”: (they have this stuff down to a science). It capped off the busiest few months I’ve had in years, and in two days we’ll board a plane for Florida to visit family for a week. A much needed unplugging.
While I’m away, “Rael Dornfest and company”: will be presenting “Stikkit”: on the “Launch Pad”: at the “Web 2.0 conference”: Stikkits are “little yellow notes that think”, and I’ve been helping with the design. Keep an eye out for it!

More Workshop Details

Amidst a flurry of client activity over here at SimpleBits HQ, I’m also lovingly crafting what I hope to be a great Carson Workshop: Bulletproof Design with XHTML & CSS on November 2nd in Boston. The venue is now booked, and it’ll be a fun one: Boston’s Museum of Science — a place anyone who’s grown up in the area knows very well. Perhaps between sessions we can chill out in the planetarium or IMAX theatre. Anyhow, I think it’ll be a great setting, and I can only hope I’m able to make the day helpful, fun, inspiring and interesting.

I should also note I’ll be handing out stickers, t-shirts and books to attendees in scheduled bursts of shameless self-promotion. I haven’t yet determined the criteria for receiving the goods — but we’ll think of something interesting.

Hope to see you there.

One Percent for the Planet

It’s been just about three years now that I’ve been out on my own, building SimpleBits into a fledgling little business. I feel really fortunate to be able to wake up everyday and work on things that I’m excited about. It’s been a lot of work, of course (as many of you know) — but the flexibility has been especially important lately.

1% for the PlanetFor a while now, I’ve been thinking of ways I could give back, finally stumbling on an organization called 1% for the Planet. From their mission statement:

1% For The Planet is an alliance of businesses committed to leveraging their resources to create a healthier planet. Members recognize their responsibility to and dependence on a healthy environment and donate at least 1% of their annual sales to environmental organizations worldwide.”

It struck a chord with me immediately. Here’s a structured way I could give back to the environment as a business each year. I filed the paperwork, and from now going forward, SimpleBits, LLC will be a proud member.

One of the aspects I really dig about 1%FTP, is the fact that as a business, it’s up to you in choosing what environmental groups you’d like to donate to from a list of approved organizations. That takes much of the guesswork out of “where to donate?”, and is a real benefit in joining the group. I’ll be choosing 2006′s groups over the next month or so. There are already a few local orgs that look interesting (Ipswich River Watershed Association for example, where I’ve often gone hiking).

I do realize 1% of our revenue isn’t going to change the world — a drop in the bucket really. But I thought it was worth mentioning publicly in case others have also been searching for an easy way to help the environment. And the more businesses on board, the better for all of us.

Upcoming Speaking Events

A few years ago I would’ve told you that two of my biggest fears are: flying and public speaking. Thankfully, that’s no longer entirely true, and like anything, the more you tackle things that frighten the hell out of you, the easier (and even enojoyable) they become.

That said, I’ve lined up a few speaking events that I’m quite excited about, and conveniently they’ve all been just announced within the past few days:

  • Carson Workshop: Bulletproof Design with XHTML and CSS

    November 2, 2006 9:30am-5:30pm ·

    Having a whole day will be excellent for diving deeper into the concepts and techniques described in the book. I’ll be using the design of Cork’d as a model for much of the day, discussing the bulletproof methods for designing with lean markup and flexible style. It’s also a bit daunting having an entire day — but the 40 seat limit will (I hope) create a two-way conversation, and I’m looking forward to talking about things that would otherwise get tossed out of a short presentation. I also like the commute to this.

  • Web Directions North

    February 6-10, 2007 ·

    The best conference of the southerrn hemisphere comes north to Canada. Brought to you by John Allsopp and Maxine Sherrin of Westciv, Dave Shea and Derek Featherstone. A great lineup, and skiing at Whistler. I’ll be talking about microformats (with more details to follow).

  • @media 2007 (America)

    May 24-25, 2007 ·
    San Francisco

    The best conference in Europe comes stateside!

  • @media 2007 (Europe)

    June 7-8, 2007 ·

    Vivabit knows how to put a really great conference together. Last year’s event was fantastically organized and a real blast. Wish the World Cup happend every year though.

Admittedly, I’m not entirely sure what I’ll be speaking about this year at @media yet (a conference that’s gone tri-continental this year, with a stop in Hong Kong as well). Actually, feel free to suggest something in the comments (topics could include “ukuleles” or “designing with baby toys”).

New Chameleon Icon Sets

It’s been almost exactly one year since releasing Chameleon, a customizable stock icon set for the web. It’s been really successful, and later spawned additional ideas for color changing goods. Then life happened, and most of those ideas fell by the wayside.

iconsI’m happy to announce today, at least a small portion of those grand ideas in the form of two new Chameleon icon pack styles:

Chameleon Graphite
A reversed version of the original, the graphite style has a shiny silver container for the tiny shapes that change color inside.
Chameleon Mini
Just the tiny shapes without the container. I’d been meaning to get this set finished since releasing the original and just never got around to it. These miniature icons are especially great for embellishing links inline.

Just like the original style, each of these new sets is available in a “Ready-Made” pack of six pre-selected colors ($35 USD), or as a single set using the hex color of your choosing ($25 USD). Hope you dig ‘em.

New SimpleBits Tees

t-shirtA fresh batch of t-shirts has just arrived from the printer. This time around, the design has been tweaked and screen-printed on “Asphalt” American Apparel shirts (the most comfortable, fitted shirt available) by the fine folks at Acme Prints. We’ve been using Acme for the Cork’d t-shirts, and they do such a fine job that I decided to make the switch here at SimpleBits. Acme has low prices, free shipping and no set-up charges — and their customer service is excellent.

The Official SimpleBits T-Shirt is just $16 USD plus shipping. We believe you will enjoy it immensely.

Introducing Cork’d

I like wine. I’ve even touted it’s ability to act as a design enhancer. The problem with wine (for me, and for many) is knowing what’s good. There are infinite choices out there. It’s overwhelming. Oftentimes, I lean on the suggestions from friends — people that probably know more about wine than I do.

When I finally find a wine that I like, it’s always impossible to remember it for the next trip to the store. Some people keep a journal, writing down what they thought about the wine in a notebook. But wouldn’t it be great if you could do this online? And wouldn’t it be also great if we could share those lists with our friends through a simple, free interface? And while we’re at it, wouldn’t it be the if this same interface allowed you to review the wine, tag it, and set up lists for wines that you want to buy or that you own in your cellar?

Cork'dIntroducing Cork’d. A brand-spanking new site devoted to reviewing and sharing wine created by Dan Benjamin and myself. We’ve been working on this for quite some time. Just the two of us. Call us the Bartles & Jaymes of the wine web world (wait, no, don’t do that).

What is Cork’d?

Cork'd screenshotThe basic gist of Cork’d is this: after painlessly creating a free account, you’re able to keep track of wines you’ve tried in your Wine Jounal. You can rate, review and tag wines (more on that below), and these “tasting notes” end up attatched as comments to each wine in our database. You can also build a Shopping List of wines you’d like to buy (think of this like you would a Netflix queue), and a Wine Cellar for wines that you own. Keeping track of what your friends are tasting is as easy as adding them as a Drinking Buddy. You can also recommend wines to your buddies after you’ve rated and reviewed a bottle.

We have a partnership set up through, where a selection of their bottles have seeded the Cork’d database with about 1200 wines (which will grow as members add their own bottles), each with a link to buy that wine right away. But we can also see other cross-promotional opportunities by getting involved in the meat-space wine community. There are endless ideas flowing about connecting with wineries and vineyards, other wine blogs and podcasts. We’re really looking forward to watching it all grow.

Tasting Tags

The idea of tagging a wine may sound absurd — but when we started to realize the benefits, it became a must-have. We call them tasting tags, and by applying keywords like “oak, pepper, vanilla, berry” to a wine, we’re then making it easy to find similar wines based on those flavors. If you like oaky wines, for instance, then it should be easy to find them.

Why and How

What’s funny about Cork’d when looking at it for the first time, is that it’s pulling in many of the current technologies that have been brewing out there, and applies them to… wine. And why not? This is something Dan B. and I built quite simply because we wanted to use it. We’d been trading favorite bottles, realizing there would be an incredible benefit to keep track of things through a web interface, building a community around it, and making it easy to subscribe to buddies and wine lists. It had to be.

It’ll also be interesting to continue to talk about what we learned by building a web application with a team of 2. Working with Dan B. is a natural fit, as our areas of expertise overlap only slightly (design/ui/development), and where they do overlap actually made things run all the smoother. I was continually amazed by the way Dan approached building the app in Ruby on Rails, the speed, the structure, the way he thinks about a problem for a while, then takes all of about 3 minutes to write the working code — he’s a developer who designs in code. And I’m sure he’ll have much to write about regarding the process, including his already-published thoughts on the launch over at Hivelogic (far more thorough than mine).

This was a giant learning experience for me in terms of dipping my toes in Rails, becoming more familiar with Subversion (more on this later), and in using these tools as a collaborative and iterative way of building a web application. It’s a gratifying way for a designer to work on a large project, chipping away at things in real time, using real data — it’s a bit like sculpting. An evolution.

Go Forth and Uncork

I’m excited to share much more about the site over the coming weeks and months, and we’ll be rolling out some additional features and tweaks. But until then, if you dig wine (or want to start digging wine), then head on over and, um … uncorkCork’d.

Fence Riding Once Again

screenshotApparently the fixed/fluid-width toggle feature here at SimpleBits was a popular one. The latest realign bid farewell to the option, instead settling on a centered, fluid-width layout with a conservative max-width applied. For those that requested it, the ability to toggle between fixed and fluid is now back. There are a few reasons I decided to add it back in:

  1. Well, you asked. Actually, I don’t usually cave in to reader demands, hence my recent useless-but-riveting articles regarding oatmeal cookies and (of all things) the weather.
  2. It’s so dead-simple to implement. Well, after reading this it should be.
  3. Choice can be nice. Since max-width isn’t currently supported by all browsers, giving those readers an easy option for readable line-length seems to me a Good Thing.
  4. It’s fun to play with. Along the same lines as twirling a pencil in your fingers like the drumstick of a spandex-wearing drummer from the 80s.