A few weeks ago my niece completely lost it. If there was a Richter scale for child meltdowns I would put it somewhere around 8.4. She was screaming at concert grade decibel levels and there were a few times when no sounds came out at all, but you could hear it all the same. Although she's not old enough to form sentences, she was very aware that in a short while she'd have to head home. With the van all packed her mother asked her to say goodbye. She replied with a quick and defiant, "No!"
No one could blame her, we didn't want to say goodbye either. Our family had just enjoyed a glorious, long weekend together for the first time in many years. It was a moment that none of us wanted to end.
When you're a part of something great, it's the last thing that you want to ever have to do, but often circumstances, whatever they may be, necessitate saying goodbye.
In the last ten years, I have been a part of something great, really great. In the early days it was called Airbag which later merged with Happy Cog. It started eleven years ago at a lunch with Jeffrey Zeldman. During a meal of Thai food, Jeffrey strongly encouraged me to leave my job and start freelancing. Eventually I did, and turned a one man operation into a ten person company. Later, I met Greg Hoy, who had partnered with Jeffrey. He had established his own office and turned Happy Cog on its head with impressive success. Later, Greg and I decided to stop competing against each other and turned our friendship into family.
I'll never forget Friday night during at the 2008 SXSW Interactive when Greg and I went over to the Cedar Door after dinner. We purposefully went to a corner of downtown Austin that was opposite to all of the big parties. The large back patio was empty and easy to claim as our own for the night. Hoy launched some newly minted Twitter app and posted our location. Moments later our friends and "family" started appearing, seemingly out of the wood-work. It didn't take too long for the fifty or so seats to be completely packed and remain that way into the early morning hours.
From that night forward, The Greg's were formed and we have had amazing times ever since. In addition to his business acumen and entrepreneurial knack, Hoy has a spirit for travel and traveling well. No matter where we had to go for business, Greg made sure that we were staying, eating, and imbibing at smart, swanky, and eclectic places--sometimes all three. It also helped that we both enjoy dead grapes and dead cow, especially when one is paired with the other. When Airbag merged with Happy Cog, I didn't end up with just a business partner, I gained a friend, a mentor, and a brother.
As much as Greg and the rest of Happy Cog made it a joy to come into work every day, the services business has been grinding away at me. I have found myself more and more distracted by the realities that come with the peaks and valleys of the services business model. And this stupid year certainly did nothing to help relax that anxiety. More importantly, I miss being able to stick with a project or a property to see things through. The relationship between the service provider and the client feels more and more surrogate than nurturing in nature.
Several weeks ago, Greg and I were faced with making difficult, but necessary changes to the company. We ran through several scenarios and all the while, the voice inside my head and my heart screamed, "No!" I knew there was a better option, but I did not want to say it (hell, I don't even like writing about it now). At a quiet point during the discussion, shaking and crying on the inside, I stepped forward, suggested a different future, and said goodbye to my family.
Sitting across from Zeldman on that fateful winter afternoon in 2003, I would have never imagined the future that was before me. I have had so many wonderful experiences. If not for Jeffrey I might still be stuck at that dead end job, but instead he opened a door with a lot of opportunity. Greg came along and kicked that door wide open in a way that set the bar very high. We have had an extraordinary ride and that is going to be difficult to replace, if that's even possible.
I am sincerely grateful to the people I had the opportunity to work with at Airbag and Happy Cog. I'm thankful to my clients without whom, I would never be in a position to write this post. Thank you to my family who were there to give me the push I both wanted and needed in the beginning and the support at the end.
The great thing about saying goodbye to family is that often it's relatively short lived. Soon I'll get to visit with my niece again. We'll pick back up where we left off, reading about mermaids and playing with blocks. Though it's only been a few weeks, I already miss Greg and my Happy Cog family dearly. I look forward to the time when we'll see each other again, pick up where we left off, and have many laughs.
Coding before reading. Yep, you just read that.
What the?! In my day you didn't learn how to "code" until the 5th grade. And by coding, I mean we were taught how to create a 40x40 pixel graphic image using Apple Basic. There was no animation, photos, or story telling. The closet we got to "interactive storytelling" was this crap, and it required knowing a lot about PEEKs, POKEs, and GOSUBs. Which you didn't learn until you where in the 6th grade.
Okay, so kids aren't walking away from 30 minutes of using ScratchJr with the ability to knock out HTML or Objective C or Swift. After looking through the website this app looks like the cross between a coloring book and Flash 1.0. But, hang on, don't get me wrong, this is amazing. And I can't wait to watch my nieces (side note: yep, that's right, the #storeystyle line ends when I'm gone, get it while it lasts folks) tear this up.
For a while now I've had this assumption that soon, people will knock out websites using nothing but a tablet. And, oh look, it just so happens that that makes this possible. Well timed Cabel, well timed.
So now we live in a world where children, unable to read, are able to create robust content for the web. And people a bit older than 5 are able to interact--edit/add files--with web servers using nothing more than a tablet. If you are in the business of making websites, you need to pay attention to these developments because they are going to very likely going to have an impact on your career path.
People, we are living in science fiction times right now. Next year, it will all start to feel like a family sitcom.
Recently, two friends have lamented what Twitter has turned into, for very similar reasons. For Jason, "it takes away so much more than it gives. Like the conversations are often more impersonal and inflammatory than they used to be. Like the experience is more toxic than nourishing." Erin's experience was, perhaps, not as toxic:
The tone of these statements could be applied to blog comments from days past.
There was a time when blogs and their related discussions were engaging, sometimes enraging, but otherwise fun and interesting to take part in. These exchanges of ideas, thoughts, and their related discussions helped to create the foundation of today's web design and development community. Twitter helped to extended and then eventually replaced the platform for discussion within the community. And our discussions and connectedness has never been the as it once was.
As the World Wide Web gets wider, the quality of interaction tanks. While I am glad that more and more people have access to this digital world, the continual addition people and applications has not helped improve the quality of discourse.
Nothing I am saying is new. I'm allowing myself to reminisce and be a bit curmudgeon about what we once had, knowing that we'll never get it back.
I don't think I'm alone with my thoughts. Carole Guevin (aka Netdiver) is doing her damnedest to spark a fire on Ello right now. While Ello itself is under debate, you have to admire the time and energy that Carole is devoting to get the community back in action.
Should Ello fizzle, then I'd love to help find/create the next inspiring and supportive place for our community to exchange thoughts and ideas. If you have any ideas, leave a comment on Ello.
We need a web design museum.
We need to start collecting and gathering artifacts (physical and digital), stories, documents, whatever we can get our hands on to preserve the history of web design. From the launch of the World Wide Web to Netscape 1.1 to the adoption of web standards which enabled Web 2.0, Responsive Web Design and the multi-device world that we live in today.
For too long we have relied upon a service that "archives" other websites but it's not enough. The archives are tragically incomplete and lack the means to provide the full experience of what used to be. Archive.org does not adequately preserve enough information to serve as a lasting account of the web. We can not rely on large, multi-billion dollar companies to do this for us. Nor can we depend upon individuals to properly archive their PSDs, HTML, their work, which helped to change the world.
We have already lost too much. There are so many wonderful sites from 1994-2004 that have disappeared. All that is left are domains that have been turned into Go-Daddy-SEO-Landing-Page-clutter because the old site had a Google Page Rank higher than the pulse of a nursing home. I hate to think about how many amazing pre-Web 2.0 sites that are gone for good because a service shut down, ad revenue dwindled, or there was a lack of time or interest or both.
Somewhere in Christopher Schmitt's home is a Zip disk with a complete backup of High Five, one of the first sites dedicated to the review and critique of web design. I know he's looked up and down for that disk but it might be gone forever and with it, an important piece of our professions' history and heritage.
We need a museum! An institution that can help preserve first-hand accounts of how things were done, what went down in the past. The working files, important emails, formative essays, and forgotten blog posts. We need to preserve the story of how web design began and how it has evolved to today.
In 1996 I purchased my first web design book, Designing Web Graphics by Lynda Weinman. Since then, I have amassed a small library of web design books. Looking through the collection you can see how web design changed with larger screen resolutions, new versions of HTML, and eventually different devices.
While I love to look through that collection, it only provides glimpses of the design, not a complete representation of the experience. We shouldn't settle for this and certainly not for anything less.
Related: The tragedy of the commons.
Earlier today I wrote out two checks to the IRS and neither of them were for the current tax season. Both were for mistakes that were made in last year's filing. The mistakes were made by my CPA at the time. Despite my efforts my filing was done literally at the last minute. The accountant was also responsible for my bookeeping which made it difficult to pick up and go to another consultancy. Furthermore, it's not like good CPAs are everywhere. It takes time to gather recommendations, get introductions, and go through an interview (the good ones always work from word-of-mouth, not advertising). So, there I was running right up to the last minute when I finally got my return.
"Good news," I was told. "Looks like you're going to get a refund and a hefty one." My gut said that this was all wrong. Though I am not an accountant, I've been in business long enough to know that when you have money in the bank at the end of the year the IRS gets some. Instead, I was told that I would be receiving a five-digit refund. Assurances were given that all the numbers lined up and so the filling was made.
Two weeks later a paper check arrived in the mail. It felt wrong just to have it.
Weeks later I found a new tax professional. After having passed the interview process I hired them to audit my PNL and tax fillings for the year. After their initial review I was asked to make introductions to the former CPA. A slew of accounting questions soon followed. Some of it I recognized, a lot of it was like a foreign language.
Eventually a meeting by phone was requested with the former accountant. I was there too, but primarily as the audience, trying to pick up words I understood. The meeting was mostly a boring review until it came to a discrepancy that the new accountant could not reconcile.
"Hright, shughtyt," questioned the new guy.
"Aie! K, ms osjup jsjughe!, " answered the old.
"F-me," I thought.
Turns out the old CPA forgot to carry over revenue from the previous year. The submitted PNL and income tax filling were off by a lot. As in, a lot, a lot. Just weeks before I had received a low five-figure refund. Now, after the accounting correction, I owed the United States close to six-figures. Though my gut knew it all along, the revelation still felt like being relentlessly hit in the abdomen for the better part of an afternoon.
Fortunately, I had prepared for this conclusion and was able to write the IRS a new check with a lot of zeros without having to liquidate anything. Years ago, this would have kicked off a Defcon 1 level stroke, but after being in business for nine years I have come to learn that there is only one real way to look at events like these: Mistakes were made, thankfully no one died.
After close to a decade as a business owner, I have learned a lot from mistakes. I have lost a year of sleep from anxiety attacks at 2AM--reminding myself that I wasn't having a heart attack and to just relax and go back to bed. I've had to cancel vacation or worked through holidays because of mistakes made by contractors, employees, or clients, or all three. It's just part of being an entrepreneur and an owner.
My business partner Greg Hoy and I were invited to host a half-day workshop on running a business at ConvergeSE. In about 30 days are going to share many of the mistakes we made staring, growing, and managing our business and how we got through all of it. We'll be there to share our experiences, laugh, cry, hug, answer questions and do what we can to help other shop owners learn from our experiences, good and bad.
If you haven't read it yet, Jeffrey Zeldman shared a few memories and thoughts about his experience in public speaking since he began in 1998. Over the years, I've seen Zeldman give plenty of talks. He's become a natural and is comfortable on stage, in-between a large screen and a large audience. His speaking style is one that I myself favor, story telling, a few slides and plenty of opportunity to ad-lib should the audience react to one direction over another.
After years and years of experience and success, Jeffrey has been inspired by other speakers to up his game by changing the format of his presentation style to one that I have come to fear the most:
I may read the speech out loud, word for word, as Mike sometimes does, or I may revise and practice it so often that I no longer need to see it to say it, like Karen. Either way, my talk this year should be tighter than any I've given in the past decade. Hopefully, that's saying something.
The thought of having a fully prepared speech/presentation gives me the shivers. This reaction is in response to a horrible public speaking experience I had in college.
As a student studying advertising, I joined the related student club to get more hands on experience than the coursework offered. Like many national student programs, we had an annual competition. The American Advertising Federation sponsored an annual contest wherein students were given a client (in 1997 it was Saturn, the now defunct automobile manufacturer) an imaginary budget and constraints regarding the brand and the direction the "client" wanted to go with the campaign.
Our task was to create a national campaign that would reach the primary audience and convince them to check out Saturn through advertising placed in all markets and included print, radio and television. It's not as easy as it may sound.
Many months were spent on research, costs, schedules, potential reach, and media buys with flights for optimal market penetration. The business side of our work had to be published in a book and sent to the judges in order to be invited to the competition (they didn't just let anyone in, you had to show that you knew what in the hell you were doing as compared to what a real agency would recommend). Once our spot in the competition was confirmed another six weeks was spent producing all of the advertising creative work, which was to debut at the competition. Many days were spent into the pre-dawn hours (which included "borrowing" a few Macintosh SEs from time-to-time because the student lab closed at 11PM). And a lot of money was spent to get things developed, printed, fabricated and produced.
At the competition, each college team was given twenty minutes to pitch their campaign to the judges (aka The Client). Each pitch was required to provide a review all of the data driven decisions made and the debut of all of the creative work. Our presentation had to be well rehearsed and choreographed. As this was 1997, the only way to present our work on stage was with synchronized Kodak slide projectors that had a propensity to jam. In order for us to have enough visual aids for twenty minutes of dense charts, bullet points and creative work slides had to be sequenced in alternating carousels. Should a jam occur, we were given verbal instructions how to recover, which involved more luck than technique and time--which we would not have during competition.
For a solid week we rehearsed our pitch, before classes, in-between classes, after classes, on the plane to the competition and later in our hotel rooms, right up until it was time for us to go up on stage. During all that time, our slide projectors did their job and we eventually stopped worrying potential technical difficulties. Murphy's Law caught up to us and right in the middle of our pitch, the slides jammed like two tectonic plates coming together to form a mountain range. It was a giant Kodak created mess.
Despite getting the slides back together, we never recovered. Six months of hard, extra curricular work and a lot of money was gone. More devastating for me, I lost all confidence in presenting or talking, especially with an accompaniment of visual aids.
To those of you who have invited me to speak or have have asked why I don't speak over the years--there it is, your real answer.
Haunting Kodak memories be damned, last year I was invited to speak twice with my business partner Greg Hoy. Despite sweating through some anxiety, it went pretty well and, thankfully, our slides never jammed. Our presentation was in the style Jeffrey found comforting and I have to say, it really made a difference after not being on stage for more than a decade.
Though I don't know if I'm ready to give the super polished talk another chance just yet, I'm am happy to be back on the stage and being a part of the community.
Meanwhile, I'm really looking forward to seeing Zeldman's new presentation at AEA Seattle in March.
There has been some lamenting about the death of blogs as of late. Ok, maybe it's been over the last year or two but it's become a lingering topic. For me, if I look behind the curtain, I really stopped writing in 2010 (see fig. 1). Honestly, thats when my personal and professional life became much, much more complicated and stressful than at any time previously. Those complications doubled and quadrupled for a number of years and thankfully they are on the decline.
Lets be honest though, I had the time. I mean, I could have made the time to write and continue what I started twelve years ago, but I wasn't feeling it. There was that one time when Tumblr was fun to post too but I didn't really start to get the itch to write again until recently. That's when I decided that enough has been enough and the crap that has been plaguing me creatively for the last four years is going to get knocked on it's ass and kicked to the curb this year—So long sucka.
I don't think blogs are dead. Like anything we do, sometimes you just need a break.
Ok, introspection done. PSA delivered. Back to writing.