Content or Design – Which Came First? post image

Content or Design – Which Came First?

There’s a chicken and egg question in web design – do you design around content or do you develop the design first and “fill in the blanks”?

Brad Shorr of Straight North has some interesting answers. You do both. But really you have to start somewhere so it’s best to start with content and let it drive the design. And then start with the design.

Read about it here.


The Never Ending Quest for Free Stock Photography post image

The Never Ending Quest for Free Stock Photography

If you’re like me you really don’t want to get something for nothing. But your blog has really tight profit margins (read zilch) and there isn’t a lot of loose change for photography. I can shoot a mean picture myself but don’t always have the time.

So where can a dude find quality stock photos that can be used in exchange for attribution? Now there’s Unsplash, a fresh collection of 10 high quality digital photos you can use any way you want.

What’s the catch? Aside from the time you’ll need to put in hunting down the perfect shot for your project there doesn’t seem to be any catch. This seems to be a case of “the first one is free” school of marketing, with hopes that you’ll get hooked on great photography and come back with some cash when you need curated images.

[Via abduzeedo]


Can iSketchnote Save My Workflow?

My last Kickstarter funded gadget purchase – the Pebble Watch – continues to underwhelm me. It’s handy but it needs a lot of babysitting to stay connected to my iPhone…which means it’s not entirely reliable. And slightly reliable is pretty much the same as unreliable.

So could iSketchnote, a smart iPad cover that promises to instantly digitize your pen and ink doodles turn out to be a gizmo that actually works? I can’t quite see how this magic recorder will be a huge improvement over taking a snapshot and uploading to Evernote…except for one thing. Seems like this pen based input device could have some promise as an adaptive technology for someone who can write but has difficulty entering information on an iPad.

But this time around I want to get my hands on the thing and test it before plunking cash on the barrelhead.


In Search of a Perfect Workflow

I understand that a writing workflow is a personal thing. It seems like there should be a simple way to organize your thoughts given all the great interactive technology that is springing up every day.

Unfortunately, the most interesting and elegant discovery-to-research-to-written page workflows require a fair amount of fiddling around.

Here are a few examples with potential:

Author David Brown uses Evernote as the center of his workflow, using tagging more than stacks for organizing .

Jeff Warren uses an iPad based workflow to write academic papers, revolving around Bookends to collect his thoughts.

To get an idea of just how idiosyncratic a writer’s flow is, check out how these TUAW bloggers get stuff published.


Rolls of packing twine by Daniel Schwen

Collecting String – How to Manage Notes?

I have a long-running project writing blog posts, making up the content strategy as I go, and suddenly I find myself wondering if I’m repeating myself. Or more to the point, am I building new knowledge upon old – following threads upstream and creating more value for the site?

I need a better way to collect, organize and archive notes and prior blog posts. For years I used Tinderbox to collect my thoughts and organize my writing. But as my workflow shifted more to mobile devices and the cloud I found myself needing better access to my notes and documents.

DevonThink has always been interesting, with its promise of artificial intelligence, as a way to draw together divergent threads. For access across the cloud, though, it’s hard to beat Evernote.

While looking for some kind of do-it-all tool I came across this article about collecting notes that makes an argument for skipping the stuffbox. With a little organization and a workflow for continuous improvement, maybe a database isn’t necessary after all.

[Image by Daniel Schwen]


iOS7 First Impression: I Has a Sad

Whenever Apple releases a major design upgrade to an OS there’s always some guy who gripes about the new design and how the old system was just *much,* *much* better.

I really don’t want to be That Guy… but after downloading iOS7 on my venerable iPhone 4 a little piece of me died. I had been looking forward to “flat design” but now maybe it’s too flat. I find myself confused by the text buttons in some apps – not sure if the text is clickable or not…and if it doesn’t click is it because the text isn’t clickable or is it because the app is hanging up? More than a few Nielsen violations here.

I felt like the keypad on the iPhone is crowded and harder to type with. Safari stymied me (but I appreciate that the search box is now integrated with the URL field) and I found it really tough to navigate. And I was terrified by the number of “Frankenapps” that partly incorporate the new look but sometimes use the keypad or date picker from the old.

But really, the most unkindest cut of all is that I don’t like the new look. It’s a little too precious for my taste, a little too self-consciously light and airy. Maybe even too feminine for my gnarled fingers to be poking at. It doesn’t look like me.

David Sparks assures us that we’ll get used to it. I sure hope so. And while part of me is jubilant about the end of Marker Felt, another part of me feels like I’ve moved into somebody else’s new Modernist loft and I don’t care for the decor and I can’t find the light switches. I has a sad.


Ultimate Frisbee is Ideal Agile Cross-Training post image

Ultimate Frisbee is Ideal Agile Cross-Training

I’ve been very busy the past two months with a couple of big opportunities that Life dropped in my lap – not work-related exactly but projects that need a lot of management and oversight.

Shifting gears quickly, getting spectacular results in a neck-whipping short amount of time reminds me a lot of playing Ultimate Frisbee. Ultimate is a game similar to soccer but played with a flying disc. The difference is that in Ultimate Frisbee you must stop in place as soon as you catch the disc.

When you catch the disc mid-play there are two things you can do. You can pivot with one foot planted in place and you can throw the Frisbee. The trick is to release the disc as quickly as you can before the competition can get into position. This keeps them working twice as hard and it gives you a quicker path to the goal. Hang on to the Frisbee too long and your options get bad very fast. Typically you have to pitch the disc backfield and lose ground in the process.

If you’ve ever worked in agile project environment this pivot-and-release pattern should be very familiar. And if it isn’t familiar – find a local rec department and get some games of Ultimate under your belt.


David Sparks’ excellent book on Markdown

Get the Lowdown on Markdown

Back in the wild old days of the Internet everything was in plain text. If you wanted emphasis you HAD TO TYPE IN ALL CAPS or use *symbols* to suggest italics or use some other typographical hacks to suggest, well, typography.

Fast forward some 15 years or so and we have word processing applications that can do typography for you – even when you don’t want them to.

Good news for anyone who prefers to write in BBEdit or Notepad over MS Word. After lying low for a few years John Gruber’s markdown is suddenly a thing. This lightweight scheme for marking up text is easy enough to learn – but for the best possible way to learn about markdown David Sparks’ book aptly titled Markdown, takes you through the nuts and bolts of working with markdown, including advanced topics like multimarkdown. All wrapped in a beautiful, engaging digital folio. One of the best parts of this book are the video clips that introduce you to the way celebrity geeks (think Merlin Mann) use markdown.


Editorially – Their beta invite is the only reason I check my email

Why you shouldn’t use markdown – it makes you lazy

A better reason to think twice about markdown – you need semantically structured text


Target environment ontology visualization

Dear Manufacturer,

When I searched your site using the term “cordless impact driver” in the box labeled “find a product” I honestly was not secretly hoping to find 237 press releases. I was hoping to find a cordless impact driver.

I think I understand the problem. You thought people were coming to your site looking for information. So you carefully loaded your search engine with keywords and built synonym rings and ranked results by relevance.

But here’s the deal. People don’t search for information. They look for things. They seek understanding.

The more you can structure your content ontologically – by its “thingy-ness” – the more you can help people find what they are looking for. When your search box says Product Search, it’s a good bet that I’m looking for product-thingies. But if I’m in the Media Center I’m a lot more likely to be looking for news-thingies.

Defining an ontology can be tricky. Is a pneumatic drill a drill-thingy or is it an air tool-thingy? Some of that will depend on your user’s mental maps. I have a feeling that air tool buyers view tools slightly differently than power tool buyers (hint, here’s an opportunity for a card sort). But you can do it. Just resist the temptation to dump everything in a big pot labeled “outdoors.”

A couple of resources that I’ve found helpful: The Accidental Taxonomist, The Art of Indexing and Search Patterns: Design for Discovery

[Image from Swansea University]


Reformed SEO professional Jonathon Colman has gone after content strategy resources much the same way Carrie Mathison goes after terrorists. Colman’s obsessively detailed list of content strategy resources is an instant go-to resource for anyone interested in the field.

I know I’m going to be hitting this page often. My only concern is for Colman’s mental health. This sucker is going to be a mo-fo to keep fresh.