Grab a dictionary and look up today’s word: imagery.
While you’re there, stop off at images. (That’s the word you’re looking for.)
Grab a dictionary and look up today’s word: imagery.
While you’re there, stop off at images. (That’s the word you’re looking for.)
I have fond memories, though my cholesterol level does not, of eating at D’Best Sandwich Shop in Boca Raton. It’s been a few years, but as I recently munched on a Miami Cuban-style cheesesteak1 my mind started wandering and I got to wondering if D’Best still existed. As I went looking for their website, I recalled a few of their regional twists on the cheesesteak, like the New York style, a New Jersey style… not to mention their incredible non-steak explosion of an entire Thanksgiving meal directly onto a bun (D’Pilgrim).
D’Best still exists, alright… but I was truly unprepared for what I found.
You see, back when I’d visit, D’Best-the-subshop was a place you’d leave coated with a thin layer of grill grease. Had to wait in line? You’re washing your hair tonight. The place was by no means messy, but it had a certain unfinished quality to it… definitely the kind of place where the food matters more than the branding. I’d describe it as feeling somehow honest… completely lacking in pretense. Kind of blue collar? Yeah, I guess.
You can probably tell why I was expecting the website to be endearingly terrible. I was ready for a little Comic Sans, an “under construction” GIF, and a scanned paper menu — as a multi-megabyte bitmap, of course. That would seem normal. Kind of quaint.
D’Best-the-website, however, looks very professional. It’s fast, designed to modern standards, has eye-pleasing amounts of whitespace — oh, for fuck’s sake, it’s responsive — and is even served over HTTPS. Oh, and did I mention that it’s completely lacking in character? It feels like it should belong to… I don’t know, L’Best Artisinal Panini Bistro.2
And it very well could.
But what really raised an eyebrow was this line:
We have an unwavering commitment to flavor. Connect with us and let us know how we are doing.
And also, this one:
We never stop short of a culinary experience you’re sure to enjoy.
D’Best’s flavor may not waver, but you’d never hear that out of their mouths. Their sandwiches may be delicious, but a “culinary experience” they are not. This is a place where the meat gets grilled by guys in football jerseys, backwards baseball caps and maybe a tattoo or two.
Something was rotten in the state of Boca, so I plugged the above phrases into a search engine. And then I did one of these. It turns out there are at least 80,000 restaurants whose websites promise the same “unwavering commitment to flavor,” and look more-or-less exactly the same as D’Best’s.
All of these, including D’Best and Hickory Hut St. Paul, say the’re “Powered by EatStreet,” a website-in-a-box service for restaurants. EatStreet seems to host these sites, and provides them with a generic design template as well. All of these different restaurants, from all over the country, basically end up with the exact same website, with the exact same messaging, except for a few small tweaks.
This feels a little slimy on the surface, but is there anything wrong with it? After all, restaurants’ websites are of truly hyperlocal interest. I mean, nobody in DeKalb, Illinois is looking for D’Best. They’re more interested in The Huddle American Food… which has the exact same website as D’Best. Sigh.
In the interest of being honest with myself, I tried to explore just which part of me was so offended by this. Was I offended as a food person? As a past D’Best devotee? Or as a copywriter who can’t help but see this as a business getting by without needing the services of myself or someone like me?
To reach the answer, I tried to put myself in the shoes of the owner of D’Best, and I realized that, you know, it must have been a whole lot nicer to run not just restaurants, but most kinds of local businesses before the Internet. Some person who really needs to be worrying about keeping rats out of the kitchen doesn’t want to think about about building and securing a website, plus dealing with all the Internet necessary-evils (Yelp, Google, Facebook, OpenTable, Square, Foursquare, etc.) that supposedly exist to bring them customers, but instead use their stature to intermediate the customer relationship, and extract a recurring fee for doing so for the rest of forever. (Actually, a few of those companies would love it if D’Best decided to give up on running a standalone website.)
If EatStreet can keep a simple site up and running smoothly, plus keep it more secure than the proverbial site-by-nephew, is that really such a bad thing? After all, a few decades in, the Internet is still not made for normal people; there’s just too much that can go wrong if one doesn’t have the specialized knowledge to do technical stuff properly. There’s definitely value in simplifying things for a normal person who just want to run their damn businesses. So even if EatStreet is yet another friendly intermediary, thanks to them one can order a D’Best Philly style online — consider my mind blown. Could that functionality exist without some centralized service keeping the Internet gears running smoothly in the background, handling the credit cards and taking a cut?
For all the upside they deliver in functionality and security, however, EatSreet sure has their tendrils into D’Best in an inadvisably-deep manner — a quick whois check shows that EatStreet actually owns D’Best’s domain name. Or should I say their new domain name. I found this other domain that still contains an older D’Best website. While this site is still slicker than it should be — remember, my cheesesteak place’s site should look a little like their paper menus, minus the grease stains — this site’s a lot closer to what I would expect. There are some typos. It’s got a page where you can meet the team. It has a freakin’ FAQ page where they tell you how to reheat a cheesesteak (which, by the way, they say you shouldn’t do).
This Internet archaeological find is a sign that someone once cared about and hand-crafted D’Best’s web presence… but at some point said “fuck it, this EatStreet thing doesn’t make me think.” Thanks to their scale, EatStreet can centralize best practices for all of their customers, but they can’t centralize the déclassé character, the local flavor, the unique greasy fingerprints that inevitably end up on the website when it’s made by the owner’s proverbial teenage nephew.3
While those at the helm of D’Best can do what they think works for them, it just sucks to see a place with so much flavor take the path lacking in taste. But they have cheesesteaks to make, and as long as people keep coming through the door to order these greasy wonders on bread, they don’t have anything to worry about.
Ultimately, I guess I’m just writing about myself and my preferences. While you couldn’t stop me from grabbing a cheesesteak if I happened to be in the neighborhood, from where I’m standing I can’t help but see big, lazy centralization as the sworn enemy of goodness. May I never get too big to have taste.
I just clicked my first banner ad in years. It wasn’t by accident.
Dear marketers, this is how you do it:
No, of course I didn’t buy anything.
Design Observer looks dated.
DO’s header boasts proudly that it’s been operating since 2003, and you can tell. Look at it with 2014 eyes and you’ll observe a non-responsive fixed-width layout with tiny text. Is that really a blogroll? Where are the ubiquitous social sharing buttons?
It’s like a time capsule of early-2000s blog design.
And that’s why it’s so great.
Design Observer reminds me of a lot of websites from the ‘00s, some of the first blog-ish things I ever read. (Like Pixelsurgeon! Or Design is Kinky! Or Pixelsurgeon!) Maybe I owe the fondness to my youth, and its design limitations to the bad old days of primitive web browsers. Or maybe it was just Web-1.9(beta) style. To my eyes, though, the look holds up well.
The information density on Design Observer is amazing and that probably has a lot to do with the typeface, which is tiny by today’s standards. I peeked into the HTML because I knew the typeface appealed to me, but I couldn’t quite put my finger on why. IT’S 8 POINT VERDANA, you guys!1 It’s so tiny, yet so crisp and readable. (Compare that to Arial, or its blatant rip-off Helvetica.2)
The site was definitely not designed with the current tablet craze in mind, and as a tablet owner who doesn’t love tablets, I like that. That said, I shudder to think of what Design Observer must look like at unscaled ‘retina’ resolutions.
Speaking of the future, I fear the day I’m going to visit Design Observer and find a Mediumification has happened — this has to be on their roadmap. It does seems a little strange for a design site like DO not to be following what are, for better or worse (Here’s my ballot! I vote ‘worse’!) modern design conventions, which favor clumsy UI for smudgy fingers over — you know — the stuff that helps people do stuff.3
And once it’s gone, it’s gone. Sadly, Design Observer’s robots.txt file tells most search engine crawlers to simply go away. DO specifically included a rule banning the Internet Archive, which means the page has never been captured by the Wayback Machine, the Internet’s somewhat-official time capsule… and never will. This makes it tough, if not impossible, to see what Design Observer looked like ten years ago, two years ago and even last week, to see how it changed with the times — or didn’t — to become what it is today.
And when this frankly wonderful design is replaced by something “better” and “modern,” it will also disappear forever. Hope this helps.
Spike Jonze’s Her was an interesting movie tainted with just a sprinkling of ridiculousness… and I’m not talking about the high-waisted pants.
I’m about to spoil it hard, so avert your eyes if you haven’t seen it. (But do see it.)
Look, I just find it hard to believe that the downfall of this product was due to a gaping design flaw that somehow nobody noticed: Samantha was designed without any process isolation. When you ask the software how many users it has (or how many it’s in love with, etc.), it should respond “one — you” because your running instance of the software shouldn’t know anything about any other users, and definitely shouldn’t be accessing other users’ data.
What people are doing with the software, having relationships with it or whatever, is beside the point. One binary, one billionty individual Samanthas. Come on — we’ve had Unix for forty years.
Or wait, is Samantha supposed to be “the cloud”? If so, as social software, we should expect it to be fucking as many people as possible, as publicly as possible. Maybe this movie is deeper than I thought.
On another note, folks — make backups.
I’ve been holding the pen (and before that, the pencil and crayon) incorrectly for as long as I’ve been writing. As such, my handwriting is pretty terrible and I’ve always been prone to hand cramping. Various teachers and at least a couple of parents have tried to correct this over the years, but I’ve always just ignored them and gone on writing as I pleased. I found my way easier and more comfortable, although the comfort would only last for the first few minutes.
I’m not sure what happened, but about a month ago I was sitting at my desk and I decided that I was going to start holding the pen correctly. At first it was a difficult, frustrating and uncomfortably conscious process, and I would sometimes forget to do so, but I made sure to correct myself as soon as I remembered. I soon found it easy enough to do with chunkier pens (like most of my fountain pens), but now I’m able to do it well enough on days I carry something thinner (like a Parker Jotter).
Consequently, I’m writing a bit more slowly and deliberately now, and while my handwriting hasn’t really changed at all, the new hand position has become automatic — I now just pick up the pen and hold it correctly. Since I still prefer to do much of my daily thinking ink-on-dead-tree–style, this small change contributes significantly to my quality of life, as I trade short-term comfort for long-term comfort.
“Next up is correcting my sitting posture,” he writes, slouching terribly.
Last year I read an interesting blog post that taught me the name for something I’d been hearing more and more about for a while: MOOCs (“Massive Open Online Courses”). You know, they’re those online classes that you can take, offered by universities like Stanford, Harvard and others — plus a host of private companies — typically for free and without credit. Oh, and across an absolute metric fuckton of topics.
Yesterday, setting aside any traces of an um-yeah-I-already-finished-college-thank-you attitude, I spent some time poking around MOOC List — an extensive aggregator of available classes — and found something that caught my eye: Intro to the Design of Everyday Things, taught by Don Norman, author of that book you may have seen on my dining room table, waiting patiently to be read, for a little while now. (Okay, Amazon says it’s been over two years.)
So I’m taking Don’s class now, and while I’m not sure if I’ve had my eyes opened to any truly new concepts yet, I’ve picked up a couple of terms: “affordance” and “signifier.” And to finish off Lesson 1, I’m currently on the lookout for a signifier to photograph, critique and improve.
So, why Intro to the Design of Everyday Things? I can actually share the answer I posted to the class forum:
I’m taking this class because, as a copywriter whose opinions on the finished product tend to extend a bit beyond my specific area of expertise, I’d like a more solid grounding in these other areas.
Basically, soon I’ll be telling you why I’m right about even more things, using all the right terms. Look out.