Nathan McGinness

Recent reads 7

Woah, it’s been a while. Buying every album ever, iPad magazines, sleep, the peak of the social media party, Facebook’s new building, and more.

Offscreen Travel Notes

I wrote a few words in Offscreen – Issue 3. Buy it, it’s beautiful.

Clients, Customers, and Fans

Build a fanbase. Not a userbase.

Recent reads 6

An employee handbook, ‘rock star’ designers, front-end resources, a strangely thoughtful piece on the Instagram acquisition, ‘The New Aesthetic’, feeling light (getting rid of objects), fake authenticity in branding, and self-publishing resources.

Having a baby (in California)

I learnt a lot about babies in 2011. I read piles of books about them. I received advice from doctors, midwives, doulas, friends, relatives, strangers, and a hypnobirthing instructor. On December 14th a brand new baby entered the world, into my hands. Looking back there’s things I wish I knew at the outset and things I think are worth sharing.

Most Web Design Agencies Suck

My biggest gripe with the agency model is well articulated by Andy Budd:

So while clients buy into the seniority of the team, then end up getting none of the benefits. In many cases web design consultancies can be little more than employment agencies, hiring people in cheaply and simply slapping a margin on their day rate.

I’m regularly disturbed when I get the opportunity to do a head count at an agency. Sales staff, project managers, account people, executives and administration staff commonly out-number the people producing the products paid for.

We have the advertising industry to thank for this legacy. Right or wrong, this is how business was built. Landing the client was the biggest job. Finding and developing the idea a mystical process that justified the final whopping invoice. The eventual implementation (an advertisement) seems trivial once these two hoops have been jumped through.

Agencies make software now, and software is never finished. Great software starts small, and requires ongoing iteration. Amazing software requires cross-disciplinary teams empowered to make decisions. The advertising business model is almost completely irrelevant. We need to find ways to put makers (designers, engineers, writers etc) directly in touch with the people who need their expertise. We need new ways of selling our time.

On Business Madness

Alexander Payne (co-founder and Chief Technology Officer at Simple) on what I like to call “tech-business bullshit”.

But, as I observe discussions of business matters in the startup community, I can’t help but think that none of us – for all the blustering blog posts, crowing keynotes, self-published manifestos, and chest-beating sound bites fed to hungry reporters – have little more than the slightest idea what we’re doing.

We mistake dumb luck for a machine that produces success. We rely on induction when we should rely on deduction, and then, having realized our mistake, we lean on “data-driven decisions” in lieu of common sense. We chase patterns that aren’t there and miss eager markets right in front of us. All this while projecting the confidence, real or manufactured, that’s necessary to play the game.

Honesty and humility. It’s refreshing and powerful, particuarly coming from someone in the banking industry.

Back patting

Last night I watched designers and developers bitch and moan about the Oscars (and the entertainment industry) on Twitter.

Humor me with a thought experiment. Imagine the general public cared about Silicon Valley’s success stories, personalities, fashions and fads. I bet our industry leaders would revel in the glamor and back-patting in the exact same way; Armani suits, designer dresses, bad jokes and millionaires handing gold statues to other millionaires.

I agree with Matthew Smith’s sentiments, “I’d like to see less back patting and more challenging articulate critique executed with a healthy measure of grace.”

Why great web designers code

Should designers code? I don’t know. The best web designers do, and here’s why.

Web employment resources

Thinking of moving on? Entering the start-up world? Time to freelance full-time? Or just want to get a feel for the market? Here’s a list of valuable job-related resources.

Recent reads 5

This time around I’ve got articles on why we should abandon the idea of separation in front-end development, the truly bizarre nature of modern corporate offices, popular culture’s current road block, investing in software engineers (not their software), and the learning, fear and love involved in making things.

Git For Designers

No more excuses if you’re not using git. Here’s the perfect intro to the basics; installation, adding, commiting, branching and merging. Do it.

Wilson Miner - When We Build

We’re the designers. We’re the builders.

Wilson Miner’s talk at Build. Everyone is talking about it. I finally watched it.

Sublime Text 2

I’ve loved Textmate for over five years. It doesn’t bother me that it’s a dead piece of software. In a field where everything changes all the time it’s nice to have something stable. I wasn’t interested in trying anything new (except for the super-sexy stripped-back iA Writer) until Noah Stokes prompted me to finally give Sublime Text 2 a try.

It’s awesome. You can still launch from terminal, it has it’s own console, a badass command pallete, it supports Textmate themes and bundles, and has a nice distraction free (full-screen) mode. Install Package Control, Soda Theme, and read this article. Also be sure to give the multi-cursor functionality a whirl – it will wig you out.

Pictos server

The super talented Drew Wilson has just launched Pictos Server. Similar to Typekit, it hosts the icons you use on your site and serves them as a web font. Should provide great performance & design flexibility, particularly if you’re using something like SASS for CSS.

Android Doubles Down on Design

Khoi Vinh’s reflects on Google’s new Android Design creative vision/resource.

What struck me the most about the site, though, is that its vision is so broad that it becomes broadly generic, too. There’s nothing about “enchant me,” “simplify my life,” and “make me amazing” that’s objectionable, but there’s also nothing about those concepts that sets the platform apart from what iOS or Windows Phone are trying to do, either. The design principles are smart and illuminating, and in fact everyone should read them as they offer a lot of good advice. But again you could apply these to just about any design system, whether an OS or a suite of products.

Agree. Impressive content, well written, and a welcome resource (to designers and product people in general). The challenge is in shaping and influencing the platform’s existing developers and product designers. A difficult but worthwhile goal that will require more than well crafted style guides.

An Important Time for Design

It’s time for the design community to follow in developers’ footsteps and fundamentally realign its focus. We need to think about products over posters and people over page views. We need this to happen at every level: in design schools, in design writing, and in the things we celebrate online and in person. We have a new purpose: elevate design and help change the world. Let’s talk about how to do that.

Yep, a wonderful and lucky time to be a web designer. Let’s not just enjoy it, but make the most of it.

Thirty five

You don’t need millions of customers to be successful. I’ll take 1000 customers paying me $25/month any day of the week.

Noah Stokes shares thirty five pieces of wisdom after thirty five years of life.

Agile design? When to be (and not to be) agile.

How does a designer fit into an agile team or process? I’ve put together some general tips, advantages, disadvantages and things to avoid.

Joss Crowcroft’s Blog

Awesome front-end blog, some fantastic open-source JS resources.

An explanation of the CSS animation on Apple's iPhone 4S webpage

Curious how the beautiful CSS animations on the iPhone 4s page actually work?

The Typography-out Approach in the World of Browser-based Web Design

I feel that a typography-first, content-out approach to web design moves us one step further away from the unnecessary distractions of design-for-design’s-sake and one step closer to becoming true typographers.

It’s true. The recent explosion of typographic possibilities paired with the inherit challenges of web design (client-side variations) is re-inventing the technical art of typography.

Recent reads 4

Recent articles I’ve been enjoying on my Kindle. Read about scaling a flat organization, the future of American (interface) design, browser pollution (thanks to Microsoft), real names on social networks, Sean Parker, our web presence and data when we die, and dogs.

Zerply Frontend

A great post by Luke Beard on front-end implementation at Zerply.

Scalable and Modular Architecture for CSS

Amazing resource by Jonathan Snook. I’ve linked to the ‘full’ version so you can ‘read later’.

Instapaper facelift

I spent an hour or two imagining how Instapaper could look without any fundamental feature changes. Same layout, fonts, colors and stripped back philosophy.

jQuery Overtakes Flash on World’s Top Websites

DENVER, Co. Aug. 24, 2011 – appendTo, the company dedicated to jQuery, the world’s most popular JavaScript Library, released data today showing that the percentage of websites that have jQuery deployed has officially surpassed the percentage of websites that have Adobe Flash deployed. Statistics compiled by HTTP Archive, which analyze the world’s top 17,000 websites, show that 48 percent of the sites use jQuery, while 47 percent use Flash.

Facebook’s Design Strategy

Design is such an influential part of Facebook’s strategy that Cox and 64 other members of the design staff occupy desks that form a U-shape around founder and CEO Mark Zuckerberg.

The more I think about it, the more I wonder if Facebook’s business provides the scope for roughly 64 designers (many of whom are absolutely brilliant) to all be at their best?

Should designers code?

Frank Chimero and Andy Rutledge recently answered this question with a big fat YES.

I completely agree. You don’t get to call yourself a web designer if you’re illiterate in HTML & CSS (let’s not get bogged down in whether this is ‘coding’ or not). The discussion seems to come around regularly and it’s amazing that there is actual resistance to this idea (see Rutledge’s article for a succinct rebuttal).

But why do people resist this idea? Do they think markup and CSS is hard? Set in their ways? Scared it might be a slippery slope into nerdom?

If you’re brilliant enough to design beautiful websites you’ve already spent years mastering typography, composition, content strategy, visual design techniques, and some very complex tools. Learning HTML & CSS is a piece of cake in comparison. You’ve got no excuse, you’re obviously smart enough and you’re lucky. With HTML5, CSS3, modern browsers, Github, SASS & Compass it’s not just easy – it’s fun.

The evolution of the web

Interactive visualization featuring screenshots of each major browser release.

Web Design is Product Design

Debate is usually an indication of intelligent human pursuit. But not always. One issue for design students—this no-brainer, simplest of issues—has ever been kept alive within the inane realm of debate since it first arose. As such, it is an unflattering indictment on those who contest the simple fact that a web designer must craft markup and css.


Good, bad and interesting. Get your daily dose of UXUI UXUI.

Old S.F.

Old SF is an amazing location-based collection of archived photos around San Francisco. ISO50 found these great photos of the Marina Branch Library.

Actelion Imagery Wizard

Onformative, a Berlin based generative design studio (in their own words) use Processing to build an damn slick image generation tool as part of a comprehensive branding job.


Eliss is an oldie but a goodie, and my favorite iOS game. The game made early and perfect use of the multitouch surface, had an incredibly focused and beautiful aesthetic vision, and an addictive generative quality. Steph Thirion, the genius behind it has a teaser for his new game, Faraway. I’ve got a feeling the audiovisual overlap is to feature even more strongly, can’t wait.

I made a video teaser for my upcoming game Faraway.
Cool fact: it was all made in code, it’s an uncut programming sequence. No video editors were used.
- The game will come out this fall on iOS. Specific date and platform are TBA.

Glass Beach

During the early 20th century residents of Fort Bragg, California chose to dispose of their waste by hurling it off the cliffs above a beach. No object was too toxic or too large as household appliances, automobiles, and all matter of trash were tossed into the crashing waves below, eventually earning it the name The Dumps. In 1967 the North Coast Water Quality Board closed the area completely and initiated a series of cleanups to slowly reverse decades of pollution and environmental damage. But there was one thing too costly (or perhaps impossible) to tackle: the millions of tiny glass shards churning in the surf. Over time the unrelenting ocean waves have, in a sense, cleansed the beach, turning the sand into a sparkling, multicolored bed of smooth glass stones now known as Glass Beach

(via Colossal)

Recent reads 3

Recent articles I’ve been enjoying on my Kindle. Articles on Github’s operations strategies, tax-rates for the rich, the ‘like’ button, decision making, conferences in the 21st century, Breaking Bad, the state of online news and the advertising agency model in digital design.

The Problem with All-Star Teams

It’s gobbling up a remarkable amount of talent — an All-Star Team, if you will. The problem with all-star rosters, of course, is that as a team they often suck. It’s an odd phenomenon, but if you put too much greatness in the same room, things don’t always turn out so… great.

Matt Drance wonders if Facebook are taking a risk by putting too much talent in the same room. It’s an odd concern. A individual doesn’t need talent to ruin a good team (but ego might help). This all boils down to the individuals involved and Facebook’s ability to give their brilliant new talent scope and room to work. One thing is for sure, you don’t lower your recruitment standards out of a superstitious belief that an “All-Star team” is going to fail.

To be fair, the article acknowledges this and the leadership challenges involved, but ends by wondering if Facebook can replicate Apple’s design driven success. Why an Apple (or Steve Jobs) comparison is necessary I’m not sure, but seeing important companies put such great value in design is encouraging to see – no need for alarm bells.

Push Pop Press acquired by Facebook

Now we’re taking our publishing technology and everything we’ve learned and are setting off to help design the world’s largest book, Facebook.

Facebook continue to build what might become an unrivaled web design team (see here and here) and facility.

Great for the hundreds of of millions of Facebook users (and any future Facebook iPad offerings), although it’s a little sad we won’t get to see Push Pop improve on their brilliant work thus far.

The End of Client Services

Basically, I came to the conclusion that if I wanted to design great user experiences then that old model of being a design contractor or a studio or an agency would not work. Instead, it’s necessary to be a part of the company that owns the product, to be in a position where I can continually work on and improve the product without the artificial constraints of a services contract.

Khoi Vinh, the author of popular design blog Subtraction, previous Design Director for the NY Times, and previous founder of a design studio reflects on his recent decision to start his own company (more info on that is said to be coming soon).

Anyone who has worked in a digital studio will empathize with Vinh’s story. A team puts great work into the first iteration of a product only to see the money dry up, the contract end, and a product neglected when it most needs love – after real users get their hands on it!

Well written piece, and a nice (perhaps a little more considered) follow-up to Ben Pieratt’s recent article.

Recent reads 2

More articles I’ve been enjoying on my Kindle.

Dear Graphic and Web Designers, please understand that there are greater opportunities available to you.

Your press checks are bullshit
Your personal logo is bullshit
Your employer is bullshit
Your studio is bullshit

A bold article by Ben Pieratt from Svpply on why designers might want to reconsider their careers.

Steve Lambert’s brilliant & awkward 404 page

The awkwardness, ambiguity and near uselessness of the 404 page.

Bad design?

I couldn’t believe my eyes. Who designed this evil (but kinda fun looking) death trap?

What is the worst piece of design ever done? on Quora.


DesignersMX invites designers to submit a mix and design an accompanying cover. Knock Knock?

Porn star meets architecture porn

Filmed at Lautner’s famous Chemosphere House. If you like the building find yourself a copy of Infinite Space, a wonderful documentary on Lautner’s work (including this building). If you like Sasha Grey I don’t think you’ll need my help finding more of her.

Amon Tobin 'ISAM' Live (Extended Trailer)

The power of collaboration. Would love to see this in person.

(via ISO50)

Please, please, please stop asking how to find a technical co-founder.

And don’t say that you’re the idea guy. Having an idea is one piece, but it’s a very, very small piece. In fact, it’s so small that it’s actually better to earn a technical co-founder without the idea in place so that you guys come up with it together.

Excellent advice. It doesn’t matter if you’re looking for a co-founder, a designer, or even working with an agency. Your idea is useless until talented craftspeople get their hands on it. If you let them, they might be able to make it work. If you don’t, they are probably polishing a turd, and not enjoying the smell.

Where’s my equity?

When I see a very talented (and professionally proven) designer, writer or engineer asking for charity on Kickstarter I can’t help but feel that something is a bit whack - on two counts

Recent reads

Syncing Instapaper and my Kindle has been one of the best moves I've made in a long time. I’m reading more of what I want, more often. Here’s what I've been reading lately.

Native style momentum scrolling to arrive in iOS 5

It’s great news and more evidence that Apple are willing to lead the way in mobile browser development. position: fixed and overflow: scroll are also on their way with iOS 5, but let’s not get excited until Android catches up. Until these handsets enable position fixing and full overflow support we’ll have no choice but to continue to add JavaScript to fake these behaviors.

Project Spartan - Facebook’s Hush-Hush Plan To Take On Apple On Their Own Turf

I’m not sure I buy into this ‘build in the browser to fuck with Apple’ idea. Steve Jobs evangelizes HTML5 and standards-based development and Apple backs this up by building the the best available mobile browser (which is probably the exact reason Facebook are working with it).

Let’s say Facebook succeeds with “Project Spartan” and becomes a distribution centre for browser based applications. I doubt Apple would be upset by Facebook (a company with unrivaled reach) showcasing the capabilities of Apple’s mobile products. I also doubt that people will stop developing native Apple applications.

If this is a war, it requires Apple to be against the evolution of browser-based application development. I don’t think they are. I think the quality of their browsers is evidence enough for now.

Facebook Analog Research Laboratory

Who says you won’t get your hands dirty at a software company?

Fixed positions with JavaScript

A robust solution for when a fixed CSS position just isn’t enough

Topguest at Lake Tahoe

The Topguest team took some friends to Lake Tahoe the weekend before last. As you can see, it’s a really beautiful part of the world.

A blog in two days with Jekyll

A post I wrote over at the Topguest blog on rapid blog development with Jekyll – the same platform I built this blog with. If you’re interested in front-end development I think it’s worth a read.

Google drops IE7

Great news. As of August 1st Google Apps (including gmail and docs) will drop support for IE7. If Google can do it, so can I.

“As the world moves more to the web, these new browsers are more than just a modern convenience, they are a necessity for what the future holds.”

Anni Albers in the NGA online archive

Have found some simply stunning Anni Albers (the wife of my favourite artist, Josef Albers) prints at the National Gallery Of Australia.