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Writing Examples

I have had the opportunity to use my writing skills for a variety of different projects, including reporting, documentation, opinion pieces, and blogs. I earned a B.A. in English and American Literature from Brown University.

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From my blogs

In the Spring of 2010, I was writing for a small tech blog, and was asked to produce a piece about the forthcoming iPad. I’d never seen or used one, but I did a bunch of research about it and, as usual, formed a fairly negative opinion about Apple’s latest introduction before ever using it. It reminded me of my reaction to the introduction of the iPod, when I said that first no one would want to carry a portable disk drive with music on it, then I said no one would want to carry around their photos, nor watch video on such a small screen. At least I am consistent. In any case, the piece never ran, I stopped writing for the blog, and then went out and got an iPad for myself.

Here in two parts is my take on the iPad- before owning one and now that I have one.

The iPad Cometh

The Apple iPad, the most hotly anticipated gadget since Steve Jobs’ last pocket-sized hunk of perfection arrives April 3, and is already taking pre-orders. Announced at a special Apple media event on January 27, 2010, it has already been previewed to the public in a TV commercial during the Oscars. Unlike the launch of the iPhone, where Apple was trying to crash the preexisting portable device market, Apple is breaking new ground this time, trying to create a new category of device, along with a whole new paradigm of controlling the end user experience.

Tabula Rasa

There are companies that make tablets already; most of them are just adaptations of laptops with screens that allow for text input or some other adaptation grafted onto current operating systems like Windows or Linux. That’s not what Apple is trying to do with the iPad. And neither is it a larger version of an iPhone. Apple keeps describing it with the phrases “the best,” “instantly familiar,” and “it just feels right.” Jony Ive, Senior VP of Design summed the philosophy up as: “I don’t have to change myself to fit the product; it fits me.” Michael Sippey probably put it best when he said that the iPad is going to become the new family computer.

Apple has always been a company that cares about every detail. You can see that in the physical design of their products as much as in their software. This is the first product where they have taken it to the ultimate level and designed the hardware inside, as well. According to Bob Mansfield, Senior VP of Hardware, using Apple’s custom A4 chip allows 10 hour battery life and response times that no other chip allowed. As well, the new 9.7″ screen is the largest multitouch screen area Apple has ever produced, containing over 1000 sensors.

Devil in the Details

To enhance the user experience Apple allegedly spent a lot of time working on new software for the iPad. According to Scott Forstall, Senior VP, iPhone Software,”We decided, let’s redesign it all. Let’s redesign, re-imagine and rebuild every single app from the ground up specifically for the iPad.” So instead of applications simply ported over from the iPhone and doubled in size, “…You get apps that are an order of magnitude more powerful.” There are volumes of documents for developers governing how to design third party iPad applications to maintain consistency and allow the full use of all the abilities built into the device.

Apple’s App store already has over 140,000 applications available for today’s iPhone and iPod Touch. Apple promises that the iPad is going to run virtually all the apps that are available and will let you use apps you have already downloaded for the other two devices. However, to make these programs run properly on the iPad, they are scaled up, doubled in size, to match the display resolution. This is somewhat analogous to watching a low resolution YouTube video on a high definition TV- it’s bearable, but not something you’ll want to do for long.

Damningly for Apple’s assertions that iPhone apps run fine on the iPad, Jon Gruber noted that some of the stock applications that come with the iPhone and iPod touch will not be appearing on the iPad. Even worse, Forbes says that of those 140K+ apps, actually only about 16,700 have been certified as actually iPad compatible, and many will not even run at all because the lower priced versions will not have GPS functionality, and none will have a camera.

Anything For Power Users?

I’ve got an old MacBook Pro, and I was thinking about getting an iPad to replace it. As of now, the only apps announced for the iPad for actually getting any work done (other than email) is Apple’s iWork suite of Keynote, Pages and Numbers. They’re nice apps for a casual user, but not really helpful for a professional graphic designer whose bread and butter is the Adobe CS Suite. Considering that the iPad does not allow for the use of Flash, I’m not anticipating Adobe lighting a fire under their developers to get a version out the door anytime soon.

That means I can’t work on any of my projects with the iPad or use it to display work to clients, other than via Safari. Nor is there even a basic HTML editor to even work on web pages. And, the entire file system is obfuscated, making it nigh on impossible to manage files except from within applications themselves. It doesn’t even have HD video output despite the higher price.

I was hoping for something more than a glorified media player and game platform, but that is really what the iPad is- an eBook reader with internet connectivity and other games and the like, just like my iPod touch, just with a bigger screen, and faster processor that allows for some user interface niftier tricks. Eventually, developers will catch up and release some software that takes advantage of the big screen and powerful processor and make it an actual competitor to a laptop. For now, it would be more of an exotic trophy to me than a device I could actually get work done with.

No iPad For Me

And that really leads to why I won’t be pre-ordering one or getting a first generation model. Apple has been notorious with their first generation products for not fully working out the kinks in their products, nor fully realizing how people might want to use them. Right now, the iPad is singularly Steve Jobs’ vision of a tablet and home computer, but it doesn’t do anything more than I already want of my iPod touch.

I’m also not at all jazzed by the idea that some of the basic features of the iPad are tied to the 3G model. I have perfectly good wireless around my house, and I don’t want another data plan, certainly not from at&t. That’s a basic reason I never got an iPhone and instead have an Android phone. Apple likes their walled garden and to safely guide their users, but they sometimes forget the individuality they once espoused in their classic 1984 commercial.

Steve Jobs is right. The iPad is fantastic and wonderful and great and the best thing Apple has ever done. At least to him. But it’s not open enough for my needs despite everything Jony Ive wants to believe or thought he designed into the product. And until it is, a lot of people are going to hold off buying one, just like I am.

Boy, Was I Wrong, Again.

Steve Jobs is right. The iPad is fantastic and wonderful and great and the best thing Apple has ever done. What I didn’t get before, was that it is not a replacement for a desktop computer/graphic design machine. Neither is it a replacement for a laptop. But it does most of the functions of both, and since I have gotten mine, I have gotten rid of my MacBook Pro and my iMac, leaving me with only a Mac Mini and the iPad as my sole hardware, and that’s all I need.

Insanely Great

That may seem a surprising change of attitude, but it really is true. The main reason for this is the power and speed of the iPad’s processor and the interface, and also the iPad’s “secret killer app,” which is now available to iPhone and other iOS 4.0 users: the separate Bluetooth keyboard. Many reviews of the iPad have complained about the terrible on-screen keyboard, but it’s really about as good as any implementation can be without the actual tactile feedback of real keys. What I don’t like about the on-screen keyboard is how much space it takes up while in use; the Bluetooth keyboard takes care of this by freeing up all the screen space while active. And, when you look at how small it is combined with the iPad itself, it’s still way smaller than even the MacBook Air.

So now the iPad has become my primary email and internet machine; I use it to read my RSS feeds and surf the web, tweet and Facebook and to look things up quickly. Since my house is chock full of Wifi goodness, it’s always available, even when I am using it to listen to music out in the garden. What has surprised me is how useful it is for other tasks that I wasn’t expecting. No, I still can’t do page layout, nor do I expect to. But Adobe has put out a couple of surprisingly good free apps for the iPad already: Adobe Ideas for vector sketching and Adobe Photoshop Express (which both work on other iDevices, too) for simple image processing. There are HTML markup apps and FTP apps. File management is handled seamlessly on the iPad- individual apps that need to know where things are, do.

Much like Jony Ive said, the iPad really IS instantly familiar and just feels right. I have seen people pick mine up and instantly understand how to interact with it and open apps and pinch and flick to navigate. Honestly, the hardest concept for most seems to be to press the honking great big button to return to the home screen. The size is comfortable for big and small hands, young and old. The screen is a great size for sharing video, and reading web pages, and manages to feel personal at the same time.

Think Different

Now that I have had my iPad for several months, I have my laundry list of things that could be done better and I would like to see fixed. First of all, like any of us who has a device that runs iOS 4, it’s frustrating to endure the lack of the best of those features on the iPad- multitasking, folders, unified inbox, etc. (Update September 4, 2010: This will be coming in November along with AirPlay as promised by his Steveness at the September 1 Apple Event.)

Secondly, as Khoi Vinh has pointed out, shaking the iPad to undo is ridiculous. It was fine for a hand-held device, but not for something this size. In the same vein, the non-traditional layout of the on-screen keyboard can be frustrating, especially with the placement of the Undo button, and switching between iPhone and iPad apps.

Speaking of iPhone vs iPad apps, it’s disheartening how many major applications, like Facebook and Twitter still rely on doubled versions of their iPhone app for their iPad customers, when over 3 million iPads have been sold by now. I was also disappointed that Apple included so few apps with the iPad compared to what they include with the iPhone, like no alarm clock or weather app. As well, they have an iMovie app for iPhone, but it’s not supported by the iPad, which seems odd, since the screen size and processing power would be well suited to the task.

And, it’s also pretty harsh that so many developers are releasing “HD”/iPad versions of their apps that are not much different than the iPhone/iPod version other than scaled up graphics, but 3-9x the price. I bought Plants vs Zombies for my iPod touch last year for $1.99, and at 2x on my iPad it looks great, and doesn’t make me feel like I missed out by not paying $9.99 for the HD version. After spending more on an iPad than an iPhone or iPod Touch, one would think that developers would understand that our pocketbooks are roughed up and can’t take the gouging.

I would like to have control of push notifications; i.e. I would like to turn them off during certain hours. I would also like to be able to set apps to update themselves, instead of having to check and then authorize them each time. It would also be nice to set up separate accounts so that I could have a configuration for when my friend’s young children come over, all they see are kid’s games and painting apps.

The Computer for the Rest of Us

The iPad is the first of a new class of computing devices that has long been anticipated. Others have tried to get it right, but Apple, once again,  told us what we wanted and given it to us in a tidy, well-designed and functional package. Developers are already getting on board with the new device and coming up with software and ideas that only months ago would have seemed ridiculous science fiction. This is a computer your octogenarian great-grandmother could get as much use and enjoyment from as your teething toddler or a professional like me. With the Bluetooth keyboard and my Compass stand, anywhere there’s Wifi, I have a fully functional workstation where I can sit down comfortably and get real work done.

Discarding the mouse, which has been the standard input device since 1984, may be a difficult task for some, easier for others, but in all, it’s a liberation that makes interacting with technology simple and elegant and intuitive. Pointing and clicking is one step less removed, now. Although I understand why mouse support will never happen, it would be nice if Apple allowed the Magic Trackpad access to the iPad in a future update. Multi-touch is easy to learn as well; although one has to be mindful of resting extra fingers accidentally.

There is also a certain pleasure from sharing media on a right-sized screen such as the iPad’s. It’s not just that it’s a glorified media player. It’s an extension of social media, heavy on the social. It’s big enough to gather around, and small enough to pass to a friend. Better yet are the (still limited, but hopefully growing number of) apps that allow video out from the iPad to composite video and external audio. Now I can stream movies instantly from Netflix to my HDTV any time I want, as well as from YouTube, but, unfortunately, not from Hulu Plus.

A few accessories I have picked up for my iPad that I recommend to anyone who has an iPad:

Originally published August 29, 2010

Why do different browsers render the exact same code differently? Why do some require commands unique to that browser? And most of all, why is this non-standardized behavior acceptable?

Imagine if Sony TVs displayed channel 4 differently than Toshibas? Or if the Blaupunkt radio in your car chose to interpret the FM signal differently than your clock radio? People would riot, or at least complain bitterly. But, because of their position as “market leaders” Microsoft can get away with a browser included with Windows that takes well written code and mangles it. Apple has been able to include a browser that renders the majority of pages accurately, although it is not without its quirks, with a much smaller development force than Microsoft’s.

Why as a web designer, do I have to design a site with one browser in mind and then fix it for every other browser? Video producers don’t have to reencode their video for display on different tv sets any more than musicians have to record different versions for different audio devices. But, every site I design has to be checked across multiple browsers to make sure they work. I never had to do this with print design.

In any case, the majority of visitors to this site, use Explorer 6, about 56%. Another 3% use other older versions of IE. Version 7 is due to arrive shortly, which means a new 800 lb gorilla on the horizon to consider. Unfortunately you can’t install both simultaneously. So if I want to test current designs on both, I will need two different machines to test on, one for each. And, since IE7 is supposed to fix problems in 6, many designers, myself included, are worried that fixes and hacks created to make sites work in IE6 will be broken in IE7, and when they are fixed for IE7, they will be broken in IE6, Very frustrating.

There is a consortium for WWW standards and another grassroots coalition but it seems they are more figureheads than enforcers. With many older versions of browsers still being used, and myriad new technologies being added to websites daily, perhaps it is idealistic to expect that all browsers should render identical content identically. I’m hoping for the day that at least all current browsers will be on the same page, literally and figuratively, and web designers won’t have to do the same job over and over again to make sure their site renders accurately on each browser. Until then, I’ll still be checking and fixing sites to compensate for the eccentricities of IE after perfecting them in Firefox (and Safari without trying).

Originally published May 19, 2006

Daniel Striped TigerMost of you who know me well know I am pretty much a cat person. I’ve had cats, either of my own or family-style, since I was born. Fifteen years ago, while I was living in Boston during one of my interludes away from Brown, my sister called and offered me a cat of my own. She and her husband had gotten him, thinking having a big cat would be cool. But at twenty full pounds of Maine Coon Cat, he turned out to be too much for the cats they already had, which prompted his being offered to me.

He’d been through a couple of owners before I got him; before my sister and her husband had him, and named him “Bullay” (Indonesian for “whitey,” in reference to his unusually pale skin), he had been “Rusty,” and had been determined to be unfit for being a show cat, probably due to a nick on his ear. Nevertheless, he was a handsome and elegant cat, with a rich coat, big paws, a forbidden tummy, and a massive tail. Vocally, he was a little challenged; he tended to trill or beep more than actually meow, and the closest he ever came to purring was a raspy wheeze.

Maine Coons are known for being smart, independent cats, and Daniel was that. He could be loving, and he could be demanding, but on the whole, he was his own cat. He didn’t like to be held. I always called him a next-to cat, because he much preferred to curl up next to me than on me. But he did sleep with me, and, best of all, on cold mornings would be twenty pounds of self-heating fur curled up under the covers with me, keeping me warm.

When I moved out to California in 1995, I drove out and left him with my friend Lola and her girlfriend in Brighton, where they took great care of him, but inexplicably renamed him Harley. I soon flew back to the east coast specifically to collect him; flying him across country whacked out on kitty tranquilizers and in a carrier resembling a ventilated gym bag. I had to make arrangements with the airline that he would be the only pet in the cabin on the flight; I guess no one wants a cat fight at 40,000 feet.

Life in California was good for the most part. But, as Daniel aged, and my resources dwindled, we ended up in a small studio apartment in the Haight. It became apparent as the years passed that the place wasn’t big enough for the both of us: he became more withdrawn and aggressive; we got into actual physical fights (ask me to show you the scars sometimes), and he learned how not using the litterbox could be a weapon.

Finally, by 2002 it became clear that we could no longer continue sharing the same space. We were actively getting on each others’ nerves and picking fights constantly. But, I was lucky enough to find people that were willing to take him in, and he moved to Fresno with Joe, and his aunt and uncle, Nancy and Bob. Even when Joe left Fresno, they were kind enough to keep him, and give him a great home on a raisin vineyard, where he had all the space he needed, the ability to get outside and get exercise, and to be around people who doted on him and took good care of him. I was really happy and proud that they could give him what I couldn’t.

Daniel got older and started showing signs of his age- not being able to move as well as he used to, and his hearing was deteriorating. But he was still king of the hill, with the other cat and dogs they had giving him the respect and deference he was due. Unfortunately his house-brokeness dissipated and he became a full-time outdoor cat.

Now Daniel was a stubborn cat, I know, because I am as stubborn as he is and have lots of battles under my belt to prove it. I always thought he was mean enough to outlast us all. I didn’t get to see him during his last few years in Fresno, but I have it on good authority that from the moment he was put outside, he was determined to get back in, and I do believe it. I can imagine him plotting, sitting by the door, waiting for Bob or Nancy to come out with their hands full and slip inside before they noticed…

Well Bob and Nancy just bought property, packed up, and moved to Virginia earlier this month, and for a while, it was touch and go as to whether Daniel would be well enough to go with them. A 3,000 mile road trip is tough on anyone, especially a 16 year old cat. But, in typical fashion, he proved to be plenty resilient and proved that he was fit for the trip. For the drive, a large carrier, almost a cage, was purchased, giving him enough room to move around, stretch out, eat and drink, and use the litter box. And, as everyone was packing up, the carrier was set up and he was brought in with it to keep him corralled.

From what I hear, he couldn’t have been happier to be in the carrier in the house- he’d won the battle of wills and made it back in the house. And he knew it- he was wheezing away, strutting around like he’d just won the lottery. And that’s how I want to remember him, the proud tiger in the photo above, happy and king of the world.

But today, in Virginia, while he was sleeping on the back porch of their new house, a pack of local dogs broke into the yard, and attacked and killed him. Between being nearly deaf and being slow and aged, he didn’t stand a chance. I’m still overwhelmed by the ugliness of his death. I spent many years hating that cat as much as I loved him, but I know for sure that he deserved better than that.

Goodbye Daniel. Chairman Meow has left the building.

 

Originally published April 16, 2006

After a long road of deregulation leading to rapidly recombining Baby Bells, SBC has completed its merger with what was left of AT&T, and assumed the former parent’s name. And, to announce the completion, they have decided that it is time for a rebranding.

out with the old, in with the new

Never mind the decades of brand equity in the “death star” mark created by the legendary Saul Bass… out with the old, in with the new! As imagined by InterBrand, this new mark is a lackluster, hurried solution that weakens the brand and will be outdated in about 30 seconds. Where to begin?

I’ll start with the type. AT&T is the ULTIMATE in upper case companies. When you think of three inital corporations, it’s one of the first. Even the press material introducing the new identity refers to the company with upper case letters. The press release says, “Lowercase type is now used for the “AT&T” characters because it projects a more welcoming and accessible image.” Actually, in this case, lowercase type projects weakness and capitulation to fleeting trends and marketing droids. In fact, to quote from the USA Today article, “We agonized over the letters,” says [Ed] Whitacre [Chairman & CEO], who made the final call on the name and the logo.

He says marketing people finally convinced him that the new look was more evocative of the Internet generation: “They tell me it’s more trendy and modern.”

The day that “trendy” matters to an international corporation like SBC (or AT&T for that matter) is a sad day indeed. IBM has not changed their logo for nearly 50 years, despite being at the forefront of technology for even longer, because of the strength of the logo’s design, and the value to the identity of the brand. They may have new campaigns and products, but through it all, that heavy, striped Clarendon IBM is on it all.

Since when is AT&T’s primary customer base trendy teenyboppers anyway? 14 year olds don’t pay phone bills, even on their own mobile phones. Using typography typically targeted at that generation does little to attract their parents and grandparents, who DO pay phone bills.

Those generations also remember the Saul Bass AT&T logo and the Bell logos before it. So, while I think it is a good idea for SBC to become AT&T, I don’t think that rebranding was in their best interest. Especially puzzling was their purchase of AT&T Wireless customers, converting them to Cingular customers, only now to reconvert them back to AT&T Wireless customers again. If I was a shareholder, I would be demanding some kind of refund…

Now, on purely technical merits, this logo is shockingly bad. There are a few good 3D logo solutions, but this really isn’t one. Follow the lines around the ‘globe.’ They don’t line up. They aren’t consistent. The bw version looks the most egregiously lumpy, but they all look misshapen. It smacks of being rushed, and done without care or much skill. It’s also very difficult to reproduce ‘accurately,’ with all the gradations and tones.

These are not images any company wants, much less one of this size: trendy, ephemeral, rushed, inconsistent, difficult. Yet this is what the new AT&T logo conveys. Not the strong, efficient, coordinated world of Bass’ original logo. Which telco would you trust? The old AT&T or the new at&t? I’m switching.

Originally published November 22, 2005

MediaBistro.com UnBeige

I was proud to discover today that mediabistro.com’s UnBeige was selected and currently adorns their home page. It contains their favorite quote, from Tibor Kalman, which I also quite admire:

“You make something white or beige because you are afraid to use any other color–because you don’t want to offend anybody. But by definition, when you make something no one hates, no one loves it. So I am interested in imperfections, quirkiness, insanity, unpredictability. That’s what we really pay attention to anyway.”

In honor of the quote itself, I set it in Zapf Dingbats, as a tip of the hat to a designer whose work I loathe, but whose audacity I admire, David Carson. Apparently, while he was at Raygun magazine, someone wrote an interview with Brian Ferry that Carson absolutely loathed, so he set it in Zapf Dingbats, rendering it unreadable, in line with his philosophy of design before legibility.

Anyway, you can see that the words “white” and “beige” are set in their respective colors, but the quote overall makes a nice background for the title of the site, which I set in Rosewood. I think Tibor would appreciate the irony of paying tribute to a designer whose work I don’t love.

I hope you’ll go visit Unbeige, both to check out the logo, but also to look around their site and read some of their articles- they’re already linked in the “Sites we like” list to the right and a daily read for me.

Originally published May 25, 2006

LiveTouch.net is a telephony company local to Alameda, CA, that came to Gillico early in 2009 looking to freshen up their website and print collateral. They were about to launch some new products and wanted a new look to appeal to potential customers. Gillico was asked to take a difficult to navigate homepage and bring it to life, and make it more usable.


Here’s where the site began:

LiveTouch.net, before Gillico redesign

There are several problems with this version of the home page. It’s unclear what the purpose of the page is, what it’s trying to say or do, or where it leads. It is very cluttered, with a lot of imagery that doesn’t give a cohesive message. The big building in the middle is actually a rollover, which affects the three tiny little buttons on the side. The header seems to be a customer service center talking to rush hour bridge traffic. Not only that, the page content continues on considerably further after where I cut off the screen shot. The navigation bar seems to have duplication in several areas (Solutions and Solution Delivery). All in all, it didn’t seem to relate, certainly not in a concise way, to the client’s product, which is Business IP telephony services, nor did it provide an inviting experience to a potential customer visiting the site for the first time.

It was clear that the first goal was to clean up the page by eliminating unnecessary elements and simplifying the navigation to establish clear pathways for users to take through the site. I harvested all of the basic content, took out all the photographic elements, created some white space, and emphasized the primary navigational choices for users. I also wanted to establish a clean grid and palette of colors for the page to create a visual standard. For color choices, I used variations of the colors of their logo, which seemed to be an obvious choice that would match with their existing corporate branding and communication. Those first few steps created a radical difference in the look and feel of their site:

early mockup

Then, after that, I began adding in some imagery again and used that as the basis for some variations to show the client. I did some research into some of their competitors to see what other sites the market space looked like. We also did some work on the amount of content on the front page, and with my help, whittled it down after some back and forth discussions to just the key points. The site is very deep in content, and I wanted to make the front page inviting and welcoming, not overwhelming. I was able to convince them to cut way back on the amount of copy, and to focus it much better to attract the proper clients. We also found by working on the copy, the key phrase to what their marketing efforts going forward would be: “Stay ahead by staying in touch.”

There were certain elements that seemed necessary to retain, like friendly faces and phones being used in different ways, and I even managed to keep the building too! What I felt was most lacking from the previous design was a connection between the user and the company, that would make people connect with the site and want to go further into the pages and want to find out more. Although the budget was limited, I did have access to a good stock photo archive, and was able to find the right images to illustrate not only the right kinds of technology for the company, but also the right kinds of people that they wanted to connect with.

After a couple weeks of revisions we decided upon and went live with this final design:

LiveTouch.net as redesigned by Gillico

Their webmaster was able to take the style sheet and color schemes and apply them to the rest of the content-managed site to match with the newly-designed front page, and now the whole site has been freshened up and looks sharp to match their new product offerings! Gillico also helped LiveTouch by redesigning several illustrations within the site, adding a consistent and professional look throughout. Whereas before the graphics were previously drab and thrown together with mismatched clipart, I created diagrams and artwork that were unified and part of a family that really enhanced the image that LiveTouch was trying to project:

Evolution of Communications: Before

Voice Solutions: Before

Evolution of Communications: After

Voice Solutions: After

Intelligent Communications

Gillico was also asked to create a couple of PDF sales sheets, in line with these main illustrations of Voice Solutions and Intelligent Communications. They also match the site design and corporate identity scheme, and are easily printed or downloaded from the web.

That’s quite a difference for their image from beginning to end in just a few short weeks, you might be thinking! And yes, it was! How you represent yourself and your company on the web and in your printed materials is usually the first way potential clients get to know you. But a small investment in your outward appearance will pay off big dividends when people choose you over your competitors.

Originally published June 11, 2009