August 19, 2004

Blogging Grows Up Comments Off


Mena and Ben Trott thrilled the world of bloggers with their Movable Type software. Then their company, Six Apart, received venture financing and they decided it was time to get serious.

In the spring of 2001, Mena Trott, a Web designer in San Francisco, began a quirky Web log called Dollarshort. This was a time when hundreds of young Web designers in San Francisco were starting their own quirky blogs, and so the historical significance of Trott’s effort might at first seem difficult to appreciate.

“I didn’t win many awards as a kid,” Trott began in her first post, on April 3, 2001. “When I was seven, though, I awarded myself a homemade prize ribbon fashioned out of a raveling brown fabric remnant. And with my little white crayon, what did I scrawl on this ribbon? ‘Winner.’ That’s it. Not ‘1st Place’ or ‘Good Job!’ Just ‘Winner.’ I guess I was trying to think of the exact opposite of the word loser, a word easily defined as a kid who has to make himself an award…. Welcome to”

Hard though it may be to believe, Mena Trott’s early posts can be seen, in retrospect, as a kind of flashpoint for the blogging frenzy that now consumes so much of the tech-enabled planet. This isn’t because Trott’s was the world’s first Web log or the most popular, but because working on Dollarshort clued Trott in to a desperate problem in the world of blogs — a lack of powerful tools.

Blogger, the preeminent blog-building software of the time, was easy to use but limited in its functionality. Personalization is the soul of blogging; a blogger wants her blog to look different from every other blog out there, and this was difficult to pull off with Blogger and many of the other available tools. If she wanted Dollarshort to look — and to function — like no other site online, Mena Trott saw that she’d need to come up with an altogether new kind of blog-building program.

These are the humble origins of Movable Type, now widely considered to be the world’s most powerful blogging tool, the system that sits at the heart of the Web’s busiest blogs. The software, which Mena Trott designed and built with her husband Ben, a Perl coder extraordinaire, did not start the blogging craze — but MT, as it’s known, beautified blogging and sharpened the idea of what a blog could be, allowing many clever scribes to turn their idle musings into serious online endeavors. Among bloggers, Movable Type is thought of as the tool you turn to when your blog has become the heart and the brains of your operation — which explains why the presidential campaigns of Howard Dean, John Kerry and George W. Bush, a trio that agrees on little, all embraced MT when they decided to jump on the blogging bandwagon.

This, at least, was the sunny reputation that had attached to Movable Type until a few months ago, when Six Apart, the company that Ben and Mena Trott founded to develop and market Movable Type, began, in the words of some in the blogosphere, “going corporate.”

This spring, when Six Apart (the name is a reference to the six-day age difference between Ben and Mena) released its newest version of MT, it announced plans to begin charging the most active users for a license to use the system (previous versions had been offered essentially for free). The news hit bloggers like a thunderclap; many accused the company of forgetting its roots and embracing soulless corporations instead of people.

Six Apart weathered the controversy and, according to its executives, emerged only stronger. Still, the company’s decision to charge customers to use Movable Type is an intriguing one, as it suggests a belief that blogging is, or will soon be, more than just a bastion for hobbyists, more than a place for political punditry and the sort of entertaining stream-of-consciousness musings that Mena Trott offers on her blog. When the folks at Six Apart talk about the promise of blogs and the future of Movable Type, they don’t talk about Instapundit or Talking Points Memo, two popular Movable Type blogs. Instead, they talk about law offices and media companies and software firms, and the benefits these businesses might see when their employees start blogging.

Competing, on the one side, with several deep-pocketed firms willing to give their blog software away for nothing and, on the other, with open-source developers committed to the notion that blogging should be free, Six Apart is building a blogging empire around what seems a crazy idea — that bloggers will pay for fine tools. Blogging may be provoking a revolution in the media and politics, concedes Anil Dash, a blogger and Six Apart vice president, but the revolution needs software — complex, powerful software that professionals can depend on. “And it just makes sense,” Dash says, “to pay for professional-level tools.”

- Read the rest of the article at

August 13, 2004

Olympukes Free Dingbat FontFrom Fontshop Comments Off

We all love the Olympics. Well, we love to watch amazing feats of athleticism — it’s rampant scandal and commercialism we could do without. London-based designers Jonathan Barnbrook and Marcus McCallion poke fun at the seedier side of the Olympics with a font of 52 satire-filled pictograms. Celebrate the 2004 Summer Games by decorating your home, office, or local pub with Virus Fonts’ Olympukes. This entertainment comes absolutely free (ahem, brought to you by FontShop.)

August 9, 2004

Cubicles Suck – Not Just for Hackers Comments Off

After software, the most important tool to a hacker is probably his office. Big companies think the function of office space is to express rank. But hackers use their offices for more than that: they use their office as a place to think in. And if you’re a technology company, their thoughts are your product. So making hackers work in a noisy, distracting environment is like having a paint factory where the air is full of soot. The cartoon strip Dilbert has a lot to say about cubicles, and with good reason. All the hackers I know despise them. The mere prospect of being interrupted is enough to prevent hackers from working on hard problems. If you want to get real work done in an office with cubicles, you have two options: work at home, or come in early or late or on a weekend, when no one else is there. Don’t companies realize this is a sign that something is broken? An office environment is supposed to be something you work in, not something you work despite. (by Graham, via Steve)

I fought hard to move myself and my team out of our companies ‘sea of cubes’ and into a studio-like open workspace. We’ve been in our space going on 2 years now and it’s been great… it’s open, quiet, creative, and ‘ours’. Next on the list is natural light… we’ll see what we can do about that if we survive the acquisition. :P

August 2, 2004

Syndicate this site! News feeds, RSS, XML, and Atom. Comments Off

I’ve been getting some questions about these topics lately and learning a lot about it myself, so I decided to put some information together in a post.

Do you like reading this site? Do you come here regularly? If so, you may want to consider using a news reader (aggregator) to receive updates from all the sites you follow in one central location.

For instance, I track about 150 (!) sites everyday using an Outlook plug-in called NewsGator. Essentially, when a blog or other site with an RSS feed is updated, the post or news item automatically pops into a folder in my Inbox and looks like new mail. A couple times a day I click through these folders and follow the links to the sites I’m tracking.

There are tons of news aggregators and I don’t know which ones are better than which ones… my perception is that they’re all pretty similar, but use my comments section to discuss if you disagree. The main reason I use NewsGator is that it plugs into Outlook and therefore fits into my work-flow. Here is a list of links to news aggregation sites… they’re all free… and I’ve included the link to syndicate my site via each one too. Have fun!

Add to Bloglines
Add to MyFeedster
Add to MyYahoo!
Burn this feed in FeedBurner
Subscribe in NetNewsWire
Subscribe in NewsGator Online Services
Subscribe in NewsMonster
Subscribe in SharpReader
Subscribe in Shrook
View at NewsIsFree
View at Syndic8
View at Technorati

Michael C. Place, Build Design – Interview Comments Off

(interview originally published at twohundredby200 magazine)

Michael C. Place was born in North Yorkshire, England in 1969. He graduated from Newcastle College in 1990. He then went on to work at Bite It!, London with Trevor Jackson working on mainly record covers for Champion Records, Gee Street Records for artists such as The Stereo MC’s etc.

He started work at The Designers Republic, Sheffield in 1992 where he worked for 9 years, on a diverse range of work from R&S Records, Satoshi Tomiie, Warp Records, Sun Electric to the Wipeout series for the Playstation to the book 3D>2D Adventures In + Out of Architecture. He left tDR to go travelling in 2000. On September 17th, 2001 he started his own design company “Build”, which is based in London. Build specialises mainly in design for print.

I recently had the chance to interview him for twohundredby200 magazine. Here’s the transcript of the interview.

KK001 – Tell me a little about your background… were you a creative little kid? Were you playing with shapes and color before you knew designer was a ‘real job’?

I’m the son of a Farmer, and a Nurse, I was brought up in the rolling hills of North Yorkshire where I went to York College [graphic design] then up to Newcastle for my final 2 years studying graphic design [which I failed]. As a child I had always enjoyed drawing and from a very early age I wanted to be an Architect [I still have a strong interest in Architecture].

KK002 – How have you pushed yourself artistically and creatively? Have you been mentored and pulled forward or are you internally driven?

I’ve always just done my own thing, and have been fortunate to be able to explore my take on design throughout my career [first at Bite It!, then tDR]. I tend not to look/read design books, I prefer to get inspiration from less ‘designed’ objects.

KK003 – What do you see as the role of formal training and design education in the development of young designers? Do you continue to further your education in a formal way?

I think college for me was the natural thing to do [I graduated in 1990], the course I was on was geared to be very practical which I enjoyed, but at the same time I didn’t want to be designing wine labels and nappie packaging. I wanted to design record covers, so I did a work placement at I-D magazine, then The Designers Republic I got on well at tDR and Ian later offered me a job.

I think that young designers in education should be given all the opportunities to take whatever path they want to take. The course I was on didn’t really understand the whole ‘sleeve design’ thing and was more geared to advertising graphics. It was a constant struggle for me, I just used to do personal projects and scrape through the course work.

I would really like to do some part time lecturing; I think I would have something different to offer the students, that’s about it for my formal design education. I hope I have managed to keep my work at Build interesting, I love design and so I hope this shows in the work we produce.

KK004 – I’ve heard you say in the past, “The computer is a tool. Full stop.” I also know you tend to focus primarily on print design. What is your relationship to technology and your computer and how do you

I still subscribe to that way of thinking. I love the whole process of design and don’t want to get bogged down in the whole technical side of things. Print is great because it requires real discipline to do well, and I love the print process. I wouldn’t like to be seen as a ‘Jack of all trades’.

My relationship with my computer is simply this, I switch computer on, it works, the end. I was fortunate enough to be one of the last generation of designers that learned to do artwork by hand, using overlays, PMT cameras, making up type/colour etc.. This has helped me to have a really good knowledge of how the print process works. It’s invaluable to me.

KK005 – What are you working on right now? Are there any techniques, themes or threads that are currently dominant in your design?

I have just completed my first motion piece, I’m working on a magazine redesign, just finished a Build edition for Refill Magazine, I’m working on a few corporate ID’s, a book, 2 record sleeves etc. I’m getting into serif fonts at the moment [honest!] which is nice, I still enjoy designing fonts. I’m starting to use photography a bit more, taking my own pictures.

KK006 – What is a dream client to you?

My dream client is anyone who lets me do my thing… and has a large print budget! I have recently got an agent [This is Real Art]. They are really good and are helping me get bigger jobs. I think that the general public are a lot more design savvy and I believe that I can do the same level of creative work for an independent record label as I can for a multi-national corporation.

KK007 – Do you have formal or informal relationships with your clients?

I have different types of relationships with different clients. They range from the very informal [clients that have become friends etc.], to very formal [which is quite rare], due to the nature of the businesses that hire me to design for them they tend to be a bit more ‘un-business-like’ which suits me!

KK008 – Do you have a design business tip to share with other people trying to make it on their own?

My Build Design tip is to believe in yourself, try not to compromise the work you produce, in the end people will have more respect for you.

KK009 – How has the Build experience been? How has it differed from your time at The Designers Republic?

The Build experience has been the best thing I have ever done, I couldn’t go back and work for someone else now. It’s the best feeling. Build differs from The Designers Republic in a lot of ways, for one [and the best] it’s my baby! tDR was great, Build is better!

KK010 – The Computerlove International Graphic Design Exhibition in Brussels was amazing. What did you do in your role as curator? Do you plan to do collaborative exhibitions like this again in the future?

Thanks. I really enjoyed doing that with the Computerlove crew, they are such a brilliant people to work with, so much enthusiasm for the design community [I have made some good friends from my involvement with that project]. My role was to design the identity/feel of the space, and as guest artist. I feel very proud of this exhibition, it was the first time that I was asked to exhibit our work as Build so it will always have a special place in my heart.

I would love to do something similar for someone else, I enjoyed designing for a space rather that for an area of paper, it throws up it’s own challenges and presents itself with some interesting opportunities.

KK011 – Do you see yourself walking a fine line between ‘fine artist’ and ‘applied artists’? If so which side of that line would you say you are on?

I would say that I am on the side of the ‘applied artist’, I never lose sight of the fact that I am designing ‘for someone’, that’s the bottom line. As I said before I have been very fortunate to have the clients I have, who have been kind enough to let me loose on their products.

KK012 – Tell me Two Things about Michael Place.

The Two Things about Michael C. Place:
1) I would like to open a shop that sells only Crisps [Chips, from around the World], the shop is called ‘Crisp’.

2) The ‘C’ stands for Christopher.

***Minutia: At the moment, what’s your favorite…

Pantone color: 414.
Paper stock: Yupo.
Software application: FreeHand MX.
Hip-hop album: Vaudeville Villain by Viktor Vaughn.
Author/writer: Paul Auster.
Video game: Don’t know.
Clothing color: Yellow.
Food/Restaurant: The India Club, The Strand London.
Beer: Any/All from Belgium!
Movie/DVD/Show: Star Wars[tm]/Jurassic Park[tm] trilogy/The Royle family.
Fictional character: R2D2[tm]
Quotation: “I like what I say, and I say what I bloody well like” – G. Whitebread, Yorkshire.
Other: I wish my Eczema would f**k off.

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