Gallery

Neo-Grotesk Crypto-Brutalist emilezile.com

End of March, right when I’m throwing finally together my design portfolio (I swear I resisted, and now love having one), Emile asked if I might want to hurl together something for him. Something Web1.0, something like we’d handcode in HTML in the late-’90s, not quite something MySpace in the days of its browser-crashing gif-frenzy inferno, but definitely something that would be in its lineage; something tuner Nissan Skyline, unassuming on the surface, but all Fast & Furious: Tokyo Drift when you pop the hood. Something Helvetica, Neo-Grotesk, what’s getting called Brutalist right now, though not traipsing behind a fashion; this is Emile and when I was looking through years of his work putting his new website together, he has a deep love and understanding of the aesthetic, and the art and philosophy underpinning it.

First things first:

Emile: I have two websites. Can we make them one?
Frances: Yes!
Emile: Can we do all these other things?
Frances: OMG Yes!

Lucky I’d just done my portfolio, cos that gave me the framework to build on without having to bodge together fifty different functions and stuff. Saves a few hours there, which we made good use of in timezone-spanning conversations on typography, aesthetics, and usability.

First off, getting all those years of blog posts and work projects into a single database / website / organism. I used the hell out of interconnect/it’s Search & Replace DB script, merging, shuffling, shifting, getting rid of old code, jobs that would take a week or more to do by hand, done in seconds. We’d pretty much sorted out structure and functionality in a couple of afternoons; for a website that looks so simple, it was most of two weeks diligent work, back-and-forth conversations, picking away at details, (stripping and rebuilding, stancing, slamming, tuning … we are very good at turning all this into hoonage, especially with 24h Le Mans in the middle).

Obviously it had to be ‘Responsive’, look hella flush hectic antiseptic no matter what device, and for me (recently taking this stuff proper serious) it had to also be ‘Accessible’. I put those words in scare-quotes cos they’re kinda bullshit.

It occurred to me as I was finishing, that for a website to be neither responsive nor accessible — for example it looks crap if the screen size is too small or not ‘right’, or you can’t navigate with keyboard or screenreader — you have to actively remove this functionality. You have to break the website and override browser default behaviour. It’s a very active process to systematically remove basic functionality that’s been in web browsers since the beginning. You also have to actively not think, not empathise, intentionally not do or not know your job. Me for probably all of my earlier websites.

The funny thing is, it’s not really any additional work to make sure basic responsive and accessible design / functionality is present; the process of testing it always, always, always brings up usability issues, things I haven’t thought of, little points that become involved discussions about expectations, interactivity, culture, philosophy. Like ‘left and down’ is back in time, and ‘right and up’ forward; 下个礼拜 / 上个礼拜. Next week / last week. Yet the character for ‘next’ is xià, down, less than, lower; and ‘last’ (in the sense of ‘previous’) is shàng,  up, more than, higher. So how to navigate between previous and next posts or projects turns into an open-ended contextual exchange on meaning.

And ‘responsive’, ‘accessible’? Basic, fundamental web design. Not something tacked on at the end.

Back to the design. System fonts! Something I’ve not done in years, being all web-font focussed these days. Another trip through the wombat warren of devices, operating systems, CSS declarations. It’s crazy impressive how deep people go in exploring this stuff. Emile Blue! A bit like International Klein Blue, and a bit like Web / HTM 4.01 Blue. But not! We worked this in with a very dark grey and very slightly off-white, bringing in and throwing out additional colours, and managing in the end to sort out all the interaction visual feedback though combinations of these three — like the white text on blue background for blockquotes. Super nice.

As usual, mad props to DreamHost for I dunno how many years of hosting (it was Emile who said to me, “Frances. Use DreamHost.”), WordPress for running Emile’s old and new sites (and all of mine), and Let’s Encrypt for awesome and free HTTPS. And to Emile for giving me the pleasure of making the website of one of my favourite artist.

Emile’s new website is here: https://emilezile.com

Lightblaarghx

Aside

I spent Sunday half immersed in Humans, and the Swedish original, Äkta människor, and half in code, following a passing musing to its conclusion. The former were and are quite brilliant; the latter was and is fiddly and peculiar, like all intersections of code and design. The latter began with me wondering exactly how difficult it might be to implement image overlays for supernaut without recourse to a plugin. This led to much reading and research, and deciding on Lightbox2 (instead of a plethora of others), taking half an hour to set up, and a few hours to get all nice looking (and nice-playing with caching). Of course it probably breaks all over the place, but the idea was to have the images fill as much of the browser as possible, with as little clutter as possible, and generally this seems to have happened.

Gallery

SOIT / Hans Van den Broeck

Sometime in November, Hans emailed me and asked if I’d like to help build him a new website. “Of-fucking-Course!” He arrived in Berlin shortly after for two weeks, where we sat in Alte Kantine Wedding every day for quite a few hours. We started with putting together a framework for each project, and once that was up, I linked him to my laptop web server, him sitting on my right adding all the text, me bashing out code.

It took a pause from January ’til early-April, then another ’til May 15th, when we fiddled with the DNS and splurted it out into teh Interwebtubez: SOIT / Hans Van den Broeck.

Hans was someone I heard about when I was a student, They Kill We (Eat, Eat, Eat) the name in my head when I was bunking off to the library and reading Ballet International. I thought it sounded like the coolest shit out, and knew I was going to move to Europe to be in the middle of all that. Hans himself I met on my first trip to Europe, as a DanceWEBber at ImPulsTanz in Vienna where everything I’d imagined and hoped for on the continent was ten million times better. I didn’t do Hans’ workshop—stupid uninformed decision—but along with meeting Anna Tenta and Ivo, getting drunk with Hans on an all-night, cross-Vienna bender (I dunno, it might have even been two or three nights … those last few days …) was the formative experience for me at the festival. And that’s amidst seeing Jan Fabre / Troubelyn, Emio Greco, doing workshops with Frankfurt Ballet dancers, generally 6 weeks of unrelenting Mind=Blown!!!

I got to work with Hans on my final arrival in Europe, again at ImPulsTanz. He, Anuschka, Ivan, and Estelle snuck me out one evening for surprise Viennese birthday celebrations. I started regularly going to Brussels; it became a mandatory pleasure for drinking and eating, talking for hours together.

And I always thought his old website, the one he’d hand-built in iWeb—images with picture frames, odd sounds, text scapbooked around in different colours and sizes—I always thought that was one of my favourite websites ever. Because it looked like him; when you arrived, it could only be him.

When Hans asked me to design and build his new site, I said straight away, “I fucking loved your old site, it needs to be somehow like that, how it looks, the feeling of it.” We ransacked his scrapbooks (so many scrapbooks!)—one thing Hans is very good at is archiving, every work had at least enough, and for the more recent ones, far far more than we could possibly use. Then we got serious and dry: How to build a site that can be arranged in myriad ways while also having a manageable editing interface?

Ja, of course it’s in WordPress, and of course I used Advanced Custom Fields. Early on, I realised Flexible Content in ACF was the way to go. CSS gives amazing power to change design and layout, but not the order of things; jQuery and PHP can do that but not in a simple, flexible, drag-drop, non-code way that’s part of the editing process. Flexible Content fields for text, images, video, quotes, whatever could be dragged into any order; then I added some selectors for images, to change their alignment and size, which was the final key in building a structure that could result in a design where every page is somewhat different. Headings and the work info sidebar are exceptions to this, though it would be trivial to extend the structure to shift those also around wherever.

Then there was things like the coloured squares next to work titles, generated from categories and slapped together in some probably unholy mix of PHP, jQuery, and CSS. Or the video page. When Hans saw how videos are laid out in the WordPress admin editor, a grid of thumbnails, he said, “Yes. I want that! Can I have that?” It turned out to be pretty easy, just overwriting the standard WordPress video playlist shortcode for the video page in a function (using the admin editor code as a template), then arrange it all pretty like. The background images are just taking FlexSlider, stripping it down, then again using some styling.

What else? The randomly cycling quotes? Also ACF, PHP, some jQuery, including collision avoidance detection so the quote doesn’t run under the menu. And the menu uses an extremely nice piece of jQuery, BackgroundCheck, to compare the background colour to the menu and swap between light, dark, and neutral states so the text colour remains contrasty (not always but enough that I thought it was worth using).

For anyone curious, I’ve included a screenshot of editing a page with all the fields; and some of the templates, functions, and javascript files.

The font is Klartext Mono from Heimatdesign via Fontspring … Oh! and the index page quote was a placeholder that remains for now because Hans liked it. It’s from Mechthild of Magdeburg.

blog cleaning progresses

Aside

I’ve been avoiding doing the cleaning of several years of posts, but somehow fell into it a couple of days ago, trying a few different approaches to get through the task until I found one that’s methodical, quick, and requires very little brain use. The problem is supernaut existed in a couple of different platforms before WordPress, and there remains (currently from August 2005 to December 2010) a lot of mess and pretty much all the images not properly linked. So I’m working through that, one month at a time, and while it’s certainly not exciting, I am getting to read back over ten years of blogging and my life.

misc. supernaut-ing

Aside

Yesterday, I updated to WordPress 3.6 then realised all the Post Formats stuff had been pulled from Core, and mediaelements.js was now in Core, so all my video was borked. Fixed that; discovered supernaut had been hacked back in April. Fixed that; made new favicons. Got annoyed by wp-admin slowness so spent an hour going through database cleaning out the options table (a curse on old plugins which don’t clean up after themselves when deleted). Realised some plugins weren’t working properly, deleted them, unexpectedly seeming to solve months of horribly slow/timing out wp-admin. Wrote a quick function to filter by Post Format in wp-admin. Felt rather pleased with self and taking that as a sign I’ve done something horrible which I’ll only notice in three months when supernaut farts itself and all backups out of existence.

WordPress 10

Aside

Happy birthday to WordPress, which is 10 years old today! I began using it for a site for Gala in 2007, having heard some good things about it and not wanting to torment her with Movable Type, which I was then in the thrall of. Since then, I’ve gone from, “Ooh! Make template changes and don’t have to wait for 1000 posts to be rendered!” to using it for every design project, and because of WordPress, I’ve learnt I know about PHP, CSS, dealing with servers, setting up a (proper) MAMP stack, jQuery, SQL, and all the things that I use to be a designer (currently learning Git, even). So here’s to WordPress, currently running 17% of the internet, and keeping me fed and roofed.

thomasjeker.ch

My fourth site to lurch livewards for the month, and the one longest coming. Thomas and I started working on this in late-2011, got mostly finished, took a long pause while he added quite a few projects in-between doing also quite a few projects, and we came back to it about a month ago and decided that we could wait forever or just arrive now.

In the last three days, I’ve done what is becoming a regular approach to the last bit before a site ceases to lurk and becomes public, which is to go through everything and make all the code coherent, add in anything new that has become standard, remove old stuff, and then completely strip the CSS before rebuilding it one section at a time. This last act usually removes a staggering amount of lines, gets rid of tiny weird problems, and generally smooths everything out so it’s not a couple of thousand lines of not really connected styles. It’s pretty methodical, like digging the garden, and fits my mania for as much cleaning up as possible.

And in eighteen months, that’s like a couple of decades in real life, so there was masses to change. One sad thing was the departure of WPAlchemy, which I’d been using as my always-use code for custom fields. It’s just not being developed as much as it used to, and the absence of repeating fields is something I can’t work with. So obviously I swapped the entire site over to Advanced Custom Fields (more digging of garden), which I feel vaguely confident will still be here in another two years. It’s actually brilliant and I can’t imagine doing a project without it.

Another big change was the rolling into Core of MediaElement.js, my favourite audio and video player (when I’m not using FlowPlayer, which doesn’t support audio anyway), which meant removing all my stuff that I’d set up to use this, and hooking into the core for all of Thomas’ audio and video — of which there is masses.

So, what else? Typography is using exlijbris’ Delicious family, which I find beautiful either for body or headlines; the M+ M Type 1 monospace, not sure when I discovered this, but it’s a very nice monospace; and a couple of occurrences of Genericons, which I find pretty useful for the slew of times icons are needed.

When I first began Thomas’ site, I was using jQuery to make images greyscale and then go colour on hover, which for some browsers (*cough*Safari) was mostly painful. Lucky in the intervening months pure CSS greyscale has become common enough to use, and it’s very nice (except in Firefox, which doesn’t animate the transition).

And then there’s all the loops for the individual projects pages, which hide sections if there’s no content (easy with ACF), and with the check of a box shift them around according to how wide the upper and lower rows (I call them ‘rooms’ …”Upper Room” harhar) are.

That’s about it. When I started it, I wasn’t doing any responsive design, and in the months since it’s become something I don’t even think about, it’s just part of the process, which means I suspect on some devices this site isn’t going to be so coherent. Maybe something to organise later, as making the horizontal layout collapse for smaller screens is fairly simple.

Fourth site for the month, then. The beautiful musician, composer, friend of dancers and choreographers who I really don’t see enough of (too much working to be hanging around in Berlin, where he doesn’t live anyway), Thomas Jeker now has a website where you can see what he’s been doing for the last several years, listen to his work and watch videos. I’d probably take an hour or so just to wander around: thomasjeker.ch.

Thomas Jeker — 1. arriving
Thomas Jeker — 1. arriving
Thomas Jeker — 2. news
Thomas Jeker — 2. news
Thomas Jeker — 3. Music For:
Thomas Jeker — 3. Music For:
Thomas Jeker — 4. Music's tail
Thomas Jeker — 4. Music’s tail
Thomas Jeker — 5. Too Far Again …
Thomas Jeker — 5. Too Far Again …
Thomas Jeker — 6. Kasimir & Karoline
Thomas Jeker — 6. Kasimir & Karoline
Thomas Jeker — 7. Shuffling sections
Thomas Jeker — 7. Shuffling sections
Thomas Jeker — 8. Collapsing sections
Thomas Jeker — 8. Collapsing sections
Thomas Jeker — 9. Single row
Thomas Jeker — 9. Single row
Thomas Jeker — 10. Greyscale colour images
Thomas Jeker — 10. Greyscale colour images
Thomas Jeker — 11. Thomas himself
Thomas Jeker — 11. Thomas himself
Thomas Jeker — 12. 404 absence
Thomas Jeker — 12. 404 absence