Our Campaign Monitor Redesign

We recently gave our Campaign Monitor newsletter an overhaul. It was time for a change. Our old newsletter served us well for the past three years or so, but the design made it difficult for us to communicate the content how we would have liked to.

We will taking more of bespoke approach to our newsletter moving forward, and our new design affords us more flexibility. We aren't limited to a single column design with one hero image. The latest newsletter we sent highlighted our Dynamic Content feature and we were really able to make that pop! Next issue, we might have two features that we want to highlight side-by-side, or have a 2 x 2 grid design. We can make decisions for each newsletter, individually, rather than taking a "template" approach.

We've also started to incorporate some really great techniques in this email that you wouldn't find in our old newsletter. Custom web fonts, bulletproof buttons, subtle background images. We can afford to have a bit of fun with it!

Litmus wrote a few kind words about the redesigned email newsletter, and Campaign Monitor, in general over on their blog which you should check out. The article goes deeper into the techniques I mentioned above and has some solid tips and tricks from our email guru, Stiggy Tape aka Stig.

Campaign Monitor’s emails have always been well-designed and packed with solid content. The redesigned version is no exception—it’s a beautiful refinement of an already great design that uses some interesting techniques to optimize the email for an increasingly mobile audience.

Campaign Monitor's refreshed newsletter

Posted on: November 25,2013

Web Directions South 2013

I attended Web Directions South 2013 last week, my very first conference relating to the web industry. Admittedly, I'm a bit wary of conferences of this creative nature. I've reasoned that designers, artists and the creative types aren't always the best at sharing their thoughts and processes on such a large scale.

With that being said, the majority of speakers at Web Directions did a great job of communicating their ideas with spoken word, slides and a few GIFs and videos which never go astray in a 45 minute presentation.

While I didn't come away with an extensive set of notes or a 12-step program to becoming kick-ass, I took away a few bite-sized chunks of information that I can chew on.

David Demaree, Engineer at Adobe Typekit

On day one, David Demaree tackled "The Weight of the Web". He proposed that removing rich media from our sites completely, such as videos and beautiful images, isn't a solution to the problems we face today as a result of a multitude of screen resolutions, devices and technological constraints. David believes, and I tend to agree, delivering this rich media is what the web does so well, and with the help of scalable graphics, responsive design techniques and adaptive content, we can do our medium justice. Nothing new here, but I suspect the more we address the issues the closer we are to finding a long-term solution.

David's presentation was the only one that caught (and held) my full attention from day one. But the day two line-up had me more excited.

Scott Jenson, UX Strategy & Design

"We evaluate tomorrow's technologies by how well they accomplish yesterday's tasks"

Scott Jenson gave the second mornings keynote and opened with "Beyond Mobile, Beyond Web", an interesting talk diving into the sociology of design, breaking down the structure of scientific revolutions and elaborating on value vs. pain in a user's experience. He went on to say, when it comes to building an app or product, we can do two things well:

  1. Increase the VALUE of the product (which doesn't mean throwing features at it until something sticks).
  2. Decrease the pain required in using the product.

I appreciate speakers like Scott, who has more of a thoughtful approach to the products around him that he uses on a regular basis.

Additional reading: "The structure of scientific revolutions" - Thomas Kuhn.

Pasquale D'Silva, Animator and Designer at Elepath

Pasquale D'Silva was up next. By far the most entertaining speaker I saw over the course of the conference. Just the right amount of humour, video clips and animated GIFs to breeze through a 45-minute presentation without losing the crowd. While his accent didn't quite sit right with me (he's Australian but literally speaks like he's from a Pixar film) I enjoyed what he had to say about making interfaces more human through the use of animation. His takeaway points:

  1. Static interfaces suck
  2. Good animation is invisible
  3. Animation is a clue
  4. Learn from the classics

Additional reading: "12 principles of animation" - Walt Disney

Aarron Walter, Lead UX at Mailchimp

I was probably most excited about the next speaker, Aarron Walter (Yay!), lead UX at Mailchimp (Boo!). His book Designing for Emotion has been something that I referred back to many times in my previous job, and got me really excited about design. Aarron spoke a lot from experience and how Mailchimp are creating systems of connected data, connected teams and connected people to create a culture of inquiry. Some interesting stuff, but perhaps my expectations were a too high. Plus, he mentioned a blog he'd penned for A List Apart that basically IS his presentation. Thankfully, I hadn't checked my feeds in a while to catch it.

Golden Krishna, new products division of Samsung

The final speaker I thought worth mentioning was Golden Krishna, speaking around his famous (or infamous) article, "The best interface is no interface". While most of his presentation was demonstrative of real world examples rather than the thought process behind this mantra, Golden managed to do a great job of how our interfaces, and technology, can get in the way of what we are actually trying to achieve. Sometimes, less is more.

To sum it all up, I enjoyed the conference. For me personally, much of what I know was learnt from immersing myself in books like Aarron's and blogs that many of these speakers write on, so it was great to hear them flesh out an idea or two in real life. It won't be my last (and only) Web Directions South conference and I'm aiming to try and get to a few more in the future.

Posted on: November 1,2013

Formatting lists

I never know how a list, unordered or ordered, should read. Due to this list-induced uncertainty, I'm almost certain that I use different formatting for every list. Thanks to Carlee, our technical writer, the uncertainty stops now!

Here’s a cheat sheet:

  • If the bullet points are complete sentences (like these), punctuate them as you would a sentence with a capital at the start and a full stop at the end.
  • It doesn’t matter if there is a lead-in sentence (with a colon) or not, as long as each bullet point makes sense as a stand alone statement.

But, if the bullet points are a carry on from the lead-in sentence:

  • you use a colon at the end of the lead-in sentence
  • you don’t capitalise the first letter
  • there is no need for a full stop until the final point.

Posted on: October 20,2013

I fear that we are beginning to design ourselves to suit digital models of us... Is what I like more important than what I think or what I make or who I love? Is it that people aren’t willing to describe themselves as people online. Or is it that we aren’t providing a suitable framework for them to do so?

Frank Chimero, The Manual Issue #1

Posted on: October 7,2013

Fear of the unknown

Fear of the unknown

The call for final boarding is made over the speakers. The airline appears to be running ahead of schedule today. I stuff the last few bites of sandwich into my mouth, grab my bag and hightail to the gate, throwing the wrapper into a bin on the way past with a precision lob.

I'm ushered onto the tarmac from the budget airline's boarding gate, which could be mistaken for a cattle herding station, and join the back of the line of the boarding passengers. I'm the last in line.

Row 30. They are only boarding from the front of the plane so the line crawls along as passengers take their time to stow baggage in the overhead compartments and settle themselves in for the flight ahead. As I approach my seat I realise that there is no room for my bags overhead so I begrudgingly place them underneath the seat in front, saying “goodbye” to my leg room as I go.

I buckle up and await takeoff. Any minute now...

…The plane is still sitting on the tarmac. We've been listening to whirring and grinding noises for thirty minutes and passengers around me are beginning to become anxious and speculate: the wing, the engine, the landing gear, the tyres. I suspect nobody has any idea what they're talking about but a few boisterous types like to make believe that they do. I scan the rest of the cabin and notice a young boy, not much older than three or four years old, waiting patiently in anticipation for the flight to begin.

An announcement comes over the P.A system, “cabin crew, arm the doors and prepare for takeoff”.

We've been sitting on the runway long enough now that all of the passengers are at least slightly irate. Some are frustrated at the delays, others more concerned with the cause of the delay rather than the delay itself. The cabin crew undergo their usual safety announcements and although takeoff seems to be proceeding as normal, an atmosphere has come over the plane.

An atmosphere of fear. Fear of the unknown.

“Sit back, relax and enjoy the flight” is announced as the plane's wheels lift and we are airborne. A request the majority of the plane disregards after the holdup.

“Woah! We're flying!” exclaims the young boy who is simply not phased by the last hour of delays and speculations. He's excited for flight ahead. Not worried about the delay.

Posted on: September 27,2013

One year at Campaign Monitor

Last week was my first birthday at Campaign Monitor. Had I blinked, I would've missed it. I had my acting debut, participated in "Friday fun" activities that always lived up to their name and even spent a week dozing under the swaying palms of Fiji. It's been a bit surreal.

Don't be fooled though. In amongst all the fun and games, real work was done. It's in this work that I find the core of why I love doing what I do and, more specifically, why I love working at Campaign Monitor.

I'm learning.

I can attribute some of this development to the blogs that I subscribe to, the articles that I read and books that I occasionally skim. The internet has been one of my greatest teachers, which makes sense in a poetic sort of way. But at CM, there is a gap that is filled that simply reading a blog or book cannot.

Experience. Learning by doing...

…and who better to guide you down a new path than someone who has gone before you and already walked it. Someone who already has the experience, has made the mistakes, navigated the pitfalls and come through the other side.

This is why I love my job. Not only do I have an opportunity to put my hands on great products and projects, but there is a huge pool of wisdom and knowledge from some incredibly talented folks all across the world who are more than willing to let me dip my feet in.

After one year, I've learnt a lot working at Campaign Monitor. I wonder I'll learn in the year to come.

Posted on: September 18,2013

...it adds nothing to the conversation and dimishes the value of design. How can we expect our clients or users to respect the care we put into design if we don’t respect it ourselves? Instead of considering what went into the design, we point at laugh at someone’s “terrible design”, retweet and reblog then go on with our superior existence.

Posted on: September 14,2013

Sign Painters

There was a time, as recently as the 1980s, when storefronts, murals, banners, barn signs, billboards, and even street signs were all hand-lettered with brush and paint. But, like many skilled trades, the sign industry has been overrun by the techno-fueled promise of quicker and cheaper. The resulting proliferation of computer-designed, die-cut vinyl lettering and inkjet printers has ushered a creeping sameness into our landscape. Fortunately, there is a growing trend to seek out traditional sign painters and a renaissance in the trade.

I've been a web designer coming up on four years now, and it's probably been roughly the same amount of time since I've picked up a pen or pencil for my own leisure to draw or sketch... I used to think I'd be an illustrator.

For this reason, I'm so psyched to see this documentary when it shows at The Distillery. It'll remind me of the good ol' days...

Posted on: August 23,2013

Subpixel rendering

If you are a designer working with Photoshop you've more than likely experienced the horrible subpixel rendering that occurs on text. The problem is that the web produces subpixel rendering in colours; reds, purples, yellows.

Sub-pixel rendering in the browser vs. PSDs

The images above are how Photoshop and the browser render text respectively. The top image is blurrier due to the fact that Photoshop renders sub-pixels poorly, using transparent greys to fill in the blanks. The web, however, renders in a mix of colours and the difference is clear.

No easy solution here.

Posted on: August 22,2013

Rules to my commute

I’ve been catching the train to work for the past year. 45 minutes to and from. This leaves me with plenty of time to observe the idiosyncrasies of the commuters on our public transport system.

This is a list of my common frustrations. They are in no particular order and I’m sure there are more to come. While I can’t testify to being completely blamesless 100% of the time, I do try to practice what I preach.

  1. Keep left unless overtaking: An escalator is the freeway of train stations and the people are cars. There are two lanes on an escalator; the left lane is for casual pace commuters and the right is for those who move quickly. Don’t block the right lane, it’s the fast lane. Keep left, casual pacers, unless overtaking.
  2. Stand clear of the doors: When a train pulls into the station it makes sense to let the passengers off before passengers board. Otherwise, you’ll find yourself trying to weave your way through the disembarking flood of people and the carriage becomes unnecessarily full. Stand clear of the doors when waiting on the platform, not directly in front of them. Let the passengers exit quickly and without hassle and once this has occurred, you’ll find boarding the train a lot easier.
  3. Slide on down: When you go to the movies, you sit in the middle of the row and because it’s the best view for the screen. This does not apply to train seats. You don’t need a great view of anything (because you’re more than likely staring at your phone anyway), just slide down to the end of the row so that someone is able to sit next to you if the train begins to fill up. It’s strategic move, sitting in the middle of the seats, but it’s a dick move. We all have our reasons why we do it, but your bag, coat or stack of papers aren’t as important as a person that needs a seat.
  4. Use your words: For some reason, people are reluctant to talk on trains. When it comes to using words, "excuse me?", "can I please?" or the ever allusive "thank you", most opt for hand gestures and head nods. Where did your manners go?

If everyone worked on these “guidelines” more often, the train might not be such a terrible mode of transportation for people… unless there’s a drunk homeless person that smells of vomit trying to get money off you, then this won’t help your experience at all. But at least they’ll have a seat and ask nicely!

Posted on: July 18,2013

My Websites Aren't Real

My cousin, who is just months into her Diploma of Graphic Design, was telling the family at a BBQ about her recent dramas. After putting hours of work into a painting, she left the project out overnight to dry only to come back the next morning to find the paint had been chewed up by insects or vermin. She took the project in to beg for leniency, to no avail. More hours were required to recreate what once was. She had something to show her teacher, although it was in a state of ruin.

This inspired my proud mother to begin telling story after story about all of my past drawing accolades. Sketches of my shoe from primary school, my major work from high school art, most of the work I completed to get my Diploma in Graphic Design. No picture was left unmentioned… Quite embarrassing really.

I realised, though, that there is a difference between my past body of work than my current works, which since I started web design a few years ago, have all been digital. There is a reason that my most recent creations can’t be brandished around like my adolescent illustrations still are, years later… they aren’t tangible. They aren’t real, at least to my mum.

She can’t show off anything I do these days because, on top of the fact I don’t think she really understands the internet, it’s not a tangible object like a piece of paper or a canvas. Chances are, the works that I’m creating would be forgotten almost as soon as she’s seen it. In this context, there is something temporary about designing for the web.

I love what I do, the craft that I’ve chosen to pursue, but it’s funny to think that of how fleeting it could be. With the click of a mouse, a single key pressed on a keyboard, my designs that I’ve worked so hard on could be gone in an instant. Deleted, just like that, with not even chewed up remains to show for it.

Posted on: April 9,2013

Write like you talk

I’m not a strong writer. In fact, I would consider myself a weak writer.

Communication isn't the issue though. I'm not socially awkward, nor do I freeze in front of a large crowd. Tht's not to say it isn't intimidating, but when thrust into the spotlight something is bound to come out of my mouth and once it's out there, spoken, there's no going back.

I'm not an introvert or afraid of a one-on-one conversation. There's just something about taking the thoughts in my head, which are usually articulate and precise when floating around up there, and putting them down on paper that doesn't quite seem to work out. I type, delete and revise. I type, then delete and revise again. Eventually I type, delete and never get around to typing again.

I love what Seth Godin says:

We get better at talking precisely because we talk. We see what works and what doesn’t, and if we’re insightful, do more of what works. How can one get talker’s block after all this practice?

Writer’s block isn’t hard to cure.

Just write poorly. Continue to write poorly, in public, until you can write better.

Posted on: August 15,2012

Design First, Ask Later

I’m sitting at my desk trawling through sites looking for some inspiration. I’ve gone from gallery to gallery and blog to blog looking for something that’ll give me my “aha!” moment. I've gone for a walk, had two long blacks and I'm still empty.

I throw away the clutter in my head and start pushing pixels around into different layouts and begin to experiment with colours and type. At this point, objectives bring about constraints that restrict me to what I already know instead of allowing me to think outside the box.

Frank Chimero realises how counter productive it can be to let the objectives restrict creativity:

...the weight of the objectives can crush the seeds of thought necessary to begin down an adventurous path.

Only when I put aside the objectives am I free to explore all of the possibilities that I could take. It’s ok if the designs don't work, because definitively crossing off the wrong designs is at least one step closer to finding the right design. Only when you start exploring can you find what you’re looking for. It may not be glamorous, but it works.

Posted on: March 24,2013