Mark Susters blog is one I’ve been reading for years and one of the very few I check daily. Being a designer by trade, I readily offer up my design critiques for free. I’ve already given Brad Feld my two cents and wanted to do the same for Mark. However Mark’s blog was less in need of critique and more in need of a complete overhaul. I bugged Mark about it (in July) and he agreed to give it a go. Having worked with Mark before on creative projects I knew this was going to take a very long time. That’s just the way it is with busy people (and free work).
You can see an archived image of Mark’s site here. Large file warning! Thats what you get when your front page is 21,000 pixels in height.
There are two major problems with Mark’s old design. The first is that it completely lacked personality. It was top blog in its category, from a technology investor, and it was using the most basic wordpress theme. The content deserved a better treatment. Something with an identity that was also modern in its implementation.
For a while I’ve been totally enthralled with the way Newsweek treats its feature magazine content online. Huge graphic headers. Really clever parallax cutaways to surface full width images. Carefully guttered content images. All legit. So I found a wordpress theme that had the right basic elements and was able to hack in what I wanted with the help of a fiverr coder. I am a huge fan of fiverr and have spent over $1,000 there in $5 increments. It’s been an invaluable extension of my skill set. I don’t code, I’ve tried, and while I am decent at hacking with html/css the intricacies of some of the more modern wordpress themes elude me. I took a chance on a Pakistani developer named Mudassar Ijaz and he’s been indispensable.
The other indispensable person was Kyle Taylor who does “platform management” (whatever that is) at Mark’s firm Upfront Ventures. On this project Kyle was Mark’s liaison and also a second pair of design eyes and hacking hands. Working with Kyle (starting in November), rather than with Mark directly we were able to get this project done in record time. Well… three months.
So with the right blog theme and structure, I could focus on the lacking personality. I had this concept of doing a pixel art illustration of an old and young Mark sitting across a table. I am no pixel artist, but that is what fiverr is for. I found a guy, Eloy, and he is awesome at pixel characters. I did a little photoshopping and came up with the follow header for Mark’s blog.
I thought this was just awesome. Humorous, light, and fits in with the tech audience. Kyle dug ‘em, but Mark wasn’t too jazzed. Too… gimmicky maybe. I went a few rounds to see if there was a way we could adjust and get them in there, but it wasn’t happening. Back to both sides of the (drawing) table for this central element. Side note: I did work with Eloy on another outside-of-fiverr project that did really well. But the header was the main opportunity to inject some personality and customization. We tried a few different backgrounds of LA, but they felt too generic. Then while searching around for inspiration I came across this charcoal image of Mark, which he is using for his about.me page.
I am pretty sure the other guy is Brad Feld and this is from an episode of This Week in Venture Capital. I thought it could make a great background header but of course would require a lot of ‘charcoal-shopping’. I went back to my young and old (er.. current) Mark idea and extended the table, ‘shopped out Brad (sorry!) and added a younger Mark. It came out really well I think. Click for larger version.
I am all about details when designing, so for this ‘shop I had the younger Mark be a bit more wide-eyed (literally) and optimistic (up-turned mouth) which I think fits well with Mark’s blog and content. If you can’t tell its been manipulated (without seeing the original) then I have succeeded.
There were 101 other smaller design decisions and Kyle did a stellar job turning many of Mark’s post into really handsome works of content. The second major issue with Mark’s blog is the organization and structure is a mess. He has so much evergreen content that it just impossible to find since, as many bloggers due, he abandoned useful post tagging and categorizing early in the blogs life. But we already have a really great solution for this in place, it’s just not live yet.
The whole thing turned out really well and I think Mark’s blog is certainly the dopest VC blog on the net right now, as always in function, but now in form too!
Edit: In case there are future design changes from my original, here is working version for posterity. http://byjess.net/bothsides/
In the unending quest for viral graphics I had the idea to compare movie ratings across trilogies. This is not a new idea, and has been done before, but it’s a great idea, and worth exploring yet again with a different angle. IMDB is a goldmine of data and one angle I thought was interesting was the difference between the composite critics rating and the average user rating. Did viewers agree with critics? Where was the gulf the widest? A survey of the top movie trilogies would surely surface some insights. But that alone is not enough for virality, like I said, its been done before.
I wanted to bring a visual element to the graphic.. a custom touch. I had worked with a pixel artist, Eloy, before and knew his style would be perfect for what I envisioned. As I have many jobs to do as Creative Director at Visual.ly, I always ‘dogfood‘ our own product as it saves time and headaches. I started a project in our marketplace and brought in a journalist who could collect the data. Normally on these marketing graphics we would source a designer from our own pool of certified talent but since I already had a designer on board, I only made use of Visual.ly’s journalist talent and the efficiency of the project center itself to get this graphic to completion in record time.
I love the result. Eloy’s characters are wonderful and I regret not being able to use them at full resolution. Below is the one trilogy I wasn’t able to include in the graphic as there was no acceptable critics score available. Can you guess which trilogy it is?
The rest of the design, besides the characters, was done by myself, and my Visual.ly compatriot Drew came up with the title.
My son Forest is 6 and enjoys archery lessons from a local coach in town. While talking to his coach I mentioned I was a graphic designer and he mentioned that he needed a logo and some apparel created. It just so happened that Forest needed a new recurve bow so a straight up trade was a made. One logo for one recurve bow. The bow was $150 and this is NOT what I would charge normal clients for a logo but factor in the local discount and I was up for the challenge. I had never bartered design services for a physical item before so I wanted to experience that. In case.., you know… the monetary system collapses and I have put my design skills to use in the post-apoaclypse, I wanted to see what they were worth.
I like my logos to pack a lot of meaning and depth. I already had the idea to use the rings of a tree cross-section to represent an archery target, and an bullseyed arrow could be pointing “north”. Actually visualizing the name is the best you can hope for in a logo. Here was my first attempt.
I submitted it to hunie.co and got some quality and actionable feedback from several people.
I made the recommended changes and uploaded another version for round two. The circle icons below are where on the graphic people have left feedback, a super handy feature for getting at those details.
At this point I considered the design final and decided to use my 3rd and final revision to get feed back on some colorways.
I received another three comments on the colorways and presented the finals to the client who was quiet pleased. While I normally would not do a logo for $150 I wanted the opportunity to work with(for) someone so far outside of my design startup circle. Forest’s archery coach did not even know how to use a computer and request the file on “tape”, not joking. The whole process only took a few hours and it felt good not having to pay money for something for a change. Thanks to ol daddy’s design skills, Forest is hitting more bullseyes.
Originally posted at visual.ly
Ten years ago, I created the first in what would become a hugely popular series of annual visualizations of the federal budget, “Death and Taxes.”
It was, in retrospect, garbage:
There was no reason for it to be anything but garbage. Unbalanced design; no attention to typography. Back then, I wasn’t a designer and I didn’t know anything about the federal government. (My day job was selling faux vintage bric-a-brac to identity deficient 20-somethings at Urban Outfitters.) It was 2004 and infographics wasn’t even a word.
But if you can’t be the best at something, be the first. Prior to Death and Taxes, the federal budget visualizations were confined to the bounds of a Power Point slide. The pie charts and bar charts worked for the top line figures, but were incompatible with the 1,000-page beast of a budget the govertment put out each year. The only reason the chart became a poster was be cause it was just too large to fit on any computer screen. It still is.
The image became a brief internet hit two years later, in 2006, and I started doing one each year. The poster progressed in terms of design, density, and accuracy, too, as I started to develop a sense of how the government worked.
Along the way, I became known as an infographics guy, which developed into some great opportunities and partnerships. Infographics themselves rose to prominence, further expanding the poster’s (and my own) reach. Eventually I ended up here as Creative Director of Visual.ly, a long way from selling faux vintage bric-a-brac at Urban Outfitters.
But with my own personal development and opportunies came new demands for my time, and the annual research and production of the Death and Taxes poster is not something I could continue. In fact, I didn’t manage to get a poster out for 2013. But it was clear from the emails and feedback that this project just could not fade into the internet ether. It was too important. There is still, after all these year, no more open and accessible record of government spending.
Fortunately, around that time I was approached by Nathaniel of Time Plots about continuing the posters’ production. If you don’t know Time Plots, they are the glorious intersection of government, data-vis and posters. Seriously, that is all they do, and they are the best at it. I knew the annual Death and Taxes project would be a natural fit there.
So starting with the 2014 edition of Death and Taxes and going forward, Nathan and his crack team will be handling all development and production of the poster. I have a few of the new posters myself and they have already innovated on the concept and design. The Death and Taxes project is an exercise in transparency, accessibility and design of the most important document the federal government puts out each year.
It is also solely supported by sales of the poster, so I encourage you all to support the Death and Taxes project buy purchasing a poster this year. Your walls will thank you, and so will I.
The 2014 poster.