Mark Bult Design: San Francisco, CA, Established 1988

Web design and development for small and large business, e-commerce, b2b, b2c, SAAS, and community websites. User experience design and usability testing.

Saturday, May 30, 2009

Three fonts which must die: Comic Sans, Lithos, and Papyrus

Attention humans: Please avoid using the following awful, overused, poorly-designed fonts: Comic Sans, Lithos, and Papyrus.

Arial and Times are bad enough, but if you really are so severely limited in your font selection that you actually have to use them, be my guest. Just don’t try to “spice things up” with the other aforementioned craptastic three.

Oh, here (and here) are a few others to avoid, for similar reasons having to do with good taste.

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Friday, May 29, 2009

Google’s new Wave

Google has announced Wave, a pretty impressive new collaboration communication platform which comes in part from the inventors of Google Maps. Wave will be open source, with a bunch of APIs for developers to build off of right away (although Wave itself won’t launch to the public until later this year).

There will be plenty of analysis on the web, but I wanted to mention a few innovations that I predict are potentially game changing for certain segments of the tech community.

The video’s long, 1:20:11, so I’ve noted some prime spots to hit below.

One of the innovations seen in the demo will considerably improve chat, and I’m predicting we’ll see it engineered into other chat products like Yahoo! IM and AIM eventually. Wave allows you to see the real-time, character-by-character view of what the other person is typing, so you’re not spending half your conversation looking at a “So-And-So is typing...” message [see 10:10]. It allows your brain to start formulating responses before the other person has finished typing, more like a natural spoken conversation. Quite simply, this is going to revolutionize chat.

The app is written in HTML 5, so it’s going to be a while before we see all browsers catching up to this app. It also includes one functionality that isn’t even in the HTML 5 spec yet, but since it’s such a useful one, they’ve proposed adding it to the HTML 5 spec. It’s an easy drag and drop upload function that allows you to add documents to a conversation by simply dragging them from your desktop to the browser window [see 15:05]. I’m guessing the developer community will show considerable support for this capability, so the Google Wave team’s addition might make it into HTML 5.

Waves can be embedded into other services (they demoed with Google’s own products Blogger and Orkut), and one of the coolest things is that you can live-update a blog while people are watching, much like the character-by-character chatting [see 19:20 and 28:00 min]. This will enable live-bloging in a way that the term hasn’t really lived up to until now, and I think we’ll see a host of new live-publishing products spring from this.

The inline spellchecking is a new innovation too. Unlike most spellcheckers, which compare your words to a dictionary, Wave’s spellchecker compares your words and phrases to an index from the entire Web. The results, in the demo anyway, are impressive [see 44:00 min]. I think we can assume this technology will start showing up in other Google products pretty soon too.

Last but not least is a real-time language translator (already with 40 languages), which allows one to break down language barriers even during an live chat session, so you can be speaking/typing in one language, and your counterpart can be speaking/typing in another, and you’ll see each other’s words being translated on the fly, while they’re being typed [see 1:12:00].

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Thursday, May 28, 2009

This is why I’m never going to work at Google

In the past year, a few people who knew I would be on the lookout for a new full-time position have asked me if I’d consider working at Google. These two articles provide some insights as to why Mark Bult + Google would probably never mix.

Doug Bowman, a highly experienced designer who I respect a lot, has left Google to join Twitter. Of his departure, he writes:
“...Without a person at (or near) the helm who thoroughly understands the principles and elements of Design, a company eventually runs out of reasons for design decisions. With every new design decision, critics cry foul. Without conviction, doubt creeps in. Instincts fail. ‘Is this the right move?’ When a company is filled with engineers, it turns to engineering to solve problems. Reduce each decision to a simple logic problem. Remove all subjectivity and just look at the data. Data in your favor? Ok, launch it. Data shows negative effects? Back to the drawing board. And that data eventually becomes a crutch for every decision, paralyzing the company and preventing it from making any daring design decisions.”
Read the rest...
This New York Times profile on Google’s VP for search products and user experience, Marissa Mayer, gives several examples of why I’d find the company a challenging environment (and I don’t mean “challenging” in the positive sense, I mean it as a diplomatic way of saying “constant pain-in-the-ass”). Not to mention the fact that I would never get so much as an interview at Google, since I didn’t even take the SAT:
“At a recent personnel meeting, she homes in on grade-point averages and SAT scores to narrow a list of candidates, many having graduated from Ivy League schools, whom she wanted to meet as part of a program to foster in-house talent. In essence, math is used to solve a human problem: How do you predict whether an employee has the potential for success?”
Read the rest...
Don’t get me wrong, I use Google products a ton. Gmail is open all the time on my computer and Google Search is a daily routine, I use Google Maps a lot and Blogger runs this very blog you’re reading (at least as of this date). I’m a big fan of the Goog. I just don’t think I could ever work there.

Over the past few weeks of interviews and further reflection on what I want my next job to look like, I’ve become more convinced that I should concentrate on applying at smaller companies with less bureaucracy and institutional cruft. More on that later.

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Thursday Top 5

Quimby The Mouse by Chris Ware
An animated short produced for the recent “This American Life – Live!” broadcast. Best viewed in fullscreen mode. [3:30 min]

Bill O’Reilly Flips Out
Who ever said Bill O’Rielly has anger management issues? I guess he’s not a Sting fan.

Bathtub IV
A video using the tilt shift photography technique which makes the subject look like miniatures models. Combined with timing that makes it look like stop-frame animation, this makes a particularly interesting short film. Watch it in fullscreen, it’s really cool.

GoodGuide is a recommendation service focused on “safe, healthy, and green products.” It will tell you what chemicals are in your toothpaste, or if your socks are made with sweatshop labor. There’s an iPhone app as well, so you can check on items when you’re out shopping.

E Magazine’s Earth Talk column
The site’s design is atrocious, but this has long been one of the most informative columns around. It’s a Q&A format, so you send in an environmental question and their experts track down the answers for you, almost always in great depth. Very informative.

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Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Project: New Ozark Handspun site design

Here’s a peek at one of the design directions I’m considering for the new version of Click the image for a larger version.

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Thursday, May 21, 2009

Thursday Top 5+3

Velma and I are going on a site visit to beautiful Sequioa National Park for a few days and I thought I’d be generous and post some extra distractions for those of you stuck behind desks while we’re backpacking through the redwoods. So here are three bonus links along with your normal five. Don’t say I never gave you nuthin’.

“Barney Miller” on Hulu
I loved this classic sitcom from the ’70s and ’80s, so I was pleased to see Hulu has added every episode. I’ve watched several so far, reliving my childhood with pre-adolescent glee. Plus the show had one of the all-time raddest theme songs (I can say “rad,” it was the ’80s!), and I found a free MP3 at Now I just need to find all the episodes of “Taxi” somewhere online.
Of course, I then spent half an hour looking up TV theme songs on this site. Best finds were the aforementioned Barney Miller, a semi-good quality version of the “Hitchhiker’s Guide” TV theme, and the awesome “Streets of San Francisco” intro, which I’ve been wanting for years.

The Unofficial Apple Weblog’s Mac 101 series
I’ve been a Mac user for almost 25 years now (*whew*) so it’s not surprising that I’ve picked up a lot of power-user tips over the years. But even I learn something new once in a while. For PC-to-Mac switchers, novices, and even old timers, the Mac 101 series on TUAW is a great way to pick up quick and easy tips that will make you more productive and save time and effort. I perused the entire series a few nights ago and there are some great shortcuts and tips that will undoubtedly leave most Mac users thinking, “Aha! That’s how you do that!”

The Evolution of
Snapshots of Apple’s home page, from 1997 to today.

Brute force Hubble fix saves the day — again
Play-by-play description of the second time spacewalking astronauts had to resort to brute force to repair part of Hubble on this latest, and so far very successful, trip. Some other interesting play-by-play descriptions of the recent trip are available in other posts on CNET News’s Space Shot blog.

What Would Penis Do?
The artist of these shorts has a new book.

Aerial Virtual Tour of New York
Dizzyingly cool. Switch it to full-screen and be amazed.

“Space Oddity: Steve Lamacq Live’s guide to the Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy”
I recently found this broadcast from BBC Radio 1 about the history of the Hitchhiker’s phenomenon, produced to introduce the 2005 movie. Features interview snippets with Douglas Adams, Simon Jones, Stephen Fry, actors from the original BBC TV series and radio shows, fans, and a bunch of people involved with the movie. Oh, and it’s hosted by the original Marvin, in character of course. It’s actually quite a good show, regardless of the movie being rather a let-down. [31:24 min, RealPlayer stream]

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Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Zia shakes it

I just watched Dandy Warhols keyboard mistress Zia McCabe shaking her ass to a Manu Chau song while eating an apple and using her iPhone.

I don’t know what Zia’s connection might be to the advertising powerhouse Wieden+Kennedy, but she’s got a two-hour radio show on their Internet station W+K Radio, and there’s a UStream live webcam feed from the studio, so you can watch her DJ and chat with her and other listeners.

Her show, called “A to Zia with DJ Zia Rescue,” airs Wednesdays from 1 to 3pm Pacific. She picks a letter from the alphabet and assigns it a theme, then plays songs accordingly. This week was D for drugs.

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Monday, May 18, 2009

Mayor Peter Drekmeier

I’m a bit late reporting this, so I assume most people who’d care will have already heard, but for any of my far-flung readers who hadn’t already heard: Peter Drekmeier was elected mayor of Palo Alto early this year. Palo Alto’s mayor is elected from the ranks of the city council by his/her peers. Peter was elected by the public to the City Council in 2006, and he served as vice mayor last year.

I’ve had the pleasure of knowing Peter for 15 years, since first redesigning the official international 1990 Earth Day logo for 1993’s Bay Area Earth Day. I did a lot of designs for Peter, Earth Day, and Bay Area Action (BAA) over the years, and he later asked me to join BAA’s council (their term for the board of directors). After BAA’s merger with the PCCF in 2000, Peter returned to the newly-renamed organization, Acterra, to be co-executive director, and he told me that one of his goals was to hire me full-time. It took a couple years, but it happened. I was grateful, since it was at the time the closest thing I’d ever had to what would have been my ideal job.

While I don’t get to work with him or see him all that much anymore (now that I live in San Francisco), we do get to work together occasionally still: I designed a logo for him a couple months ago, and did most of his campaign materials when he was first running for Palo Alto City Council in 2005. Of course, Peter was also our officiant at Mark & Velma’s Hitchin’.

If you still live in Palo Alto you may be interested in listening to Peter’s State of the City Address, given March 9, 2009, and available as streaming QuickTime audio from the Community Media Center. Not surprisingly, if you know Peter, he talks quite a bit about the environmental challenges facing Palo Alto, surrounding communities, and the nation.

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Saturday, May 16, 2009

And Another Thing book cover released

Here’s the first look at the book cover for the forthcoming And Another Thing, by Eoin Colfer, the 6th book in The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy trilogy, due from Hyperion in October (pre-order from Amazon).

The actual books probably won’t have Colfer’s signature on it like this picture. I think the original pictured here was an early version of the artwork, signed by Colfer himself. The covers seen on and don’t have the signature, and have slightly different typography.

Scanned from issue 112 of “Mostly Harmless,” the newsletter of ZZ9 Plural Z Alpha, the Douglas Adams fan club.

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Thursday, May 14, 2009

Thursday Top 5

Carolyn Davis Catering
My friend Carolyn Davis (née Peters) has a new website, and although I didn’t design it, I heartily approve of its design: it’s great. Carolyn’s a fantastic chef, I’ve seen her at work at events she was catering and I can attest to her team’s excellence and her culinary brilliance as well. Hire her!

A Glimpse Ahead
Courtesy of Microsoft Labs. A lot of these technologies and interfaces are actually already in development and there are even some real-world working examples of some of them. I expect we’ll see quite a few of these in the next five to ten years. [1:54 min]

Maker Profile: Kinetic Wave Sculptures
Freakin’ cool. [10:41 min]

Extreme Sheep LED Art
I think some of this might have been digitally manipulated, but it’s pretty funny nonetheless. [2:45 min]

Ursula K. Le Guin’s work still resonates with readers
Pretty Good Los Angeles Times article.

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Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Updated a couple posts

I updated these two popular posts yesterday. Just thought I’d drop a reminder here in case anyone’s on the lookout for these sort of resources.

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Thursday, May 07, 2009

Thursday Top 5

Don LaFontaine: The Voice
You’ve probably heard this guy announce hundreds of things over the years. [5:26 min]

Fried Easter Egg [1:03 min]

Rowan Atkinson, Amazing Jesus
“Go on, give us another one!” [3:40 min]

VH1 Behind the Music: Megadeth (part 1 of 11)
Eleven parts. Well that occupied some time. Pretty good documentary, though, as VH1’s usually are.

The Official White House Photostream
The official White House photographers are on Flickr.

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Wednesday, May 06, 2009

What I’ve been doing (Apr 2009)

list #1
list #2
list #3
list #4
list #5
list #6

List #7, started April 1:
  • Sorted and organized a bunch of my portfolio stuff to take photos of it, prioritized piles, and started taking more pictures. Doing studio photography with jury-rigged equipment on my kitchen table is not ideal, but it gets the job done. It also gives me a back ache (table’s too low!).
  • Added more projects to the new portfolio. Made a bunch of code changes.
  • Did more work on my latest contract job for Fitbit. They posted a couple of the screens on their blog. I didn’t devise their logo or the original design of the site, I’m just iterating off it and adding UI and functions.
  • Hung out with Jenny and Aaron for a while one afternoon talking art and stuff.
  • Drove Jenny back to the farm in Petaluma, just in time for dinner. Picked Velma up on my way home, after her meeting.
  • Completed some more case studies for the portfolio.
  • Encountered a problem with my old G4 tower that required me to open up the patient and reset its PMU switch.
  • Paid bills.
  • Wrote a letter (by hand) to Olya in Australia.
  • Applied for a few jobs.
  • Revised an ad for Ozark Handspun, sent it off to the publisher.
  • Cleaned the cat box.
  • Sliced and prepped Fitbit design assets for production before leaving town.
  • Updated my PowerBook’s OS X software and backed up my email.
  • Contacted an old HS friend who lives in Kansas City to see if she’d be anywhere near the middle of the state while Velma and I were in town.
  • Published post-dated Thursday Top 5s for the time I’d be out of town.
  • Packed for our trip.
  • Bought Ben Folds tickets.
  • Went to Missouri for a week. Did lots of stuff there. I’ll have to make a separate entry later for that list.
  • Lost my keys somewhere between SF and Missouri.
  • Fixed a few things around the house: Glued a broken coffee mug and watering wand, plied out Velma’s pepperspray holder that she’d jammed in the wrong way.
  • Did laundry.
  • Called and/or emailed about nine different agencies and locations in two cities/states (airport police, BART lost and found, TSA lost and found, airlines, et al) to see if anyone had turned in my keys.
  • Made a Google Profile.
  • Called my domain registrar to sort out an issue with four expired domains and get them back (with a hefty fee tacked on by the bastards at the .com über-registrar Verisign).
  • Cancelled our VOIP land line.
  • Did some weeding in the garden.
  • Researched databases again.
  • Applied for a few jobs, did a few phone interviews.
  • Put together some samples of my work (of things that aren’t in my portfolio yet) to send to potential employers.
  • Finally made some Moo cards.
  • Reorganized some of my books, records, and stuff.
  • Had dinner with and talked for a while with our friend Scott, who we put up for a couple nights while he was in town for a nonprofit technology conference.
  • Re-sent a notification to an advertiser who neglected to download the ad I sent before the download link expired.
  • Took some quick photos of a few books I have that may have been interesting to a guy who restores/produces first edition book jacket reproductions. Bought a few from him too.
  • Tried once again to get a pound of kona coffee from the one nearby cafe that carries it. They are closed more than half the times I go there, even in the middle of the day, often with the “Open” sign still on in the window. This time they were open, but out of kona again `,: /
  • Deposited checks at the credit union.
  • Kept this list, added links to it, and posted it.

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