Design

Launched a New Website, Traveling the Country

It’s a rare quiet moment in the middle of a busy day, in the middle of a busy week, in the middle of a busy year. Candyce and I are hosting a week of Edge summer camp for junior high kids here at Covecrest in Tiger, GA. Norah and Candyce fell asleep a few minutes ago here in our cabin so I thought I’d take a moment to reflect through a blog.

This past weekend I was in Palm Beach, Florida…then to Atlanta, Georgia…then to Tiger. After our time here at camp, it’s to Hiawassee to see my parents. Then down to Atlanta to catch a flight to Carlsbad to spend time with Candyce’s family. Part of me wonders if I could ever live up here in the mountains of North Georgia again. The weather is nice, the mountains are beautiful, and there are plenty of things to do in the outdoors. I’m not seriously thinking about moving any time soon, but I am beginning to realize that my happiness is found anywhere that I take my little family.

A couple weeks ago, we launched the site live in front of a crowd of 620 at the Life Teen Training Convention at the Double Tree Resort early in June. I did my best to introduce the site with the same time-honored skills as Steve Jobs without looking like I was copying him.

I want to share some notable upgrades to the new site:

  1. WordPress. It’s a solid foundation for any dynamic website. WordPress makes it easy to publish and organize content so that users can find what they’re looking for; it’s a simple expectation of a website, but it’s difficult to accomplish. I’m told that other stuff is just is good if not better, but I’m having too much fun succeeding with WordPress to bother looking into the other guy’s stuff.
  2. Simple Graphics. On the previous version of the site, I over-designed the header, navigation, footer, and background because most of our original content was dull text. The site needed punchy graphics or it would not have been worth visiting a second time. After several years of expanding into new types of content, the site’s graphics began to compete with the content. Too much was going on. I believe that the new look gives just enough punch to make the site interesting to look at but it still doesn’t distract you from the content of the site: blogs, videos, podcasts, and photos.
  3. Primary Navigation with Megapanels. Through the design and development of the site, we found that several big-time websites had simplified their navigation by creating “drop down” menus that were huge: Lowes, HGTV, Food Network, Ikea. The best navigation that really drew my curiosity went beyond classic drop down menus to design “mini-sites” on each panel with cool graphics and catchy copy. I think we did this and more with our megapanels.
  4. Seasonal Navigation. This is a big deal. We’ve always had seasonal content that meets users where they’re at during the year, but we’ve never had seasonal navigation. For instance, nobody is thinking about registering for summer camp in the fall and winter, so why did are we crowding the website links to those sections? I couldn’t tell you. But we’ve learned from our mistakes and now the site is simple and useful year-round.
  5. Innovative Navigation. We decided to take all of the “sections for grownups” and eliminate them from the site altogether: Contact Us, Summer Camps, Edge, Donate, and Conferences. Now they’re found through a single link at the top of the page: “Grown-ups: find what you’re looking for here.”
  6. Many Many Faces. There are 1000s of faces of teens, dozens of faces of contributing writers, and no author has their own button. This means that the site represents more the larger movement of Life Teen and not the “columns” of a small group of writers.

There’s a lot more I could write, but Norah is tossing around on the couch which means I don’t have much more time to write. So I’ll finish with this…

I designed the last version of LifeTeen.com in 2002 and early 2003 and, after much trepidation, it finally launched in early 2005. Over the last five years, we launched other websites that strengthened the organization. All the while good old LifeTeen.com was always fresh with content, but the site as a whole was losing its cool points.

Looking back, a big reason the site was losing it’s coolness was because I did the very thing I swore I’d never do—creating buttons on the homepage to please everyone. It was good to keep people happy within our organization, but it came at a cost. The site became cluttered with things teens didn’t care about and eventually many of them just stopped coming back.

My hope with the new site is that more people will come back because they feel like the site adds richness to their lives. I am enjoying being away from the office, but I know that when I get back into town it will be fun to meet with my team and start dreaming about the content for the rest of the year.

New Modern in Arcadia

Several years ago I spotted a “for sale by owner” sign in front of a cool modern home in Arcadia probably built in the early 1960s. The real estate market was white hot at the time, and I knew the home might get torn down to make room for a palace. This bothered me because the mid-century modern homes are the most visible and livable old homes in Phoenix. I called the homeowner and discovered that the house was in fact built by a well known Arizona architect (Beadle?) many years ago.  I also found out that the home was out of my price range, so if the home would be restored it would have to be done by someone with more money. Within a couple of months the home was sold and a construction fence soon went up.

The photos you are looking at below are of that old home became. It has some styling inspired by the mid-century modern homes, but doesn’t stay confined by the original home’s lines. It’s better looking and more livable than ever. (And now it’s definitely out of my price range.) I’m sharing the photos here on my blog mostly because I like looking at ’em.

Architectural Details in Verrado, Arizona

Verrado is a beautiful master planned community West of Phoenix that really captures the essence of a small community. It’s basically a little town of perfect neighborhoods all connected with leafy streets and beautifully manicured public parks. When you stroll on the sidewalks and admire the timeless beauty of the homes, it’s hard to believe this whole place is only seven years old.

It’s become a tradition for our friends and family to make the 45 minute drive across town to enjoy an afternoon in Verrado.  (To my knowledge, we are the only group people I know who makes this trip. My guess is that more people would do it if they knew about this place.) Our most recent trip a few weeks ago happened to be Founder’s Day, a annual celebration where residents flood the streets and gather at the central park for a locals-only talent show and a free concert. Last year it was the Beach Boys, this year it was the Big Bad Voo Doo Daddies–the swing band that did well in the 1990s.

So in one day we toured model homes, ate at at a wine bar, and picnicked in the park while watching a concert. It was quite a day! I snapped some photos along the way of my favorite architectural details within the neighborhoods. Click on the thumbnails below for bigger photos with captions…

7 Beautiful Objects in an Ordinary World

So I dug through my bookmarks and my iPhoto library to pull out seven items that inspire me every time I look at them. What I enjoy most about these things is that they are not exotic. They’re simple things that are done really well.

1. Vespa Rocking Horse

Make no mistake: children love rocking horses. It’s about as much on-demand fun and adventure as a year-and-half-year-old can have imagine. It seams to me that rocking horses seem to come in two varieties. 1) The traditional wood “old timey” horse that is often uncomfortable and easy to break 2) The cheap plastic horse that’s is surprisingly durable and comfortable but still remarkably tacky. <– We have that one. My hope is that later in life I’ll be able to build a beautiful Vespa rocking horse like this one:

2. The LCD TV Easel from Restoration Hardware

Televisions may forever be a source of pride and insecurity for Americans. I recently read an article in an interior design magazine that asked ten hardworking designers how they address the sensitive issue of putting a massive blabber-box in a well-appointed living space. They only had two solutions: hide it or put it on display for all to see. What is interesting is that when they presented their solution, every designer—every designer—began their answer with a disclaimer.

  1. “Since we’ll use it all the time, why hide it?”  -or-
  2. “Since it’s a hideous black hole hung on the wall, we had not option but to hide it.”

There just didn’t seem to be a solution that was free of insecurity. Or maybe there is a solution. Check out Restoration Hardware’s TV stand that’s inspired by an artists easel.

Here’s why this works. You look artsy without having to commit to purchasing a piece of art. (I know that my art school friends hate what I just wrote, but I am of the sophisticated crowd composed of art patrons who believe that modern art is garbage. Garbauge.) Plus you can hook up an Apple TV and you have yourself a dynamic family photo album. What could be better?

3. Salt, Pepper, Sweets

Have you ever seen a fancy marker rendering of a new restaurant concept? You’ll never see salt and peppers shakers on the tabletops. Why? Because these tacky necessities interrupt the visual cleanliness of a restaurant’s dining area. It’s for the same reason that you will never see a rendering of a concept car that includes door handles, antennas, or windshield wipers. In other words, they just don’t look cool. I snapped this photo at Postino Wine Bar in Arcadia (Phoenix).

The slip of paper that reads “Gum Here” is a brilliant idea. For one, it’s punchy and clever… it adds an emotional lift in an unexpected place. Two, it’s a clean piece of paper for writing down phone numbers of new friends. Three, it helps the restaurant save money—little by little—by discouraging patrons from wrapping their A.B.C.* gum with a perfectly good packet of sugar.

4. McDonalds, Detroit Airport

McD’s is not a popular destination for hip people and they know that. It seems like McDonalds is trying to fix that. One example is an atrocious McDonalds near my home that was given a “spa-treatment” with acres of natural stone and earth-toned paint. They even had a “water feature” that tried hard to convince patrons that they’re eating cheese burgers by a babbling brook. You might actually think after reading those words that this could in fact be an improvement on the colorful plasticy interiors of most McD’s. But it was certainly not an improvement. One word: ridiculous.

However, the McDonalds in the Detroit Airport actually got a visual upgrade and looks better than most.

5. Water Closet

Okay, let’s get this out there: photographs snapped in bathrooms are of any worth to our civilization. There are few exceptions to this rule, and you are looking at one of them. Why did I take this photo? It’s a simple yet clever reinvention of the least-glamorous corner of our lives.

(Have you ever dropped your phone in the toilet? Don’t laugh—because it could happen to you. This doesn’t just happen to those who choose to multi-task by chattering with unsuspecting friends. No, if your phone has ever fallen out of your pocket while sitting on the couch, know that the same thing can happen on a porcelain throne. This is an issue of gravity. With gravity always comes drama.)

Here you have a discreet tray for you phone, keys, whatever. It’s there if you need it. It can be ignored if you don’t.

6. This Shed

This is a small but cool picnic area in the charming Agritopia community outside of Phoenix. What I love about this structure is the attention to detail. Take a closer look…

7. This Truck

This is the most interesting truck at the car show in midtown Phoenix last fall. A four-door (stock, I presume) Chevy C-10 from the late 1950s with a drastically altered suspension. It’s amazing to see that airbag suspension and big rims can make a previously unexciting pickup into something unique and cool.

Own a Livable Mid-Century Modern Home in Arcadia/PV

This morning Candyce and I drove past a beautiful Mid-Century Modern home on 44th Street north of Camelback Road in the Arcadia / Paradise Valley area.

I looked online to find some more information, and I was happy to find stunning photography of the home. What I like about the house is the freshened interior with thoughtful details that make the home both modern and livable. Don’t get me wrong, a glass and steel structure with minimal furniture looks great in a magazine, but it’s torture to live in. That’s why mod homes like this one are so desirable.

By the way, if you’re interested in buying the house, it can be yours for $849,000.