It’s been quiet around here, I know. The reason is, you see, there’s a new site coming. I’ve been working on it since around March. Should be up soonish. Or so I hope.
At the beginning of this year, I started work as Web Designer for the Brooklyn Museum of Art. It’s taking me this long to write about it because it’s taking me this long to believe it. Life is moving so fast that it can feel really difficult to understand it as it’s happening. Two years ago, I was doing freelance web work on the side. Last year I was working for a new and growing agency. And now I’m leading the digital design for a big and fascinating museum. I’m incredibly grateful to all those people who helped me get here.
It was sad to leave Familiar. We worked on a ton of great stuff last year, and they’ll continue to do great work in 2014, so it wasn’t an easy decision to leave. I wish them all the best.
So, now that I have free passes to a ton of museums in NYC, who wants to go look at art with me? Hit me up. Art is cool again.
We know that the internet is drastically changing modern life, and its influence grows stronger by the minute. It makes some people anxious, scares others, but also excites a few. Regardless of how you might feel about it, there’s something to learn from diving into the history books. This kind of change isn’t new. It’s happened many times before.
In the first essay of his book, The Shock of the New, Robert Hughes compares his contemporary 1980 to the 1880–1930 era when industrialism and the age of mechanics massively altered how people saw their world. He asks, what changed? What did they have in Modernism’s infancy that we lost?
Ebullience, idealism, confidence, the belief that there was plenty of territory to explore and above all the sense that art in the most disinterested and noble way, could find the necessary metaphors by which a radically changing culture could be explained to its inhabitants.
When time moves too fast, it becomes very difficult to define. I think we’re living in a very similar period. There is plenty of excitement and innovation and opportunity, but we’re also very unsure of what’s on the other side. We have no idea how this will all flatten out. We don’t know what to call it. As a first attempt at metaphor, we referred to the internet as “The information superhighway”. A good try, but have we done better since then? I’m not sure. The internet is definitely not a highway, though it might have seemed that way for a moment in time. As we learn what the internet affords us, we find it’s much more than just information, it’s also friendships and communications and personal conveniences. Could you possibly wrap all that up into a single metaphor?
Maybe we’ll find the right phrases in another couple of decades. Using hindsight, Hughes was able find some pretty relevant metaphors for the art of the mid-Industrial Revolution period:
The master image of painting was no longer landscape but the metropolis. In the country, things grow, but the essence of manufacture of the city is process, and this could only be expressed by metaphors of linkage, relativity, interconnectedness. These metaphors were not ready to hand. Science and technology had outstripped them, and the rate of change was so fast that it left art stranded, at least for a time, in it’s pastoral conventions.
So much parallel here. So much. “Linkage, relativity, interconnectedness.” “The metropolis.” “Process.” These metaphors feel right, don’t they? Not just for that time, but also for this time. After a few decades lingering around in the suburbs, we’re moving back to cities and placing priorities on social needs. It’s history on repeat.
I like knowing that history repeats itself, that we can always go back into books and find parallels to whatever new is happening today. Because nothing is truly new — everything has a precedent — and we can learn from them if we pay attention .
Every interview from The Great Discontent includes the question, “Are you creatively satisfied?”. It’s an amazing question precisely because of the same reasons it’s a terrible question. It defies a real answer, but yet usually everyone comes to the same conclusion: “No. I mean, yes. I mean, maybe. Actually, it depends. Sometimes.” The interesting thing isn’t so much the final answer given, but in watching how the respondents wriggle in getting there.
I ask myself a version of this everyday, more or less indirectly: “Am I doing what I want to be doing?” If the answer is no, then I sit and write out my thoughts until I find out what the reasons might be. The next step is to make moves to correct my path. Right now, I feel like I’m working too much. I have a full time job and I’m working on a couple websites on the side. My time is a little more constrained than I’d like it to be. What I want to do next is to play around with photoshop again, make some collages and pretty images, maybe a poster or two. Thinking this through, whatever the answer, helps me become more optimistic and renews my interest in the world around me.
Creative satisfaction, for me, is determined on a timeline. It’s not about being perfectly happy with my work right at this moment, but over a period of time stretching between a few months in the past and a few months into the future. It’s hard to feel satisfied if you don’t like the work you’ve recently done, or if you aren’t excited about what’s coming up, and it’s not very helpful to worry about liking the work today. Today is for working and getting things done.
Satisfaction is a general feeling. It comes and it goes. And it touches down just as lightly as it blows away. Because of this, I do what I can to invite it into my life, but I don’t struggle to make it happen. The goal, i think, is a matter of zen practice, being satisfied with being unsatisfied. The goal is too keep asking yourself the question.
A few of my favorite responses from TGD:
I think this question is bullshit, man. I know that this is sort of the namesake of the site, but the reason I think it’s bullshit is because the way you frame a creative practice should not be in terms of whether you’re content or not. I think everyone has a window of approval for their work; sometimes that’s years and sometimes it’s months, days, or hours. Your approval of your work metabolizes no matter what, and it doesn’t matter how good you are. That’s why I hit you up on Twitter recently to say “What if we’re thinking about this all wrong? What if contentedness about your creative work is more like eating?” . . . It doesn’t matter how good the meal is. A few hours later, you’re going to be hungry again. Maybe the reason you’re dissatisfied is not because the burger you just ate was bad, but because you’ve already eaten it—your body processes it. Doing the work makes you better, so of course you’ll be dissatisfied with what you’ve already done. You’re better!
I hope I never am—why would I continue to create if I was? But at the moment, I can’t think of anything to change. Right now, I get to work with some of the most talented people I’ve ever met in a culture that is tight and supportive—and only vaguely political—with what appears to be, after spending so many years in a startup, almost unlimited resources to achieve what we have set out to do. I put all those things together and it leads to a lot of satisfaction, though I don’t think you should ever be creatively satisfied. The only time I want to feel that way is when I’m recharging in anticipation of doing more stuff.
Fuck yeah, I love what I do. I worked all weekend on a logo, like a dumb-ass. I got to go in and present it today and I couldn’t get in there fast enough. You sketch and sketch and sketch and come up with something. I am proud of what I came up with and I hope they pick it. If they don’t, what are you gonna do? You fight to make something better that they’ll love the next time you present. . . . Yeah, I’m too satisfied. You know how you eat too much and you’re too full, like at Thanksgiving? I feel that some days. I’ll leave work and go home so full and exhausted. I’m so proud of that shit.
I used to read almost 50 books a year. Now I get through maybe a few a year. In the last two years, how I spend my time has completely changed, my priorities rearranged. This is what happens when you make a dedicated effort towards a new ambition. Life takes off in new directions. The time you used to have for fun, random stuff shrinks away.
I have no regrets, because I love what I’m doing now. These days, I have a Career, but my entire life I had always been a dabbler. I’d be obsessed with piano for a month, then literature, then drawing, then philosophy, then soccer, then guitar, then piano again, then studying art, then something else, and then drawing again, and on and on. I love all the things. It was so hard for me to dedicate myself to just one subject for more than a month or so. I always had my paws in so many jars. My free time was quite literally free, unbounded by any promises.
But at 29, I was a barista in New York, playing in a band, designing things for friends sometimes, doing some writing but ignoring a half-finished novel I had sitting at home. There was nothing central to my life, except for activity. I was never able to sit still. I had so much free time that I floated from hobby to hobby with no end purpose in mind, and it started to feel empty.
Free time is a strange thing. For one, it’s a lucky benefit of first-world, modern life. We must be thankful for the hours in the day we have for doing whatever we want. We don’t deserve them. We don’t have a right to them. But we have them. How we spend those hours is important. The hours we spend at work defines who we are at present. The hours we have to do what we want defines who we will be in the future. We are so fortunate to have this, and it can be so easy to waste them.
In 2011 I made a decision: I would finally dedicate my free time to one hobby and make it a career. I began to think of myself as a designer. Not just a person who sometimes designs things, but someone who is a designer. I began spending all my time reading design and dev blogs, building my own websites, playing around in photoshop with purpose. It was exciting and new. For the first time in my life, I was sticking to one project, becoming a designer.
And then, somewhat surprisingly, it happened; I became a designer (maybe more of a developer professionally, but that’s a minor difference, right?). How I spent my free time turned into how I spent my daylight working hours. It was an amazing feeling. And, of course, I owe so much to friends and colleagues for helping my get here. I couldn’t have done it alone.
Now I’m starting to think about free time again. I still have plenty of it, but by habit those hours are still stuffed with design and dev industry blogs, and my freelance design work. I’m unable to draw a distinct line between my job and my hobbies. They’ve blended together and started to feel a bit muddy. It feels a little wrong, a little bit wreckless, like building a tall skyscraper but neglecting to give it windows. I’m growing as a person, but in one direction, up, and not looking out enough at the world around me.
There are things I miss that I need to get back: finishing novels again, and other books that have nothing to do with design; playing music; taking photos; studying philosophy and religion. These were all things that once defined me. They still do, but it’s all in the past. I need to pull them back up to the present. I need to make time for new stuff again, to round out my life with more variety. It’s as important as anything.
Since I started work at Familiar in November of 2012, a bunch of sites I’ve worked on as a front-end developer have launched. I’m really proud to have worked on all of these. Stellar designs by Carl and Ian, and solid dev by Keith. They are, in rough chronological order: Visual AIDS, Sam Green, Mimi Zeiger, Teenage, Change Machine, Paula Hayes, Kunsthall Stavanger.
A couple big news items, yesterday: a new pope was elected and a sunset date for Google Reader was announced. I want to talk about the important one.
RSS is a system that hugely shapes the way I read online, and, unsurprisingly, Google Reader has been my app of choice. Other info flows I use include Twitter, Facebook, and Tumblr. But only Reader gives me good, functional, time-based control. I can easily separate out the important blogs from the less important. I’ve filtered them down (all 265 of them) into a handful of sedimentary layers that allows me to read only what I have time for. If I get through the top priority blogs, I move on to the next. At this moment, the third level has 416 unread posts and the fourth has 1000+, most of which I’ll never read, which is fine by me since I know I’ve already read what’s important to me. I delete anything over two weeks I haven’t yet read. It’s a wonderful system for sorting the best from the good from the so-so.
At the moment, nothing else gives me this kind of control. RSS allows me to create a very personalized magazine for myself in a way that nothing else can. Facebook wants to be my online magazine, but it never will be; it’s a friendship circle, not a professional one. My Google Reader setup is literally my professional trade mag. As a designer and developer, I get most of my industry news and information from that feed. It’s very very important to me in this regard.
The news that Google is finally shutting down Reader (on July 1st) was not unexpected. But it will have big, exciting repercussions in the Web industry. Suddenly, there is a big open space for innovation to happen, innovation that is sorely needed. I wouldn’t be surprised if something rises out of this and fundamentally changes how we use the Web, something big like browsers, or Twitter, or the iPhone. I hope so, at least. RSS is a 14 year old thing, but it still has a lot of unused potential. I’m really looking forward to all the smart discussion that will be happening around this in the next few months. Smarter people than me will come up with some great ideas.
It’s been less than a year since the last redesign, but nevertheless, here we are again. As someone who spends a lot of time learning new tricks and keeping up with new design patterns, this is going to keep happening. I want brianfeeney.us to always feel fresh and clean.
My goal with the new site was to remove a few of the unnecessary elements and pare down the code. It was already simple and mostly unadorned, but I was interested in seeing how far I could take it. So the color boxes are gone — turned into borders in the navigation — and the date circle removed. There were a few instances of repeated linking that I wanted to take away. I like a big footer, but that wasn’t in the cards this time around.
I learned how to use LESS and preprocessors recently, which is where the majority of the code reduction comes from. It’s amazing how much simpler it is to write clear, purposeful code with the nesting rules of LESS. I doubt I’ll ever go back to writing regular CSS, at least by choice. I also built the site fluidly and used only one media query (at 600px wide).
Next up: a new portfolio site for better promoting my work. I love a simple site, but I think a portfolio should maybe show a touch more flash than what I’ve built here.
I am happy to announce I’ve been hired by the awesome Brooklyn design studio, Familiar. They do excellent work in both print and Web and I’m very excited to be working with them on new projects. This last June, I was hired by them on contract to do the front-end styling of a site, and the relationship then turned into a permanent one. I will be the fourth member of the studio, working for the principles Ian, Carl, and Keith. Nice guys all around. And talented.
They’ve also agreed to allow me to work on freelance work, as well, so there should be plenty of new, personal work to highlight here at brianfeeney.us.
This is a great move for me as I’ll be working closely with smart, fun, talented people who have a lot to teach me and a lot of work lined-up for 2013. I’m ecstatic.
It feels so good to be working. My week is filling up with paying design jobs and I have little time to tinker with personal projects. This is new and it’s exciting. It’s a new phase of my career. For the better part of last year, I was highly focused on reading design blogs and designer’s twitter feeds, plowing through the A Book Apart books, and testing out all the newest Web design tools and techniques. It was a huge growth year for me. And now, I’m still growing as a designer, but the majority of my learning is coming from on-the-job experience and less from reading.
Something tells me this isn’t just my own personal point of view. I’ve noticed a sharp decrease in the amount of designers’ personal blog posts and Twitter/Instagram usage in the last 6mo. or so. At the same time, I’m hearing and seeing new projects shipping more often. I don’t think it’s just me working more. I think everyone is working more. This is awesome.
It’s a common refrain that it’s a great time to be a designer, that there is a never-ending line of work out there to be done. It’s undoubtedly true. I suspect (and hope) that 2013 will be a banner year for everyone, and I’m not at all ashamed of my unrelenting optimism.