Brian Feeney

Designer & Front-End Developer

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Resident of Brooklyn, NY. Senior Product Designer at the Wall Street Journal.

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May 01, 2020

Sorry Not Sorry

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This is my site. I'm a designer, the UX is terrible, and I like it that way. For now, at least. Let me explain.

I love having a website of my own. I believe everyone should. Ditch Facebook. Walk away from Instagram. Pick a blogging platform that you can run yourself, even host yourself. How you run that website is completely up to you, which is really the whole point. You get to decide what visitors see first, where the contact info is buried, wether or not you allow comments or any kind of interaction at all.

Two decisions have shaped the current iteration of brianfeeney.us. One, I'm assuming very few people are looking for me. If it can be trusted, my analytics put my visitor count at around 15 people a day. Hi! What are you here for? Probably for little more than seeing that yes, I exist, and that is my correct twitter handle. You want more? Click the "More about me" button. There you'll find my portfolio, résumé, and contact email, and links to the other site pages. 

Does anyone really visit to read my blogs? Either the photos or the writing? ¯\_(ツ)_/¯ But the links are there if you want them. Which brings me to decision two, which is that I'm assuming if you are interested in my blog stuff, what you probably really want is the RSS feed for following along in whatever reader you use. This is mostly why the blog isn't on index.php, but the RSS icon is set so large. So click that RSS icon and pick the feed or feeds you want. Also, I don't post much or that often, so daily visits or even occasional visits aren't really worth it. RSS is the way to go.

I'd love to redesign and rebuild this site sooner rather than later. In fact, I've redesigned it a few times since launching this version. Just didn't care for the new designs any more than this one, so why rebuild it? I'm sure I'll get the itch to try out the new CSS bits before long. 

April 30, 2020

My 5 10 15 20

Pitchfork has an interview series they call “5 10 15 20” with the conceit that the interviewee pick an album for every fifth year of their lives which had an impact on them at the time. One of those biography-via-music things. Because I’ve been so deep in music lately, I figured I’d give it a go.

5 / Billy Joel: An Innocent Man

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When my father listened to music, it was almost always the radio. Usually, Casey Kasem’s top 100 or similar programs playing top hits of the week. I was born in 1981 and so grew up hearing hearing all that Bruce Springsteen, Billy Joel, Michael Jackson, Madonna. Choosing a single release for this period is tough, but I’m gonna go with Billy Joel’s An Innocent Man. I don’t believe I ever listened to this entire record before today, but I sure as hell knew all the singles. The production of The Longest Time just perfectly captures what the 80’s felt like for me. All browns and ochres. That unguarded sappiness. Popped jacket collars. Those art nuveau-esque lamps and windows with bits of colored glass; wood paneling. Cheers. In Indiana, the 80s were more of a 70s hangover than what you’d generally think of that decade. Big Boomer energy. Billy Joel up in all of it.

10 / The Beach Boys: Still Cruisin'

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For a long long while — maybe for six months or even a year — I went to sleep to a cassette player beside my bed playing The Beach Boys' Still Cruisin'. Why that tape? I wish I could say. It was one my parents owned. The mix was soft and soothing, the harmonies quieting. As I’m now a solid Brian Wilson fan, it’s hilarious to me that this record was the one I had first been obsessed with. It’s currently out of print, which is fine. You don't want it. You should, though, take a look at the fantastic video for Still Cruisin'. Bring on the 90’s! And a lifetime of Beach Boys fandom.

15 / Fountains of Wayne: Fountains of Wayne

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During my early teens, music wasn’t yet important to me, but it was always there, like a benign soundtrack. I listened to whatever was around: Nirvana, Pearl Jam, Radiohead, but also Third Eye Blind, Matchbox Twenty, Bloodhound Gang. I had an undeveloped taste, no perspective on what I was buying and listening to. At 15, if you asked me who was my favorite band, I would not have had a confident answer. I’m sure I would not have told you Fountains of Wayne. But, looking back, I can now say that Fountains of Wayne got the most plays by me. Other records came and went, yet this one kept finding its way back into the rotation. I loved its pop, filtered through a fashionable level of fuzzy grungy sound. The melancholic sadness in songs like She’s Got A Problem and Please Don’t Rock Me Tonight, well, they spoke directly to me. A teen. All moody and whatever. Survival Car was fun, though! And Radiation Vibe is a perfect example of the bluesy groove I love in a pop tune.

20 / Blur: Blur

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No record had a greater affect on me and my life than Blur’s Blur, 1997. The Brian you would have met in 2001, at 20, was more defined by this album than any other single thing. It’s impossible to overstate how deep this record went into my psyche and self-perception. I spent my entire high school years turning myself into a midwestern Damon Albarn. I tried to dress like him, cut my hair like his, had my ear pierced like him; I even made myself and wore a colorful beaded necklace like his (!), which I’m sure made me seem quite odd for central Indiana. Even more than the superficial fashion stuff was the influence Blur had on how I thought about life and art. Hearing Blur was the first time I fully understood what art was, how it was both a reflection of and a comment on its environment. Art, when done right, takes the internal, turns it outward, and then allows another person to re-internalize it into themselves. After Blur, the entire world opened up for me. I got gold card soul. Also, Graham Coxon is a fucking phenomenal guitarist.

25 / Guided By Voices: Alien Lanes

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I was a deeply introverted kid. It wasn’t until my mid-twenties that I began to have a normal social life. Music was what bonded me to all my friends. I played in bands. Spent damn near every conversation chatting about records. We went to indie club shows in Bloomington every week. Multiple times a week. I saw hundreds of bands, but none better represented those years than GBV. They played at the Bluebird about once a year, and we all went, poggoing to every song, singing along, sloshing beer all over each other. Their essence pervaded everything for us indie rocker types. Alien Lanes was a 10 year old record in 2005, but it exemplified everything about my life at that time. We lived it. It was life. “As you run through the places you love. I remember the faces that cry. And they’re pulling me back so I have to die …”

30 / The Walkmen: Heaven

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At 30, I was finally in love. Had just met the woman I would marry. The record which was there for me during that time, which really caught the sparkle of my expanded emotions, was Heaven by The Walkmen. Right time, right place, I suppose. I was a barista in Carroll Gardens, Brooklyn, NY. Had no money at all. Life seemed simple, bare bones. For the first time, I could see a future for myself, because Lisa was finally in it. Song For Leigh was the key track for me. “I sing myself sick. I sing myself sick. I sing myself sick about you!” That yelpy chorus. Glorious.

35 / Kendrick Lamar: DAMN.

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Man. The years 2016, 2017. What the fuck. Goddamn nightmare. The world had been headed one way, and then it took a nose dive into this hellish other dimension. Only hip-hop could make any sense of it for me. I needed direct, no bullshit, truth-telling. I needed to hear voices which could explain the new reality we were living in, from perspectives which had seen it coming, had already been living a version it. Kendrick Lamar was ascendent and the man of the day. To Pimp A Butterfly, for me, had captured the hesitant optimism at the end of the Obama years. Maybe the future was going to keep getting better, I thought. But no. Not gonna happen. With DAMN., Lamar taught me how to be a citizen solider. How to put on a new face for going out in the different world. Shit’s tough, but there’s still beauty in it.

April 27, 2020

Favorite Tracks Playlists

For the last few years, I've collected my favorite newly released music in Apple Music playlists. In part for myself, but also to share with anyone looking for new tunes. I set two rules for myself: 1) only one track per artist or album, even if there were multiple great tracks, and 2) sequence them in the order I added them to my library, which gives it an autobiographical flavor. I occasionally break rule #1, either for compilation/soundtrack collections or for artists like Robert Pollard or Damon Albarn who sometimes put out multiple releases a year. 

2019 Favorite Tracks

2018 Favorite Tracks

2017 Favorite Tracks

January 10, 2020

Favorite Music of 2019

My list of favorite albums of the year 2019:

BEST
- Africa Express - EGOLI
- Big Thief - Two Hands
- The Black Keys - "Let's Rock"
- Little Simz - GREY Area
- Mavis Staples - We Get By
- Mdou Moctar - Ilana (The Creator)
- Purple Mountains - Purple Mountains
- Sleater-Kinney - The Center Won't Hold

HONORABLE MENTION
- Beyoncé - Homecoming
- Beyoncé - The Lion King: The Gift
- Big Thief - U.F.O.F
- Black Mountain - Destroyer
- Broken Social Scene - Let's Try the After Vol. 1
- Burna Boy - African Giant
- Charley Crockett - The Valley
- The Comet is Coming - Trust in the Lifeforce of the Deep Mystery
- Danny Brown - uknowhatimsayin?
- DIIV - Deceiver
- Ex Hex - It's Real
- FEELS - Post Earth
- Flying Lotus - Flamagra
- Free Nationals - Free Nationals
- Guided By Voices - Sweating the Plague
- Guided By Voices - Warp and Woof
- Guided By Voices - Zeppelin over China
- The Highwomen - The Highwomen
- Hiss Golden Messenger - Terms of Surrender
- Jenny Lewis - On the Line
- Lee Fields & The Expressions - It Rains Love
- Michael Kiwanuka - KIWANUKA
- Midland - Let It Roll
- The National - I Am Easy to Find
- The New Pornographers - In the Morse Code of Brake Lights
- Otoboke Beaver - Itekoma Hits
- Roméo Elvis - Chocolat
- Sebadoh - Act Surprised
- Sharon Van Etten - Remind Me Tomorrow
- Solange - When I Get Home
- Sturgill Simpson - SOUND & FURY
- Tyler, The Creator - IGOR
- Vampire Weekend - Father of the Bride
- Wilco - Ode to Joy

There was a ton of great music given to us these last twelve months. So much.

February 21, 2019

WSJ Award in Communication Arts

Communication Arts awarded us, the WSJ design team, an award for best Typography in their Jan/Feb 2019 issue. I'm really proud to have worked on this with a really amazing team of people. Thomas Williams, Fernando Turch, Bonnie Jarvie, Che Douglas, Cory Etzkorn, Adele Morgan; all great people.

February 21, 2019

Pinteresting

I still occasionally enjoy browsing Pinterest for visuals to pin. Skimming my full page of pins really does keep my tastes and preferences fresh in my mind.

December 21, 2018

2018 Music in Review

This year was an okay year for music. I listened to a ton of new releases, but the number of high quality albums was a little low. Here are my faves:

- Merrie Land - The Good, the Bad, & the Queen
- The Now Now - Gorillaz
- The Hex - Richard Swift
- Blank Panther - Kendrick Lamar

And other great records:

- Isolation - Kali Uchis
- Everything is Recorded - Richard Russell
- Everything is Love - The Carters
- Babelsberg- Gruff Rhys
- POST- - Jeff Rosenstock
- 7 - Beach House
- Dirty Computer - Janelle Monae
- Room 25 - Noname

Pretty skimpy. Two Albarn records in one year is great, though. I'm thankful for them. Looking back over my favorite tracks of the year it's fantastic to see a ton of genre blending. It's getting harder to draw hard lines between rock, pop, R&B, rap, etc. Everyone is stealing from everyone else and that's exciting.

April 19, 2018

Problems with Charter Schools

America’s Charter Schools Have A Commitment Problem

But modern charters are not public schools, and they do not make a public school commitment to stay and do the work over the long haul. They are businesses, and they make a business person’s commitment to stick around as long as it makes business sense to do so. That does not make them evil, but it does make them something other than a public school. And it underlines another truth ― students are not their number-one priority.

I think the perfect metaphor for charter schools are those Magic Eye posters from the 90s. If you stare from a very particular angle, cross your eyes, and focus intently only on what’s right in front of you, you get to see the sailboat.

From a conservative point of view, charter schools are perfect examples of how unregulated markets can improve an industry. Competition is good! The better schools will win and the bad schools will close!

But if you look at charters from any other angle, the problems become crystal clear. What happens to the kids when the schools close? What affect does for-profit financing have on the curriculum, or the design and furnishing of the building? Of the nutritiousness of the kids’ lunches? What does it mean when schools play roles in communities more like Walmarts and less like decades-old public institutions.

When I cross my eyes and look at charter schools from the conservative angle, I get it. They seem great. But it’s now obvious there are a hundred problems which piggyback on the one single solution they offer.

I support higher governmental support for our current public schools. Give our teachers huge pay raises. Double the funding for educational infrastructure. Care about the kids. Forget about “markets”.

April 19, 2018

The Beholders Share

“The beholders share”: the percent of work the viewer brings to a work of art, versus what the artist offers of themselves in making the art.

Design, as a craft, is finding pragmatic ways for taking on as much of the beholder’s share as necessary to bring about the desired outcome. To remove maximum uncertainty. Usually, this means creating designs which make life as easy as possible for the user.

A website should be usable even when a user is barely paying attention. Natural instincts should usually be enough. Buttons clearly defined and placed in logical positions. Navigation and content more or less exactly where people expect to find it. This is how a designer takes on more of the beholder’s share.

It’s not always in the users’ interest to move them through a flow as quickly as one could. There are times when a user should slow down and be required to pay more attention. Like when actions could result in deleted files or when important information needs to be entered into forms. In these cases, the user shouldn’t be made to feel frustrated at unintelligible UI, but to feel that the content they are confronting is worth considering more closely.

This is an area where design and content strategy overlap, where it’s impossible to draw a distinction between the two disciplines. There’s surely more to say about this, but right now, I’m going to let this simmer in my head. It might not be worth defining any further. More like an aspect of the craft of design which is best intuited.

April 17, 2018

Own Your Own Site

Anil Dash on the missing building blocks of the web

[T]hings have gotten much easier. There are plenty of tools for easily building a website now, and many of them are free. And while companies still usually have a website of their own, an individual having a substantial website (not just a one-page placeholder) is pretty unusual these days unless they’re a Social Media Expert or somebody with a book to sell. … There’s no reason it has to be that way, though. There are no technical barriers for why we couldn’t share our photos to our own sites instead of to Instagram, or why we couldn’t post stupid memes to our own web address instead of on Facebook or Reddit.

I think about this problem all the time. I love having my own website and I have no doubt more people wouldn’t prefer to have their own domain, too, instead of a Facebook page.