State of the Word 2012: Slides

WordCamp SF took place last weekend, and while I wasn’t there in person this year, I had the opportunity to work at a distance with Matt on his slides for the annual State of the Word presentation. I’ve put all of the slides as full-sized images on a new page of their own for those interested.

This year, we kept things simple with the design, palette and typography, blending monochrome and anaglyph-inflected abstract and landscape photographs (all taken from Matt’s huge backlog of images from his travels around the world) with a simple circular motif and various weights of the ever dependable Univers (I used the Linotype Univers, in case you were wondering).

I wanted the images to reinforce the increasing international growth (and internationalisation) of WordPress evident in Matt’s presentation by making use of real locations that Matt visited on various (mostly WordPress/WordCamp related) trips around the globe. At the same time, I really liked the idea of every image being a personal memory recorded by Matt, which creates an intimate connection between speaker and slides not often seen. These aren’t stock images, they’re the point of view of the speaker, just as much as the rest of the presentation is.

The palette makes use of off-white and almost-black with accents that draw on the anaglyph red-cyan pairing or simply play off the monochrome processed versions of Matt’s photos. The use of sharp, high contrast black and white brings a certain stark, documentary air to proceedings (the process I put to use is modelled after the unrelenting, once military grade Kodak Technical Pan), putting the emphasis squarely on WordPress as part of the real world; while the anaglyph theme was my attempt to bring a touch of artifice, that unpredictable “ghost in the machine” quality, to the look and feel of the slides, as a visual analogue for the interaction of the real and artificial that takes place when people meet software. Here I was looking for something both hyperreal and at the same time playfully disruptive of the visual lexicon of documentary realism.

Like all slides, they’re happiest in tandem with their speaker presenting in front of them, so if you have a spare half hour, be sure to check out the full presentation here (or over on

You can also quickly flutter through them over on SlideShare. For the pixel peepers, I’d welcome any feedback or thoughts you have on the contents of the full-sized slide gallery I’ve put up.

WordCamp Seattle 2012: Things We Learned The Hard Way Slide Gallery

Just finished speaking to the amazing people at WordCamp Seattle 2012 about the just relaunched Code and the things we learned from WordPress designers and developers and their experiences of things they learned the hard way getting started with WordPress as professionals.

A few people asked if I could share the slides, so there they are:

Grab the PDF.

Check it out/grab it on Speaker Deck.

State of the Word 2011 Slide Design Notes

State of the Word 2011

Last Sunday Matt delivered his yearly State of the Word presentation at WordCamp San Francisco. It’s a real humdinger, and they’ve even cut in the slides throughout for the full experience. You can catch a video of the presentation over on, or here:

Vintage record covers, revisted

I worked (remotely this year) with Matt and fellow exile of the British isles Pete Davies on shaping up the narrative flow of the presentation and then experimenting with ways to visually represent it. Much fun was had. This year Matt decided it would be cool to revisit the vintage jazz LP cover theme for the slide design, so I went about picking out some covers to adapt to our purposes. I stuck mostly with jazz labels, as with last year’s Blue Note theme, but strayed occasionally into other genres where the temptation was too great not to. All of the designs fall somewhere within a decade or two of mid-century modern, arguably the golden age of jazz LP cover design.

Full Gallery

If you’re interested in seeing all of the slides in full-sized glory, I’ve uploaded them to a separate gallery page. Bear in mind that they were created at high speed, and were meant to be viewed that way, so you may find the odd kerntastrophe or grid insurrection (although hopefully not).


The idea was to allude to classic (mostly) jazz album covers, adapting them somewhat to suit the different aspect ratio of the Keynote slides and the considerably different usage. Here’s a slideshow of the source covers that I worked form. You can also check it out slightly larger images on the SOTW 2011 inspiration gallery page.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Huge shout outs to  Project Thirty-Three,Vintage Vanguard, and Cover Jazz for lovingly gathering hundreds of great cover designs together for me to ruthlessly plunder.

Likewise, to Christina Warren’s WordPress UI history on Mashable.


Once we’d settled on the idea of revisiting the vintage jazz LP theme I had about two weeks to source, template up and populate the slides. Within the two weeks the presentation was being adapted and updated daily, up until the day itself. As is quite usual with any presentation, we cut, changed and even started over on around half of the 100+ slides about a couple of days before Matt was due to go on stage, so as I mentioned above, these were put together at high speed.

I made pretty much everything in Photoshop, with a bit of Illustrator and After Effects on the side. All of the slides were remade from scratch (no scans or clips from the original sources) with the exception of the image from the Jazzville cover and the central looped arrows of the Innovation loop slide, above. This mostly involved lots of vector tweaking, textures and layers-within-layers, tucked inside smart objects.

I’d love to have done everything in Keynote, but alas it still doesn’t support blending modes, which was a pretty much essential part of the process here, especially where dealing with vintage textures and the kind of overlays and colour blends so prevalent in this type of design. The downside of this is that tweaking a slide can be somewhat more longwinded when it involves finding, opening and navigating a multi-layered photoshop file per slide, rather than clicking on some text and quickly changing it in Keynote. The upside, I hope, is that the results aren’t really something you can really get with Keynote alone.


The main challenges, beyond the tight deadline and iterative updates to the content throughout, were essentially:

  • Adapting square-format LP covers to 4:3 layouts, which meant either significantly adapting the whitespace and design elements, or taking liberties with typography and layout
  • Trying to do a fair job of staying true to the essence, if not the exact decisions, made typographically and visually in the original covers and estimating which typefaces were used in each case. With a month to research it, I could probably have done a better job here, but think I did okay given the approximate hour-per-slide timing and hopefully there aren’t too many typographic blunders scattered throughout. I’m putting the larger deviations down to the first point – adapting to the more vertically squat and horizontally spacious aspect ratio of the slide format
  • Working from pretty small, far from original-sized screenshots of the album covers often meant that high speed creative liberties needed to be taken, as enlarging the originals for a better look at the details led only to pixelmush.


Form & Function

The most important thing was that the slides didn’t just reflect Matt’s rabid love of jazz, which works it’s way into a lot of the messaging and storytelling in and around WordPress releases, but also supported the key themes and narrative of the presentation. This year the focus was on the emergent, ever evolving, open conversation between WordPress users, core developers and the larger community of plugin and theme developers pushing the platform in new directions.

Matt touched on concepts including the landscape design and architecture focused notion of desire paths, Stewart Brand’s ideas on how people adapt architecture to their needs, and Kenya Hara’s reflections on Japanese vs. Western design. To support these key ideas, in relation to WordPress, I did what I could to find visual analogues in the key slides, where the graphic elements emphasized simplicity, transformation, call-and-response, variations on a theme, point and counterpoint, and organic growth. Hopefully that comes across in some of the selections and adaptations of the visual content.


See More
If you want to check out the full-sized slides, there’s a gallery for that.  I’ve also made a gallery of the collected original covers used as the inspiration for the slides. Why, you might even open them in two tabs and flit back and forth between them, should the mood take you.
Edit: They’re also up on Slideshare now, too.
I had a ball making these, albeit an espresso-fueled late night race against time kind of ball. I’d love to hear your thoughts or feedback, here or on twitter (I’m @madebypick over there).

NoteSlate: a minimalist, lightweight, great looking digital notepad

Noteslate looks like it’s going to be an exquisitely designed, cheap digital memo pad/notebook, and at $99 might appeal to a bunch of people that might not otherwise be in the market. It’s a minimalist e-ink A4 slate that does one thing, and does it really beautifully – captures and displays your notes, scribbles and sketches.

Keeping things simple (and apparently open source), the NoteSlate folks throw out the ability to surf the web, listen to your tunes, and everything else in favour of doing one thing and doing it well. I actually find that appealing, its tantamount to the WriteRoom, iA Writer, or (closest) 37S Draft way of doing things.

And while ostensibly it’s the bastard love child of an Etch-a-sketch, Kindle and legal pad, there’s something Teenage Engineering-esque about the industrial design — minimal, spare, functional, but in that understated Dieter Ramsian way. It actually makes my iPad look a bit chubby and oldschool, while at the same time triggering latent memories of whiteboards, blackboards and the simple tactile pleasures of paper.

Admittedly, I’m one of those people from the alternate dimension where people use tablet pcs – there’s something entirely different about interfacing with ideas with a pen rather than through a mouse, finger or trackpad, at least at the ideas stage. I use a Thinkpad x201 tablet for a laptop, have a Cintiq 21 for my desktop/mac, and read and watch a bunch of stuff on my iPad, but NoteSlate falls into a different niche for me and will likely appeal to people that aren’t compulsive about this stuff.

Great as iPad is for consuming content, I’ve never really found drawing (let alone writing) with my finger an optimal experience. The sausage stylus suggests I’m not alone. On the other hand, lightweight as it is for a laptop, my ThinkPad is no featherweight, and just getting to my notes means delving into the distractions and processing cycles of a full OS (Windoze, no less).

I could see NoteSlate being used by designers, in schools and colleges, even by waiting staff, or as a little blackboard next to the fridge, for reminders about milk running low. At $99 that’s pretty feasible.

They’re bringing it out in a bunch of mono-colours (with a 4-colour version to follow), and selling it directly from the site. I’m quite partial to the black on white, white on black and green on black, but wouldn’t sniff at any of the offerings.

Looks like it will drop in June of this year, and pending this being some cruel joke/student prototype I’m grabbing one. Or a couple.

Aside: nobody paid me to gush this much, this just looks like something I’ve been waiting on for a long while, so hopefully it doesn’t have some massive sucky drawback/user experience gotcha

Everything & Nothing

Idly playing around with a vague idea for a print this afternoon, the words seemed familiar.

Everything & Nothing.

First impression – badly paraphrasing Sartre?

Google to the rescue, in spite of having the book on my shelf. It was, of course, the title of a short piece by Borges – at one time a favourite of mine – on the mercurial, multifaceted nature of Shakespeare, but with a sly wink at us, the reader. A beautifully written meditation on the self, fantasy, the tale of tales. You know, Borges.


THERE was no one in him; behind his face (which even through the bad paintings of those times resembles no other) and his words, which were copious, fantastic and stormy, there was only a bit of coldness, a dream dreamt by no one. At first he thought that all people were like him, but the astonishment of a friend to whom he had begun to speak of this emptiness showed him his error and made him feel always that an individual should not differ in outward appearance. Once he thought that in books he would find a cure for his ill and thus he learned the small Latin and less Greek a contemporary would speak of; later he considered that what he sought might well be found in an elemental rite of humanity, and let himself be initiated by Anne Hathaway one long June afternoon. At the age of twenty-odd years he went to London. Instinctively he had already become proficient in the habit of simulating that he was someone, so that others would not discover his condition as no one…

Someone has kindly posted it in full online, but if Borges is your cup of tea, he reads more comfortably when removed from the lemon yellow confines of the proto-web, nestled among friends.