Jason Santa Maria: Articles https://v4.jasonsantamaria.com/articles/ en Copyright 2011 Tue, 07 Jun 2011 13:12:26 GMT Responsive Web Design https://v4.jasonsantamaria.com/articles/responsive-web-design/ https://v4.jasonsantamaria.com/articles/responsive-web-design/ Responsive Web Design, by Ethan Marcotte. From A Book Apart

This book could very well change the way you make and think about creating websites.

We’ve covered some of the most important topics facing web design right now, like HTML5, CSS3, and Content Strategy. Now Ethan Marcotte ties things together with his book, Responsive Web Design, presenting methods to deliver the same quality design to visitors, no matter how big their screen is.

At once, pleasantly self-deprecating, and seriously humorous, Ethan takes you by the hand and walks you through how to make this happen. You could seriously read this book and turn around to make your site responsive in an evening.

Ethan tackles the big stuff: CSS techniques and design principles, including fluid grids, flexible images, and media queries. And he does it with a grace that’s empowering. It will take some of that grace after reading it to not turn your nose up at your coworkers who are still doing it wrong.

This book continues on our mission of brightening up your bookshelf, sporting a handsome sunny cover. Plus, the ePub edition has lots of videos instead of boring old pictures, though the videos are still only supported in iBooks for iOS.

The A Book Apart Library so far.

Coming Soon

We have some great titles coming up throughout the rest of this year, including: Designing for Emotion by Aarron Walter, Mobile First by Luke Wroblewski, and On Web Typography by yours truly. For now, dig into Responsive Web Design today!

Books, Design, Press, Web, Photo, Titling Gothic, White, Yellow Tue, 07 Jun 2011 13:12 GMT
The Elements of Content Strategy https://v4.jasonsantamaria.com/articles/the-elements-of-content-strategy/ https://v4.jasonsantamaria.com/articles/the-elements-of-content-strategy/ The Elements of Content Strategy, by Erin Kissane. From A Book Apart

If you think your site’s content doesn’t matter, then you are sorely mistaken.

Granted, the argument for content strategy has always mystified me. Not because I think we can do without content strategy, we can’t, but I’m amazed that we still have to make the argument.

Folks care very much about appearances; what their websites look like means the world to them. But why don’t they care just as much about what their sites are saying? So many websites feel like dumping grounds for every last scrap of possible content, with little regard that we’re actually proposing someone should read what’s being said, let alone care about it. Like a gentleman in a finely crafted suit who wants to burp you the alphabet, even if your website looks nice, no one will stick around to hear what you have to say if you don’t craft something compelling.

We still have to make the argument for content strategy, now more than ever. Erin Kissane is not just the perfect person to tell us how, she’s still in the trenches doing it everyday, but now she’s written a treatise on just how it gets done, The Elements of Content Strategy. And I imagine Erin’s book will sit faithfully in service on my desk for a long time to come, heavily thumbed, dog-eared, and loved.

Erin has long been one of my favorite writers, I love her voice, humor, and her style; all at once snarky and supportive. I often find myself laughing while reading, only to realize when I’m done that she’s made me rethink what I thought I knew so well, and whoa I just learned something to boot.

Plain and simple, this book gives you the ammo to make the argument, and you’ll be smarter for it by the end, regardless what discipline you identify with. This may be one of the most potent brief books you’ll read. And it may also make you better looking, but hell, I think you look great just the way you are.

On Deck

As our library grows, so does our family. Each book adds to the collective resource we’re building. And each book will strive to bring new ideas and insight to what we do everyday.

That stack above is, well, actually a stack now and not just a couple books, but will be growing a bit more this year. Some upcoming books for 2011 include, Responsive Web Design by Ethan Marcotte, Designing for Emotion by Aarron Walter, Mobile First by Luke Wroblewski, and even a book on web typography by yours truly that’s slowly starting to take shape. For now, do yourself a favor and grab The Elements of Content Strategy.

Books, Design, Press, Web, Blue, Photo, Titling Gothic, White Tue, 08 Mar 2011 13:08 GMT
CSS3 for Web Designers https://v4.jasonsantamaria.com/articles/css3-for-web-designers/ https://v4.jasonsantamaria.com/articles/css3-for-web-designers/ CSS3 for Web Designers, by Dan Cederholm. From A Book Apart

We’re back at it with a brand new A Book Apart from web design mastermind, Dan Cederholm: CSS3 for Web Designers.

What’s more, no waiting for pre-orders this time around, you can grab the book right now, in both paperback or ebook formats. The books are just finishing up at the printer and should ship out on Monday, the ebooks are available this very moment.

What’s it about?

CSS3 opens up many possibilities we’ve had to bend over backwards to achieve in the past. Have you been waiting to get your feet wet with CSS3? Or trying to figure out what you can use right now? This is precisely what Dan’s book is about:

From advanced selectors to generated content to the triumphant return of web fonts, and from gradients, shadows, and rounded corners to full-blown animations, CSS3 is a universe of creative possibilities. No one can better guide you through these galaxies than world-renowned designer, author, and CSS superstar Dan Cederholm. Learn what works, how it works, and how to work around browsers where it doesn’t work.

It’s a stunning and insightful read. Just like Jeremy’s book on HTML5, Dan gives us a brief view on where CSS3 is right now, shows us how to get a jump on the latest techniques, and real world contingencies for everything else.

Plus, if you get the ebook editions, you are also treated to videos for some of the examples (the videos are only supported in iBooks, other e-readers get images).

The design of the book is largely unchanged from the first time around, and I love that so much. We’re still completely enamored with Xavier Dupré’s typefaces Yoga and Yoga Sans; they’ve proven quite sturdy in practice. Over time, these books will fill out a library of complementary titles, and look quite dashing when placed together on a bookshelf.

What’s next?

Upcoming books include The Elements of Content Strategy by Erin Kissane in January, Responsive Web Design by Ethan Marcotte next spring, as well as books from Aarron Walter and Luke Wroblewski. And I’m slated to write a book about web typography for next year.

For now, do yourself a favor and check out Dan’s book, CSS3 for Web Designers. You can read an excerpt from the book in today’s issue of A List Apart, and if you haven’t picked up Jeremy’s HTML5 book, you can get both books together at a discount! Wowee!

Books, Design, Press, Web, Green, Photo, Titling Gothic, White Tue, 16 Nov 2010 12:27 GMT
The Candy Parenthesis https://v4.jasonsantamaria.com/articles/the-candy-parenthesis/ https://v4.jasonsantamaria.com/articles/the-candy-parenthesis/ by Robin Sloan

I don’t like candy.

Sure, I had my Halloween hoard like any kid, and I’ve snagged a Snickers in line at the supermarket plenty of times. But really, I don’t like this stuff. It brings me no joy—and in fact, I think it symbolizes a lot of the problems with our food system today. Luckily, I think candy is a historical accident, not a food group. And I think its days are numbered.

Here’s an analogy. In media, there’s an idea called the Gutenberg Parenthesis. The argument is that the age of books has been an exceptional episode in human history. Before Gutenberg, there was this huge oral tradition stretching back millennia; today, with TV and the internet, a new kind of oral tradition stretches out before us. The point is: something that seems as basic and old-fashioned as a book might in fact be a strange and fleeting exception.

I think candy is a strange and fleeting exception.

When I say “candy” I don’t just mean “sweet stuff.” Sweet stuff means macaroons, sweet stuff means laddu, sweet stuff means—oh yes—it means Honeycrisp. When I say “candy” I’m talking about modern candy, Halloween candy, candy in cardboard boxes and rainbow wrappers. I’m talking about sweet stuff that was made months ago and miles away.

It would be one thing if modern candy really was the nectar of the gods. Then you might justify it; you might say, well, yes, this is a strange substance, made from strange ingredients in a strange far-off factory, but wow, it’s worth it.

But ew, I just don’t think that’s the case. Think about the dry, dusty moonscape of the Three Musketeers; the plasticene turd of the Tootsie Roll; the terror of the Milk Dud. Yes, think hard about the Milk Dud. Think about that viscous synthetic choco-glue adhering to your back-most molars.

The trick is on us: none of this is actually any good.

Over time, our food system is going to get smart again—well, either that or we’ll go extinct, and I’m an optimist; I’m betting on mankind, not Milk Duds. So here’s what’s going to happen: we’ll get wise, and the candy-industrial complex will go away. We’ll leave the boxes and wrappers behind and forget we ever knew words like “Necco wafer” and “Shock Tart.” And then—not a moment too soon—the close of the Candy Parenthesis will have come.

Here—have an apple.


Candygrams are odes to candy by guest authors during the month of October.

Robin Sloan

Robin Sloan is a writer and media inventor in San Francisco. He also works on media partnerships at Twitter.

Candygram, Guest, Random, Black, Chaparral, White, Yellow Fri, 29 Oct 2010 16:52 GMT
All For Me https://v4.jasonsantamaria.com/articles/all-for-me/ https://v4.jasonsantamaria.com/articles/all-for-me/

When I was five, my grandfather kept a stash of 3 Musketeers bars on top of his fridge. Not just a handful, but an actual display box like the ones in the check-out aisle at the grocery. He bought them because they were my favorites; they lived on the fridge because they were contraband. I wasn’t supposed to have sugar. Honey and blackstrap molasses from a co-op grocery that smelled like carob-flavored mummy, sure, but not the refined stuff then subject to a hippie-driven moral panic. My other grandparents also sneaked around my parents’ sugar blockade, but Papa’s contravention was by the far the most extravagant: a store box! And all for me.

Once I gained a degree of autonomy, my parents’ plan seemed to backfire. I bought head-sized Hershey bars, rainbows of gummy worms, crackly plastic bags of truck-stop caramels. I lacquered candy to make earrings in junior high and discovered in college how quickly new friends appear when you carry an open box of Ring-Pops through a roomful of people in raver pants.

Turns out it was all more Rumspringa than conversion. The year I left college, my teeth got sugar-sensitive, so I stopped eating candy to focus on my caffeine addiction. Along the way, I lost the taste for anything sweeter than the occasional slice of cake. A few months ago, though, ravenous and lured by the flicker of after-hours vending machine light, I had my first 3 Musketeers bar in years, and it was awful: cloying and waxy and stale. But that sound—the sound of teeth slicing through marshmallowy aerated nougat—knocked me right back to Papa’s kitchen and the moment I discovered that subversion tastes really, really good.


Candygrams are odes to candy by guest authors during the month of October.

Erin Kissane

Erin makes coffee, books, and content strategy in New York and Portland. She blogs in sloth-time at Incisive.nu.

Candygram, Guest, Random, Brown, Photo, Swingdancer Tue, 26 Oct 2010 16:05 GMT
Sugar/Smack https://v4.jasonsantamaria.com/articles/sugar-smack/ https://v4.jasonsantamaria.com/articles/sugar-smack/

In the last few years, research has suggested that addiction involves many of the same brain pathways that govern learning and memory.

Harvard Mental Health Newsletter, July 2004

I’m one of those people who really doesn’t have many childhood memories to speak of. The years just blur together, bound by images, places, feelings. But the memories I do have—the clear ones—are about candy.

Four years old, birthday party. We played this game where you tie a Life Saver on the end of a string, put the other end in your mouth, and then chew the string upwards until you finally got to the Life Saver. Mine was cherry. I won. I wanted to play again. And again. And again.

Five years old, Air Force base housing. One day I stood and watched some uniformed worker fill up the vending machine in the concrete basement of our building. I put on my best “I am but a poor, neglected child” face, and it worked: he reluctantly handed me a bag of M&Ms. I grabbed it and took off running, then ate the entire bag while crouched behind a dumpster.

Six years old, family vacation. We stayed in a cabin on Gull Lake in Brainerd, Minnesota. Every day I got a quarter for candy at the resort store, and every day I bought the same thing: Sixlets. I’d bite off the end of the wrapper, then squeeze three or four of the candy-coated chocolate balls right into my mouth. Apparently, I also fished and tried water skiing for the first time. Or so I’m told.

Seven years old, living in Edmond, Oklahoma. My grandparents were coming to visit, and I knew three things: my grandfather liked candy, my mother had bought some, and she’d hidden it from me. Of course, I looked until I found it: black licorice jelly beans, neatly emptied into a green glass bowl. I hid a handful in my pocket and ate them while locked in the bathroom. Shortly thereafter, it occurred to me that perhaps they weren’t actual jelly beans, but something medicinal for my grandfather. Otherwise, why would my mother hide them so far back in the very top cupboard? I broke down and ran to my parents, certain I’d inadvertently poisoned myself. I hadn’t. They were just jelly beans.

You know, when someone talks about their “drug of choice,” I can’t relate to the “choice” part. Some things you’re just born with.


Candygrams are odes to candy by guest authors during the month of October.

Kristina Halvorson

Kristina Halvorson owns Brain Traffic and wrote Content Strategy for the Web. Are you going to eat that last piece of candy?

Candygram, Guest, Random, Blue, Grey, Photo, Proxima Nova, Red Fri, 22 Oct 2010 15:49 GMT
Pixy Stix https://v4.jasonsantamaria.com/articles/pixy-stix/ https://v4.jasonsantamaria.com/articles/pixy-stix/

Our house edged a woods. We said the lady who lived there was a witch.

A path cut through the woods, from our dead-end suburban circle to a main street on which stood Anastasia’s, a 5&10 that sold Spider-man comics and Pixy Stix. We’re not talking Fruit Roll-ups. This was pure dyed sugar in a straw. You lay on the ground, bit open the bottom of the straw, and red or purple or green sugar poured into your mouth. When the straw was empty, you’d suck the wet paper end for the extras.

My few chores earned me 25 cents a week allowance. My brother, three years younger, also got 25 cents a week, because everything had to be equal. (My mother, doling out the spaghetti and meatballs: “Each two meatballs.”)

Every week my brother blew his 25 cents on candy for the whole neighborhood. A half-dozen friends accompanied him down the path through the woods, past the witch’s house, to Anastasia’s. Ten minutes later, they’d be back, finishing the last of my brother’s candy.

Most weeks I saved my 25 cents. My mother had instilled thrift; my father had not yet instilled earning.

I saved up, week after week, then splurged on Spider-man comics, Pixy Stix, and gifts for girls. I bought my mother a Yellow Pages dress—a paper mini-dress created from recycled Yellow Pages. It was a horrible thing but girls wore it on TV and I thought it would make my mom happy. I bought Leslie Lombardo a pen. I had worshipped Leslie for two years. She had dark hair, dark eyes, soft down on her arms. Christmas was coming, and while I was afraid to talk to Leslie, I thought a gift might show her how I felt.

I bought the nicest Bic pen Anastasia’s sold. Put it in an envelope with her name on it and a drawing from me and slipped it into her desk. She never said a word to me about it. A few weeks later, Leslie’s friend confronted me. Leslie’s friend was a big boyish girl, who always smelled vaguely of urine, and who had humiliated me for all time by shoving me into a basketball net in the school gym. She told me, within earshot of Leslie, that Leslie had gotten my pen, and that Leslie hated me.

Never lacking for a quick comeback, I replied, “Oh, yeah? Well, I only got Leslie a gift to show her that I don’t like her.”

Later, alone in the janitor’s closet, I may have cried.

After that, I stuck with Pixy Stix. They all tasted the same, but red was my favorite.


Candygrams are odes to candy by guest authors during the month of October.

Jeffrey Zeldman

Zeldman creates websites, magazines, podcasts, and web design conferences, and writes and publishes books.

Candygram, Guest, Random, Good Dog, Green, Photo, Purple, Red, White Tue, 19 Oct 2010 22:17 GMT
Love Sick https://v4.jasonsantamaria.com/articles/love-sick/ https://v4.jasonsantamaria.com/articles/love-sick/ Love Sick

I dreamt of you again last night…

I can’t remember the specifics; maybe it was the one where Gene Wilder hands me a pool skimmer to gather rogue gummy bears from that chocolate river of his. Or maybe it was the one where I’m Alex in Flash Dancer, and when I pull the chain, I’m drenched by the powder of a thousand Pixie Stix. Whatever it was, I know it must have been good: I woke up in a puddle of drool and immediately reached for the bag of Skittles on my nightstand. Alas, it was empty.

The man in the white coat breaks the news: I’ll need another three fillings and a root canal. “Moderation,” he says. “I’m trying,” I protest. He must not know the tangy numbness of tongue and invincibility of spirit only achieved by ingesting a two-pound bag of Smarties in a single sitting. I’m sure he’s never swooshed a concoction of Coca-Cola and Circus Peanuts in his mouth until he became convinced he could break through walls with the charisma of the Kool-aid man. I have.

Our highs are incredible. Why must our lows be so inevitable, so intense? Five minutes in the mouth equals thirty swinging from the rafters; then SLAM against the wall; CRASH through the floorboards and THUD, THUD, THUD, fifty feet down. Shivering, I can barely make out a tiny light overhead. I sense I could reach it, but only if I fashion a ladder from these Twizzlers you’ve left for me.

Hard, fluffy, creamy, gummy, coated in a layer of dirt from the floor: I too willingly accept you in all your forms. I’m still traumatized by the Chocolate Room Fiasco of ’07, as are the small children I pushed over on my way to you. And lest we forget the Flinstone Vitamin debacle. Knocking back a whole bottle of tiny cartoon characters is all fun and games until it ends in Ipecac-induced vomiting. Self control? Never my strong suit. Pride? That went the way of my oral health.

Painful as it is, we both knew this day would come. The world of adulthood and vegetables has found me and taken me to a place you don’t belong. I must say adieu mon amour. Remember me fondly, Halloween and art school all-nighters. You’ll understand if I try not to remember you at all. Those thoughts will only take me back to the banks where Oompa Loompas romp, and from there, it’s a dangerously quick trip to my neighborhood bodega where a mere fifty cents buys my one-way ticket to back to you.

Illustration by Jessi Arrington


Candygrams are odes to candy by guest authors during the month of October.

Jessi Arrington

When not designing her heart out at WORKSHOP, Jessi documents her love of rainbows, flea markets and life at luckysoandso.com.

Candygram, Guest, Random, Brown, FF Speak, Illustration, Skolar, White Wed, 13 Oct 2010 19:28 GMT
Retrick/Retreat https://v4.jasonsantamaria.com/articles/retrick-retreat/ https://v4.jasonsantamaria.com/articles/retrick-retreat/ Retrick/Retreat

The year before was a complete disappointment for all of us. A timely newsletter from the school reminded parents of the dangers of a diet too high in sugar, and that killed our joy. Worse yet: there were suggestions. “Instead of a Rice Krispy treat, why not a rice cake? Rather than a candy bar, maybe try an apple! If you’re thinking about Twizzlers, why not a pencil?”

If you wish to see a maniacally enraged, completely unhinged seven-year-old, ask him to dress up, promise him candy, have him come to your door step, and then give him school supplies.

After a contemptuous night, we woke the next morning to reports of some neighborhoods discovering razor blades in fruit that was handed out to kids. Everyone was mortified. How could anyone even think of doing such a thing? And the kids laughed, unthreatened, because we knew that we weren’t going to eat the damn apples any way.

Time marched on, and the following year another newsletter came from the school telling parents to beware of treats handed out on Halloween, and how it was probably safer to only give and accept factory-sealed candy from strangers. My sister and I read this together at the dinner table. Our eyes got wide and she whispered to me, “Jackpot.”

“What was that?” Mom asked.

“Jack got his Halloween costume. He’s going to be a pirate this year just like Frank,” she said, which was mostly true. But Jack and I were hatching a plan of our own.

We knew the candy would flow freely from the columned stoops of our neighbors’ homes, and we were insatiable. We were going for the con. We’d dress as pirates, but would nab the spare sheets from his parents’ closet, cut holes for eyes, and make a second round through the neighborhood as ghosts, completely covered and anonymous. We set out that night ready to swindle the neighborhood. Jack said this could be the most epic stunt we had ever attempted. “Yep,” I said. “We just can’t get caught.”

And you know what? Jack and I did dress up as pirates, and we did cut holes in his parents’ white sheets, and the candy did flow like milk and honey, and we did make a second pass through the neighborhood unnoticed. We changed our shoes. We threw our voices when we screamed “trick or treat.” We made people assume we didn’t talk much because we were ghosts. And we got away with it. Good god, we got away with it.

Back home, we threw off the sheets and dumped everything out on the living room carpet. It was magic. Twizzlers and Twix, and those little sugar pods on the strip of paper, and gummi bears and worms, Peach-Os and Kit Kats and Smarties, one conspicuous pair of wax lips, and every other kind of candy you could imagine. We carefully made our first selections for the feast of seven sugars, and dug in.

“Where did all of this come from? Why do you have so much more than your sister?” my mother asked. I shrugged and feigned ignorance.

Sweet success.

Illustration by Frank Chimero


Candygrams are odes to candy by guest authors during the month of October.

Frank Chimero

Frank Chimero is a graphic designer, teacher, writer, and creative person in Portland, Oregon. You can find him on the interwebs at FrankChimero.com.

Candygram, Guest, Random, Blue, Heroic Condensed, Illustration, Red, White Wed, 06 Oct 2010 17:36 GMT
IE9 and the Lost World’s Fairs https://v4.jasonsantamaria.com/articles/ie9-and-the-lost-worlds-fairs/ https://v4.jasonsantamaria.com/articles/ie9-and-the-lost-worlds-fairs/ Today marks the beta launch of Internet Explorer 9. To celebrate the release, Nishant Kothary from the MIX Online team at Microsoft reached out to me to help showcase its support of WOFF.

I knew immediately this was a great opportunity to collaborate with people I admire, so I dropped a line to Frank Chimero and Naz Hamid to lend their design talents, and Trent Walton (who also brought in the skilled Dave Rupert) to help pitch in on coding duties. As things progressed, Trent and Dave really came in swinging and the group ended up collaborating and nurturing ideas together. We dubbed ourselves the Friends of Mighty, and thus began our super friend collaboration (teased originally under the internal name, Operation: Condor).

From the start, we agreed to do something in three parts (one by each designer), and more importantly, something that didn’t look like an article or a blog. Aside from some of the technical advantages the WOFF format provides, there’s little about it that’s aesthetically different than other formats. So we resolved just to have some fun and design something with strong typography as its centerpiece.

Since we abandoned anything with swaths of text, we quickly opted to find something with fillable slots of information, things that could be common elements across each piece. For instance, an event might have a title, date, time, place, and related information about what goes on there. We actually settled on exactly that, something akin to web broadsheets.

The resulting project is called Lost World’s Fairs.

Lost World’s Fairs

We decided to make designs around a grand series of events, the World’s Fairs. We initially started playing with ideas for the cities we all lived in, but ended up going with locales and fairs that never were. We wanted to feel unrestricted by the design and history that already existed from specific fairs and instead find ways to key in on design aspects of a particular time period.

Sketches... from the Moon!

Assorted sketches for the different fair locales.

Our basic setup was this: El Dorado would be set in the 20s and be in a sort of Grand Ole Opry style, Atlantis would be set in the early 60s and in a Mid-Century modern style, and the Moon would be sometime in the not too distant future with a retro-future style. Clearly, we followed these guidelines loosely throughout, but they served as a nice way to frame each of the directions. We brainstormed over Skype a few times, followed up on Basecamp, drafted up a bunch of copy and taglines, and set to work. Each of us took on a different locale, and mine ended up being the Moon. Luckily, we each just seemed to connect with place and time, so divvying up the locales wasn’t a problem.

Onward & Upward

We had all done some initial sketches for each locale to get ideas flowing. Most of mine for the Moon centered around some really large type and an interplay between celestial bodies. I loved the idea of the phases of the moon, or eclipses, and for parts of the type to take on the role of a celestial body itself. I didn’t really have an interest in realistic depiction of the earth and moon, I just wanted to suggest their forms and colors. The end result attempts to explore type in a browser window a little differently. And special thanks to Kevin Cornell for his two quick silhouette spot illustrations.

All Together Now

Each of the designs has a charm of its own (and some have a few hidden treats to discover). We set out to design first for IE9, so we resolved not to use any properties that weren’t supported yet. Even with that said, IE9 is a really polished browser, and the improved type rendering alone makes it a big step forward for Windows. You can see screenshots of what each locale looks like in the IE9 beta here. Congrats to the IE team and everyone involved! You can see more experiments by other agencies in the Beauty of the Web project.

The final Moon mission

The final design for the Moon. You can also view a screenshot on Flickr.

It’s not often you get to design something to showcase what a product can do (it’s reminiscent of getting to design a paper sample book). We were basically our own client, and just set out to have a little fun. From the layering of Naz’s El Dorado, to the scrolling fun of Frank’s Atlantis, to the cosmos manifest destiny of my Moon, we had a blast fulfilling our basic premise of playing with type. The project came to me, but was really made whole by the fantastic work of Frank, Naz, Trent, and Dave. These guys are all at the top of their game, and are creative like whoa.

You can launch all of the different world’s fair locales from the project’s landing page (beautifully designed by Trent), as well as see the fonts being used from their Typekit colophons. The Moon uses two fonts from Process Type Foundry not listed in its colophon, Klavika and Bryant, which will soon be available as web licenses served via Typekit (similar to some of the web FontFonts).

You can read all about the making of Lost World’s Fairs from the rest of the gang: Frank, Naz, Trent, and Dave. We hope you enjoy our experiment!

Design, Technology, Web, Black, Default, White Wed, 15 Sep 2010 19:05 GMT
A Real Web Design Application https://v4.jasonsantamaria.com/articles/a-real-web-design-application/ https://v4.jasonsantamaria.com/articles/a-real-web-design-application/ The web and its related disciplines have grown organically. I think it’s safe to say the web is not the domain of just the geeks anymore—we all live here. And those of us who work here should have sophisticated, native tools to do our jobs.

A little over two years ago, I started reflecting on the web as a design medium. Coming from a print design background, most of what I knew about design was still applicable; but the things that weren’t made a huge difference. What came of this was a presentation I gave at a few conferences (the abbreviated 10-minute version of which you can see on Vimeo). The discussions that followed prompted me to look closely at how the creative process—and the tools we use—affect designing for the screen.

The framework for what a page is has changed considerably even in the past few years, though our applications for designing those frameworks are still stuck in the web of yore, and largely dictated by their use for print design. This article focuses on some of the tools we currently have at our disposal, mostly either freely available or from Adobe.

What’s this “design” you speak of?

Design is a multifaceted problem. How something behaves is interdependent on how it looks, sounds, reads, moves, and responds. We can’t separate these from the end result, but we can divide and conquer them during the creative process. Web design is not merely building. It’s not just designing. It’s not only the rest of the myriad disciplines and titles we all align ourselves with, but the culmination of all these things.

One process, or “how I work”

For over a decade, I’ve been designing websites. And I’ve followed nearly the same process for every one of them: once it’s time for visual design to happen, I typically start out in rough form (sketches, grey boxes), then move on to higher fidelity comps in Photoshop. I make these Photoshop comps look as real as possible, and continue to revise them for clients until they sign off on the designs. I make exceptions as needed depending on the problem at hand, but I rarely allow much visual design and layout to happen during coding. This includes painstakingly changing type styles and colors in Photoshop when revisions are needed. I’m experienced enough with making websites that I know what I can push off until coding happens, and how certain things will act when in use. I like spending my time this way because it helps me focus on the story I’m trying to tell with my design.

Our current toolbox

Every option out there has its tradeoffs. These are not intended to be knocks against the goals of these applications; they’re all powerful in their own right. The purpose of this brief audit is to highlight the gaps in the creative process.

Photoshop icon.

Photoshop has high-fidelity design capabilities and image editing, but the type rendering isn’t true-to-browser and it’s lacking in layout capabilities. Each new release feels more bloated and directionless than the last.

Illustrator icon.

Illustrator is great for drawing and working with vectors, but the type and image rendering aren’t true-to-browser and it’s ill suited for anything but the simplest layouts.

InDesign icon.

InDesign is capable of high-fidelity layouts and has advanced type styling features with stylesheets, but it’s primarily a print application and lacks the language and feel for screen-based designs.

Fireworks icon.

Fireworks showed promise back in the hands of Macromedia, but it has taken a backseat under Adobe. It’s primarily a screen-based design app and is great for prototyping and image optimization, but it lacks true-to-browser type rendering, is flakey performance-wise, and feels neglected among the flagship Adobe products.

Dreamweaver icon.

Dreamweaver is a hybrid WYSIWYG text editor with true-to-browser type and layout rendering, but it lacks flexible visual design capabilities, image editing, and typographic control.

Browser icons.

Browsers are obviously the baseline for type and layout rendering as they are the platforms we’re designing for; but the design production is then transferred to hand coding in text editors. Hand coding isn’t the problem here; it’s the prospect of laying out a page without design production tools that’s difficult for many (myself included).

In recent years, a few indie image editing apps have hit the scene, including Pixelmator and Acorn. These apps, and others like them, are impressive achievements, and a good alternative for certain tasks like image editing. Unfortunately, they aren’t sophisticated enough to compete with the applications above when it comes to web design and layout. And that’s OK—I don’t believe they want to compete in this space; I only mention them for the purpose of discussion.

A wishlist

So what does an app that’s made for web design look like? What are the native and common attributes that keep popping up with every page we design? This is a start for the considerations I find myself making on nearly every design I work on.

Per document grids

Different designs require different grids. Currently, in an app like Photoshop, you are only able to set global grid settings. Meaning, if you want to use different grids for your documents, you need to change these settings each time. Many people I know (myself included) get around this by just drawing out a grid on a separate layer and placing it above all the other layers. The disadvantage of this is not being able to use any sort of snap-to-grid and alignment functions built into the program. Everything either needs to be eyeballed or placed mathematically through a measurement palette. Having this reside at the document level would allow a design’s grid to travel with it and stay intact for repeat uses (especially important when working as part of a team and sharing documents).

Page states

Webpages are living, dynamic spaces where the smallest interaction from a visitor can change the scope of an entire site. Menus can emerge and recede, system messages display and require action, page elements move, and the contents shift, all without the need for a page refresh. Because we’re not dealing with a static medium, we need to be able to design for interactions and the shifting landscapes of a webpage. This is probably heading into something akin to object-oriented design, but an application needs to see elements rather than blocks of color or text. Photoshop, Illustrator, and Fireworks have some low-level functionality in this regard, but the need for more dynamic and non-destructive handling is clear.

Character and Paragraph style palettes from InDesign.

The Character and Paragraph Style palettes from InDesign are able to globally control type similarly to how we use CSS.

CSS-esque type styling (dynamic styles palette)

This one should come as no surprise. CSS saves loads of time when it comes to global changes to typography. Merely changing a link color or font styling for a headliness in a Photoshop file can be tedious because they aren’t centrally controlled. InDesign offers Character and Paragraph styles, which work like a charm. Something along those lines, but obviously geared a bit more towards CSS functionality, would be key. Additionally, being able to relatively link type styles (“make h2s 200% the base body text size”) would be very powerful.


Fonts are exploding on the web in a big way. The ability to design with external fonts, or be able to use WOFF fonts safely, would help depict our designs better, and allow for quicker changes. Hell, being able to specify a font stack along with your styles—so you could quickly cycle through the visual changes that occur with fallback fonts—would be killer.

Page flow, text wrap, and fluidity

Every element on a webpage has the ability to affect the layout of other elements. We should be able to specify what actions to take (float, clear, wrap, etc.) when that happens. Additionally, a browser window is a fluid canvas; desktop design apps only work with a fixed canvas size, making comping a fluid/flexible design little more than a guess.

Knowledge of current browser interfaces

Using any of the desktop design apps for web design means having a bit of knowledge for the parameters of a browser window and screen sizes. Most of us probably work at what we consider a safe size (right now, likely around a 960px-wide viewing area). An application that can be configured to preview for a given screen size or the sizes of the different browser chromes (not unlike xScope’s “Screens” feature) could be really handy. Especially if the different views of a browser also carry with them the rendering styles, defaults, fonts, and more for the platform and browser version.


Form elements are part of the basic language of the web. I’m tired of taking screenshots of forms in various states just to comp into a page. These things are baked into the OS, and an app should be able to easily allow for their display, not as bitmaps, but as editable objects.

Mobile platforms

This is a big one, and an area I don’t think I’m as qualified to discuss. Design for mobile devices is a difficult problem; there are so many devices, most with unique software and hardware, and it’s the field with the most amount of movement. Perhaps these requirements would be clearer after some formulation of the above occurred.

Non-scientific chart:
The x-axis shows how true-to-browser rendering ranges from approximate to actual, while the y-axis depicts the scope of centralized control over layout and type from local to global. The sweet spot lies somewhere at the intersection of browser-like behavior for—and widespread control over—type and layout elements, while providing a fertile environment for creative thinking.

A quadrant chart plotting design apps.

Options for the future

Why not design in the browser?

By now you must be saying, “hey moron, just design in a browser!” Well, I half-agree with you. In my article from a few years back about Fireworks I made the case for a new desktop app that could handle some of these functions. With how much things have changed in recent years, I’m more inclined to suggest the way forward probably lies with the help of a browser.

But I don’t think the browser is enough. A web designer jumping into the browser before tackling the creative and messaging problems is akin to an architect hammering pieces of wood together and then measuring afterwards. The imaginative process is cut short by the tools at hand; and it’s that imagination—or spark—at the beginning of a design that lays the path for everything that follows. Without it, you’re at best able to make a website that looks like a website—rather than a design that tells a story in the form of a website.

Can WebKit save us?

I’m asking for something that sits on the fence between all of this. I don’t think any of the current desktop apps or any given browser gets the job done. They all do a pretty good job at a few things, but no single one does well enough to really make it a solid prospect.

So why not build a desktop app for web design around WebKit? I’m not talking about an in-browser AJAX toolkit for dragging elements around and changing fonts, but an actual desktop application built with WebKit as the core to its display. It could have accurate rendering and previews for the way page elements would look, but with some of the WYSIWYG tools desktop design apps have. We wouldn’t just approximate pixels in a flat comp, our CSS would be baked in to the layouts we draw and create on the page. And as Webkit grows, so too could this new app, always taking advantage of the latest and greatest functionality. Just like a browser, it could pull assets from remote servers; and just like a desktop app, it could make use of local processing power and OS-level functionality. This would allow it to effectively combine some of the best of both worlds, with a foot firmly planted in the web.

The advantages would be monumental, allowing a strong creative and explorative process, while seeing how things could react on a live stage. It would fulfill many of the items on my wishlist because these are already part of core browser functionality. We would essentially be designing with live page elements; not a picture of a text field—but a text field you could click into and start typing, and then drag to a different area of the page entirely.

I know I’m generalizing; I’m a designer first and most certainly not a developer, but I’ve been occupying this space and using these tools long enough to have a hunch for what works and what doesn’t. An application like this could change the process of web design considerably. Most importantly, it wouldn’t be a proxy application that we use to simulate the way webpages look—it would already speak the language of the web. It would truly be designing in the browser.

Special thanks to Mandy Brown and Liz Danzico for their always excellent editorial guidance.

Design, Technology, Web, Black, Default, White Mon, 26 Jul 2010 16:41 GMT
FullCodePress 2010 https://v4.jasonsantamaria.com/articles/fullcodepress-2010/ https://v4.jasonsantamaria.com/articles/fullcodepress-2010/ I’m fresh back from New Zealand where I took part in FullCodePress, a knock down, drag out, web design competition to make a website for a charity in 24 hours.

The competition was put on by the wonderful folks at Webstock and pitted teams from New Zealand, Australia, and the US against one another. Our teams were each paired with a charity, who was only revealed when the competition started. From there, each team took whatever assets the client brought along (all in various states of completion, or, uh, viability); copy, photos, and loads of information, to make a complete functioning website in a single day. Whatever the case, we were tasked with giving them something to be proud of, and a way to reach their given audiences.

Team USA storms the halls in the wee hours of the morning, both as an intimidation tactic and a means to fight off sleep. Actually, this was just one of our hourly coffee runs.

Team USA storms the halls in the wee hours of the morning, both as an intimidation tactic and a means to fight off sleep. Actually, this was just one of our hourly coffee runs.

Our Assignment

Our client was the Timaru Mental Health Support Trust, a mental health drop-in centre at the Victoria House in the south island that provides wellness programmes to people with mental illnesses. Our clients, Willian and Garbux, from the Victoria House were amazing; they weren’t that knowledgeable about what the web could offer them and didn’t have an existing website, but we’re completely open to collaborating with us and trying out some new approaches. Mental illness is a difficult topic to discuss and to depict, we knew we had a tremendous amount of work cut out for us from the get-go.

Luckily, I was fortunate enough to be on a team with some absurdly smart people: Jennifer Bove as project manager, Liz Danzico as user experience advocate/information architect, Karen McGrane as content strategist, Dan Mall as front-end coder, John Ford as programmer (as well as arm wrestling champ!), and myself as designer. We bought every American flag we could find in Wellington, and were ready to kick some ass.

Ready, Steady, Go!

I won’t talk too much about the process, Dan and Liz already did a good job of that, but will just say that things went surprisingly smoothly. Given the time constraints, any traditional process wouldn’t do, we were all doing work concurrently because we couldn’t sit around waiting for different phases to finish. Luckily, everyone on our team was so sharp that it just worked.

For my part, I was responsible for the website design. Our client had a somewhat confusing name, and one that most of their patrons never used anyway, so we renamed them the “Victoria House” and prepared a new logo. You can see a video of me here talking through their old logo and the new proposed direction. We brought some of their imagery to the forefront to put a human face to the Victoria House, and managed to work some colors from a print brochure into the site.

We rewrote much of their copy, gave the site a simple and flexible architecture, and some really tight markup. One of my favorite bits happened on the backend: we completely overhauled their events calendar, which is one of their largest forms of outreach, previously done as a intense Excel spreadsheet printed handout. We moved them into Google Calendar and set WordPress up to pull the contents of the calendar in and associate them with unique pages for the various events. Now they’re able to update one calendar and use it for the web or print.

The Long Haul

At the end of the 24 hours, hopped up on coffee and adrenaline, we somehow had a complete website (you can see the dev site here). Obviously, we weren’t able to do everything we wanted, but what we were able to accomplish in that time will make a tremendous difference to the Victoria House.

I am extremely proud of the work we did, and of the opportunity to work alongside some of the smartest folks I’ve met. The end results (from all three teams), were nothing short of amazing. And the effect of these three charities getting good, clean, functional websites to further their causes can not be overstated.

We may not have won, but the clients certainly did, and that was the most important competition of all in my mind; beating back the worries of money and time to deliver something truly good to truly good people. I remain humbled and enlightened by the entire experience, and wish all three clients the best of luck for the future.

Thanks to Mike Brown, Tash Hall Lampard, and all of the wonderful Webstock people. You did an amazing job organizing, covering the event (tons of great photos, videos, and blog posts), and keeping us all awake and caffeinated. New Zealand remains of the most beautiful places I’ve ever visited, just chock full of kind people, and every Webstock event is one for the history books. Congrats to the talented teams from New Zealand and Australia, and everyone involved, I won’t forget this experience anytime soon.

Also: I’m having complete flat white withdrawal.

Design, Travel, Web, Black, Default, Photo, White Thu, 24 Jun 2010 18:58 GMT
Announcing A Book Apart https://v4.jasonsantamaria.com/articles/announcing-a-book-apart/ https://v4.jasonsantamaria.com/articles/announcing-a-book-apart/ HTML5 For Web Designers, by Jeremy Keith. From A Book Apart

I’m very pleased to present A Book Apart, a new publisher of brief books for people who make websites, founded by Jeffrey Zeldman, Mandy Brown, and myself.

Our first book is HTML5 For Web Designers, by the indomitable Jeremy Keith. If you’re already getting your feet wet with HTML5, or just trying to figure out what the hell it’s all about, you’ll want this one. I’ve read it three times and love how approachable it is. You can read more from Jeffrey about how we chose our first title, or from Mandy on how A Book Apart works as a publisher.

Designing the Series

While most of the design work I do is for the web, I love getting back to my roots in print. Since I’d already created a simple visual system for A List Apart, I decided to pick up on some of the same elements here, most notably the numbering in the large black circle, the slight overlapping elements, and the color palette change with each edition (to be seen in subsequent books). I wanted these to look like a family on your bookshelf.

I crafted a very simple page design to let the text take the spotlight. It’s a thin book, both in width and thickness, and I spent a long time fiddling with column widths and grids before settling on a comfortable line length. Our books are brief enough that we can’t predictably print on the spines; so I decided to wrap the title from the spine around to the back cover, giving the spine and back cover some identification and texture.

Finding the Right Typefaces

I’m always up for font shopping, so I leapt at the chance to pick up a new text face. We’ll be publishing a variety of code, acronyms, and captions, so I wanted something fairly current, with a healthy set of OpenType features and numbering options. Yoga and its counterpart Yoga Sans by Xavier Dupré fit the bill perfectly. The serif is a similar style to the Garamond we’ve used in ALA and AEA materials, but with a bit of angularity and a more contemporary feel. Yoga Sans makes a great companion for captions and quotes.

To give some punch to the cover and interior headlines, I immediately thought of Titling Gothic by David Berlow, a 49(!) member super family ranging from very thin and narrow to very bold and wide. I selected Regular Skyline which falls somewhere in the middle of the spectrum. Because page width isn’t very wide, this weight has the added benefit of being heavily condensed, allowing for larger type even with longer titles.

For code excerpts I ran a number of print tests. Some monospace fonts look great on screen but fail on the printed page. I eventually decided on Consolas by Lucas de Groot, one of the fonts that Microsoft commissioned for Vista. Not only does Consolas have really pleasing and distinct letterforms, it also comes with a good bold weight— useful for showing emphasis in the code examples.

Coming Soon

This is just the beginning for A Book Apart. We have more books already in the works. For now, do yourself a favor and preorder HTML5 For Web Designers.

HTML5 For Web Designers page montage
Books, Design, Press, Web, Photo, Red, Titling Gothic, Yellow Tue, 04 May 2010 12:00 GMT
On Good https://v4.jasonsantamaria.com/articles/on-good/ https://v4.jasonsantamaria.com/articles/on-good/

Don’t try to be original, just try to be good.

Paul Rand paraphrasing Ludwig Mies van der Rohe’s quote:

I don’t want to be interesting. I want to be good.

Designing in pursuit of being original, or even interesting, can be a foolhardy prospect. Design that strives to be original for the sake of it, and typically at the expense of its real purpose of communication, often falls into a mire of stylistic tropes and shallow meanings.

Design, Quotes, Thinking, Blue, Orange, Proxima Nova Fri, 09 Apr 2010 17:57 GMT
On the Subject of Design 2 https://v4.jasonsantamaria.com/articles/on-the-subject-of-design-2/ https://v4.jasonsantamaria.com/articles/on-the-subject-of-design-2/ The Art of Looking Sideways Art Direction Explained, At Last! Visual Grammar Stop Stealing Sheep & Learn How Type Works Graphic Design Theory Fonts & Logos The ABC's of Bauhaus How Designers Think The Form of the Book How to Think Like a Great Graphic Designer The Typographic Desk Reference How Buildings Learn Art As Experience Bird by Bird

Once again I’m adding to my list of recommended books with some good reads I’ve come across in the past few years. I’m always up for finding new books to help me better understand design or improve my practices, but it can be very difficult to find the meat from so many fatty offerings. That’s why I try to keep this list focused on design, type, and theory. There are many lists for good web design books around, but few of just straight up good design books, and many of these topics are applicable anywhere. Like last time, this doesn’t aim to be comprehensive, but I personally vouch for the usefulness all of these books offer. Enjoy!

Books, Design, Site, FF Yoga, Green, Photo, White Fri, 29 Jan 2010 16:29 GMT
Stuff That Matters https://v4.jasonsantamaria.com/articles/stuff-that-matters/ https://v4.jasonsantamaria.com/articles/stuff-that-matters/ Mighty

It’s official: I’ve started a design studio called Mighty. I’ve been working under the name since earlier this year, and today I’m launching a small site for the endeavor.

The prospect with Mighty is simple: I want to work on stuff that matters. I want the things I make to benefit people, and whenever possible, the design work I do to have a lasting impact.

Here’s to new beginnings! Head over and say hello to Mighty. Many thanks to my talented friends: Jessica Hische for the logo design, and Liz Danzico for her help with the site’s content/manifesto.



Another big career announcement today, I’ll be splitting my days between running Mighty and serving as Creative Director for Typekit. As any regulars here will know, I have a deep love for typefaces and typography, and Typekit couldn’t be more tailored to that love. It’s a fantastic opportunity to work alongside some of the smartest people I’ve ever met, and continue to grow something I believe will help shape our industry for the future.

Portfolio Updates

I’ve also updated my portfolio with a bunch of projects that have launched in the last few months. A few from my time at Happy Cog: W. W. Norton, our oldest independent publisher, and The Amanda Project, a website and community counterpart to a book series for teens and tweens.

Earlier this year I worked on two Chicago-related sites: Chicago Now, a hyper local blogging network (working alongside Byrne Reese), and a one-day design sprint reworking the Chicago Tribune homepage. The Tribune team asked me to take a pass at a rough design they had already mocked up, basically saying “do as much as you can in a day”. This was a really fun experiment that I’d definitely like to try again. The design was later adapted by internal teams at other Tribune sites like the LA Times and Baltimore Sun.

A few months ago I was asked to do quick blog and store redesign for one of my favorite bands, They Might Be Giants (working alongside, Brian Warren), a lovely new site for my always insightful friend, Liz Danzico, and lastly, my two type-related loves, Typedia and Typekit.

I’ve been very busy lately and have lots of stuff coming down the pike. Stay tuned.

Business, Design, New York, Personal, Site, Web, Black, Default, White Thu, 10 Dec 2009 17:27 GMT
On Web Typography https://v4.jasonsantamaria.com/articles/on-web-typography/ https://v4.jasonsantamaria.com/articles/on-web-typography/

Well, it only took nearly a hundred issues since working on the A List Apart redesign for me to get around to writing an article.

I’ve had a blast working behind the scenes working with authors on fleshing out the visuals for their articles, but after repeated kindly nudges from the rest of the ALA staffers, I wrote one of my own: On Web Typography.

This has been a year packed with talk of type on the web. We’ve been making great strides in bringing real fonts to the web, a good progression that will help us rely less on replacement techniques. There are many great articles that boil down the technical hurdles involved in doing so, but I wanted to tackle what happens to our designs once we have lots of typefaces to choose from. How do you choose typefaces that suit your site’s message? What technical and aesthetic attributes should you look for in a typeface? How do you harmoniously combine typefaces? These are just some of the questions I tackle in my article, and I hope this helps start the discussion of how web fonts will affect a visual design process.

And, this installment of ALA is a whiz-bang all web fonts issue with an article on how to spec typefaces by the talented Tim Brown: Real Web Type in Real Web Context.

If you love type, head on over and check out this week’s A List Apart.

Design, Web, Black, Default, Illustration, White Tue, 17 Nov 2009 14:17 GMT
To Sweet Hereafter https://v4.jasonsantamaria.com/articles/to-sweet-hereafter/ https://v4.jasonsantamaria.com/articles/to-sweet-hereafter/

by Jim Coudal

A rumor borne of children talking, what befell All Hallows’ walking
Whispers of “this boy I knew” who on a cold damp sidewalk laid.
Which house on which dark moonlit street, gifted him his final “Treat?”
A Taffy Apple sealed his fate, a “Trick” malevolently played,
by deftly hidden razor blade.

What evil felled him lurks anew. Perhaps hid deep in Charleston Chew?
Does M&M stand for good? Or rather Murder & Maliciousness?
What vileness skulks in Tootsie Pop? Or sprinkled o’er a Lemon Drop?
Might Snickers creamy nougat hide a whipped suspiciousness?
Is blight twixt Twix deliciousness?

So Child attend what you’re receiving, less tainted it by foul deceiving
make Chuckles cry or Pixies sick or unleash a beastly Gummi Bear.
Red Hots that leave the tongue inflamed or Jawbreakers that do as named.
Lest you deny and lack despair and Trick–or–Treat without a care,
I have for you but just a prayer.

The orange moon is for the dying, deny their songs of baleful crying.
Don’t swap Hallow’s hay ride for one on a crepe-draped hearse.
And while in darkness and costume go, note what’s cheerful isn’t so.
As if an early death was not enough I pray you heed this verse,
for fear of finding something worse.


Candygrams are odes to candy by guest authors during the month of October.

Jim Coudal

Jim Coudal runs Coudal Partners, The Deck, Layer Tennis and Field Notes. And he seems to have a particular fascination with All Hallow’s Eve.

Candygram, Guest, Random, Beige, Brown, Red, Skolar Fri, 30 Oct 2009 16:05 GMT
Botan Rice Candy https://v4.jasonsantamaria.com/articles/botan-rice-candy/ https://v4.jasonsantamaria.com/articles/botan-rice-candy/

There’s a communal dimension
to the candy that you eat as a kid.

Take for example, Nerds, which debuted when I was in grade school and quickly achieved a popular currency among my classmates. Every kid in school coveted them, and to get your hands on a package was to participate in what felt like a genuine phenomenon. Like buying a top 40 record on its way up the charts.

Being Asian and growing up with few other Asians as friends, however, there was very little street cred to be found in Botan Rice Candy, which my parents would treat me to when we visited the local Vietnamese grocery store. It came in a bizarre, watermelon–colored package, decorated with obscure, baroque Japanese imagery that might have resonated with kids in Tokyo but was a mystery to me entirely.

Still, I adored its wonderfully simple, colorless sweetness and, most of all, delighted in how its rice paper wrapping was designed to literally dissolve in my mouth. I’d let the entire piece of candy sit on my tongue until my saliva liquefied the rice paper into nothingness—possibly my first introduction to culinary magic—before the sugary core would finally hit my taste buds. The rice paper itself was more or less flavorless, but that made it even better—a secret message passed along in the preferred medium of children: nutrition–free sweets. I never tried to share my Botan Rice Candy with kids at school; sometimes as a kid it’s nice to have a secret.


Candygrams are odes to candy by guest authors during the month of October.

Khoi Vinh

Khoi Vinh is the design director for NYTimes.com, and the author of Subtraction.com. He was born in Viet Nam and came to the United States when he was three.

Candygram, Guest, Random, Green, Photo, Univers, White Wed, 28 Oct 2009 17:34 GMT
In Sugar We Trust https://v4.jasonsantamaria.com/articles/in-sugar-we-trust/ https://v4.jasonsantamaria.com/articles/in-sugar-we-trust/ Federal Reserve seal

When I was growing up, holidays offered early indications that communication design was in my future.

Determined to avoid disappointment on Christmas morning, I made what I wanted perfectly clear to both Santa Claus and my parents, constructing lists that were not only categorized and prioritized, but cross-referenced with several catalogs.

My approach to Halloween was no less meticulous. Putting together appropriately macabre costumes certainly appealed to my creativity, but as a child of the ’80s, even more of my attention was devoted to the maximization and subsequent enjoyment of material gain. If I did this night right, I’d be swimming in free candy well into the new year.

The trick-or-treat neighborhood route was carefully planned and updated each year. Maps were made, time/distance ratios were calculated, cost/benefit analyses were performed. Was that out-of-the-way cul de sac really a waste of time if it was a known source of full-size candy bars (as opposed to the ubiquitous, so-called “fun size”)? Conversely, was the most direct path between two lucrative streets really the best one? The houses could all be dark, or infested with raisins and pretzels, or home to that dentist that smugly hands out tooth brushes. There was much to consider.

Once the final doorbell had been rung, I dashed home to evaluate the returns. The candy was sorted by type, and the types were assigned value and sorted into four tiers by desirability:


Not to be traded or shared under any circumstances. Carefully ration these to ensure that the final piece of Halloween candy eaten is a Level Four.

Poster Children: Reese’s Peanut Butter Cup, Twix, Kit Kat, Dots


Trade for equal or greater value.

Poster Children: Milky Way, Three Musketeers, Butterfinger, Almond Joy


Trade for greater value. Eat these only if this tier constitutes a substantial percentage of the loot. Share with guests.

Poster Children: Snickers, Baby Ruth, Candy Corn, Tootsie Roll


Never eat these. Trade up as much as possible and give the rest away before they poison the rest of the candy bowl. Blacklist the houses that distributed them and mark the residents for revenge.

Poster Children: Mary Jane, Milk Duds, Sugar Daddy

You could say my methods took all the fun out of Halloween, but it would be rude for me to respond with my mouth full of candy.


Candygrams are odes to candy by guest authors during the month of October.

Rob Weychert

Rob Weychert is a graphic designer, artist, and lachanophobe in Boston, MA. He almost never writes at robweychert.com.

Candygram, Guest, Random, Beige, Brown, White Mon, 26 Oct 2009 17:18 GMT