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To be the best designer possible, you must code.

Designers should code.
In the last year I have collaborated with other designers on a few projects. In two of those cases, the designs included elements that weren't reasonable for the web. It was immediately apparent that the designers' decisions were purely aesthetic, and not informed by web standards. I realized then that to be the best designer possible, you must code.

Design is multi-disciplinary
Designers will happily write, read, discuss, learn, and otherwise perform a myriad of tasks that bolster their designs. From related skills like color theory or typography, or more intellectual pursuits like information architecture, content strategy, or competitive research. Yet the moment someone says "code it," designers either panic or turn up their nose at the thought.

Design is not veneer.
How can anyone expect to design for a system they don't truly understand? Sure, you understand user behavior, but you don't understand the underpinnings of your design. Without considering the underlying code, you're just making a veneer, and counting on someone else to figure out the details for you. That's not teamwork, it's an assembly line.

Speak developers' language.
Developers are translators. It's their job to translate a design in to language that browsers can understand. Developers fully understand the customs and traditions of their people, the browsers. Have you ever said to a developer, "but can't you just…" and then have them look at you pitifully? Those conversations are frustrating for everyone involved because there's a language barrier. The best way to have productive conversations with developers is to learn to speak code. Once you've achieved a level of mutual understanding, you'll collaborate better than ever before.

Design with performance and mobile in mind.
By understanding best practices for performance and mobile, you'll make informed design choices from the start that result in sites that are both beautiful and functional. That means fewer revisions and happier clients.

Try it. No one will die.
I'm not saying that a designer should try and replace their developer. I am advocating that you, the designer, will be a better member of your team by learning to code. You'll build better user experiences. As a professional, that should be your ultimate goal.

Let's dispel a few mobile misperceptions.

"People only use mobile devices on the go."
People use their phones in a variety of contexts because it's always with them. They especially use them as a second screen when watching TV or even when using a tablet. Look to your own usage patterns.

"Hiding content provides an optimized experience."
No, it's just limiting. If I can view it on my desktop, why can't I view it on my phone? People want a full experience regardless of the device their using.

"Native experiences are best."
No single approach is right for every situation. The right approach is whichever can provide the most consistent user experience.

We visited CES in Vegas this week to see what new and exciting product launches and trends are on the horizon for 2013.

Some things we think are relevant to web designers:

  1. You thought retina displays were sharp? Wait until you see a 4K tablet. Everything is going to need to use vector graphics to support this inevitable leap in display resolutions.
  2. Smart TVs have been on the mass market for over a year, but this year they might actually be usable. Including media queries and reading consideration for televisions is going to be important.
  3. If you've got a SmartTV, you may soon have a smart home too. An increasing number of appliances had internet connectivity— we even saw a connected fork. Yes, the eating utensil. The "internet of things" paradigm continues, and that means content parity will continue to be important. Fortunately, if you're supporting things like semantic markup, open graph, and even RSS, you're already prepared for this.

Some glimpses from around the show:


Samsung had NFC displays on some of the machines at Caesar's. I feel like the same thing could be accomplished better with QR Codes.


Polaroid took a shotgun approach to their new product line, which even included a tablet.


Ever play Angry Birds on a 4K touchscreen? It seemed like touch-enabled devices outnumbered traditional displays.


The CubeX 3D Printer. The march toward desktop 3D printing continues, and we think it can't come soon enough.

Lastly, a note to manufacturers: Enough with the iPhone cases already. CES is 30% iPhone cases.

What devices should be optimizing for?

Operating System

  1. 78.85% iOS
  2. 19.60% Android
  3. 0.98% BlackBerry
  4. 0.47% Windows Phone
  5. 0.03% SymbianOS
  6. 0.07% Other

Mobile Device

  1. 61.72% Apple iPhone
  2. 14.24% Apple iPad
  3. 2.80% Apple iPod Touch
  4. 1.06% Motorola Droid Razr 4G
  5. <1% Samsung Galaxy S3
  6. <1% Samsung Galaxy Nexus
  7. <1% Google Nexus 7
  8. <1% Samsung Galaxy SII

Screen resolutions

  1. 53.23% 320x480
  2. 13.82% 768x1024
  3. 10.63% 320x568
  4. 4.18% 720x1280
  5. 2.45% 540x960

Based on 1,002,486 visits to calmingmanatee.com during the month of December 2012. Of which, 23.12% of traffic was from a mobile device.

Compared with the overall internet population, the site's users tend to be under the age of 35, and they are disproportionately childless women browsing from school and work who have incomes between $30,000 and $60,000.

"We don't regret failing..."

Ethercycle was born in a cafe in Chicago's Gold Coast neighborhood in early 2009. Over a week of energetic meetings, Dave and I developed an idea to disrupt the retail world of cycling by building an ecommerce web app to serve independent cycling fitness shops. We were officially a tech start-up, and life was exciting.

A little over a year later, we came to accept that our business model had a fatal flaw: we were entirely dependent on distributors and manufacturers to supply product information, and they were reluctant at best. At the same time, demand for our consulting services had exceeded demand for our web app.

After some tough talks over whiskey, we mothballed our ecommerce project, and officially pivoted Ethercycle in to a full-time digital agency. It made sense, we were good at building websites, and we had experienced first-hand what goes in to a start-up. We kept the name, and cycling advocacy has remained a part of our culture.

We don't regret failing at building that first web app, and we're more confident than ever in the decisions we made. Not just because our business is thriving, but because we love what we do.

Today when people ask me "What is Ethercycle?" I can proudly tell them we are a team of in-house web experts plus a network of trusted on-call digital experts for niche needs. We are small, focused, and great at what we do.

A 10 column grid system with gutters for the iPhone5 display.

Grids are useful for tools that designers have employed in the creation of websites for years. Based on the popular 960.gs pattern, we developed an iPhone grid system and template to aid in mobile web design.

Download the PSD from Dribbble.

InMobi interviewed me as part of their series on mobile trends...

What surprised you about the mobile advertising industry in the past year?
My biggest surprise was seeing the CW promotion in Entertainment Weekly that involved putting an actual 3G cell phone in a print ad to show real-time tweets from the network.

What do you think will be the biggest mobile trend for 2013?
The proliferation of cheap Android devices will continue. While a minority will continue to use the latest and greatest, inexpensive smartphones will entirely replace feature phones. Our devices will increasingly talk to each other. Right now I can control my Xbox, Apple TV, and satellite box from different iPads. This trend will continue and will see more smart, connected devices throughout our lives enabling interactive advertising everywhere.

What is another 2013 mobile trend that you feel is being overlooked and not given enough attention?
Actionable analytics. We have more data than we know what to do with, we'll see more applications focusing on putting that data to work to generate relevant insights and actionable decisions.

Source: InMobi

We help donate 900 toys to needy kids.

The Amlings Cycle Holiday Toy Ride is an annual charity bike ride event that raises toys for the U.S. Marine Corps Toys for Tots Foundation. The ride was started in 2003 by local bike shop owner Joe Reichert.

For the tenth anniversary of the Holiday Toy Ride, we updated toyridechicago.com to work with smart phones, combined with a guerrilla print campaign, and QR codes, we achieved record registrations. In fact, 24 percent of registrations occurred on mobile devices, an increase of 44.7 percent over the previous year.

The ride joined 116 riders together who collectively donated over 900 toys to Toys for Toys.