Make It Homely

Note: This was written about a previous design of this site. If some parts do not make sense, that’s why. But, I promise, this site is still very self-indulgent.

Making things for other people is tough. Anyone who’s done a client job knows that. Making things for yourself is also rough, but in a different way. Now you’re the client and saddled with the same conundrum as everyone you’ve ever worked for: you have to know what you want, which is a motherfucker of a request. (Pity applause for your clients, right here, please.)

So, like me, if you were to sit down and say “Forsooth! Today is the fine day I begin my own internet merry-making!” you’d quickly follow up your statement with a existential crisis worse than trying to fold a fitted sheet. You’ve opened the door to the rabbit hole of Pandora’s box, filled with mixed metaphors and some unfortunate and unresolvable questions. Like: “If this is a personal website, what’s my personality?” Or, how about: “What do I want to do here?” Or possibly, “What is a personal website anymore, with Twitter, Facebook, Tumblr etc. etc. etc.?” Perhaps you perfer the classic doomslinger: “Who am I?” Later, you look in the mirror and your face is all puffy, because you’ve been crying about your stupid, meaningless existence for two months. At least that’s what I did.

Damn websites.

Obligatory List Describing My Creative Epiphanies

But I did not quit! I did not waver! I stared into the abyss, the abyss stared back, and I said, “I am not scared of you! I will beat your ass!” And I am here on the butt-end of great trials and tribulations, victorious with said new website. Here’s what helped:

  • Acknowledging this thing was for me, in a totally selfish and undefensible way.
  • Deciding that I didn’t want to optimize the content, presentation, or manner of making this site for “best practices.” I wanted to listen to what I was doing, so I could make it be what it wanted to be.
  • Accepting that it’s okay if the site looks “traditional,” and that I didn’t need to opt into a willfully esoteric design or interaction method to make a “statement.” Blegh to pointless statements.
  • Admitting that if I was writing a lot of markup or CSS, I was working against the grain of the web.
  • Realizing that optimization (not kilobytes, but aesthetics, approach, etc.) actually kinda makes everything look the same at best, and incredibly forgetable and useless at worst.
  • Choosing to follow the path that was fun and educational.

That last one was a real blessing, the kind of insight you can ride out for the rest of your life. My little conundrum of a website stopped being a grand declaration of identity and purpose, and started being an interesting little lab to teach myself Sass, Flexbox, Git, Grunt, and local development. (Look at that list. Programmers: we’d all be better off if you used more clear names. No wonder why people are skittish about development. It’s like we’re in a Dr. Seuss book.) I scrapped everything three times, but not out of desperation. By doing, I learned more and thought I could do better. So I redid.

Development was going swimmingly, but I was still no closer to knowing the design or intent of the site. Then I saw a picture of a house.

Straight-Up Homely

Here’s that house:

Eames Case Study House No. 8, Charles and Ray Eames, 1949

It was designed by Charles and Ray Eames, and they lived and worked there for more than fifty years. Here’s a picture of the inside:

Interior of the Case Study house.

The Eames house was everything I wanted: modern, but lived in, made out of everyday, accessible materials. No pristine white, dustless Dwell magazine show rooms here. There are plants and books and lights and seats and dust and you get the feeling it is a beautiful, functional space. There are finger prints all over it. The more I click around the web, the less and less I sense those fingerprints on people’s websites the way I used to. I’m not sure if it’s because of templates, or because those things take time, or if people just don’t think it’s worth it. But I think those traces of people are worth the effort, so I wanted to really work towards having this site feel like it was made by a person, and not some smug guy in a very tight, black turtle neck. Has anyone ever smiled in Dwell?

I wanted something homey. Better yet: homely. Americans think of homely as something that’s unhandsome, maybe even ugly. But the Brits observe the root “home,” since they invented the damn language. Homely, for them, is like a house: familiar, comforting, easy. There’s a rightness to it. For me, the Eames house is homely, because they filled it to the gills with the things they loved. How great would it be to have that online, where you would not run out of shelves? It’s an old dream, and one that’s still alive, but we’ve outsourced it. I think that shelf belongs at home.

House of Cards

Unfortunately, pictures of architecture don’t do much to suggest graphic treatments for a website. (Seriously. I played with wood-grain. Didn’t work.) But, lucky me—I can go back to the Eames again. This time, to another house they built: a house of cards.

The cards are interchangable: they can connect with one another to create larger structures, while each embodying their own visual theme or idea. Sound familiar? Lots of little things coaelscing into a bigger, stable, interesting thingie. It’s the web! Except, um, printed. Since I’m in the mood to be cute, I will call it the “Internet of Thingies.”

So, here we are: aesthetics, content, and purpose all lined up. Make it colorful, make it boxy, make it a little cluttered. Fill it with things that you love, and for god’s sake, Frank, get all of your stuff in one place so people can find it, and you can feel a bit of pride about the things you’ve made and collected. So, if you go down through the navigation, you could see it as an index of my work and passions. Success!

Welcome to the digs, please take your shoes off, and I hope you have fun browsing.

Here’s a picture of Charles and Ray on a motorcycle. I’m only showing it to you because I love it. Expect more of that, okay?