Thoughts on WordCamp San Francisco 2013

Have to say this was my best WC yet. First the bad:

  • I left my phone on the beach the first day. Thankfully someone found it and called my hotel, but I spent the whole evening trekking it across SF getting it back.
  • I wanted soo bad to take SouthWestern up on a delay for travel voucher, but just couldn’t bring myself to do it. Next time!
  • I forgot my business cards.
  • I forgot my laptop power cord.
  • I brought shorts.
  • I totally screwed up my travel plans by not extending my stay through Sunday, and thus missing out on contributor day. What is wrong with me? This was by far the biggest screw-up of the trip.

Now the good:

A few thoughts:

  • It was really well organized.
  • The amount of love for and pride in people’s connection with WP was everywhere. It’s just amazing to see a piece of technology have such a strong connection with the people who use it.
  • The sponsors were almost all hosting companies. Not that I have anything against it, but I would like to see more premium plugins sponsoring. Gravity Forms, iThemes, you heard me!
  • The Mosser Hotel is a great little place to stay, and half the price of anything around. Yeah, you have to share a bath and toilet with your floor, but c’mon people, stop being so pampered!
  • Matt Mullenweg is truly an amazing speaker. The challenge of putting a year’s worth of full-throttle development of one of the fastest growing technologies on the planet into a one hour presentation must be daunting. But he pulls it off every time. It’s fun to try and read into some of the stuff he says.

Maybe the most loaded topic was on WordPress as an app framework. WP as a foundation to build on is a controversial topic, and faces a ton of skepticism and criticism. WordPress will outgrow itself, it’s getting too big, it’s losing touch with the simplicity of just writing, etc. are all sentiments that seem to be all the rage these days, but it’s hard to go to one of these giant WordCamps and not feel confident that the WP world will always remain a truly user-focused, community-driven, open source, and free.


Posts to facebook and twitter

I’m researching plugins that will auto-post to FB and Twitter accounts. Most plugins force you to create facebook “apps” to do the FB thing, a process that I despise. This one is called “social”, and it apparently doesn’t require an app.  I’ll report my findings at the next Buffalo WordPress Users meetup tomorrow evening. If you haven’t joined the meetup group yet, what are you waiting for? It’s free!

Need to design a tutorial framework

There is a huge need for something that would make it easy to design tutorials. As I see it, a tutorial is a step by step document leading the viewer toward completion of a goal, whether it be the design of a graphic, a game, some code, or any process realting to graphic and web design.

The system I envision would present the author with a series of nodes that could be text, image, or video. Text would be written instructions/links, Image would be drag and drop or upload from computer, Video would be screen capture-either a selected window or the entire screen.

The tool would allow authors to create tutorials as needed, store them, present them, password-protect them, even sell them.

The biggest issue with tutorials is that they are difficult to make and wildly inconsistent-two tutorials on the same subject can contain a completely different structure. This tool would  make it easy and establish a framework for tutorials.

Designing Dashicons

The dashicons font created for the mp6 plugin has pretty much taken up all of my time the last few weeks. This even with help from Mel Choyce, Joen Asmussen and the rest of the WP design team.

There are quite a few resources on how to do this, but most of the ones I’ve read, although I’m sure worked for some, went against a few of my own design principals. So I set out to find the perfect workflow for me, and here it is.

When I design icons in Photoshop (AP),  the end goal is a png sprite. Using a split window, I can zoom in on one window and see the actual size icon in the other. I can click on an anchor point and nudge it with the arrow keys, getting sub-pixel placement just right and having absolute control over the end product.

The move to vector as the final source has been really weird and challenging. In Illustrator, vectors don’t anti-alias the same was as they do in Photoshop. That is, if you draw a rectangle with the edges half-way between the edges of a pixel, in Photoshop, you might get a different grey value than if you did that in Illustrator (AI). And pixel snapping is inconsistent. I would copy/paste a shape from AP to AI, and  my perfectly sharp edges would become fuzzy, even though the paths were exactly in the same place. If I click/dragged an anchor over a pixel, then dragged it back, it would become sharp again. Very weird.

The tutorials I read through, and were really helpful, but as I said earlier, there are fundamental flaws with those workflows, at least as far as I’m able to incorporate them into mine. For some reason, 16×16 is this imposing number that icon designers hold sacred. It’s a good target, but it really does overly constrain design. I decided 20×20 was a much easier canvas to work within, and as long as I left a pixel or two breathing room around the icons, they look great in a 16×16 space-not too big, but not leaving out important details in the name of absolute limits. I also got nervous when scanning through the article at all the weird numbers: 2048, 2052, -17something. Do we really need all those complex numbers? As for the article, while trying to draw directly in Glyphs may be the best way, it’s gonna be tough to put aside my AI experience to learn a new method for drawing vectors until I have lots of time on my hands.

After trying all sorts of settings, I came to the conclusion that 20x20pixel icons should be designed in a 2000×2000 upm font. The glyphs article points out that 1 ai point=1 glyphs unit. So I worked in points.

Another oddity was the Glyphs vs Glyphs Mini (GM) inconstancies. Joen Asmussen, who I can’t thank enough for all his help on this, designed the icon font you see at, using GM and following the octicons article pretty closely. I had a trial version of Glyphs, but decided to spring for GM for the sake of consistency. Although I started the font in Glyphs, bringing it into GM was an eye opener. The major issue was that GM doesn’t allow you to change the font’s UPM settings; so when I opened the .glyphs file I created in Glyphs, I was stuck with the 1000 upm I was originally working with. When I decided to try 2000 upm, so that it mapped more (theoretically) naturally with the 20pt x 20pt AI designs, my glyphs all got cut to 50% of their size. Resizing in glyphs was not something I wanted to learn how to do, so I returned my workflow to Glyphs.


New AI file, 20pt x 20pt with points as units
New AI file, 20pt x 20pt with points as units
Keyboard increment set to 1/8th of a point, so I can nudge vectors between pixel edges as needed.
Keyboard increment set to 1/8th of a point, so I can nudge vectors between pixel edges as needed.
Gridline every 10pt, with 10 subdivisions
Gridline every 10pt, with 10 subdivisions
Snap to grid as needed
Snap to grid as needed
Select all your glyphs in Glyphs mini, set widths to 2000 upm
Select all your glyphs in Glyphs mini, set widths to 2000 upm
Choose font info in glyphs mini
Choose font info in glyphs mini
Ascender/caps height to 2000, giving you a perfect square for each glyph
Ascender/caps height to 2000, giving you a perfect square for each glyph
Icon drawn in AI, with a 20pt by 20pt box drawn around it as a bounding box
Icon drawn in AI, with a 20pt by 20pt box drawn around it as a bounding box
Scale it up to 2000x 2000, note the little chain lock ensuring proportional scaling
Scale it up to 2000x 2000, note the little chain lock ensuring proportional scaling
Copy the icon, Double-click a glyph in Glyphs Mini, Paste into the glyph window. Make sure the x/y/w/h are exactly as shown
Copy the icon, Double-click a glyph in Glyphs Mini, Paste into the glyph window. Make sure the x/y/w/h are exactly as shown
Double-click on the "bounding box" and delete it.
Double-click on the “bounding box” and delete it.

You can download the glyphs file, AI source file, and .otf here. Stay tuned for a video post.

WP Icon font

I made a font out of the icons I’m proposing for future versions of WordPress. Here’s how I did it:

Designed them in AI CS6. Preferences set like this:

File handling preferences in AI
Note the copy as settings; apparently you need this so you can copy/paste into fontlab…
AI preferences
Gridline every 10px, w/10 subdivisions. Icons are based on a 10×10 grid. I made the color black so they’re easy to see.


snap settings
Make sure snap to grid and snap to point are turned on, and that you can see the grid.
Close up of a couple icons
Note the extra strokeless/fill-less 20x20px box around the icons. You need this to copy/paste into fontlab and not have them get scaled up.


Then I created a new font in Fontlab 5, with metrics set like this:

fontlab metrics Screen Shot 2013-02-06 at 9.02.30 AM

I copy/pasted each icon-the shape and the invisible bounding box- into a separate  glyph in fontlab. I tried to make it intuitive; “a” is appearance, “d” for dashboard. “p” was problematic; posts, pages both have p.

After I generated the otf file, I used @font-face to embed it on a test page. I set a base size to 62.5% and set the icons to 2.0em; effectively rendering them at their native 20×20 pixels. The key thing is the -webkit-font-smoothing:antialiased property in the css. Without it, they look like garbage. They pretty much look like garbage anyway in firefox/opera, and I have no clue how to get them in IE. But in webkit it’s gold.

I’m trying to get the whole thing on github since I guess that’s what you’re supposed to do, so stay tuned…



Icon fonts

So I’m trying to see if it’s possible to use a font for icons on a site, as has been attempted by the likes of fontawesome and probably many others.

Prognosis to date: it doesn’t look good.

I drew a 16×16 pixel box in Illustrator CS6.

Copy/pasted it into the lower-case “a” glyph in Fontlab 5 (with metrics set to 800 upm).

Exported otf, css3’d it into a basic html file, typed a single “a” on the page, loaded the page in Chrome and Safari, and was disappointed.

Here’s what I wanted to see: A perfect, 16×16 pixel black square, no anti-aliasing, in all major browsers.

Here’s what I got:

Chrome rendering of a 16px by 16px square embedded into the “a” glyph


Safari rendering of a 16px by 16px square embedded into the “a” glyph

Those ain’t perfect squares. They’re close, and the main dark part of the square is 16x16px, but there’s some major anti-aliasing going on.

It’s also funny to note how Chrome tints the edges with a more reddish hue than safari.

I’ll keep playing around, but webfonts for iconography aren’t looking very promising, at least as long as low-dpi screens are around.

[UPDATE 1-26-13] I’ll post on the effects of webkit font smoothing shortly, how that impacts this experiment, and what it means for other browsers…

Coda 2 review

Just bought Coda 2. First impression:
Apple store download took a while. Then I entered into some kind of OSX Lion spaces environment–weird, but maybe it’s because I don’t install stuff from the app store very often.
I opened it, and was prompted to jion the mailing list, which I did. The second checkbox, allowing me to sync with iCloud, was greyed-out, and I couldn’t check it. Weird.
I was prompted to import my transmit favorites. Yay! but I had to allow Coda to access my private credentials for each one. I have like 75 on this machine. So 75 clicks later, I finally imported all my transmit favorites. This could use some work, Panic.
Looking forward to playing with it today!

Let's start using points.

Pixels are dying. Or rather, they’re riding off into the sunset. Retinal display is the thing, and today’s 1080p is tomorrow’s 640×480.

So as designers, we should stop designing in pixels, completely. We should start using points instead.

% and em are great, but they’re relative. So if you tell me something is 1 em wide, I have no idea how big that is. That’s why pixels are popular; they’re absolute. I have a clear idea as to how big a website is if it’s 960 px wide.

Or do I? In fact, px is a relative unit of measurement. It’s relative to the pixel density on the screen. And on a retinal display, pixels are theoretically invisible.

Print never had to deal with all this. Printers have always been able to render insanely small dots-much finer than the latest retinal screens can. Which is why points, or 1/72 of an inch, have always held sway. That and their older siblings, picas, or 12 points, or 1/6″ of an inch.

A point is a point is a point. If a website is 720 points wide, it’s 10″ wide. Period. And any device that renders it can check with its own screen density settings to figure out how many pixels it should use to render that site.

It would be great to see more designers using points and picas in their css. Of course, basing those units on a percentage of a centimeter instead of an inch would make even more sense, but it’s probably too late for that.