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Mildthing update

Well, almost a year to the day here since my last update. I know, I know… excuses are like peanuts – abundant and poisonous to 5% of the population.  Sue me. 

I wish I could blame this on some horrid tragedy or something but the truth is as I continued work on several projects – Mildthing being one of primary ones, it became clear that I had a lot of work ahead of me. 

Flipper_1980

I could, just start slapping it up for everyone and see what happened.  Or I could take my time and actually put in the work of plotting out the course of the stories and how they arc together into a central theme.  (Which took almost 3 months…)

And I could have just gone with my horrid sketch work… or I could slowly but surely improve my skills and hone them so that… Flipper here, actually has some facial expressions and a personality when you encounter him (and you will… encounter him).  paguk_full

The same is true for the rest of the creatures – and there are a lot of them.raffertybw1980  Human, and non-human, some who are just walk ons, others who actually play an important part.  I’m not an artist.  I’m a scrawl something on a napkin guy.  So for me, getting the concept art down has been a learning experience.  And I’m a slow learner.  Winking smile 

As a digital artist I’ve always relied on images as starters – this lovely old gentleman for example.  He’s one of six old men I found as an inspiration for Sylas Rafferty.  But I can’t actually use that image – even though I did draw it – because he’s a real person.  Died most likely 40 years or more ago.  But the image is someones.  I didn’t create it when I drew it.  It visually belongs to someone else.  I can use it as inspiration – but Sylas has to be original.  So he is.  He’s an amalgam of many people.  I learned from studying the crags in this mans face how I would want them to be in the actual Sylas face.  So there is the dual need of not just becoming technically skilled – but proficient enough so as to create the Sylas in my head with that level of detail convincingly. 

Zombie2_1980

The art end of it – is something I’m enjoying the heck out of.   Even if I most likely get an actual artist to take the concepts and bring them to life – just doing the concepts for it has been a really rewarding experience. 

Other things going on as I work this through …

Every single part of the book is being plotted and remapped.  All of the characters will have at least a concept sketch to them – and yes, I will be checking out all the major ties to the real world.  There are Paguks which are these incredibly scary but somewhat amusing creatures that … essentially they steal your kidneys and leave you in a bathtub with a note pinned to your chest saying “Call 911”. 

Okay… not really – but kind of.  What they really do is paralyze you, then steal your liver and sew you back up with a stone or twigs or leaves as stuffing to replace what they ate, so you don’t know it until you die several days later.  So if you’re wondering where I’m going with these stories… yeah… we’re goin there.  The weird place.  What’s even more weird is… there are real accounts of Paguk existing even today. 

And that’s one of about 30 different creatures in the books.  If I find some reason I can’t use them I toss them on the pile to use at a later date.  But I am researching things pretty carefully.  If something is out of place in the book – it’s meant to be.  But to do that, takes some time – or rather timelines, and character lines, and overlaying these with historical events of the 70’s, 80’s and today… well, that’s been more fun and more difficult than I realized.  And I’m having to go back and relearn how to write again. 

Its odd, it is a bit like riding a bike.  You don’t forget… unless it’s anything to do with ego.  Which is to day, I had forgotten why I gave it up – I was never that good unless I actually applied myself.  So, once again… it takes time.  Cyborg001

So, if this is taking forever… my apologies.  I am working on this as quickly as I can. 

 
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Posted by on April 9, 2014 in Uncategorized

 

The Return of the Mildthing…

Some backstory here.  I was told by a respected friend in marketing, that before I embark on getting a Mildthing set of stories published, I should give people some idea of why they should care, what makes them different, why they’d want to pick up a copy of them and give up a few hours of their life to read them.  I said, “Yeah but I don’t care if they get published, I just need to sit down and get them written.  I’ve been putting this off for like… forever, and it would be fun.”.  And they said… never mind what they said… it made sense at the time, so I’m I guess… Going to publish them for people on the Kindle, and it’s mostly so I own the rights to my own characters and names again… if… that… makes… any sense.  I’m lost but I’m told all the cool kids are doing it so … what the hell, let’s light this candle!

Yay!  There’s the big announcement!  Yay! 

I was also told that since Mildthing was a brief phenomena appreciated by a very small select group of people on the internet decades ago it’s probably a good idea to give people a heads up this isn’t a Adventure, or a bad pulp hero novel, it’s not a horror like a Stephen King or a Dean Koontz, it’s not a mystery, and it’s not comedy.  It’s what it needs to be – in order for the story to work, and that’s about all I can tell you. 

It’s a “fasten your seat belts, please place your disbelief in an upright position and turn off all reality based devices” story.  It’s a take what you need from the story to make it work, and try to enjoy yourself story and those don’t work well for everyone.    sketch3

If it has even a distant cousin, it’s probably David Wong’s books… but even those are very distant distant cousins.  In fact, they’re not really cousins.  They could probably mate legally in a lot of states, but I doubt they’d hit it off at the bar.  David’s works would really need to be drunk,  and even though I have no doubt Mildthing wouldn’t care and would at least fake like they cared…  David’s works are probably looking for something more meaningful and long term than Mildthing.  It just wouldn’t work between us.  It’s not us, it’s them.  (But seriously… For a good time…check out David Wong’s John Dies at the End or This book is Full of Spiders.)

The truth is, I point this out because from time to time, people get a hold of one of the old copies of a Mildthing story that was published waaaaaaay back in the very early days of the internet and I get an email on my MikeNovember email account (yes it still exists) telling me I ripped off David Wong.  Who, btw, doesn’t actually exist – and if he doesn’t exist then I can’t rip him off now can I??  But, for the record, Mildthing predates “John Dies at the End” by a good five years.  1995 for the original concept, with his next published appearance in 1996.  So technically the nice man who’s books I like who doesn’t exist, ripped me off… if he’d ever heard of me, which I’m 99.9999% sure he didn’t – so I doubt very much anyone ripped off anyone.  But the point is, when someone makes that comment to me – I’m actually flattered.  David Wong’s style is fun and it’s always nice to see someone else who’s willing to take risks and have fun with a genre.

The concept of making fun of apocalyptic horror predates both of us several centuries.  That, if anything is the genre these stories fall into be they Wong’s or my or anyone elses work like this.  It’s that somewhat normal people always trapped looking into the endless maw of whichever apocalypse is upon us this week … and dealing with it the best they can.  “Sean of the Dead”, “Attack the Block” also fall into this kind of story. 

If you read one of these, it’s a bit of this, and a bit of that.  It’s all mongrel, very little dog.  I was told not to mention any of that to people because it would just scare them off and they’d stop reading here, and probably go buy a David Wong book, or just go watch Sean of the Dead or Attack the Block instead.

Still reading?  How was the movie??  AWESOME!!!   I frankly hate marketers and feel the average person who reads is willing to put in a bit more effort than what marketing people say.  (They also say most of the people who read stuff do so at a 6th grade education level.  And that they’re very susceptible to suggestions and subliminal and easily dominated repeated suggestions.  Really.  They do.  See why I hate them?) [Now go… Kill my minions!!!  Damn…  I pushed too soon didn’t I?  I need to wait for you be under suggestion deeper don’t  I??)] 

So anyway,  I’m glad to see you’re still with me at least for a bit longer before you go check out David Wong’s books or go watch a movie. ride I was also told I should at no point give people the idea that I didn’t care if you enjoy my stories or not.  It gives people the wrong message.  So, naturally I suppose I should say, I don’t care if you like the stories or not.  But that’s not true, I do care. Anyone who spends five minutes of their time reading something should get their five minutes of effort back and not feel like they wasted their time.  There needs to be a level of craftsmanship to the work, or you’re stealing time from someone and that’s inexcusable. 

So what are Mildthing stories?  Are they ‘crafted’?  No they’re not.  Woodwork is crafted.  The Grapes of Wrath was crafted, artworks are crafted.  Sadly, I am not a craftsman.  I’m a tradesman.  I have to work very hard to be moderate at best.  Writing is not my trade.  So, you’re kind of screwed both ways if you’re looking for that sort of thing.  But they have the one thing I can, and at least try, to give them… which is a lot of thought, care and consideration for the actual story.

Mildthing stories are meant to be dark and harsh, they don’t always mesh, the reasoning, the logic aren’t always going to be there for you unless you look for it, and there are some incredible leaps of faith needed to appreciate them.  Mildthing stories are meant to be like driving an old pickup with a standard transmission that’s missing third gear. If you were expecting custom leather interior, on star navigation, and an abundance of mental cup holders – – you will be disappointed. 

But, if you, for whatever reason, suddenly had a yearning for a drive down an old dirt road in rusty pick up in a dark place with the rain falling in sheets so thick they call up images in the lightning flashes of things in the dark, things that could not possibly be out there.  If you wanted a ride in the front of a rusting old ford crew cab truck that places you next to a scary old man in said beat up old truck without third gear, that smells like something died behind the seat and you really don’t want to look back there, the same greasy sweaty scary man that smells of dirt that you ran into a few minutes ago as you slogged through the rain and muttered under your breath how you’d sell your soul to get your car out of the ditch.  darkhandThis same scary nut job who won’t stop talking about his wife, which may or may not be departed and lying under a tarp in the back seat, her bludgeoned skull leaking slowly under the tarp as her dull eyes frozen in death stare blindly out at the tarp covering them and that may just be your imagination and it’s not that weird to have something wrapped in a tarp with a shovel and a lantern in the back seat of an old truck? Or maybe it’s just your imagination and it’s not a dead body because it’s hard to figure out because he’s drunk or crazy or both but he showed up at just the right time with a truck try to pull that pretty hybrid you were driving around out of whatever ditch you’d slid off into in this god awful rain that won’t stop and you’re just beginning to realize that probably wasn’t the thing to wish for on a dark abandoned road… well we have just the thing for you. 

Welcome to the return of the Mildthing.

Actually there’s no ‘return’ involved. Mildthing was born from a short story called ‘The Postman Shoots Twice’ published way back in 1995.  A comical assessment of a rural postal employee who’d had enough and was out for blood against cupid for having to deliver valentines day cards.

Really.  That was the very first Mildthing story.  A satirical look at love through the eyes of a maddened over worked, under appreciated, physically monstrous, mentally acute, predator out to hunt down a social myth and put an end to him once and for all.  It would be a year later I’d revisit the character and flesh him into something other than a gag joke.  I based him on a real person, a close friend who, really was a rural postal carrier from time to time… and really did go on an all out rant one night about what he’d do if he ever ‘caught that little bastard’.

MommaToldMe_Group1Who was/is Mildthing?  Is he really based on a real person??

I got the idea of the character after seeing a close friend one night driving down the street on his motorcycle at around 3 am.  Back in those days in rural Wyoming in the crime ridden city of Rock Springs, Wyoming taking deposits from work to the local bank and depositing them at 3 a.m. was not only dangerous but frankly, somewhat asking for trouble from the local criminal element.  Considering this mans background, this wasn’t so much asking for trouble from the local criminal element as it was a warning to them.  That was what it was like growing up in the real American outback.  Larger than life people were in abundance, and odd sights like a man driving down the street in a tricked out bike with a shotgun were, frequently, not that odd. 

So Mildthing – – and yes, that’s a term he was actually known by electronically—would get on his motorcycle, with a shotgun visibly strapped to it.  You could, if you were lucky, or foolish enough, see him driving through the empty streets with the early morning mists rising.  This large figure of a burly man in a leather trench coat, shotgun strapped to his side, cutting through the fog with the sound of his bike snarly and slicing like a wild animal.

The only thing missing from the visual perhaps was a sound track of Wagner’s Ride of the Valkyries and the words, “I love the smell of Napalm in the morning…”.  DavoreBikerDeath

So for those wondering where I got the idea for Mildthing, he is as I have always said to anyone who’s asked… a real person.  He does exist.  I have actually seen him, talked with him, and shared a few beers, many cups of coffee, and had a variety of discussions on just exactly how we’d kill epic monsters, aliens and the occasional cosmic entity, should we ever come across them.  In fact, the events of his first appearance are actually based completely on a real discussion we once had on Area 51. 

So the process of turning him into something fictional wasn’t difficult.  The hard part was, in understanding that although yes, he is a real fictional person… that everything in the stories I’ve assembled are ‘real fictional stories’.  Which is to say they’re all based on something real but they’re totally fictional.  Unlike people who say, take history and provide alternate events, Mildthing stories take historically accurate fictional events and try to treat them as reality… which is kind of the same… but … not really.

Bottom line is – if you read in one of these stories (and hopefully you will) that there’s a cave in the Grand Canyon that has Egyptian mummies and a giant Buddha and demons from the depths of hell or lord knows what…  discovered in the 1900’s and kept hidden by the Smithsonian institution for whatever nefarious reasons… guess what?  According to some sources… there really is, or was.  Is it real?  Was it real?  Did it exist?  Well, for Mildthing yes, it did and it does.  In a kind of bizarre homage to the origins of Mildthing, I do everything I can to locate the most bizarre tales and ask, “What if this was real?”  or “What if we explained this … with this…”, and I try to incorporate into every story as many actual creatures, bizarre historical happenings as I can find. 

There are, frankly, endless crazy historical – quasi science – quasi mystical tales out there to draw from.  Historical stories about people who vanished or saw or did the impossible, that are actually documented.  Psychics, doors to other worlds, people who have fallen through, demons and angels named and talked with, monsters too many to mention, diseases and science so far past mad scientist terrain you’d never believe it.  Super secret sects, cults, government agencies that really do exist that … would just blow you mind. 

ShotgunWe live in a universe that’s amazingly vast.  A place where conspiracy theories abound.  If you spend any time in the territory of the Conspiracy community, you’ll find even the wackiest theories have a basis in a fact somewhere in their mythos.  That’s kind of what a Mildthing story is about as well, if you – and I encourage people to do so – dig in them, you’ll find that if I say there’s an island somewhere, or that the lore of this tribe or that says there was once a creature… it generally is.  This is my attempt to pay tribute to the concept of Mildthing that, it’s true or at least in part true, even if it’s not real. 

So, yes, Mildthing is real.  His stories are ‘real’, they’re just not true in that they never happened.  At least not here in our world.  If there’s any truth to the multiverse theories out there I have no doubt not only is there a real Mildthing but all of this has happened to him, and will happen again and again. 

Mildthing isn’t one person, he’s all of us.Mildthing

No human would ever survive even five minutes in Mildthings world.  But they’re not supposed to.  In fact, most don’t.  Mildthing is about humanity and how we survive.  In his world, he sees these threats, he fights the good fights, and even if he wins – the best he can hope for is a few people will know and the rest of the world will just think he’s a nut.   He may be covered in ooze, blood of some creature, and everyone will just want to cover it all up.  Make it as if it never happened.  Because they don’t want that world.  They don’t want to believe it exists anymore than you or I do.  They reject this insane world so he’s learned not to talk about it.  He’s very much alone fighting the good fight, and avoiding the fight entirely when he can.  He’ll run away if possible.  Which, in a way is a comment on real life. 

In  the real world our fellow humans blow each other up, shoot each other, kill, maim, and create all manner of destruction.  We as a people, are hell bent on destruction.  We’ll poison our water, land, air for money and promise ourselves that we aren’t, or it’s not as bad as everyone makes out when all signs point to us doing just that.  We’ll sell drugs to the kids in our own neighborhoods, hire people to murder our husbands and wives, we as a people – will commit unspeakable atrocities to women, children, our brothers and sisters.  We’ll hide or pretend and say, “That’s THEM… it’s not US” when us and them… are the same.  We know it. We know that there but for the grace of whatever cosmic force out there made us as we are – – in some dark part of our soul we know that could just as easily be us.  We like to believe we’re better than this group or that, that it’s an isolated incident, whoever is causing the injustice, pollution, greed poverty that those are the exceptions.  We’re not like them.  We’ll insist we don’t have a death wish driving us all to extinction and worse… when all sane levels of evidence point to that being the true reality of things.  It’s terrifying that we survive at all.   There are many days when living in a world where angels and demons walk the streets tearing the heads off the innocent and guilty alike without caring which is which, where mad scientists unleash horrors and ghostly deaths await us and forces older and darker than the universe claw and scratch their way back to our reality.  A world like that is actually less scary than the real world live in.  Our real world – is far more terrifying than that of any horror story or gore story ever written.

And yet, somehow, we, as a people survive.  Somehow, often when things are at their darkest point in history and our darkest levels as personal humans.  We, somehow, find the humanity in us.  We manage to pull themselves from the brink of the fire and sanity prevails.  Incredible compassion surfaces, and for a few brief shining moments humans make up for almost all their horrors.  We somehow, in some innocent and clear way – manage to balance our debt sheet with the universe.  We manage to stop those among us who, would destroy us all.  We manage to see our failures and mistakes and own up to them, to make amends.  We manage to be heroes.  But it takes a lot.  It takes this kind of inner rage and strength and somehow, someway, this voice inside us all says, “This is wrong!  We will not succumb! We will not go out like this! We will live!”.  If there’s one thing in every single Mildthing story – something you can 100% bank on seeing… it is that moment will be there.   

Despite the bizarre mysticisms and quantum parallel multiverse whatsits surrounding Mildthing and his world his only superpower is, if he has one at all, is that he’s all of us at that moment.  He is – to me – the living embodiment of that inner rage.  He’s that hatred that things should not be this way, that life it is patently unfair and someone ought to do something about it… and no one ever steps up to the plate.  Mildthing is not the guy, who, at least initially is going to do that.  He won’t step up to the plate willingly.  None of us ever do, and anyone who does – you watch them carefully.  They’re probably more dangerous than whatever else is out there. 

Mildthing doesn’t always do the right thing.  In fact, he frequently doesn’t do the right thing… even if it turns out that way.  Mildthing doesn’t care about you.  He doesn’t care about me.  He doesn’t care about anything.  Life has turned it’s back on him time and time again so he’s more than willing to return the favor.  Mildthing is like life in this way, he’s not doing it because he cares.  He’s doing it because to him – that’s how it should be.  If he’s hunting something down it’s personal or it’s pay or because he’s pissed and just doesn’t care anymore.  That’s when he’s the most dangerous.  When he stops caring – even about him.  When the only thing he cares about is that one final moment when he gets to rage at the universe and say, “Go Ahead and Kill Me – I’m still not going to give in.  I’m going to live even if it kills me.  Go F#%* Yourself!”. 

davisThis is reality.  This is what is real.  It’s life. Its also when real heroes emerge.  Its when so much pain and suffering wells up around them that they don’t bother to ask themselves if they’re going to survive, if they’re doing the right thing, if they should have first packed rubber gloves and a fire suit before rushing in and grabbing a bleeding burning man from hell.  Those are real heroes, and we see them daily.  We just don’t honor them. 

We don’t recognize their agony or how unfair it must be that the universe doesn’t just rain down on us, but on them too, so as broken as we all are, these heroes are also broken just like us and somehow, some miraculous way, these broken people manage to suck it up and do miraculous things that shouldn’t be possible.  They’re the one in a hundred stories you hear of the guy who did the right thing when they had no reason to – and they’re more common than we think.  Those are the real heroes. 

That’s who Mildthing is, he’s the hero who didn’t ask to be, didn’t want to be, and if given the choice won’t be.  He’s just never given the choice to walk away that many of us get to have.

 

Why now? 

I recently got a Wacom Bamboo tablet for a birthday present.    I started dragging out old drawings and sketches and found one of my old Mildthing stories which was something that a publisher friend years ago told me I should flesh out and they’d look at it.  I promised myself, and everyone I’d do it … soon as I had some time I’d write the stories, draw up some pulp novel art for it, because MildThing is also a love letter from me to Margo_orgthe old pulps of the 40s and 50s.  As a kid, I had a man who ran a book store bring up me a bunch of books when I was sick once, The Lensmen, Doc Savage, Conan, Lucky Starr, The Avenger, The Spider all these larger than life really bad pulp novels.   I’ve had a love of that genre ever since.  Those short simple stories that – were exactly what you saw on the cover.  They had these sketch like crude drawings them and they weren’t frankly that well written.  (Despite the fact I’d find out years later that “Lucky Starr Space Ranger” was written by Isaac Asimov).  That was something I always wanted to do with Mildthing, I wanted to kind of recreate those cheesy black and white art, mostly writing but borderline almost a comic but not quite books with these pictures just randomly popping up showing whatever was going on – – or – sometimes that had nothing to do with the chapter at all.  (You had to love the old pulps!)  

Anyway, a publisher buddy of mine once said I should collect them and publish them.  Even if it was just a joke and was horrible and just for fun… I should do it.

That was 10 years ago. I’ve been busy.  I’ve got time now…

 
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Posted by on April 23, 2013 in Writings...

 

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Challenges…

It’s always good to update your skills – keep your game up.  We always hear this over and over.  A great way to keep your skills up is to create a challenge and walk your way through it.

Compilation of the videos below….

I was sitting around looking at the latest ads for Batman and Superman flicks coming out and decided I wanted to take a bash at a creative challenge with them.  Here was my challenge (and it’s still going on – btw) which was to create some iconic visual compositions using existing art -  their logos – and then seeing if I could create a very emotive context that summed up the character visually.  Now, granted – this is MY take so if these aren’t how youd do them with the resources out there that’s great.  Go do some.  But here’s some challenges… No existing footage from Movies or TV, you get the logo – the typographical elements.  You can use graphical elements from the comics but not from Movies or TV. 

The jobs to push the comic character – not the movie character.  Don’t get them confused.  We’re not selling the movie or a tv show… we’re selling the comic or something based on the comic.  Oh – and since we don’t know the final look of the character – try not to show the character.  So… kinda… stick with the logo and avoid actually showing the character itself.  Try to stay in that confine and define the character visually.  (Believe it or not I’ve had this almost exact challenge years ago…. so yeah, this kind of work does happen.)
That’s the challenge.  Good luck and have fun… so far these are the ones I’ve come up with…

 

Superman Logo Challenge

Superman – we all know.  He’s about as iconic a hero as they come and there are visually to me two main elements that really sum up Supes.  One is ‘the big red S’ … but even more, is this almost … regal, and regal isn’t really the best description – it’s bigger than being regal.  It’s iconic.  Superman is Mom, Apple Pie – the American Flag… it’s … this iconic bigger than life quality.

If I had to pick an element of Superman visually that describes it, it’s the way his cape flows in the breeze – so I wanted that cape.  I wanted it bracketed and flowing in the breeze – and I wanted that big red “S” on it.  Straight out of those old cartoons I grew up with. 

Batman… needed to be this thing in flight – and he’s been sooooo tied to Gotham and this dark knight thing that Nolan’s got going that I was really burned out on that.  Part of me was honestly, yearning for the days of the old campy batman – and even a bit of the cheesy George  Clooney / Val Kilmer / Michael Keaton Batman movies. 

The Bat Signal that whole larger than life genre that was a man who’d lost his family to something horrid, and was born out of a bat flying through a window.  Not some, all encompassing evil ninja school of vengeance… so I went with the bat signal look in the night.

Flash… a lot of people don’t consider the Flash one of the big 3 you know?  You have Batman, Superman and Wonder Woman – and all the rest of the Justice League are 2nd raters or something right?  So I wanted to do something for the Flash because, hey, he’s like… needing some love. 

I’ve got more to come… I’m working on thoughts for Wonder Woman, Aqua man, and others… because it’ a fun challenge that’s a good exercise for real life work.  Take an existing logo and rework it into a new exciting composition – give it a distinct look and feeling – if possible an emotive level … and keep it under 20 seconds.

 
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Posted by on August 6, 2012 in Uncategorized

 

Why are you selling what no one wants?

Q: Why do we go to web sites?  Or to stores?  Or to movie theatres?  Or … anywhere? Have you ever really considered that question, I mean, seriously considered it. 

People go to places for information, for entertainment, to interact with people, to buy things, but people go to them always for… something.  We go to places because they have something we want.  Pretty simple model for anyone who’s in business… supply and demand.  People demand – and you supply.  Everyone walks away happy.  That’s the goal.

So, let me ask you why… when we build web sites and software and things for people that we give them stuff they don’t want?  Why do we purposely make it difficult to locate our products.  Intentionally engineer them – to be almost painful… and we as users, are so used to this experience… that we don’t even blink when we see it.

Here’s some food for thought. If you bought a magazine (yes I’m back to the magazine metaphor… work with me here it’s worth it…)  would you enjoy the magazine if every article in it began with the table of contents for the entire magazine at the beginning?    Seriously?  How ridiculous would that be.

Wired Magazine does.  Well, their web page does.  Every web page does.  We call it the navigation menu.  It’s this really cool security blanket on the top of every page.  We just … assume it has to be there because – hey, how can you navigate if you don’t have it??  Right??  I mean… right?  We have to have it. 

Let me let you in on a little usability secret.  No.  No you don’t.  In fact, you probably only seldom actually use it, and when you do – you only use it because, well, it’s there.  It’s something we put up there back in the early days when we were trying to figure out how best to navigate on the internet and we, frankly just kept doing it even after people started just using the back button. 

image

Here’s a standard map of a classic style web site hierarchy.  It’s not how you’d navigate it, but it is how the links function… go to the main site – then there’s a sub page… then there’s the info you actually want to see…so this is… what the site really looks like to you.  It’s pretty much your experience.

I get to the page, I click, I click, I read.

But… that’s not how a magazine works is it?  Magazine, I look upimage what I want, and then I go straight to it.  In a magazine… your experience is like this… it’s open and read.  Because that’s what you want.  That’s what you expect of it.  But… what if we drop the concept of a magazine.  Let’s say we’re going car shopping. 

Is your experience one of you go to a dealer and they have 8 cars in the window, and every time you want to look at what they have, the dealer pulls out a flip book and makes you flip through them like a police mug shot book – and then he’ll bring one up to you?  And some of the time, he comes back and says, “Sorry that units not available.”.  And every time he drags out the flipbook – there’s a map of the store that drops down in front of you, and pictures of whatever models they’re really pushing this month are stuffed into your mug shot book and they take up like 25% or more of the pages and the pictures of the actual cars to chose from are like … thumbnails, and you have to ask the guy to bring one up every time you see one that might be what you’re looking for.  That’s currently how a lot of online shopping works. 

Now, here’s what you wish would happen… I come in, I ask the guy if he has any of the model of car I like, and he steps aside and the cars I like are on display.  In fact my favorite models are on display and I can see them right there.  It’s like magic.

image

  Don’t believe me?  Here’s an actual car dealership website.  Here is imagethe same website… with just what I came there to do, and everything else that the web site has on it obscured…

Over 80% of the site… has stuff I don’t want to do.  I mean really, there’s more real estate on that page devoted to navigating the web site than there is stuff there for me to buy. 

imageSo… what’s the alternative?  How about considering that no matter what – there’s basically a 2 tier structure for content, and focus just on the content in those top 2 tiers.  Main Page – > Car Page. Or imageMain Page –> Deals, or Main Page –> Trucks. 

As you can see – this is already getting the customer to their choice faster… they can perform their searches, save them for comparisons, and in general – we’re getting the user where they want to go faster and easier.  We could, include things like financing and research … as an option off the page.  The idea is we get the customer to what they want, effortlessly.  We don’t waste their visuals on navigation menus, on options to download phone apps, and so on.  If we need to provide financing as an option… then we include that as an option.  A good place for this is at the bottom of the screen – because it doesn’t break the flow of what the users doing. It’s not in their face, but it’s an option available and accessible. 

And obviously we’d have a specific details page for the car itself we’ve selected.  But we don’t need all these very big navigations and distractions that break the user out of what it is they’re looking to do – which is find a car.  It lets you sell the user what they want … and not what it takes to navigate your web site.

 
 

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Why print designers have an edge with Metro…

It’s ironic that as everyone keeps reminding us “print media is dead”  that designers who have skills with print media, may very well be best equipped to design Metro UX apps. 

Ever take a look at a Metro App or web site?  Swing on over to the Dev Center at MSDN…

Hh465424.ux_guide_banner(en-us,WIN.10).png

  Take a good look.  Its not a web page look – and it’s not an application look…

It’s all content.  In fact, if it looks like anything it looks like a magazine or a brochure more than an application or a web page.

Like a magazine,  there’s very little chrome there – as the UX Guidelines point out many times.   In fact if you look at like a print type design, it actually looks more like that – than an application.   It’s literally Content over Chrome. 

That’s a concept a lot of people haven’t quite wrapped their head around yet.  Content driving the users experience, directing it, as opposed to the Chrome of the app.   The confusion in many peoples minds comes from the concept that Chrome is buttons, graphics, and pretties, etc., and to some extent it is all of that.  But more accurately, Chrome is also buttons and navigation menus and all kinds of things we’ve come to expect on applications.

But the Metro interface is really more like a magazine or something from the printed media world.  Content is what fills a magazine.  When you turn to a page in a magazine you don’t come to a page which has a banner that tells you how to get to everywhere else in the magazine.  In fact, if every article in a magazine started with a table of contents for the entire magazine it would pretty annoying wouldn’t it?  

Here’s a few actual magazine layouts – look at them and see if you can identify a ‘Metro’ look or similarity…

image

What you expect when you go to an article in a magazine, are pictures and text that tell a story or provide information.  “Content” people often fail to realize that just as a magazine page has images, and  charts and data and text – that’s the content.  What’s in the text of the article isn’t the content on a printed page… it is everything on the printed page.

In Metro, Content is everything on your apps ‘page’ if you will.  Simply put, content is what the user wants to see.   Its what the user came there for.  The actual ‘point’ of your application, of your web site, of the tool your creating.   So, “content over chrome” really means to remove the extraneous, remove the unnecessary, the unneeded elements of your app, and leave behind what the user wants.

It’s in this paradigm that designers with print can really excel over web or traditional software designers.  They aren’t carrying with them the baggage of buttons, scrollers, data grids and objects.  they can say more with a compelling photo and a single line of text than someone who thinks it’s necessary for all that baggage we call Chrome.

They think in terms of typographical elements, understanding the need to punch up titles but keep them short, and that one good picture says more than 100 words.  So yeah, those with a print background have a real advantage over those of us that have to learn to break all the conventions we’ve learned.  This isn’t’ to say that a Web or conventional software designer can’t do it – but for us, there’s a lot of extra weight to carry with all that chrome.

 
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Posted by on August 1, 2012 in Uncategorized

 

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Xbox house party finally gets my attention..

I do not talk about games. It is a rule. Most people think I do not play them – well, other than City of Heroes – Champions Online and DC Universe. All of which began as a professional thing, and worked into a side fascination. They are about the only games that I semi-regularly play and those are mostly because of the social aspects of the game and the friends I’ve made within them. Part of it is just that I do not enjoy them to the tune of $60 a game, part of it is I’ve never been one to go hang out and browse game sites and shelves to find one I might like, and part of it is that I may enjoy them… just a bit tooo much so I typically avoid becoming hooked.

Xbox Live Arcade House Party may… be the end of me because of this. At $15 a game, that I can check out the trailer from my Xbox, and play instantly, well,  I gotta admit it is a dangerous slope to be walking on for a recovering gameaholic who’s playing the “I’m just a social gamer” card.

There is a part of me that thinks I Am Alive… might be kinda cool. And unlike many people I actually really enjoyed Alan Wake but do agree that it needed more action. So, the promised Sequel to Alan Wake, Alan Wake®’s American Nightmare definitely has my attention.

 And this is my connundrum.  Once I start, where does it end?  Haakon (the ManChild) is the ruler of the Xbox.  It’s His.  Not mine.  I make no claims upon it.  It was bought for him.  It resides on the main TV, in part to keep his gaming habits within controllable levels appropriately monitored by responsible adults.  To indulge in my own gaming horrifics… I will need to co-opt the box, possibly for days… which would be… unfair.  (Let me just add the ‘Muhahahaahahahaaha!!’ now… since I know you were thinking it.)  And don’t even begin to act like every other parent out there hasn’t encountered this issue.  If you’re male, and you’re a gamer, and you have a son… eventually it’s going to come down to this moment… or you’re going to have to admit you have a problem and buy your own console, big screen tv, all of that – and expose your addiction to everyone proudly (and rather pricely).
 
There is only one other option…  Make it a “family” thing. 
 
And this is where having these games not only inexpensive, but easy to access, and under the name of “Party” is just cruel.  It encourages parents to fall into the “its a family thing” trap.  Because once you go down that rabbit hole the next thing you’re looking at???  Oh yeah… Kinect Sports and from there it’s Zumba, and your wife’s fighting for time with the game console now. 
 
You toss open that can of worms and it does not end.  There is no bottom to that rabbit hole my friend… no bottom to it. 
 

So I have a choice… fall prey to the Xbox House Party… or I may instead just … possibly… say… connect to COH again this weekend, provided of course I can find several people to run a TF or two… until like… 2 am… when I know the Xbox… Will be Mine!!!

 
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Posted by on January 24, 2012 in Uncategorized

 

Metro for the web… less is more…

Had someone ask me about Metro Interfaces for the web.  (Eyes dart about room in scurrilous paranoid motion…)  I’m going to say, that unless you’re ready to shift some thoughts just slapping a few tiles up for people to click … isn’t going to get you a Metro Interface for the web, and… (ducks for cover) you may not want to.

If you don’t know what a Metro Interface is, then you’re probably living under a rock or your not familiar with what everyone else keeps calling them “Windows 8” Interfaces, which, is kind of right – but not.  Metro applies to a number of interfaces, like Zunes and Windows Phone 7, and yes… Windows 8. 

But you really shouldn’t fall into the mind trap of thinking that because there are similarities it’s the same thing.  Especially if you’re designing an app.  Metro is more a set of guidelines to apply, to allow your app to work on several platforms better.

It’s also a bit of a way to design your app better regardless of the platform because at it’s core Metro has one design philosophy… make it easier for the user.  Along with the philosophy comes the accepted paradigm that less is more, and don’t put things in there you don’t need.

So if you’re designing a web site, you need to start not with graphics or content… but an understanding of “What is it that my user wants to do?” – and just as importantly “What does my app do?”.

Most apps – be they web pages or desktop tools or whatever… have basically one central purpose or theme.  One thing they need to do more than anything else to be useful to someone.  If it’s a web page – there’s a specific message or purpose to it, like “I want to show off my…” [business] [self] [cookies]… whatever that is… that’s the purpose of the web page.  That’s what people are going to come there for, and that’s all they really want to know about.

You can have sub-sections, but those sub-sections should have to do with the main topic.  Because once again, that’s all they really want to know about.

A lot of web sites, even for businesses – are these very cluttered content messages.  “We’re a [law firm] [bakery] [comic shop] [car dealer] [pump manufacturer] …’ and then there’s the stuff that differentiates them from everyone else… “with a [heart] [location] [experience] [drive] [cat] that makes us different.” because that’s what all good marketing tells you you need to do… be different.

And you can… you just… can’t be wordy.  You need to really refine your differences, condense what your business means to people.  And understand what that means.  Most businesses, small businesses never really have to do this because it’s pretty organic for them.  They’re small and they know their customers well and what a customer wants.

What they don’t often know – is what their customer wants when they get to their web page.  So for that… they need to understand that what a customer wants, and what a customer wants when they ‘walk through the web door’ may be completely different understandings. 

Web sites were traditionally a cross between a brochure and a store front in the early days of the web.  As people became more web savvy they became more like a searchable index of goods and services.  Some are very good at this (Amazon), some are not… (think any website you cursed because you couldn’t find what you were looking for…).

So for most people – they’re used to one experience on the web, or the other, or a combination of those two.  That’s not a metro interface.  You can make a metro interface that does that… but it’s not going to end well because it won’t do what a metro interface is really good at which is allowing the user to do what they expect to do – and do it quickly.

All the flickable, clickable screens in the world that slide, glide, tile and shift… will not change the fact that the user had to flick 6 times, click twice and then flick back 4 times to get where they were… to make a purchase.  If the user’s fingers are tired and they get lost in the shuffling screens you will not be accomplishing your goal.

So know your goal.  Know what it is your user wants to do – and what it is you want them to do.  Then, and only then, can you really build a metro interface.  This is because to really be effective you need something that a user can see – and go “Hey!  that’s what I was looking for!” and go “Click”, or as close to that experience as you can make as possible. 

If you look at most web sites – print the page out, and then with a red marker click all the links on it.  You’ll be amazed at how many there are.  How many of those are there so users can find other things?  How many are there because users “might want to find…” or “we have some users who…” type links?  I call these ‘fractional links” because they serve to fracture the users  by intention and send them to specific sections.  This isn’t a bad thing, it serves to categorize them and make it easier.

But… a more skillful approach would be to consider each of your primary “fractions” as needing a site specific to that need.  So – a master Metro Interface, which serves to send the user to specific Metro sub-sites based on that need, as sub site which can be linked by the user directly, and allows them efficient access to their specific need.  You really aren’t changing things much from a work flow perspective – just from the user perspective. 

imageIn some cases, a web site may have links which… frankly aren’t used, or are only used by a small sub set of users.  Look at your web traffic.  Look to where your customers go to, what’s the ‘final destinations’ for them?  Your top 3 or top 6 should be on the page.

Everything else should be clean, clear and understood.  No big “NEW” or “SALE!” blinkies (yess those still exist)… no funky scrollers that appear like a Times Square billboard that say “…ast day of sale!  Hurry or you’ll miss this once and a l…”.  No menu bars which have drop downs on drop downs.  No “Search” box. 

What??? No Search?  No Ads?  But… But… But…

imageSearch you can probably get away with, by having a tile for that… because it’s a high traffic need item, and then use the other tiles or click/flick items as primaries that only have as much information as is needed for the customer to find what they need to do.

Don’t explain – don’t get contentish, that’s for the part of the site the user is going to.  If you have to explain to a user what it is they’re about to click on… you probably failed in the Metro Interface.  Updates to the tiles should be handled with very minimal content types.  A “+1” or something akin to that to show there’s new items for them in this area.

So… why if the Metro Interface is so basic is it the rage?  Because it works.

It’s very simple.  People like simple.  But to make something simple, it often needs to be very complicated to allow that.  The complication comes in understanding the needs of the user.  What are they looking for?  How quick can I get it to them?

That…is the beauty of the metro interface for the web.  If you can do it – do it.  But first know your customer, or your efforts to make it simple will make users go “huh?” and that’s what you want to avoid.

 
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Posted by on January 3, 2012 in Uncategorized