Beerzie Boy's Long-Winded Explanation of File's Redesign
Last fall, when my wife and I hired a contractor to build a major addition to our home, we sat down together to discuss how the construction would affect our lives; indeed, we had been warned that remodels had brought many couple to the brink of divorce. I thought about this a lot and came up with a metaphor that helped us immensely during the six months of construction. I told my wife to look at the remodel as if it were a pregnancy: there would be laughter, anger, tears, and some vomiting, but the ultimate result would be something that we would love and be proud of.
And in the end, I was right. There was a lot of laughter (as when the sewer pipe was laid open and my three little boys would rush to the backyard to watch their flushed poop float away); there was anger (when my wife spilled a quart of red paint on our new shag carpet); there were tears (when we had to cut down a beautiful and beloved grapefruit tree); and there was vomiting (let's not get into that now). The result was not only beautiful and something we now love, but it was necessary. Imagine living in 1000 square feet (two bedrooms, one bath) with three small boys. It was either move, expand, or die.
About five months ago, we faced a similar problem here at FILE. We had not run out of space, but we found ourselves in a dispute with Time-Warner in which they complained that our logo (an "Infringing Mark") bore a "strong similarity to the LIFE trademark". Time-Warner's attorney asserted this similarity would cause "customer confusion", and they gave us a fifteen-day cease and desist warning.
Apatrick and I had actually joked about this happening, but we hardly thought that a big corporation like Time-Warner would bother with a puny web site like ours. Faced with this formidable threat, we did what any normal people would do: we stalled and then sought the advice of our friends, colleagues, and acquaintances. And almost to a person, every one said that this was a fight we could not win. The FILE design and logo, which was admittedly a riff of Life's, was close enough to Life's to make it impossible to withstand legal challenge, even if we could afford such a thing. We were also surprised at the number of readers who had not even made the connection, and we had come to feel that, as I wrote after we took the interim step of changing the logo to black and white, that "...it would be a shame if the reading public mistook the current incarnation of LIFE, a hokey Parade Magazine-style newspaper insert, for an actual magazine, let alone associate FILE with this tired version of a formerly excellent publication." Clearly, the time for a change had come.
The timing could not have been worse. I was in the middle of the aforementioned remodel, and our deadline was in the middle of the Christmas holidays. We secured a two-week reprieve and slapped together a black and white alternative to tide us over until we could do a proper job. (Sadly, the legal eagles at Time-Warner were not mollified, claiming that the change was insufficient. However, the less-professional tone of their follow-up e-mail signified that their response had less of a basis in legal precedent and was probably more of a reaction to the smartass statement quoted above.)
But the Forces of Good were on our side. One of the people whose advice I sought, Greg Storey, generously volunteered to help with the redesign after hearing of our plight. I was delighted: I had been following Greg's work for a couple of years and felt his design sensibility was a perfect fit for FILE. I immediately told him yes before he changed his mind.
There's only one way to put this: Greg nailed the design. We needed something that was retro (but not too retro), different (but not too different), and clean. One of the biggest problems with our original design was that the red logo and banner were too heavy: it detracted from the work. Our primary goal is to present our images with a minimum of visual and textual distraction, and our design had not entirely accomplished this. Even worse, the design of our galleries (projects) ranged from the sublime to garish. Greg's design cleans all of this up, framing our pages in a neat, photo-themed design. Moreover, the new logo preserves the original's flavor without poaching anyone's valuable readership.
You would think that, after masterminding a beautiful redesign, Mr. Storey could not do much more for the hapless FILE boys. You would be wrong. He managed to talk Ryan Irelan, another top-notch web professional, into creating HTML and CSS templates based on the new design. Again, the results were nothing short of spectacular, at least from the point of view of a flailing wannabe code monkey. Ryan's code was everything our original code was not: logical, tidy, and, well, beautiful. Please note the use of the past tense in that sentence. My clumsy implementation of his code could not match his, and I am certain that what you see here would be better both on the surface and underneath, had he been the one who ported our old content into the new look.
Actually, cramming the content into the new look would be a better description of my ham-handed efforts, although, at the risk of throwing out my shoulder, I have to pat myself on the back for some improvements I made to our original implementation. The chief improvement to the engine that makes FILE go is the virtual elimination of the hand-coding that needs to be done for regularly-updated elements. I squished, crumpled, and stretched Greg and Ryan's design into three different Movable Type-driven sites: one each for The Contributors, The Collection (which was always managed using Movable Type, but now the thumbnails pages are dynamically built) and The Projects (formerly known as The Galleries).
Let me say a few words about the last item. The name "The Galleries" was -- like our tagline ("FILE Magazine publishes images that treat subjects in unexpected ways. Alternate takes, unconventional observations, odd angles - the photographs collected in FILE reinterpret traditional genres", etc., etc.) -- something we had cooked up during the start-up phase of FILE and which was, after a few months of publication, something we regretted. Unlike replacing our tagline, which would involve too much thought, changing "Galleries" to "Projects" was easy. And more logical. The Projects represent photography at its most intellectual -- carefully planned and executed. After seeing them again during our redesign, I am newly inspired to do something BIG with my photography.
As I rather harshly put it earlier, our Projects ranged from the sublime to garish. This is largely due to my selfishness to try out new coding and design techniques and both of our enthusiasm to try new things. The result, however, was less than spiffy; taken as a whole, the Projects had a choppy, uneven feel. To fix this, we took Greg's suggestion to use Todd Dominey's amazing Flash plug-in, Slide Show Pro, to create all of the Projects. Apatrick worked some long hours to customize the basic SSP template, and not only is it snazzy, but it has cut our production time from hours to minutes. (Notice a theme here?)
Here's the thing: this is a two-man operation, and there are only so many hours in the day. We are both busy working family men, with FILE as a well-loved side project. That being said, we wanted to take as much of the drudgery out of maintaining this as we could, because the fun part of this project is checking out new work and interacting with contributors and readers. Taking the donkey work out the operation gives us time to pursue some great ideas to make it better.
So now that we've laughed, cried, gotten pissed off, and vomited, what's next? Well, for one, you may have noticed that The Print Shop is gone. This is a temporary removal, as we figure out a smoother implementation for this feature. We are planning to add a News feature to The Contributors section, so that we can keep you informed of the latest development of our contributors careers. We also would like to add a Links page, where we can reference some useful resources and like-minded publications and artists. Photo contests, live shows...we have a lot of ideas. If you have any great ideas or an ability to lend a hand, let us know. We're all ears.
Last but not least, I want to thank some people that have help make FILE a great project: our contributors, without whom this site would be reams of babble like this page; our readers, whose continuing interest gives us the impetus to do better work; Greg Storey and Ryan Irelan, for their work on the redesign; my brother, Apatrick, for spending long hours coding, editing, haggling, and drinking beer with me during the production of this site; and my darling wife and three sons, who have withstood various stages of neglect while I fool around with this crap.