Pay With Square

I’ve been giving a lot of consideration lately to the concept of choice – more importantly, how we choose. It’s far from a new concept and I’m certainly not the first person to think about it, but a lot of my work these days is very much focused on what we want and how we get it.

My mornings usually start out with leaving the house to get breakfast. I could certainly make breakfast for myself and save money, but I’ve budgeted things like this in because I know it helps me focus. I work from home and most of what I’m doing these days is writing and thinking, and it’s pretty hard for me to get started when the place I was just sleeping is two feet away from me. So I’ve taken to leaving the house to grab a coffee and some breakfast – when I get home, I’m full and happy and took some time for myself, and I’m dressed and ready to move forward with my day.

Within six blocks of my apartment, there are ten coffee shops that I can think of off the top of my head. If you extend that number by three or four more blocks, the possibilities just become ridiculous. (This is not a complaint.) For someone who just wants a good latte and a scone most mornings, there aren’t many compelling reasons to choose one over the other – the coffee is very good at most of them. I often end up at the place closest to me only because of convenience – it’s 9 a.m. and I’m sleepy, so two blocks is ideal. Today, though, I walked further to go to another coffee shop, entirely because they use Pay With Square.

Note: A good friend of mine works for Square, specifically on this team. Aside from indignantly asking “Do you mean to tell me you haven’t downloaded it yet?!”, he has exactly zero influence on how excited I am about the product.

Pay With Square is the newest product launch from Square, a company I’ve been following for awhile. I don’t know how much they’re popping up around the country, but here in San Francisco, they’re growing and growing and growing.

When I first downloaded Pay With Square, I looked at the list of businesses that were close to me. It turns out there are quite a few – not surprising, since the Square office is about three miles from my apartment. I was pleased to see a number of businesses that I like to frequent, though, particularly ones that have been known to not take credit cards or ones that sell products that feel a little silly to pull out plastic for (my favorites from the list above feature $2 cups of coffee and $1 cupcakes).

You’ll note that all the businesses here invite me to open a tab. This is based off of my phone’s GPS – from my desk right now I have only one business that has the “Open Tab” option, and the remaining businesses are 0.3+ miles from me. I opened my tab when I was a couple hundred feet away.

I wondered what the experience was going to be like. Because I’m a relatively nervous person, I psyched myself out in the last few feet leading up to the front door. It’s really not like me to actually say “Put it on Jen Rizzo”, because I’m going to sound like a great big dork. And for a split second, I thought “What if they’re super annoyed by people like me who want to put a $3 latte on a credit card?” That’s all in my own head, per usual. The woman who greeted me could not have been more pleasant, and it’s clear that I’m not the first person to order this way.

I strung some words together about opening a tab and Square, which led to her exclaiming “Oh, I just saw you open a tab! Jen Rizzo, right?” And it was done. I ordered my standard latte and a scone, she punched them into the store’s iPad, and I saw them appear on my phone. I added a tip, verified that everything looked correct, and hit the checkmark to close out.

The folks over at Square know what they’re doing. Good interface design should mean that the end user doesn’t have much of a learning curve, but my first-time experience was completely flawless. I never wondered what I should do or how something should work. We know that’s a huge barrier to entry for people – no one wants to look silly or ask questions they think must be stupid or be that one person who doesn’t get it holding up a line of bleary-eyed espresso-hungry commuters. The process was quick and easy, taking me less time than if I was fumbling through my wallet for cash.

There’s a more hidden benefit to the app, though, one that many other companies have had an opportunity to explore but no one seems to be doing all that well. Pay With Square almost functions as a solid mobile website for the businesses themselves, listing contact information, a menu, and an easy link to their Twitter account – all within the app itself.

This is the location’s main page, accessible from anywhere. Doesn’t require a tab to be open, doesn’t even require you to be terribly close. Since I know that Sightglass Coffee in SOMA has always been a big Square user, I searched for them just to check – they’re 2.1 miles away from me, and I can get all their information immediately.

My only complaint about the search function is that it’s currently business-based and doesn’t offer a location search. I’d love to be sitting on BART, heading to a meeting close to Montgomery, and be able to search for all the participating businesses around 2nd and Market. I’m only ever on BART for about seven minutes at a time, but that’s time I could be spending quickly flipping through menus, locations, etc. The ability to explore locations is a secondary benefit, certainly, but they’re just doing this part so well that I’d love to see them take it one more step.

Note, 4/23/12 3:03p: Upon playing a little more, I realized that there is, in fact, a map option. Awesome! I haven’t yet figured out a way to search by address, but the interactive map is very, very useful. Apologies for missing that on the first round. It’s accessible from the main list of locations by tapping “Directory”, which will pull up a drop-down menu.

Basic information. This should be pretty self-explanatory, but if you’ve ever been on the go and wanted to just find contact information for a coffee shop, restaurant, etc. – you know that it isn’t. This is my biggest complaint about restaurant websites every single time, regularly making me defer to Yelp rather than a simple Google search.

Having quick access to a menu is great. Not much going on in the way of visual design, but it’s easy to read and loads in no time. I’m not sure why all prices have a to go and for here option. Not a huge issue, certainly, and it appears to only be specific to this location – other menus I checked out weren’t set up the same way.

I love when restaurants use Twitter. You’ll often find photos of the dishes from that day, or a newly-tapped beer, or a sneak peek at a project they’ve been working on. I follow a lot of restaurants and bars on Twitter, and my plans for the evening are regularly decided by information I see there. Free advertising, you know? I love that the accounts are directly integrated into the app, here, rather than asking me if I want to load it up in my browser or in my Twitter app. I can appreciate the ease of just offloading a request onto another app, but those few seconds it takes to load something externally are a little jarring to the UX flow.

My list of visits is a little boring so far, but it’s exciting to know that I’ll be able to track these sorts of things. A running tab of my daily coffee might not be terribly useful to me, but I can see a lot of great uses as the app expands to additional businesses – tracking expenses, budgeting, etc. These things are easily done through your financial software, of course, but it’s always nice to have a backup.

Your list of visits is expandable, letting you know the details of each visit. One of my more embarrassing moments is from a day where I saw a $60 charge on my bank statement from an Indian restaurant where my delivery regularly comes to $25-30. I called them and sent everyone into a frenzy worrying about how I had been so overcharged, only to discover two days later after they had gone through their receipts that I completely forgot we had people over and were ordering for four instead of two. (I apologized profusely, but have never felt like a bigger idiot.) Needless to say, I am the sort of person who really likes itemized receipts. I am also the sort of person who loses itemized receipts, so I’m glad the Square team built in a system for me on the days where I wonder how I spent $20 on a latte.

Pay With Square is great. That’s all there is to it. It does one thing very, very well. It does a handful of smaller things much better than other products. It’ll be interesting to see how it continues to develop – Square has done a great job so far of focusing on one major objective and not cluttering the experience. I’m looking forward to what’s next, and I’m happy to continue supporting their product as I get my morning coffee.

Hillman Curtis, you will be missed.

In other words, you experience something, and it speaks to you. In the best of cases, it moves us to respond creatively. We want to add to or continue the idea.

– Hillman Curtis, MTIV, p.104

I will always maintain that I became a designer at a really strange time. I’m sure all designers feel that way – and I’m sure it’s not just limited to our field, either. Anyone whose career revolves around technology is in an interesting position. It’s not enough that we sit at a desk and do what we were trained to do every day, we’re also constantly learning, constantly seeking out information. As we all grow and create, the situation is only going to get denser and denser. I’m always both surprised and excited when I hear about a design firm that actively encourages their employees to spend X hours per day, week or month researching something new.

My claim about coming into design at a strange time is mostly rooted in technology, I suppose. I attended design school from 2003-2008. My major was “digital design”, and it hadn’t been around very long. Our college was largely rooted in traditional Swiss design, with a graphic design faculty that was on average twice the age of the digital design professors. The duality between the programs was, frankly, ridiculous. All the claims about the failings of both programs were absolutely true. Digital design students didn’t know a thing about typography, while the graphic design program largely wanted to ignore things like “the internet”. The two programs have merged now, which makes a considerable amount of sense and is certainly indicative of where design is headed.

I read MTIV very early in my career, back in the days where “new media design” was still used to distinguish things that happened on a screen from things that happened in your hands. It was smarter than anything we were learning in school. It was the first exposure I had to what design meant in a non-academic capacity, and the first time it occurred to me that inspiration was something you found all around you.

It seems like a simple concept now, right? Any designer that’s asked “what inspires you?” is supposed to give a holistic response, something about how there’s inspiration everywhere and you have to look to unconventional sources to find it. But at the time, it was beyond me. If I was designing a website for a specific product, I’d look at other websites for similar products. That’s how my inspiration worked. It was too simple, and it showed in my work. I was a young designer taking the easy way out not because I wanted to, but because it just hadn’t occurred to me to do anything else.

MTIV was the first thing that clicked for me. I doubt that young designers would get as much out of it now as I did then. It’s divided into three sections – process, inspiration and practice. Most of it’s pretty outdated these days, which is to be expected about a new media book from a decade ago. But today, if you’ve got a copy, you should pull it out and flip through the section on inspiration. I am amazed to see how much of it echoes how I feel about my career in 2012.

Once I’ve gotten past the self-doubt and all its trappings of self-consciousness, I can begin looking at the work that surrounds me – even if it’s so good I can’t help but feel threatened or is of a different medium than anything I’d use – and see the potential inspiration in it.

Hillman Curtis saw the world then in a better way than I’m even capable of now, and he never stopped. His career was centered not even around just making himself a better designer, but around making design better. He spoke of the value in sharing inspiration and adding your unique point of view. Taking everything that’s been done and figuring out how to make it better; learning the rules so that you know how to justify ignoring them.

My years in design school were often spent wondering why this mattered. Agonizing over a Flash project and getting lost in the details, forgetting the larger picture, not being able to see the forest for the trees. When I was at my worst, I’d pull my copy of MTIV out and flip right to the first page of the inspiration section. (My well-worn copy flips open to the above quote automatically.) I haven’t looked at it in years, but as soon as I heard the news today that Hillman Curtis had passed on, I pulled it off the bookshelf and was overcome by remembering all of those times when I wasn’t sure I was cut out for this. I never had an opportunity to meet the man or hear him speak, but his words have stuck with me for the last decade.

I feel so overwhelmed, sometimes, by all the inspiration that’s out there. I’m so grateful for all the people who came before me and figured out so many of the big things so I could obsess over the little ones. Hillman Curtis was an inspiration to all of us not just through his work, but through the humble way he was willing to discuss his passion for design. His words and ideas continue to inspire me a decade into my career, and for that, I am thankful. Rest in peace, friend. You will be missed.

The future is weird.

When it comes to tech nerds, I fall somewhere in the middle. I’m fascinated by technology, I’m an active member of just about every social media outlet there is, and I work in a pretty techy field. (And I live about 20 miles north of Silicon Valley, but we won’t mention that.) At the same time, I’m pretty analog, compared to other late-twenties smartphone-enabled nerds out there. I can see the value in paying with things from my phone but I don’t necessarily do it. I’m a pretty major Twitter user but when I’m out with friends, I try to keep it under wraps and enjoy the company of the people I’m with in real life. I’m far from an early adopter, signing on to my first smartphone in late 2009 and still not possessing a tablet of any sort. I buy expensive gadgets once and completely run them into the ground before I acquire another. I’m a little doubtful of technology sometimes – just because we can doesn’t mean we should.

My favorite of Michael Pollan’s Food Rules is “Don’t eat anything your great-grandmother wouldn’t recognize as food”. That quote comes back to me all the time, and not necessarily just relating to food. Before my grandmother passed, she was fond of reminding me that Windows were something you opened, and mice were what you threw out of them. (Don’t come after me, PETA, I didn’t say it.) She never touched a computer in her life and somehow managed to get by. I try to find myself amazed by the basic technology in my life, but I’m just so used to certain things that it’s really difficult. In a recent Louis C.K. special, he summed that idea up much better than I ever could:

‘I had to sit on the runway for 40 minutes.’ Oh my god, really? What happened then, did you fly through the air like a bird, incredibly? Did you soar into the clouds, impossibly?

I’ve run into a couple of situations in the past week that just can’t be ignored, though – sometimes technology just smacks me in the face. Here are my favorites:

  • I’ve spent the past month working for a great design firm in Larkspur, CA. Larkspur is pretty close to where I live, but I don’t have a car and the work I do is so video-heavy that it sort of begs for a very powerful computer, so I’ve been doing all of the work from home. My manager and I feel like we work next to one another, thanks to Dropbox, iChat, Google Docs and our mobile phones. We’re sharing a folder directly from our respective computers with one another. When we save something there, on our personal hard drives, the other person also has it saved on their hard drive in a matter of minutes. We’re 20 miles away from one another and not touching the same network, but we’re sharing files instantly. We talk on the phone and IM one another all day and communicate through a shared spreadsheet where we can watch one another’s notes in real time. As soon as one of us has a thought, the other one is able to process it, respond accordingly and move on.
  • A friend invited me to dinner at 6:00 last Tuesday, and I had a somewhat important deadline to meet. I knew I’d be able to finish up the work in time, but this file takes around an hour to render, which meant even if I finished before I needed to leave, I wouldn’t be able to check the final output until at least 7:00. Pushing dinner back would have been inconvenient for everyone else, but skipping dinner just to sit around my house and wait for my file to be viewable seemed like a waste of time. The solution? Left the house at 5:45, rendered the file straight to Dropbox, and viewed the animation on my phone when it finished rendering. (I did excuse myself from the table and let everyone know ahead of time that I was going to have to step away for a work obligation; my friends are also workaholics so this sort of behavior is often allowable.) I was then able to text my manager and let him know that everything was kosher, all without having to miss time with my friends or panic and run back home early.
  • I was asked to come in and meet a team at a potential new freelance gig. This job is pretty transit-adjacent (a 30 minute walk from the closest BART station, or a short bike ride) and is only ten miles south of my house, so it’s also bicycle-friendly. But either of those options would take me about an hour each way, and it was a very busy day for me. It would only be a 15 minute drive, but I don’t own a car. Zipcar to the rescue! I pulled my phone out of my pocket, opened an application and booked a rental car for two hours. The entire process took about 45 seconds and a car was waiting for me one block east of my house the next day when I needed it.
  • The Zipcar experience alone is fascinating. You log on to a computer or pull out your phone, select a car, walk to a location within a couple of blocks of your current location, wave a special card over the windshield, get in and drive. I’m not a power user by any stretch of the imagination; my Zipcar trips are really for family visits, airport pickups and occasional pre-party grocery store runs. I use it every single time I need a car, and that has never once exceeded $1500 per year for me to drive a brand new car whenever I want. I can’t remotely imagine owning a vehicle at this point.
  • I’m a special events bartender at a beer bar. (This basically means I don’t mind crowds, am terribly friendly, and am therefore a somewhat ideal candidate for facing a group of angry people that have been waiting ten minutes for a drink.) I worked a big event last night that was only made possible through social media. And this wasn’t the first time, either. It was “advertised” via Twitter and Facebook. The local blogs (Eater, SFoodie, etc.) picked it up and wrote about it. People came in to this neighborhood bar to eat food from vendors they had never heard of, because they saw it on the internet. So many of my friends’ businesses simply would not thrive without Twitter.
  • Related: Every time I bartend, at least five people come up and introduce themselves, and they lead out with a variation on “You’re jrizzo, right?” (Occasionally it’s changed to “at” jrizzo.) Say what you will about social media detaching all of us from one another, but I’ve met more people in this city over the past three years via Twitter than I would have by any other method.

What I love the most about all of these things is that they’re examples of technology bridging a gap and making things better. Is it rude to step away in the middle of dinner to check a quick email on my phone? Probably, but if the alternative is entirely missing dinner in favor of work, I would rather my friends pull their phone out for two minutes at the dinner table any day. And I’m so grateful that somehow, posting inane status updates about what beer I’m drinking or what silly thing my boyfriend said has made my name and face recognizable to complete strangers when I pour a beer for them.

So, how about you? What’s working so well, it just blows you away?

Vegas, Baby!

If I could take a vacation anywhere in the world right now, it’d be Vegas. True story. Given a plane ticket with no destination and an unlimited travel budget, I’d go somewhere that Virgin America regularly flies from my town for $49. (I’d certainly stay somewhere nicer than I did last time, however. I bet room service at The Cosmopolitan is spectacular.)

I love Vegas for a lot of reasons. One, I like food, booze and gambling, so traveling to a town that doesn’t encourage me to be a better person is certainly my idea of a vacation. Two, there is no city in America that pays more attention to its image than Las Vegas. We agonize over New York skyscrapers and god knows you can’t put up a sidewalk cart in San Francisco without an Environmental Impact Review, but when it comes to “look at me” architecture, everything flies in Vegas. Some of it is effective, some of it is over-the-top gaudy. But if you’re looking to try a ridiculous idea that won’t take off anywhere else in the world, you can sure make an attempt of it in Vegas.

When we went on a trip back in February, we accomplished three tasks: finding everywhere on the strip that you could get a solid beer, finding the cheapest poker tournaments, and wandering through every single mall in every single hotel we stumbled into. (Mind you, Vegas is quite cold in February, and we didn’t know that, so let’s just say my big visions of laying out by a pool and rotating my way through every tropical drink on a menu were cut short.) You could spend a week going through casinos, taking pictures and analyzing architecture and you’d still miss half of it. I spent the early part of my career working at an architectural firm that specialized in large public spaces and an interior design firm that specialized in retail spaces, so Vegas is sort of a playground for me. As I mentioned, this trip was awhile ago, so some displays have most likely rotated by this point.

Bellagio exterior, daytime

The Bellagio is one of the newer hotels on the strip, constructed in 1998. All the structures on the strip are massive, so finding a way to set yourself apart is often important. There are two main drags that run through the strip, and the Bellagio is right in the center. While there’s a strong amount of automotive traffic (the main roads are at least four lanes), most of the traffic you’ll find here is pedestrian. How do you draw attention to yourself? In the case of the Bellagio, setting your main building far, far off the strip and separating yourself from the sidewalk by an eight acre lake with regular fountain shows set to booming music is a pretty great method.

The Bellagio structure itself is gorgeous, but you’d never know it if it butted up against the sidewalk. And they’re doing neighboring hotels quite the service by devoting so much of their property to open space – everywhere you look, from one side of the lake, you’re set so far apart from everything that the scale of these huge buildings is really put into perspective.

And, of course, with such a majestic exterior, you’ve got to follow the experience with a majestic interior. The Bellagio doesn’t disappoint.

The Cosmopolitan is the newest hotel on the strip and had been open for only two months when we visited. (It officially opened in December 2010.) Its aesthetic entirely focuses on modern, hip luxury – the flashing lights and slot machines are there, but they’re obscured by clean lines, crystal, and spaces that interact with caution, gently transitioning into one another but functioning separately.

The juxtaposition here between soft texture and hard, graphic lines is an excellent way to provide separation for the various lounges you encounter on your way into the casino. This softness+blocky neon motif continues for most of the first floor.

The use of crystal here would be over the top just about anywhere, but somehow in Vegas it manages to remain classy. They’re clumped together here, hundreds and hundreds of them stacked upon one another, creating an elegant centerpiece.

Elsewhere, we keep with the crystal theme and provide an extra textural element that’s meant to slightly obscure what’s behind it without separating it entirely. This is how The Cosmopolitan leads you from space to space – it gives you a glimpse into what’s to come but makes you wonder what’s really back there.

No detail is spared attention – what you see here is the vehicle entrance to the Cosmopolitan lobby. This view is too easy to overlook. It’s where cars will drive in and therefore offers the largest opportunity to get dirty immediately. It’s such a simple solution to just decide you don’t care about this sort of entrance and devote most of your attention to the actual lobby – after all, this is hardly a stopping point and really just exists as a transition. But here, the luxury starts when you exit your vehicle, not just after you’ve grabbed your bags and walked in to the door. It’s not every day you see white lampshades in a parking garage.

The lobby itself is no slouch, either. Remember that this is a brand new structure built from 2006-2010 – there was never a need to hide hundreds of bulky cables, CRT monitors, computer towers and printers. This is a hotel where you’re checked in via iPad – who needs big, closed-off front desks that keep you separated from the staff? The desks keep the space open, and the romantic styling of the furniture lends warmth to a space that’s so modern and clean it could otherwise run the risk of appearing sterile.

The screens lining the walls behind the desks are a small-scale interpretation of the massive motion graphics displayed on oversized columns throughout the rest of the lobby. As you can see from all the people standing around, they’re certainly visually compelling. I’m glad they resisted the temptation to make these informational – it’d be overwhelming. These screens solely exist as constantly variable texture. There are layers of depth here – if you want to get up close, you certainly can – but they’re ultimately just there to provide visual interest from any distance. The mirrored ceiling keeps the illusion extending upward and lends a little height to a (comparatively) low space.


When I was working in retail space in 2007, we were seeing the beginning of the interactivity trend. We didn’t have iPads yet, but we did have iPhones and other touch-screen devices, and with the invention of large-scale multi-touch screens (the Microsoft Surface was predicted to change the retail industry at that point), and we knew that we’d be moving that way over the next few years. It’s a little surprising that it’s taken so much time for us to move in that direction, but we’re still working out the kinks. The Cosmopolitan uses an interactive display in lieu of traditional floor maps, enabling you to get more information than would be possible on a static display. An interactive display is particularly effective in this sort of environment – a two-story shopping mall might not really benefit from an interactive floor map, but this multi-use skyscraper has a little too much going on to make print an effective option. And when you’re checking people in via an iPad, you’ve sort of already committed to digital options anyway.

The All Saints store in The Cosmopolitan takes a scaled-down approach to interactivity in their store, but does it quite successfully. Their aesthetic is entirely handmade and raw, but their target audience is the digital generation. In order to keep the focus on their products, unmarked display walls are combined with informative iPads. See a pair of boots on the wall that you like? Check out the iPad to see what they’ve got in stock and how much they’ll set you back. It makes for a really great experience if you’re wandering through the store browsing – no massive signs competing for your attention, just beautiful products.

The outside’s no slouch either. Their sign repeats the company name over and over in lights as a graphic element with a nod to Vegas, and a store with a glass front creates a defined interest by lining the front walls with antique sewing machines. All Saints prides themselves on keeping up a unified aesthetic but always contextualizing themselves into whatever space they’ve got – this is All Saints Vegas, and it’s done quite well.

One building over, inside the Aria, we found the Porsche store. A dark, mirrored back wall contains little pieces of motion graphics, without interactivity but still in a constantly fluid format. We weren’t as impressed with the technology here – the execution of the graphics in the wall is flawless, but the content isn’t much to look at. The motion design isn’t as strong as it could be and they’re ostensibly using it as a display to entice you into their products. I would have expected a little more out of a luxury retailer, but I’m not quite their target market, either.

When The Mirage opened in 1989, it was the most luxurious resort on the strip. There are bits and pieces now that seem outdated, but it’s been through enough changes over the years that it holds up relatively well to the test of time. The layering from the street view is great – it pushes you back from the main structure, employing a technique similar to the Bellagio, but instead of leaving that space open it gradually ramps up its landscaping to eventually pull your eye up to the height of the building. The gold windows, particularly when the sun catches them, are a sight to behold.

The space division in The Mirage is a little more traditional than The Cosmopolitan, but ultimately chooses to stay relatively open. The bar pictured above takes on a very different aesthetic than the other individual spaces around it, but leaves the front entirely open and just separates using low walls, so you can see in and out with ease. They’re relying on individual visual design to differentiate rather than focusing on actual dividers, to a pretty successful result.



The most separated of The Mirage’s spaces is Revolution, a bar that also functions as the last thing you’ll see before you enter The Beatles’ LOVE theater. It’s also one of the most recent designs here, opening in 2006. It’s a great space. The huge lettering at the front provides a great divider for the space, the bar itself is beautiful, and the design effectively bridges the aesthetic gap between the shiny casino behind it and the clean, bright theater just past it. And I’m a sucker for a gorgeous back bar.

The entrance to LOVE is just plain fun. You’ve got your very own rainbow carpet underneath you, and using shiny white surfaces everywhere simply reinforces the importance of the entrance. The mirrored spheres above the corridor are my favorite, lending an awful lot of visual interest to an otherwise boring dropped ceiling. All lines here pull your eye directly to the silhouettes at the end. Sparkly and shiny and fun.

Across the street and just a few feet down is The Venetian, an embodiment of traditional class and luxury. The Venetian sticks to its image throughout – everywhere you go, the idea is reinforced that you’re standing somewhere fancy. Despite relatively recent construction (late 1990s), it ignores the compulsion to go modern and sticks with what Vegas does best: overdone and big. The structure itself backs up all the flourishes and details, creating a big open space that allows room for them and doesn’t crowd you in.

I’ve been to the Napa Bouchon multiple times (as well as the bakery and Ad Hoc) and am pretty convinced that Thomas Keller can do no wrong. I love the Vegas interpretation of Bouchon – it’s a big, big space, and it’s difficult to make big spaces feel intimate and comfortable while you maintain an air of sophistication, but they manage to do it here. The food is incredible, of course, and they’ve managed to make the restaurant feel like a French bistro without making it kitschy. Certainly worth a visit, and fits in with the Venetian’s grand aesethetic.


Also contained in The Venetian is the original Sin City, which is ultimately a small kiosk in the retail/dining area. The Venetian has allowed all of its outside vendors create whatever space they want, and Sin City opts here to stick with their aesthetic (this is one of three locations on the strip for their brewery) instead of molding to the architecture around it. It would almost feel more out of place if it DID stick to The Venetian – Sin City has a pretty strong image, and this bar only seats about ten people in a very small space. I love little kiosks like this. The visual design is really strong, and even though you’re only separated from The Venetian by your own back as you sit on the bar stool, it really does feel like a separate world.

The bar top is the same one used at the larger location in the Flamingo (I haven’t visited their third location, so I’m not sure if this is standard across all three). A little swirly and disorienting, but fits in really well with the bad-boy Sin City branding. And if you’re nice to the bartender, after awhile she’ll pass you these shots, which taste an awful lot more like Mountain Dew than you would imagine. I think there was a cactus on the label. It was a long trip.

Unfortunately at the exact opposite end of the strip from where I was staying is my very favorite location to get a good beer, Pour 24. I’ll save all the descriptions of why this is a great beer bar (I’ve got another spot for that sort of behavior), but this is also my favorite example of a kiosk-type location in Vegas. Pour 24 is in New York, New York, and has little to do with its surroundings. It is entirely open – not even a low dividing wall here – and overlooks the casino floor. It’s also gorgeous. The displays for liquor bottles are an awfully fun visual element and they’ve come up with a simple blue-and-yellow color palette that’s reinforced throughout the small bar without being a punch to the face. It’s unassuming but sort of draws you in at the same time. Televisions are placed high enough to not really disrupt the space but I can attest that you won’t strain your neck if, say, you’ve got a terribly important basketball game to watch. (Though we certainly don’t need to be concerned about THAT this season, but I digress.)

And my word, look at that bar. Drinking a beer in a complimentary color certainly helps.

And on another beer-related note, it’s fun to contrast Pour 24 with another one of the (only) beer-focused spots on the strip: The Pub at Monte Carlo. I just love the back bar here – when you’re contending with around 100 tap handles, it’s difficult to figure out what to do. They’ve left a lot of space between the taps and the front of the bar to enable their large staff to move around and pour, but that pushes the tap handles pretty far back from the customer. To give you an idea of the type of bar they’re running here, they’ve used the high ceilings to display a series of beer logos, and while I wish they were putting in a couple more of my favorites instead of playing so heavily to the macro breweries, it certainly does scream “this is where you can get a beer”. The space is just huge and really demands a centerpiece of a bar, and they’ve accomplished that reasonably well here.

I might live in San Francisco, but I love Las Vegas. Everything competes for your attention to varying degrees of success. The approaches here certainly wouldn’t work everywhere, but we can stand to learn a lot from the attention to detail. I can’t wait to see what’s changed on my next trip.

Beer Tracking: A Better Way

In my non-professional life (which is not to overlook my bartending career, of course), I’m a pretty massive beer nerd. I am that person who will fly across town at a moment’s notice to find the just-tapped rare keg of some bourbon barrel-aged whatever, who always takes a second suitcase on vacations for purposes of bringing back beer from my destination city, whose supposedly-networking-based Twitter feed is over 50% nerdy discussions about this ale or that. We’ve all got our vices (I prefer “hobbies”), this is mine.

Over the past few years, a number of mobile apps and websites have emerged to make beer consumption a little easier. Through a combination of Twitter, Foursquare, BeerMenus (mobile website, but no app) and Untappd, beer nerds are more connected than ever.

We put in an awful lot of work for it, though, and I tend to skip most of the options out there because they simply take me away from the people I went to the bar with. I typically check in to a location on Foursquare before I actually arrive so that I’m not even messing around with that. It’s why I don’t use Untappd much – I just don’t want to be constantly ignoring the people I’m with.

Before we go any further here, let’s define the basic tools beer nerds have at their disposal. (Note: I realize there are other tools on the market; this is my personal system and the one I know most of my friends are using as well. I also realize there are beer tracking apps other than Untappd, however, it seems to be the most popular cross-hardware option out there and is therefore what I focus on.)

  • Twitter – Certainly not beer-specific, but very important in the San Francisco beer community. Most of the key beer bars in the city are using it to announce new arrivals, and even if they aren’t, our community is so obsessive that we instantly share whatever we’re excited about on their behalf. It’s not uncommon for me to see four or five people post what they were drinking at Toronado/City Beer/Beer Revolution, etc. Events are also announced ahead of time and constantly re-tweeted, so for those of us with desk jobs, it’s pretty easy to drop in around 4:00 and see where we should be drinking that night. I credit Twitter with at least 80% of the people I know and the cool events I’ve been privileged to attend.
  • Foursquare – also not beer-specific, but it sure is for me. I use Foursquare almost exclusively for the app itself (i.e. I very rarely have it cross-post to Facebook or Twitter) and am pretty private about who I add as a contact, as well as where and when I check in. If I’m checking in on foursquare, that’s a sign that I’m happy to meet up with my authorized friends if they’re in the area. If one of my friends checks in at a bar around the corner from me, I’ll probably drop by and see them. Likewise, I don’t mind if they stop by and see me. And since the pool of places we go to is ultimately pretty small, even in a big city, this often results in fun social outings that I might not have had otherwise.
  • BeerMenus – A great concept that no one uses. Harsh, probably, but it’s among my biggest pet peeves. What BeerMenus is set up to do is be an open source collection of every beer list at a bar. Anyone can update it – in fact, when I’m bartending, I try to update it that day so that just in case someone looks at it, it’s up to date. It’s a big job, though, and often takes me at least 20 minutes of searching and double-checking our list. I’ll do it even when I’m not bartending, and if I’m somewhere that has a beer I really appreciate, I’ll add it – but you can never trust its accuracy unless someplace specifically advertises that they update there. (Healthy Spirits keeps theirs shockingly up-to-date and I find this immensely useful.) The tool is set up, but let’s face it – no one is using it.
  • Untappd – Originally a mobile web app and now native on both iPhone and Android, Untappd is my beer-tracking tool of choice. The idea is simple: You’re drinking a beer that you either want to remember (my method) or you want to let your friends know about (less my method, but many people use it this way). In the same way that you check in to a location with Foursquare, you “check in” to a beer. There’s a searchable database that you can add to from your phone, as well as an option to rate the beer, leave comments, and add your location if you so choose. There’s a social aspect here as well, where you can look through your list of friends and see what they’ve been drinking and what their thoughts are on what they’ve had lately.

Four great tools at our disposal with somewhat overlapping information. The problem? No one plays nice, and everyone suffers. Let’s talk about how the user experience of these tools.

User Experience, or “Things you do on your phone while you should be socializing and drinking with your friends”

Let’s walk through my walkthrough when I go into a bar. I probably won’t be using Twitter, and I won’t be using BeerMenus once I’m in the door, so we’ll focus on just Foursquare and Untappd.

I’d like to note that I’ll be doing some criticizing here, and it should be noted that criticism comes from a place of respect. Having the ability to whine about the existing system means there IS an existing system that has so many good ideas, it’s been forcing me to sit down and very seriously consider what isn’t working. I’m so impressed by the teams that have put the existing tools out there, but now that we’ve got those tools, we’re overlooking a lot of important links.

The first thing I usually do is check in via Foursquare. I’m either on my way or just walked in the door, don’t have my menu yet, and so I have a few free seconds to play with my phone without it interrupting my experience. I’m skipping the first two screens for purposes of not putting my friends’ personal Foursquare data all over the internet, but this is a five screen process.

  1. If you’re opening your app for the first time in awhile, you’ll see your Friends screen, which lists all your friends’ checkins in backward chronological order.
  2. On my Android phone, I hit the Search key to open a dialogue that says “Find places” at the top, followed by a dropdown menu of everywhere I’ve searched for recently. Since I’m not a huge Foursquare user and I’m a regular at a number of places, I often can just scroll the list down a few entries to find where I want to check in, otherwise, I can start typing. As you enter keys, it narrows down your list, so by typing in “pi”, I usually find Pi Bar pretty quickly.
  3. This brings up a screen confirming my location, its address, people currently checked in and tips that other happy boozers have left.

  4. Hitting “Check in here” takes you to a page with additional options – leaving a comment, sharing or not sharing (if you choose to not share, it checks you in to the location but shows you as “Off the Grid”, which I suppose comes in useful for those moments where you want to remember where you’ve been but don’t necessarily want to make your location public), as well as exporting your checkin to Facebook or Twitter. Note: This doesn’t connect to Facebook Places for a second checkin, simply posts to your Facebook wall with a link to Foursquare.

  5. Once you’re confirmed, it lets you know that your checkin has been successful, and in my case, confirms that you are a drunk. (If I mentioned that they also have food and are 500 feet from my door, does that make my 95 checkins better? And that those 30 weeks probably all involve trips to Pi Bar because slices are like $3? Let’s just pretend this isn’t from my real phone and move on.)

Five screens to navigate through in order to check yourself in. Provided you’ve got a fast phone and a fast service provider, not necessarily the worst thing in the world. The Android OS does allow customization in the form of adding Foursquare locations to your home screen, meaning if you go someplace regularly (as your resident drunk clearly does), you can make a little shortcut straight to your favorite places and tuck them on a side home screen somewhere, saving you two steps. I presume iPhone users are probably stuck going through the whole process, but I’m happy to be corrected by someone on this.

If you’ve ordered a drink that you’re excited about – and if you’re me, you probably have – it’s nice to have that recorded somewhere so you can tell someone about it, remember to buy it at your local store, or just remember that you’ve had it before if you go somewhere new and are examining their list. This is where Untappd comes in.

  1. Again, to protect my friends, where they are, what they’re drinking – I’ve skipped this first screen. You’ll find yourself on the “Friends” tab when you first launch, which lets you know what your friends have been drinking, in reverse chronological order.
  2. Navigating to “Drink Up” shows me things I’ve had recently, as well as beers that are popular at this time.

  3. Let’s imagine I’m drinking an Anchor Liberty, a fine beer made right here in San Francisco, and a staple on the Pi Bar menu. When I search for “Liberty”, it happens to be the first one on the list.

  4. Clicking it gives me the style of beer, its ABV, the average rating, my rating (if I had entered one in the past, which I haven’t for this beer), as well as checkin options and additional information down below.

  5. Hitting “Check-in to this brew” brings you here. You can call it quits and check in, add a comment, add a photo, or attach your location, which is often important to me.

  6. Attaching your location brings up your favorites in the area as well as additional places that are close to you. For some reason mine is a little skewed here and believes I’m a few miles from where I was when the screenshot is taken. Since my location isn’t on this list, I’ll have to search for it.

  7. Searching for “Pi” hits the Foursquare API and returns a list of locations. It occasionally bothers me that I get things in this list that are clearly not drinking locations, but there’s a good reason for that – are you drinking at a concert? In a park? At home? It typically doesn’t force me to do much searching, which makes me wonder if it does in fact prioritize restaurants and locations that are clearly beer-friendly. Still an additional screen to search through.

  8. Finally, we’ve arrived at a confirmation screen. My beer, my bar, my additional information if I had chosen to enter it. One last option to correct or delete.

  9. You’re checked in to both the beer and the location, and here are some suggestions of other beers you might like. (This is rarely helpful for me, but if the algorithm was improved, I can see how it would be a useful tool to people newly getting in to beer.

This is a lot of steps. We’ve gone through fourteen separate screens, ultimately duplicated information, and depending on how much searching and crawling through information you need to do along the way, that amounts to a significant time investment. Two minutes might not be much in the grand scheme of things but it may very well make you feel like a great big jerk if you’re out with your friends and compelled to screw around with your phone for that long instead of enjoying their company.

And ultimately, this is the problem. I love having these tools at my disposal to help me remember where I’ve been and what I’ve been drinking – I’m a homebrewer, and I love to learn about new styles and flavors via tasting whatever strange beer I can find out in the world. I’m convinced there’s a better way.

The problem with BeerMenus

The problem with BeerMenus is almost exclusively that no one uses it. THAT happens for two reasons.

  1. Customers are not updating BeerMenus – it’s not their job.
  2. Bartenders and bar owners are busy as hell, and keeping up an online list is an extra job to pile on top of the already growing list of tasks. Sure, it’s an extra 10-20 minutes a day if you’re a place that regularly rotates your selection, but at places that have 50 taps and are rotating new kegs in and out all night, asking a bartender to stop in the middle of a shift to update a website is simply not going to happen.

The BeerMenus people have actually done a fine job with their product. I don’t have many complaints when I’m sitting down at my home computer updating the bar’s list. There are places in the world that do, in fact, keep their list 100% up-to-date.

We’ll get to some solutions for the BeerMenus folks in a moment, but let’s look at a few screenshots first. In the interest of consistency, I’m including mobile shots here, but their website is a great resource.

BeerMenus has a mobile site. I love me some apps, but realize that there’s serious value in a mobile website as well. Theirs is a great translation of their also-great website.

The “find places nearby” feature is a good one, and not a bad solution if your ultimate goal is to find a beer bar nearby. My GPS is off again on this one, which is why Pi isn’t included on this list.

If your location isn’t found in the first list, you’ll need to go back and then search for a location. Adding a search field to the list of locations instead of requiring the user to go back would be a nice touch, but at this point, I’m mostly splitting hairs.

Here we arrive at the actual beer menu, which would be unbelievably helpful in the event that it was ever updated. See how Pi’s menu was last touched 03/08/2010? This is one of the most popular beer bars in an unbelievably tech-nerdy city and not a single person has touched it in a year and a half. Note that I’m to blame for this one as well, but with locations like Pi, it honestly doesn’t make a ton of sense for customers to update it. The list changes every single day, and despite earlier Foursquare evidence, I am not, in fact, at the bar every day. If I updated it, it’d be completely different a week later.

Clicking on a beer takes you to its page, which gives you a description as well as other locations that carry it. The locations might not be all that useful coming from a location page, but remember that you can search for a beer from that home screen as well. The outcome is the same for both. And I’d like to note that there are only two options here for Anchor Liberty, one of the most common beers in San Francisco. I’ll stop whining about the lack of accurate lists soon, I promise.

Here’s what happens when you search for a new beer – if there were additional options, they’d be listed, but I’ve chosen a pretty specific search term and a pretty rare beer on this one.

One of the most helpful things here is that “updated” date. Since updates are rare to BeerMenus, it’s nice to know that something was updated just a couple of days ago. If Healthy Spirits had it on October 14th, there’s a chance it’s still there today – and at least worth calling and asking about.

The technology is there. It’s all set up and waiting for us. We’ve just got to find a way to make it more appealing to use.

Making Friends

There is absolutely no reason that all of this information doesn’t live and play in the same space. Consider the connections:

  1. Untappd is using the API from the app you originally used to check in to the location. Once you’ve selected a beer from the list, you search for a location with the exact same list you searched through to check in from the same device one minute ago.
  2. When you check in to a beer and then add your location, Untappd has a database that has the power to tell you where every instance of that beer is in the city.
  3. The exclusive purpose of the BeerMenus database is to know which beer lives in which bar.

My modest proposal? A unified system that connects the pieces together, emulating your actual, real-life process.

  1. Enter the bar.
  2. Survey the list.
  3. Select your beer.

The fourth step is drinking. And we’d like that to be our fourth step, too. So our process is this:

  1. Check in to the bar. Similar to what you’ve seen out there before, you can search for your location, or you can choose one from a GPS-based list. We’ll always prioritize your favorites, too.

    Wireframe created using the Teehan+Lax Android GUI PSD as starting point; because they are amazing and helpful and worthy of all your respect in the world.

  2. Survey the beer list on your phone.

  3. Select your beer, and you’re done.

But after all of that whining about how no one uses BeerMenus, haven’t we already proven that there isn’t an updated, actually-in-use list out there? Yeah, we have. Let’s try and fix that problem, too.

Queue, Kick, Crack

I love that BeerMenus is open to the public. I really, truly do. I love that any random person can go to a bar, have a beer, and add it to their menu online. But as much as I love that, it’s not an efficient system. For places that have fifty beers on tap – hell, for places that have twelve beers on tap – one customer is just not going to be able to keep that list updated. Relying on your patrons to keep that up to date for you is a system that just isn’t working. It has to come from within the bar.

But bartenders don’t have time for this nonsense. When a keg blows in the middle of my shift, I’m worried enough about getting the damn thing through the massive crowd, tapping it, lifting it into the cooler and doing all of that without a) covering myself in beer and b) angering a giant crowd. (I am a deeply nervous person and also not a great bartender.) Think about your experience at a bar: if you’re waiting on a beer, do you want your bartender to be ignoring you in favor of playing with his or her phone for five minutes, even if what they’re doing is updating the beer list online? If you’re every single customer I’ve ever had, the answer is that you don’t.

The power behind our system and the thing that sets us apart is a backend inventory management system for the bar. We’re making a little more work, but it comes in the form of replacing what the bar already has in favor of something that will be a better tool to start with and open up some basic frontend data for your customers. This isn’t entirely open: we’re not letting everyone know what you’ve got coming up, how many kegs you’ve got of it, any of that – just releasing your live selection.

I’m proposing a three step system: Queue, kick, crack.

  1. Queue – When the kegs roll off the delivery truck – you add them to your inventory. You’ve got Anchor Liberty on right now but when that runs out you’re going to switch to Speakeasy’s Big Daddy? Add that Big Daddy keg to your queue. Not sure what you’ll put on? If you’ve entered everything as it came in the building, you don’t have to worry about putting them in order; you’ve got a scrollable list there when you want it. Use this list as a backup or even a full substitution for your inventory list.
  2. Kick – When the keg blows, hit one button to say that it’s gone. It’s San Francisco Beer Week and you’ve got the only keg of Pliny the Younger in the whole city? When that keg blows, hit one button and confirm that it’s gone.
  3. Crack – Look through your queue, find the beer you’re replacing it with, and click to confirm that you’ve got it. Your list confirms that you’re out of it.

How you interact is up to you. Got a computer in the back office? A fancy iPad mounted somewhere? Notoriously nerdy bartenders with smartphones? Create accounts for your individual bartenders and give them access to update the list, or have everyone use the same account. Hell, let’s integrate it into the bar’s POS so that when you serve a new beer, it asks you what beer you just removed to make that happen.

The possibilities for this as an inventory management system are highly expandable. You usually carry bottles of Dogfish Head’s 90 Minute IPA but the distributor didn’t have it this week and you’re out of it for just a couple of days? Take it off the list. Upon deletion, the app asks you if you want to fully remove it (if it’s no longer distributed in your area and you know you won’t be getting it again any time soon), show it as temporarily out, or keep it on your private list that’s not visible to the public. “Temporarily out” lets searchers know that you usually have it, so they should check back later – turning it private means people probably won’t hound you about it when they see it on the list.

The truth of the matter is that a lot of places manage to keep a constantly updated beer list, but don’t keep their BeerMenus list going. Someone’s already sitting down at a computer updating the daily PDF but that’s as far as it goes. Monk’s Kettle, another fine establishment in my neighborhood, has an updated PDF menu every day and a notoriously informative Twitter account. I love that. But if I’m walking down Valencia Street, going to their website, looking for the menu, downloading a PDF and scanning it isn’t nearly as helpful as having all of that information in one place.

Monk’s also has a beautifully designed print menu that I’d never want them to change. What’s the solution? Enter everything into the system that feeds our new tool, and let the database populate into a well-designed, customized PDF, Word Doc, Excel spreadsheet, Illustrator or InDesign file. When a new entry hits the list, have it auto-update your Twitter feed. Feed it into a WordPress script that creates a blog post at 3:00 every day based on the most current list, templated to your specifications. The information is there; what you do with it is up to you.

What if the bar doesn’t want to use this content management system? They’re still around. Let’s take all of those traditional-style beer checkins and do something with them. With or without the bar’s involvement, we’ve at least got people checking in to beers at bars. Let’s put all of that information on a page for the bar – Untappd, I’m seriously talking to you at this point – because you know it exists. If I say I’m having a beer at Pi Bar, you’ve got that information. You know what beers people have checked into at Pi Bar; while it’s not an entirely cohesive list, it sure is better than what we’ve got now. If half of the beers on that board get on a list somewhere, it’s better than a list updated 20 months ago. It’s a start. Let’s link it all back to the bar so that if a customer checks in to a beer, it pops up a message (noticeably but not disruptively, of course) on the bar’s POS suggesting that someone just checked in to a beer. Allow them to confirm that the beer’s on now, whether it’s bottle or draft, and give the option to say what it replaced. One database, everything connects.

Anything else, nerd?

Sure, all sorts of stuff. But I’ve got to keep a few things hidden.

It’s not a solution for every bar and restaurant. It’s organized and nerdy and compulsive and a lot to imagine and has a little bit of an initial time investment. I realize that there are thousands of bar owners that think this is a bunch of work for a bunch of bullshit. But there are also coffee shops where you pay for your latte on an iPad using Square. There are bars with digital tap lists. (Really, really awesome digital tap lists.) And we’re already doing all of this stuff now, it’s just cobbled together and we’re doing it poorly. If we’re going to do it anyway, we should probably just do it really well.

And now it’s time for me to hear from you. First of all, I probably should have announced ahead of time that this isn’t just blowing smoke up everyone’s ass; what you’re looking at is a casually worded business plan that’s been in the making for some time. My partner and I went back and forth a few times about putting these ideas out into the world, but ultimately decided that we want to get people excited and we’re therefore showing our hand pretty early. So, tell us: What bugs you about your current system? What do you love about your current system? What am I completely wrong about? You’ll be seeing a lot more from us over the next few weeks, and I’d love to know that we’re on the right track.

Patrons, bar owners, and yes – designers and developers, we’ll be looking for you soon, too. Feedback here is great, but if you’re interested in seriously becoming a part of this project, email me so we can sit down to chat. Probably over a beer, because that’s obviously how I do things.

Thanks for listening. Let’s make something awesome.

Daily Design Challenge: Who’s In?

Hi there! My name is Jen Rizzo, and I’m hoping I get to meet a lot of new faces today. I’m a freelance designer in San Francisco. You’d probably call me a motion graphics designer, but I’ve spent a few years working in architecture, my formal education is mostly based in UX/UI design, and I’ve had the pleasure to work as a visual designer on everything from logo design to mobile layouts. I’m sort of a jack-of-all-trades design nerd.

As a freelancer, though, I don’t always get a ton of chances to do high-level creative work. Motion Graphics freelancers, at least in San Francisco and at my experience level, tend to be very involved production artists. I don’t get in on a lot of storyboarding; being called in at the last minute to churn out some late nights is really my forte. I miss all the thinking, all the concepting. I miss that super beginner stage where you get to look at the entire idea of something and come up with how to make it better – different from “how do we execute the ideas in this set of storyboards”.

I searched around and eventually turned to Twitter a few weeks back, asking the question “Does anything exist that’s like a daily design challenge?” A website, blog, what-have-you, that posts a new idea every morning and asks people to think about it for ten minutes. Something creative, a question that gets your ideas flowing. Ten minutes. My work day doesn’t kick off until entirely too late, most days, because I just can’t force myself into work mode. If someone asked me a really fun question every morning at 9 a.m., I can almost promise that after ten minutes of figuring out how to answer it, I’d be ready to start my day.

Here’s where I really need the internet to come in. I’m not a well-known designer; I’m a just-made-it-to-senior-level freelancer in San Francisco who doesn’t have a popular design-based Twitter account or a blog or a portfolio that’s getting three thousand hits per day. And I don’t really KNOW any of those people, either. As a result, I’m going to need you to spread the word. Because I’d love to get this concept off the ground, and I’ve got the time to do it, and I’m happy to host the website – but if I was the type of person who could come up with a great idea off the top of my head every single day and inspire the world with it, I promise you, I’d be in a very different place. I need your help.

You can leave a comment here, or you can email me at my personal email address. If this concept actually takes off, I’m sure I’ll set up something better than just my personal email, but for the time being I’d love to have my inbox flooded with your ideas.

I realize the concept of giving away free ideas is scary, but how much better would the world be if we did? I’m not asking you to give me fully-actualized thoughts, more like social questions and very, very general things to think about. Here are a couple of examples:

  • Many major cities in the world either employ or are considering congestion pricing in response to the number of automobiles that crowd city streets that were never designed to be so heavily trafficked. Is there a better way to balance out transportation and incentivize commuters to re-evaluate their transportation?
  • A majority of Americans now use smartphones to be able to communicate in multiple ways (voice, text, data services) from their pocket. Much of the world still relies on much simpler devices. What are the key features you use on your phone that could be accomplished on a “dumbphone”, and how can we give access to those services to a simpler device?

Ideas could be as simple as linking to an article that someone’s written and asking a question about them, or inviting everyone to play cheeseorfont, or pointing out a very specific UI problem that could be thought through in a different way (but let’s try to avoid insulting the hard-working designers that made those decisions in the first place) – anything that might get brains rolling, I’m all ears.

But I also want to discuss what YOU might find inspirational. I also don’t want this to only apply to designers, because there are hundreds of careers out there where people need to be creative and think on their feet, and I don’t want to eliminate programmers, writers, chefs or anyone else. We could all use a little inspiration and thinking and it would be my honor to facilitate such things.

So, let’s see what we can come up with. Please spread the word! I’ll be keeping a list of everyone’s ideas and will launch the official collection shortly. I’d like to make sure I’ve at least got a backlog of a couple of weeks of content before I throw this thing out there. You can email me, comment to this post, contact me @jrizzo on Twitter, or whatever else suits your fancy. I am so, so excited to hear all your questions.

RIP, Steve.

Photo credit to sabine.

I was sitting at Monk’s Kettle last night, having a beer by myself while I waited for a friend to meet me for dinner across the street. I was ignoring my magazine in favor of my smartphone when I loaded up Twitter to see what the world was up to. The magazine is finite; the little 4″ computer in my pocket gives me new information faster than I can consume it. And that’s how I found out that Steve Jobs died.

I always wondered what that day would be like. Celebrity deaths have never really torn me up. I’m part of that really weird group of people that doesn’t really pay much attention to pop culture – I just can’t keep up with it. I’ve never been a huge movie person because I was somehow born lacking whatever gene enables you to remember the plot line of anything or remember who was in what movie. (Do not invite me to your trivia night.) When I think about celebrity deaths that have somehow impacted me, frankly, the list can be counted on one hand.

As I grow older, I’m getting more and more irritated with the coverage of such things. The internet gives us this platform that now, thanks largely to Facebook and Twitter and all of their predecessors, encourages us to be quasi-anonymous assholes. When Amy Winehouse, an artist whose music I deeply respected, passed away, it seemed like a race to the retweet. Within five minutes of the news breaking, there were already people vying to make the most offensive joke possible in the hopes that… what? That someone would retweet them, that someone else would see it, that you might end up featured somewhere and gain some new followers? It’s gross. It’s disrespectful. Where did our goddamned manners and good sense go?

So when I saw that Steve Jobs was stepping down as the face of Apple, all I could think about was that he was clearly dying, and what were we going to do when that happened? How long would it take for people to make shitty jokes about iPhones as if they had any license to trivialize a human life? I didn’t spend much time thinking about it; it seemed just awful. And I don’t much care to sit around thinking about people dying, anyway.

You know what I saw on Twitter yesterday? An unbelievable outpouring of sadness; a shocking amount of honesty and humility. Designers like me, designers much better and smarter than me, immediately being able to say that their work would not be possible without one man’s vision and contribution to our industry. With a little bit of “fuck cancer” sprinkled in for good measure.

Steve Jobs and I don’t know one another. I’ve never worked for Apple, and despite living in San Francisco, I don’t even have some story about a startup I worked at that was created by people who were once top-level developers or something. I have exactly zero personal connection to the man. But there is no one who has impacted my career more than he did.

I’m a designer. That means something new every day. I sit down at my Mac Pro tower with its Cinema Display and I use my Apple software on it. None of those things would have been possible without one visionary with a penchant for black turtlenecks. But it isn’t just that. Steve Jobs truly, deeply revolutionized our industry. I was in design school from 2003-2008; I’m very young. The concept of creating something iconic is so far beyond me. My version of design lies predominantly in 3D animation, particularly products and hard-line objects. Every single time a client has a project for me that involves a screen, we talk about Apple products. It’s either “Can we show this on an iPhone” or “We need to put the screens in a laptop, but something generic, not, like, a MacBook. Like a generic MacBook.” No one has ever mentioned a Blackberry or a Dell or told me something looked “too HP”. One man, the man pictured up there sitting with all of the stuff he needed to be creative, made this brand, this company, this vision that has trickled down over thirty years to permeate almost every client conversation I ever have. Christ.

You want to leave a legacy? Start leaving one. I won’t give you a Steve Jobs quote here; you can refer to Facebook or Twitter or something for that. They’re all spectacular and I wouldn’t know which one to choose anyway. But they’re all the same idea: No one ever got to be successful by sitting around and doing what they’re supposed to. No one has ever been memorable for their work as a follower. There are edge cases, but if you want something to happen to you, you had better make it happen, son. People who sit around and wait will be doing it forever.

Watch every single one of those videos that you see floating around today. Listen to the commencement speech. Listen to his version of the voiceover. Listen, listen, listen. Take a second to reflect and then get back to work. He started us on a really great path but it’s ours, now, and we’ve still got an awful lot to do. Rest in Peace, Mr. Jobs, we will never be able to thank you enough for the inspiration.

We’ll stick with “Hello, world”.

After years of combining personal and professional interests at a variety of places all over the web, here’s my real-life foray into professional blogging. I can’t make many promises, but I can at least try to keep things topical around these parts.

Over the next few days, I’ll also be migrating some older Tumblr posts over here, so there may be new content appearing in a sort of weird order. Within a week or so, things should straighten out.