I completely forgot to include CJ Chilvers’ article when I wrote about the benefits of messy desks. Better late than never!

Does good web design hurt or help?

Dan Mall’s recent post struck a chord with me when I read it. The whole post is worth reading, but in an effort to avoid quoting the entire thing, I’ll simply share his opening statement:

This past week, I finished making a small website for a family member’s business. I had an idea I liked for a subtle header animation. As I sat down to do it, I couldn’t justify how that animation would make the site any better at its job — attracting potential clients — than the static, non-animated version would.

It got me thinking: could I justify an animation for any website’s header? Can anyone justify an animation for a website’s header? A quick glance at the latest Awwwards Site of the Day nominees shows that lots of modern sites have animations in the header. But it is worth the effort to make?

This is something I’ve been thinking about a lot in the past few weeks. Dan acknowledges in his post that, of course, web design has changed a lot. These days, as he says, we live in a world where a Kardashian or a Youtuber can launch a product or even an industry with a tweet or an Instagram post, a role previously dominated by The Website.”

I think there’s another change that happened: websites got a whole heckuva lot easier to make. If a designer’s primary job was to live at the intersection of art and commerce, that job has been eradicated at the low end by shrinking budgets and easy-to-use website builders like Wix and Squarespace.

The remaining websites are either vanity projects for large organizations (designed to attract attention and brand cachet), or they are designed as business tools for whom conversion is their primary purpose. If conversion is the primary purpose, there is less space for design. As Conversion Rate Experts says:

Some people ask why they shouldn’t optimize for function and aesthetics. Even if their visitors are perfectly happy with the current appearance of the website, what’s the harm in being beautiful regardless?

It’s like asking What’s the harm in giving Usain Bolt an egg and spoon to carry while he runs?” They don’t realize that beauty, like an egg and spoon, tends to slow progress to a crawl.

If I’m being very cynical about my own work, I think Amazon has proved that web design is more important than ever, but beauty is less important than it’s ever been.

That doesn’t mean making something beautiful is irrelevant. I’m working on a highly-polished website for a non-profit right now. Their design has a lot of attention-catching elements (several are mentioned on this list), and even relies on a motif. That being said, the non-profit sector is a space where cohesive design goes a long way to generating goodwill from potential donors.

I don’t entirely know where I’m going with this, but I do know that web design is still a young field. I think the jury is out on whether or not good design can have a negative impact on conversion, which is really what people pay for. (If you spend a bunch of money on a site, but get no return on that investment, you are probably not getting what you pay for.)

That all being said, I think the days of being in this for the art — like a modern-day Andy Warhol — are mostly behind us. All that matters is the conversion rate. Usually, we aren’t hired to make art. I too hunt for those jobs, but I increasingly feel like a hungry lion in the jungle craving a penguin.

Default apps in 2023

I love a nerdy blogging trend. I don’t remember where I saw this first, but I know I read Matt Birchler’s post, Manuel Moreale’s post, and Chris Coyier’s post in my RSS feed. Robb Knight has a list of others who have shared their app defaults. Here are mine:

  • ✉️ Mail service: Fastmail
  • 📬 Mail client: Apple Mail
  • ✅ Tasks: Omnifocus (beta testing OF4)
  • 📰 RSS service: Feedly, although I really ought to move to Feedbin
  • 🗞️ RSS client: Reeder
  • ⌨️ Launcher: Alfred
  • ☁️ Cloud storage: iCloud and Dropbox
  • 📸 Camera: Usually my iPhone 15 Pro, but when purposefully shooting, I bring my Canon R6
  • 🌅 Photo editing and library: Lightroom Classic, Photoshop, and Apple Photos
  • 📆 Calendar: Fantastical, but if it weren’t for the quick even creation, I’d use Apple Calendar.
  • 🌐 Web browser: Safari for personal, 1 Chrome window for each active work projects. (John Siracusa is my browser window and tab collecting spirit animal. Right now I have 89 tabs open across five browser windows — and I’m still collecting links for this post.)
  • 🔖 Bookmarks: Pinboard for text, Eagle for interesting visuals (I highly recommend Eagle)
  • 🗄️ Backups: Time Machine and Backblaze on every Mac, Synology for cold storage (also backed up to a remote Mac), iCloud for iOS devices. (This is very overkill, but I lost 1TB of photos during my stint as a wedding photographer because multiple backup drives simultaneously died while I was away over Christmas vacation, so I’m hardcore about this now.)
  • 🎙️ Podcasts: Overcast
  • 🎶 Music: Apple Music
  • 🎹 DAW: Logic Pro
  • 🍿 Movie tracking: Letterboxd. I also share everything I watch on my own website
  • 🧑‍💻 Code editor: Nova, with occasional Visual Studio Code usage
  • 📝 Notes: Obsidian
  • ✍️ Writing: iA Writer
  • 🎨 Design: Figma for UI, Illustrator for some icons and logos, InDesign for print work, Apple Freeform for sketching
  • 🔐 Passwords: 1Password
  • 💸 Budgeting: YNAB (I can’t recommend YNAB enough. I hate talking about money, and YNAB has made planning and budgeting finances with my wife tolerable.)

A lot of software on this list hasn’t changed in many years — sometimes close to a decade. I am far more likely to change the physical hardware in my life than I am to change my software tools.

Additional software I’d like: Ulysses with backlinks. Notion without the fiddling.

Messy Desks

The other day, during a conversation with one of my clients, we talked briefly about the messy state of our workspaces. I like to keep up the pretence of a clean desk (see my workspace tour from 2020 or my Sweet setup interview in 2018), but in reality, my desk is often a mess.

My desk is littered with guitar picks, some keys, a stack of receipts, a few USB cables, four notebooks, a couple microfibre cloths (not just for wiping monitors, but also for polishing guitars), coffee cups, a stapler, wire cutters, and a Swiss army knife. 

I should put some of this junk away, but one thing I realized in this conversation is that a messy desk is a productive desk, and a messy office or studio is probably the same.

Here are a couple quick, well-known examples of messy offices so we’re all on the same page:

Albert Einstein's messy desk hours after he passed away

Albert Einstein’s desk was famously messy.

Steve Jobs' home office was a war zone

Steve Jobs didn’t have a particularly organized home office.

I think this is also why I’m personally attracted to huge desktop towers (like the Mac Pro) and giant speakers. Part of what you pay for is the statement it makes when you walk in to your workspace: this is where the magic happens.

Recently, I’ve fallen down a rabbit hole of staring at audio professional setups. These rigs are typically filled with racks of studio equipment, musical instruments, and sometimes multiple computers. Even if you take all the clutter off the desk, these setups never look clean.”'s image of their audio workspace

I love this setup from’s review of the 2020 Mac Pro. You can’t hide this mess. When you walk into this room, there’s no way to hide its purpose. You’re going to get work done here.

A music production sit/stand desk

I also love this marketing image for a sit/​stand music studio desk. There’s not one, but two Mac Pro towers (I’m jealous). Each rack slot is with gear. There is rack equipment on the floor. Cables everywhere. For minimalists, this is a nightmare. But I love it.

Austin Kleon's studio

Austin Kleon (not a musician) keeps a messy studio too. I love the roll of paper towel. (I also love that his super-large L‑shaped desk has space for both making and visiting.)

If there’s anything to glean from this, all I’ve learned is that my desk probably isn’t messy enough.

Sounds like Adobe’s purchase of Figma might get blocked. I think this is good news: I have many things I dislike about Figma, but Adobe won’t fix any of them.

Mark Tremonti’s MT 100

After years of rumours, PRS finally unveiled the MT 100, the 100 watt version of Mark Tremonti’s signature amp. I’ve heard some of the rumours and have been excited to see it get unveiled. Mark is one of the best working guitar players in rock music.

The MT 100 is a three-channel beast: a clean channel, an overdrive channel, and a lead channel. Mark gives a great breakdown of the amp in a 16-minute Youtube video that’s well worth your time, if you’re into this sort of thing.

This a very versatile, well-considered amp. The clean channel goes from pristine cleans with no breakup, to a nice edge-of-breakup sound. The overdrive channel picks up from there and goes from the edge-of-breakup channel to a supercharged Plexi. Mark is a huge amp nerd and compares the overdrive channel to a Dumble he owns, which probably isn’t the best comparison, since every Dumble is unique and only a few hundred were ever made. But I definitely hear the Plexi sound in this channel. Mark’s demo demonstrates how touch-sensitive this channel is. I’m a huge fan.

The lead channel is a different beast. I would describe the clean and overdrive channels as mid-rich, but the lead channel is extremely scooped, even with the Middle knob in roughly the same position. There’s a good chance the sound was EQ’d to death after the video was recorded, so the jury is still out until more people get their hands on this thing, but it sounds like the channels are voiced very differently. I can’t say I’m surprised by this, considering how scooped Mark likes to be1, but to me it makes the amp a little less versatile than it could be otherwise. I can easily take away mids if I don’t want them, but I can’t add them in after the fact. 

Fluff’s fantastic demo did a good job of highlighting that it might be other way around: the MT 100’s overdrive channel might be too honky. I’d like to play one of these when they start showing up in stores and see for myself.

Generally though, I love the versatility of the MT 100. I think this is a great studio amp in particular. I also love the price. In Canada, it retails for $2500. Its biggest competition might be something like the Mesa Boogie Mark VII, which retails for $4800 — nearly twice the price. Even Marshall’s JVM210H is $3200 now. Tube amps have never been cheap, but their prices recently have hovered somewhere between eye-watering and impossible. PRS isn’t known for being inexpensive, but the MT 100 packs a lot of value into a small package.

  1. Years ago, there was a rumour that Mark turned the bass up to 10 (out of 10) on his Dual Rectifier and set the mids to 0. I have a lot of experience with the Dual Rectifier, and those settings can’t be right. That would be one of the most terrible guitar sounds every recorded. ↩︎

Slash leaves Marshall for Magnatone

I nearly fell off my chair when I saw the news earlier this week. Marshall has been a big part of Slash’s sound since the Appetite for Destruction days, and Slash arguably played a huge role in making the Les Paul and JCM800 combination the sound of rock and roll. They’ve been a part of his sound for 36 years. This is the end of an era.

I’m not a big fan of Slash as a person, and I don’t love a lot of his music either, but I think he’s got great taste in gear. I spent most of 2022 looking for a great Les Paul, and ended up with his signature model, which has some of the best-sounding pickups I’ve ever heard (and is shockingly close to a 1959 reissue in general spec). Similarly, his signature Marshall amp is one of Marshall’s best amps. 

As far as Magnatone goes, they make killer boutique amplifiers that sound more than a little inspired by the classic Marshall Plexi sound. In this British amp shootout, Magnatone’s M80 amp is, to my ears, the obvious winner, absolutely smoking Friedman’s Dirty Shirley. Slash is collaborating with Magnatone on a 100-watt version of this amp. I’m looking forward to hearing it

Just sent out my first newsletter since my new blog went up. Feels good! (But it would feel better if you subscribed.)

Apple’s spooky M3 event

Three things struck me while watching Apple’s Halloween-themed M3 event last night.

The first observation: while Apple unveiled three chips last night, they did a better job clarifying who each machine is for than they’ve ever done before.

There are three new chips, unsurprisingly called the M3, the M3 Pro, and the M3 Max. Here’s what Apple said about the audience for each one when introducing the laptops that use them. 

For the basic M3, Apple said:

Whether you’re a student, entrepreneur, creator, or combination of all three, you’ll find everyday tasks lightning fast. And when you’re using pro apps or playing games, the advanced thermal system allows you to sustain the phenomenal performance of M3… It’s great for working with demanding content across a variety of workflows. Such as making intricate 3D models in Sketchup faster than before. Or viewing and interacting with large medical images in SurgicalAR.

This is pretty clearcut to me: machines equipped with the base-level M3 are great for aspiring creative pros, students, and entrepreneurs (which, in Apple’s parlance, I think means new business owners outside the tech sector).

For the M3 Pro, which is the next step up, Apple said the following:

(The M3 Pro) provides even greater performance and additional unified memory for users with more demanding workflows like coders, creative pros, and researchers… Stitching together and manipulating enormous panoramic photos in Photoshop is much quicker, working on large and complex data models in MATLAB is more fluid, and compiling and testing millions of lines of code in Xcode is even faster.

I think this is pretty clear too, but there are several caveats here that are worth mentioning a little later. (I look forward to Austin Mann and Tyler Stalman testing this machine though, since it seems aimed at photographers, designers, and developers.)

In theory, the M3 Pro is aimed at me. At first, I thought this was great news, because my current machine is an M1 Max, and it’d be nice to shift downmarket if I could. (Again, more on this later.)

Apple had this to say about the M3 Max:

For users with extreme workflows like AI developers, 3D artists, and video professionals, it’s an absolute beast… You can model and iterate remarkably complex 3D content in Cinema 4D with Redshift… And video post-production work on the highest resolution content is an absolute breeze thanks to two ProRes engines… M3 Max also supports up to an enormous 128GB of unified memory… This enables creators to easily work on large and complex projects spanning multiple pro apps and plugins, like Substance 3D Painter, Maya, and Arnold. Or compose huge film scores with Pro Tools, where entire orchestra libraries are instantly available from memory. 

This also seems clear cut to me. To be perfectly blunt, I am no longer the target market for these machines. The target market is well above what I do, even when I’m doing my own recording and video production.

The second observation: The configurations are weird. 

First, RAM comes in 18GB, 36GB, 48GB, 64GB, 96GB, and 128GB allotments. If you want 48GB, 64GB, or 128GB of RAM, you need the most expensive M3 Max chip. If you want 96GB of RAM, you need the least expensive M3 Max chip. It works out so that 96GB of RAM is only $100 more than 64GB, but you don’t get as many CPU cores.

This is very weird to me. Does Apple have multiple RAM providers or something? Why don’t these varieties match up? Why do I have to make this choice?

The M3 Pro, as I noted above, is the chip aimed for people like me: creative pros. But a lot of people like me need more than 36GB of RAM, which is the limit of the M3 Pro, and getting more requires a large upfront investment. The 64GB model is more expensive than my M1 Max, at least in Canada, so while you can order up to 128GB, the addition of the higher memory option hasn’t resulted in a reduction of prices elsewhere in the lineup.

I’m glad I’m not in the market for a machine right now, because I’d have to make some odd choices. This reminds me of the Intel Mac Pro configuration flow, and that’s not a compliment. It’s too complicated. I am grateful for the options, but I wish they moved in a straight line from the cheapest to the most expensive.

I’m looking forward to Anandtech’s review of these chips.

Finally, the third observation: The Apple event was shot on an iPhone. The footage looked great. Nobody knew until the credits rolled. But The Verge ran an article about how that marketing line is deceptive because of all the other pro gear involved.

On one hand, I get it. Lighting, drones, gimbals, and everything else you need for a pro setup like this isn’t cheap. There were also a wealth of special effects employed throughout the event.

But on the other hand, The Verge’s article seems to suggest that consumers will think their footage will automatically look that good without additional gear. I don’t know if that’s the case. Thanks to decades of marketing from Hollywood, I think most people who care even a little know that there’s a lot of gear involved in making stuff look good. The fog machines alone in the opening of Apple’s event make it clear that their budget goes beyond the average bedroom Youtuber’s. I don’t see how there’s a negative story here, apart from clickbait.

The bottom line is simple: the event looked great, and the iPhone is clearly a very capable videographer’s camera in the right hands.

If you do enough bad writing, it is inevitable that some good writing will slip through.” Love what Seth Godin has to say in his brief 5‑minute talk about writer’s block and doing the hard creative work every day.

Just finished the story in Spider-Man 2, and I think this is my personal game of the year — over Starfield and Zelda, which are both extremely my jam. Insomniac is telling the best Spidey stories right now.

Name Sans, subway typography, and the TTC

I am in love with Name Sans, ArrowType’s metro-inspired typeface. Not only is the typeface really good, but the web page is nice too. A lot of type foundries have websites that are borderline unusable, but this is simple and demonstrates what makes the face unique, all without making me feel like I’m entered a funhouse.

When I lived in Toronto, I was fascinated by the typography in the subway system. A lot of the type was rendered in Helvetica or Univers, but some of the walls used Toronto Subway,” a bespoke typeface originally designed in the 1950s, but redesigned in 2004 by David Verschagin because the original design was missing characters, and nobody knew who the original designer was.

Here’s a quote from Wikipedia’s article on the topic:

The font was recreated by David Vereschagin in 2004. Because the original designer of the font is unknown, and no documentation of the font had been kept, Vereschagin digitized the font by visiting stations and making rubbings of the letters on the original Vitrolite glass tiles as well as taking photographs. This is now used by the TTC as their font for station names. Vereschagin designed a matching lowercase, inspired by Futura and other similar designs. As one of the few typeface designs to have originated in Canada, it was used in a number of zines as a mark of local pride.

You can purchase Toronto Subway from Fontspring.

Joe Clark has also written a great paper on the topic (in fact, it might be one of my favourite research papers I’ve ever read on the internet). According to him, Toronto’s subway typography involves the aforementioned typeface of unknown origin, subways lined with washroom tiles, a billion-dollar New York subway design system clone, a new design system from a wayfinding expert that was installed, tested, and ignored, and a billion-dollar corporation that uses as its main font a Helvetica clone that came free with Corel- Draw.” 

The most wild thing about Joe’s well-researched story is how all the half-finished design systems lurk across the city after decades. I lived there from 2015 – 2021, and I can confirm all these systems were never replaced or updated. It is not cohesive, and it makes the subway very confusing for people who are new to the city. In fact, people who are new to the city often can’t explain why they’re so confused by the subway system, the same way most of us can’t explain why inconsistent branding throws us off. But the inconsistent designs have left Torontonians confused for decades.

This one story is a perfect metaphor for Canadian politics: indecisiveness, a lack of vision, a lack of clarity, and occasional deceptive appearances of forward progress and momentum.

Ever since learning all this, I’ve paid a lot of attention to subway type. Name Sans is one of the better ones I’ve come across. It’s playful enough that you could use it for branding, but I think it’d make for good signage too.

Three and a half years

On June 1, 2020, I wrote that I was going to redesign my blog in the open. I kept a redesign tag so folks could follow along with my updates. I had a few intentions going in:

  1. I was going to share my design process from beginning to end.
  2. I was going to write the entire thing as an SSG in Gatsby, Nuxt, Gridsome, or something like that, and open source it.

Three and a half years after I completely reset the site’s design, the new site is live, and I did not stick to either of those goals.

I mildly regret doing all this in public. I expected I would have more time to work on the project, especially because of the lockdowns during COVID, but in reality my work schedule has been fit to burst for three years now. On top of that, my wife and I bought out first house during COVID — a real fixer-upper — and we had some health issues to navigate, in addition to work. I had no margin to work on this. 

The knockoff effect of this very public delay is that I am a professional designer who has had a terrible-looking website for close to half a decade.

I also veered away from my stated goals:

  1. I wanted to share all my decision making publicly, but it takes a lot of effort to share your design process, particularly with the written word. For this site, I also did a lot of the fine-tuning and feel” of the design right in the browser, which sped things up as I approached the finish line. Sharing the minutia behind all those decisions would have been extremely time consuming, and delayed completing the project even further. I made some last-minute changes this morning that would have merited some explanation if I were to document everything. I just wanted to ship it.
  2. Between 2020 and now, it’s become clear that Javascript-generated sites aren’t the future so much as they are just an option, and I didn’t think the option was necessary for this site — at least, not right now, when time is short.1

That being said, there were some goals I stuck to: I wrote in June 2020 that I wanted to share small updates on a platform I owned and controlled, rather than on Twitter (which was oddly prescient of me). I can do that on this site, if I’d like. Here’s an example.

In the same post, I also wrote that I’d like to fetch everything from my Letterboxd profile and display it on my own site.2 You can now see all that on the Watching page.3

If you’re interested in following this blog, there are several ways to do that. You can subscribe via email, or to one of three RSS feeds: a feed to read everything, a feed exclusively for writing, and a feed exclusively for movie reviews. (I also signed up for to easily distribute and syndicate my writing to other networks, so you can follow and respond there as well.)

There is more to do. I haven’t added any photo sharing features yet (which would decouple me from Instagram), although I don’t take nearly as many photos I used to. I have more I’d like to do with movie reviews on this site.

Despite all that, as the real estate agents always quipped, this place has good bones. It’s now running on Craft CMS, which is wonderful. I’ve added dark mode. It’s got a good, solid 12-column grid structure underlying the whole design. It’s going to be flexible for many years.

For those of you who have read this blog, even (and especially) during its desert years, thank you for reading and for your support. 

  1. I also didn’t share the source code anywhere. I would be happy to do that, but there are private APIs involved and the repo also uses some of the same back-end code that powers my portfolio, so making it all public feels a little unsafe. ↩︎

  2. Letterboxd was recently acquired. The company who bought them has an okay track record, as far as not completely messing up what they buy, but I’m still very happy all these reviews are on my own domain. ↩︎

  3. This was actually a very difficult feature to get right, largely because of the sheer quantity of film reviews I’ve written since 2016, and the amount of images displayed per page. But it feels solid now, and I’m pleased with how fast the site is, despite the fact that there are over 100 images on most of the annual Watching pages. ↩︎

Log is the pro” in iPhone 15 Pro. Stu Maschwitz has published a handy primer on why log recording is A Big Deal, especially for a camera that fits in your pocket.

No more 404. Ever clicked on a dead link in an old blog post? Remy has a genius solution.