Sam Brown

DIBI Conference - My experience graph

The inaugural DIBI Conference kicked off on Wednesday 28th of April 2010, hosted at The Sage Gateshead by Newcastle and was a split conference for both designers and developers. Organised by Codeworks and brought to you in no small part by Gavin Elliott, it was the first big web conference this far north since Edinburgh’s infamous Highland Fling’s of 2007 & 2008.

Dibi Conference

DIBI: Design It, Build It was an interesting concept bringing both developers and designers together in one location for a two-track conference that you could freely roam between. I was particularly interested in most of the design side of the conference but hear the development side was just as good.

I am not going to go too in-depth on individual speakers talks, you will be happy to know they will be available to watch online in a few weeks time if you couldn’t make the event or the online broadcast. I have yet to find out how successful that particular option was, hopefully we do soon.

Adii talked about how design should be a key focus of any startup, it was an interesting start to the day and is definitely something I am a firm believer in. Adii managed to answer some tough questions on commoditising great design and personal branding, he handled these well.

Sarah spoke honestly about the principles of iPhone UI design the struggles designers can face and managed to cover a good array of tips in a short amount of time.

Tim blasted through his 2020: A Design Odyssey discussion and emphasised the need for designers to continue evolving else you’ll turn into lazy monkeys. Always interesting to hear Tim speak and the extended Q&A session was a refreshing take that I hope we see at more events soon.

Simon spoke in depth about the theory behind design and how we should be bringing these offline thoughts into our online work. There was a wealth of information in Simon’s talk and some great book recommendations to boot.

Dan presented us with a unique and interesting way to handle usability testing that is so simple and effective. In-browser prototyping and fast iteration during testing sessions looks like it might be a thing of the future.

Andy was last to speak and is always a treat to hear, he spoke about working with the most modern and interesting CSS techniques and designing from the top down with best browsers first. Always inspirational and Andy talks about everything I very firmly believe in.

Gowalla vs Foursquare

Gowalla vs Foursquare

Some Highlights:

  • Pre-party Venue and general good times.
  • Gowalla vs Foursquare banter with Tim! ;)
  • Location – The Sage was a great conference venue.
  • Field Notes on Entry, Red Bull’s at the Afternoon Break.
  • All of the Design side Speakers.
  • Catching up with friends and new faces.


  • Lunch – I can’t imagine cooking for 325 people is easy.
  • Sponsored Talks – Always a Catch 22.
  • After Party – More on this below.

The After Parties at all web conferences suffer from the same problems, a small and crowded venue, too dark and always with music that is way too loud. It’s been an inherent problem for me across the board, FOWD, dConstruct, Build & now DIBI. I love a party as much as the next person but after a super successful event I want to then be able to talk with people and not have to yell in their ears. Hopefully better locations can be sought after at future events.

To wrap up, DIBI was a super successful and very enjoyable event from start to finish. Gavin and the Codeworks team really nailed their first conference and I can say without any hesitation that this will very likely be a conference worth attending again next year.

Massive Blue - My Realigned Portfolio

I last relaunched my portfolio site in May of 2009 and I was very happy with the improved direction and look then, however things have changed somewhat over the past year and I felt that I needed to try and better convey my interests and my clients work in a realign of my portfolio site for 2010 and beyond. The new Massive Blue:

Massive Blue

Transparency, RGBA & CSS3

While it is my portfolio site, like my blog it is a playground and experiment of myself, my style and what can be achieved in modern web design. Webkit users are treated to a colour-cycling effect on the homepage background which extends to the background of the logo as well through some tricky PNG transparency. Each individual portfolio entry is also colour-treated to match the primary colour of the work done, and almost all of the content is coloured with RGBA.

Minimum Requirements

Because of some of the techniques I have employed on my site a few people may experience some technical issues, I do apologise for this and hope that it isn’t too bad. Like my 1080px grid explanation from my May 2009 redesign post, it is also a good barrier for entry.


I would like to extend a few thanks – Rogie King for the lovely Browser Chrome that I hear is soon be released as a downloadable package – Jason Cale for helping me with the Grid Overlay jQuery (check the link in the footer), to the Dribbble community that commented and praised my preview shots and to all of the lovely comments I have received on my Twitter stream @sambrown, thanks so much!

Look out for some new and exciting portfolio entries very soon.

I love work, just not hard work.

So I put my laziness to work for me. Instead of long proposals, I wrote short ones. Instead of worrying about competitors, I ignored them. And here's what happened: My company got more work. I found better clients. I slept better. I woke up better. I was happier. And, most of all, running a business became a lot easier.

Fifteen years later, this continues to be the most important lesson I've learned as an entrepreneur: Most of the stuff you agonize about just doesn't matter. Truth is, things are pretty easy and straightforward -- until you make them hard and complicated.

Jason Fried in Driven to Distraction from Inc Magazine.

I used to stress a lot about my business, my clients, the amount of work I was doing and my competitors – but the minute I stopped worrying about all of that and focussed on just doing great work that I was happy with it really made a big difference, to me and my business.

Online and Telephone Banking Security Gone Crazy

When I recently created a new account with the bank I have been with since I had my Super Squirrel Saver Account 18 years ago I had to go through the laborious task of answering some “Security Questions” for telephone banking that I would later use to identify myself should I use this service, which in all honesty, I don’t. Now, let’s be fair, these supposed secure questions and answers are completely bullshit:

  • Please name your first primary school?
  • What is your mothers first name?
  • Where were you born?
  • etc.

Anyone with half a brain or even a friendship with me on Facebook could find out most of this information – what’s more worrisome is that these are the same types of questions that I have to answer to log on to my Internet Banking including – “What is your fathers first name?” – with me being Sam Brown III (the third) that’s probably the least secure thing they could have asked.

I must admit that because I rarely if ever use telephone banking I actually wrote the answers down, just in case. This week I had the unfortunate need to phone my bank to activate something and had all my necessary security answers in front of me ready to give only to be thrown a curveball by the girl on the end of the phone:

  • Do you have any regular credits coming into this account and from whom?
  • What was the last transaction on this account?
  • Do you have an overdraft on this account?

The first answer is no, my credits are from different clients and not at regular intervals (not a monthly salary for example), the last transaction I had absolutely no idea – I could remember taking money out the ATM but that turned out not to be the last thing on the account and I somehow managed to incorrectly guess that I didn’t have an overdraft when I in fact do – I’ve never needed to use it and thus had no idea it even existed. Their response was blunt:

“Unfortunately you have incorrectly answered these security questions and I have blocked access to your account, you will now need to go to your local branch with three forms of ID to reset telephone banking. Have a nice day.”

A bit of an inconvenience to say the least but I did as requested only to be asked by the teller to reset the very same security questions I originally answered when creating the account. I just arrived at square one.

The biggest issue here is not just that these questions are ridiculously insecure but instead of even asking me those – they ask me about recent credits and transactions on my account, which is like aiming at a moving set of goal posts. Without actually having that information in front of me I’m essentially just playing a guessing game – much like one could do to answer their secure questions.

Fresh out of school, you are a technician not a professional

Question: “I recently graduated from design school and have started freelancing, and I’m wondering how you get clients? How do you get your name out there?”

This person may just as well have jumped out of an airplane and then asked, “Now, how do I go about finding a parachute? Oh, and should I land somewhere specific? How exactly do I do that?” Even so, this lack of foresight is quite common. The immediate lesson is that you shouldn’t become an independent professional with little to no professional experience, with no prospects and knowing little to nothing about the business.

Andy Rutledge lays down the law on Design Professionalism with answers to some very commonly asked questions from both agency and freelance designers.

Web designers who can't code, need to read this book

Upon returning from my month long vacation down-under I arrived home to see that the ‘should designers be able to code’ debate had reared its head once again, there has been plenty said about that already and it is certainly an interesting discussion.

HTML and CSS Web Standards Solutions – A Web Standardistas’ Approach →

HTML and CSS Web Standards Solutions - A Web Standardistas' Approach

This book by Christopher Murphy and Nicklas Persson is the book to read if you are wanting to learn how to write standards-compliant XHTML and CSS the right way. I have been fortunate enough to meet both Chris & Nic on several occasions, have had lengthy discussions with them about how web standards should be taught and also managed to sneak into their workshop at Build Conference. These guys are teaching the right stuff the right way.

Occasionally I am approached by designers looking for someone to write the markup and CSS for their designs and it is always easy to tell who knows how to design for the web and who does not. This is the book I will be recommending from now on, it covers all the fundamentals of web standards today in one neat package that I would thoroughly recommend to anyone looking to learn. Check out the Web Standardistas.

Allowing visitors to leave comments has many benefits

The Comments vs No Comments debate has been a hot topic for some time and is something I have never really been able to get my head around. I am absolutely in favour of having comments enabled on blogs, especially on sites that are writing and promoting great content worth discussing further. Not wanting to kick up another big debate about it here, but I did feel compelled to write about why I have them enabled and the benefits that have come of it.

Read the Full Article »

Sam Brown co-founded Iterate, and was previously VP of Design at Foursquare. Based in NYC.