Sam Brown

Great architectural experiences in NYC

I’d like to do something with architecture too. I just started a page on Foursquare that’s all about buildings in New York that I love. I have a classic text by Paul Goldberger called The City Observed: New York, which is now out of print. The author is still alive and I thought it would be cool to get his permission to take new photos of each building in his text, give each building its own web page, and tie it all into Foursquare. You could essentially go from building to building and discover the history—who designed the building, what compromises were made, what changed over the years. That’s interesting to me and there are only a few cities where you could go to town with an idea like that.

This is a fantastic use case for foursquare Lists, marrying historical data with location data that you can have with you in your pocket at all times. I can’t wait to start crossing off some more of these Great architectural experiences in NYC that Jeffrey has kindly put together.

Quote from The Great Discontent’s one year anniversary interview with Jeffrey Zeldman.

Checking into full-time employment

Yesterday, April 11th 2011 marked my first day as a full-time foursquare employee! I have been working solely for foursquare since August last year on a contract basis and it was around this time last year that I first started doing some occasional freelance work for the NYC startup.

This last year has been a complete blast and to have been offered a full-time position whilst still based in the UK was amazing. At only 55 full-time employees our team are really cranking out some amazing new product and it’s a job I am absolutely relishing.

Now you know why so many cobwebs have grown over this site, I plan to change that too. :)

Have you tried foursquare? Check out the new sign up flow and start exploring today →

My passion for Side Projects

I have written about why I think Side Projects are massively important and something everyone should be doing regardless of full-time employment or being freelance before on several occasions in How to stay sane when freelancing from home & Why I love being freelance.

Now I’m planning on speaking about it at SXSW Interactive Conference 2011 in Austin, Texas next March. Infact, I am that passionate about it that I am part of two fantastic panel line ups:

Collaboration Nation: How Side-Projects Can Keep You Relevant →

Pet Personal Projects for Fun and Profit →

If you plan on attending SXSW and are interested in this topic or either of the panels specifically I would be grateful for your vote. Thanks.

Empowering Users with Two-Sided Incentives

Drew Houston the co-founder and CEO of Dropbox gave a talk at Startup Lessons Learned in San Francisco on the 23rd of April and he spoke about the Customer Development Case Study for Dropbox. I highly recommend you go and watch the video, it’s interesting and inspiring.

What was particularly fascinating to me was their switch in strategy from using paid-for advertising such as AdWords to a referral system that actually worked. Their referral program rewards not only the person who is sending out the link, but also the person who signed up because of clicking on the link. Both parties receive an extra 250MB of space. It’s proved to be such a success for them that it has permanently increased their signups by 60%!

My Dropbox Referral URL looks like this for example:

So often I see spammy looking referrer URLs just like the one above that people link to and 9 times out of 10 I’ll copy the URL and remove the referrer code. The biggest issue I have is the random unfriendliness of these links, my username or email address instead of the garbled noise at the end would probably work out even better for Dropbox!

I think more companies running referral programs need to start empowering their users and rewarding customers the way Dropbox has. Imagine if for example clicking on an Amazon affiliate link to a product not only earned the referrer a little extra coin, but gave you the customer a slight discount as well. Win win.

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.

Bulletproof Rounded Corners with Border Radius

I was rather pleased to see that not only does the latest version of Opera (the 10.5 pre-alpha) support border-radius but they made the smart move and didn’t prefix it with a vendor specific property -o- like Gecko (-moz-) and Webkit (-webkit-) do.

If you have not already been writing your border-radius statements with progressive enhancement in mind, now is most definitely the time to do it:

  1. .box {
  2. -khtml-border-radius: 5px;
  3. -moz-border-radius: 5px;
  4. -webkit-border-radius: 5px;
  5. border-radius: 5px;
  6. }
  7. Download this code: /code/border-radius.txt

The latest Opera pre-alpha includes a whole host of new properties from the W3C’s CSS3 Backgrounds and Borders spec including background-clip, background-origin, border-radius, Multiple background images, background-attachment, box-shadow & border-image. This version also includes the ability to add CSS3 transitions and 2D transforms for richer user interfaces.

My delighters.css stylesheet now includes the Opera specific transitions and animations. Thumbs up to Opera.

Voice morphing for your iPhone!

I’ve just had probably the most fun and hysterical 15 minutes of my life talking to my iPhone.

Voices app was created in part by one of my clients Oliver Cameron who hired me to help redesign and launch the new Taptivate site and blog, coinciding with the release of their latest product in conjunction with taptaptap, Voice morphing for your iPhone!


Ever wish you could change your voice to something more fun? Well, now you can with Voices! Just say something silly into your iPhone or capture a friend saying something particularly embarrassing. Then make it sound even more ridiculous with your choice of over a dozen different voices. You’ll sound hilarious as a squeaky chipmunk, a futuristic cyborg, and a super-slow turtle with Voices.

It’s not just the funny voice recordings that I love about this application it’s the interface, it’s a true beauty worked on by the amazingly talented Marcelo Marfil and David Lanham.

Voices Screens

Definitely worth checking out and don’t forget to have a look at the new Taptivate site! :)

The New Posh CSS Team

Posh CSS on the iPhoneI created Posh CSS 2 years ago as a link list of sorts for all things CSS related, since then I have posted over 375 links and the site has amassed a good following. That said, of late I have been struggling to manage the site, keeping it up-to-date with new and fresh content was increasingly becoming a challenge.

Last week I put out a request for help and was overwhelmed by the response, I managed to hand pick a great small team to help me move the site forward: @markdotto, @patdryburgh, @kevinholesh, @rosschapman and @levifig, all great guys.

So look out for new and inspiring links from them, or you could submit your own. I really look forward to seeing what happens with the site in the near future and would love to hear how you think it can be improved?

Do you book work in advance or fly by the seat of your pants?

“Almost all of the jobs I turn down are due to lack of time. Most designers are booked up for months in advance. That’s just the way it is. If you want to work with a top notch designer, then you should expect to wait a while to work with them. The exception to this is if you have a rush project with a huge budget.”

This quote is from a fantastic article by Josh Pyles How to work with a professional designer that I would recommend everyone reads, clients and designers alike. (Guest Edited by TVD).

Andrew Wilkinson brings up an interesting counter point to strict scheduling in the comments that I feel is worth discussing. Andrew notes that it is almost impossible to predict how long a project will take and that clients rarely come to them needing something done in several months time, but that they need it now.

While Andrew’s situation is a little different (they have a team of designers and developers available), as a freelancer myself who is currently fully booked for the next several months I often find myself turning down jobs merely because the deadline is unachievable within my current workload. Often times these are projects I would be jumping at the chance to work on.

So freelancers, what do you do? Do you book jobs well in advance or do you work on a first come first served basis and fly by the seat of your pants?

CSS3 is here and now, lets use it

The latest article on Smashing Magazine Take Your Design To The Next Level With CSS3 mentions my blog in an example of border-radius, and has stirred up a bit of controversy with Andy Clarke pointing out that many of the commenters are Fearful of CSS3 and how incompatibile it is with certain browsers. Do note SM comments are akin to those on YouTube.

Personally I don’t think we should be designing for the lowest common denominator, I don’t want my site to look IE6 in Safari, I want it to look Safari in Safari and IE6 in IE6, if you can catch my drift. So what if older browsers have square corners instead of rounded ones, or see a solid black instead of a semi-transparent black it doesn’t really matter, as long as they can see your content and navigate your site.

I know I’m probably preaching to the choir here, but I hope those of you who are web designers are starting to approach CSS3 and incorporate it into some of your latest projects, educating your clients as to why it should and can be used to enhance their site.

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