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Colin Devroe

Reverse Engineer. Blogger.

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Mandy Pennington teaches SEO at the May 2018 NEPA Tech meet up

Mandy Pennington presents at NEPA Tech

This last month’s NEPA Tech meet up was very well attended, produced, and an all-around great time – as per usual.

I’ve seen Mandy do several presentations over the last few years and so I knew going into this we were in for an informative and fun session. SEO could be a boring, drab topic but Mandy made it fun and practical. And it appeared the other attendees agreed based on the number of questions she got after her main presentation was over.

For me personally this topic was timely as I’ve recently taken over the marketing strategy for Jujama. I have no doubt I will be constantly reviewing all of the information Mandy presented.

If you’re reading this and you haven’t yet attended a NEPA Tech meet up – I urge you to consider it. It isn’t all code (in fact, the vast majority of our meet ups have been code-less, though code shouldn’t scare you). And it isn’t all a bunch of nerdy dudes (though there are plenty of us). We want to continue to grow this community in practical and rich ways; bringing in music, the arts, culture and much more into near future meet ups. These events should be engaging and hopefully spark both inspiration and collaboration in our area. After 17 meet ups we’re on our way.

Corporate typefaces are all the rage

This isn’t a recent phenomena. Corporations have been creating their own typefaces since the beginning of type. But, lately, I’ve noticed more and more that they are using it in their marketing efforts or because the scale of these corporations make it cost prohibitive not to make their own typeface.

Let me pull these two things apart.

Corporations will often choose a typeface, or set of typefaces, to use in everything they do. Jujama, as an example, uses a variation of DIN in most of our work so far. This way materials made by them will all be unified and recognizable. However, in this age of enormous scale some typeface licenses make it nearly impossible to use one off-the-shelf.

For example, Netflix recently created their own font called Netflix Sans, saving them millions of dollars in licensing fees. Even if their design team spent 18 months making this typeface (which they likely did, or more) the savings would far outweigh the investment.

But then there is the less pragmatic reasons for creating your own typeface – such as Arby’s Saucy AF (which is an acronym I will not dissect here). It fits their brand, is fun, and likely doesn’t not impact the bottom line much.

Other recent examples I’ve seen include Airbnb’s Cereal (which, if you know the company history, is a fitting name), IBM’s Plex, and eBay’s Market Sans.

I seem to see at least one corporation per week updating their identities with all-new, custom-made, typefaces. I think it is great. And what fun to work on! I do not have the skills, yet, to make my own typeface but I can imagine a time where I give that a try.

A new brand identity for The Watercolor Gallery

I’m excited to start a brand-new series here on my site — The Grand Brand Design Challenge. I’m equally excited to be starting this series with a personal project I’ve been working on since 2010, The Watercolor Gallery.

Read more about The Grand Brand Design Challenge on its own page.

I’ve only taken the time to design two logos for The Watercolor Gallery over the years. Some attempts I posted on Dribbble and a few never made the light of day. Recently, however, I’ve begun posting new content and interviews and the Twitter account is just about to pass 4,000 followers. So I thought it might be a good time to revisit the logo and refresh it.

Here is how this new logo compares to the previous one.

When embarking on a rebrand I typically like to pull some inspiration or an element from the previous logo into the new one. In this case, the ocean wave that I had prior has been pulled forward. However, a much stronger inspiration came from The Great Wave off Kanagawa. I wanted to somehow capture the motion of that great, classic painting and pull it forward into The Watercolor Gallery’s brand identity.

It took me a while to get these lines to work properly. And I’m sure a more critical eye would say they still aren’t quite there. But they are there enough for me for a small personal project. I’m very happy with the mark. Using the path tool in illustrator proved to be more challenging on this piece. Thanks to Kyle Ruane for his helpful tips in cleaning up a few things.

Above: A bunch of scribbles in my notebook of some rough ideas.

Above: An illustrator artboard with variations and attempts at the shapes along with the two main inspirations for the mark.

Above: A few variations of the logo mark for black and white and inverted options.

I’m looking forward to implementing this new logo design over the next year on the web site and social accounts for this project.

If you would like a logo for your project (company, app, etc) please feel free to reach out to me. I’ll do it on the cheap.

 

You should attend events, meetups, and conferences

I published the following article on LinkedIn in March. However, their publishing tool removed all of the photos from the post when I published it and I was so frustrated that I did not bother to go in and fix it. I’m republishing the post here with photos.


For over a decade now I’ve put in a lot of effort to present at and attend as many technology and business events as I can. I’ve attended events in Austin, San Francisco, Los Angeles, Honolulu, Orlando, Jacksonville, New York City, Philadelphia, Greenville and a half-dozen other US cities. But you don’t have to hop on a plane to attend events. I also attend several regional events per year that gets me back at home before bedtime.

In 2014 I wrote a blog post titled You should go to meetups and in it I wrote about one of the advantages of attending meetups or conferences:

Because there is a lot of energy at meetups. The presenters are generally at the beginning of their product cycles and they have a lot of positive energy to make something happen. Those in the crowd all have their stories, their ideas, their goals. And, in addition to those building startups you’ll generally find lawyers, venture capitalists, programmers, marketers, etc. who are willing to offer their help for your project. It is a very, very good way to meet people that you’ll likely work with.

This past year has been no different. Each event I made the effort to attend has yielded some professional and personal fruit. If you haven’t yet gotten to many events in your area, or elsewhere, I strongly encourage you to give it a try. And not just once.

Here are a few highlights from the events I’ve attended or presented at in the last 18-months alone.

NEPA BlogCon 2016

I’m going to start a few months prior to 2017 because I attended a few amazing events near the end of the year in 2016. First up is NEPA BlogCon 2016.

At NEPA BlogCon, an event specifically catering to those just getting started in blogging, social media, and marketing, it was evident the amount of care that went into organizing the event. Each year NEPA BlogCon has been refined to be more engaging, valuable, and fun. One thing this event always reminds me of, now matter how mature an industry or technology appears to be there are always new faces seeking to learn.

TecBridge Entrepreneurial Institute 2016

Marywood University is the host to an excellent annual entrepreneurship event that always proves valuable for its attendees. The 2016 event was very well attended and had an excellent panel discussion, workshops, presentations, and more.

At the time I wrote this about the event on my blog:

Rather than a panel simply answering questions broadly, the workshops helped the attendees to work through a problem and see the processes work step-by-step.

I think what I appreciate about this event each year is the focus on practical takeaways for attendees. If you are there to learn you will.

Cropped! A rebranding competition

Cropped! is a fun event held by AAF NEPA that pits a few creative talents against each other to rebrand a local nonprofit organization that could use the help.

Branding is my day job and so watching as these teams tried to solve the problems of organization’s current brand was fun.

Branding is about exposing an entity’s core purpose, principles, and offerings to the world. Rebranding is about fixing any problems the current brand has encountered.

I wrote the following on my blog after the event:

Branding is an exercise in getting a company’s culture, message, and purpose demonstrated and communicated through every single thing the company does. I know it has been said a million times but it worth reiterating that branding is not a logo. Branding permeates a company’s activities from the way they answer the phone to how easy it is to unsubscribe to their monthly email newsletters. I was happy to see that everyone at Cropped! knew exactly what branding was.

PhillyBurbs WordPress Meetup

You will not find a more inclusive meetup within 100 miles of my front door as the PhillyBurbs meetup. This one is always well worth the drive and some of their organizers have returned the favor to attend meetups in northeastern Pennsylvania.

One takeaway I had last year at this event was the impact a more inclusive culture will have on our industry. As more and more groups of people are represented in our industry the better it gets. For far too long the industry’s perspective has been dominated by white males. This is changing. For some it isn’t changing fast enough but I’m simply happy that it is.

Ask The Web Marketing Experts panel

Speaking of white males… 🙄

I, along with several other web marketers in our area, were invited to participate in a panel discussion and recording session at NEPA Alliance organized by the Scranton Small Business Development Center.

The questions from the SBDC and local businesses were great and I know all of the “experts” learned a lot from each other as well.

NEPA.js and NEPA Tech Events

I attended, and presented at, at least 7 monthly NEPA.js (which has now been rolled into NEPA Tech) events throughout 2017. In late 2016 Mark Keith decided to bring together a group of JavaScript enthusiasts each month to discuss JavaScript-things which bled into discussions on all sorts of technology, business, marketing and even cryptocurrency. The amount of value this one event has generated for our area is already incalculable.

I blogged about ever single event I went to so you can read all of my notes on my event tag on my blog at cdevroe.com.

Inventor’s Guild at TekRidge

I’ll often pop into some events with no real reason for me to be there other than to soak up whatever information I can. The Inventor’s Guild is just such an event. This event caters to people that want to invent things (or already have) and, hopefully, profit.

One thing I was reminded of at this event was how little the inventor typically profits off of their inventions when compared to the companies that license them and how important it is to understand patent and IP law if you’re an inventor of a physical product.

Wilkes-Barre Programmers meet up

I’m not a Python developer (which this Wilkes-Barre programmer event was geared to) but I was interested to see how this group was run. I found it very informative and challenging. One thing I realized by attending this event was how these events have a small gravitational pull. If you remove any mass from them by not attending they may just drift off into the ether. Never to coalesce again. It is important to support a small group with your presence even if it doesn’t align with your skillset or desired path. By helping to keep these groups together when they are small they can continue to grow and mature and eventually split off into the groups you want to see in your area.

In other words, don’t skip events just because their small. Small events beget larger ones.

SAIL by Second Wind

In March 2017 I flew to Orlando partly to get away from the winter and partly to learn as much as I could about running a digital advertising agency at Second Wind’s idea lab.

I learned a lot. There was hundreds of years of experience in the room and all were willing to share with one another. In fact, nearly a year later, this event still comes up in conversations with many agencies on a weekly basis.

I felt privileged to learn how other businesses throughout the country are solving problems of recruiting, employee compensation, retainer agreements, agency IP, and much more.

tecBRIDGE Entrepreneurial Institute 2017

I held a workshop at this years TEI event and it was a blast. The workshop format allowed me to bring practical value to those that attended it. The Q&A session was very good and I received emails from attendees for weeks afterward.

The entire event was very good and many business owners and students in our area, well over 200 of them, got a taste for what it means to be an entrepreneur and the inevitable challenges they face.

Other events

I attended a few other regional events including one for Unmanned Ariel Systems used in Surveying work at Penn State University, other WordPress meetups that I spoke at, a presentation about my as-yet-unreleased step counting mobile application Summit to the Lehigh Valley Tech Meetup, and also Ben Franklin’s VentureIdol and many others.

There has been no shortage of long-lasting benefit from each event I’ve attended over the years. I cannot overstate this enough, especially if you’re a remote worker or are operating from the hinterland — get out of your home office and shake some hands.

Are you an event organizer? Consider using Jujama to power your next event.

New office vibes – March 2018

Jujama’s Scranton, PA offices are 👌

Creating Summit: The current summit view

This post is the first in a series of posts about my experience building and designing Summit. This post focuses on just one view within the application; the current summit view.

The idea for Summit came nearly 4 years ago as far as I can tell. I’ve hunted around for scraps of paper, digital notes, code snippets to see if I can come up with an exact date but I’ve been unable to. And it has been fits and starts for several years.

When Kyle Ruane and I started on the idea we first thought the UI would be a bit more game-like. I envisioned a 3D model of the current mountain you were hiking that would progress the person up the summit in first-person towards each goal. This was altogether too much work, and far too difficult given my unfamiliarity with the platform. Kyle’s suggestion – again, many years ago – was to use a low poly look. He would craft a low poly representation of the summit and we could allow the user to move around in it, perhaps even spin it around, zoom in-and-out, etc.

I pulled that thread for a very short time before giving up. Remember, we started toying with the idea of Summit before Swift was released. So I was trying to draw this UI with Obj-C. Something I’m even more terrible at than Swift.

Here is what one attempt at drawing progress lines using Obj-C looked like back 4 years ago or so. I took this screenshot in June 2014 and was already labeling it “historical junk” in my files.

The red triangles were goals to meet, the blue line was your path, and the white line was your progress so far. My goal was to overlay this on top of the low poly art that Kyle drew. This was inspired by maps like this. (copied here for archival purposes)

This worked but was not that easy to pull of, introduced more complexity than we needed, and so we quickly shelved the idea until we got more familiar with the platform.

In tandem I began constructing a simple web UI to start cataloging steps from a phone. This was purely to get used to writing code that would track user’s steps, show stats, work on our step algorithm (the code that determines how far up Mount Everest a single step walking in a downtown city parking lot gets you), etc.

It went this way for a few years. I would open up a code editor and begin working on the pieces of Summit; the progress UI, the algorithm, the code to read from a user’s step count or HealthKit or Apple Watch.

In June 2017, when I picked up this project on my own to take on since Kyle had moved away, I decided I needed a simpler approach to the UI. In part because Kyle is the design genius but also in part because I wanted to get as quickly to shipping an app as I possibly could. I prefer to iterate on ideas with user feedback than to work on something in a silo for years. I wanted a way to show the summit, or some visual from the summit, but yet also show one’s progress. And I also still needed multiple goals per summit.

Here are a few drawings from this summer.

See, I’m not an artist. Admittedly, though, this wasn’t an attempt to draw anything beautiful but rather to get a general idea for all of the views I needed to pull off the layout. I needed some labels, some buttons, navigation, etc.

The long goal buttons was really “a punt” on my part. I gave up trying to get Xcode’s Storyboard feature to properly align a changing number of goal buttons (since each summit has a different number of goals) in a way that worked with each device size. It was very frustrating. So I began to go down this path of having them just be full-width, flat buttons.

But then I ran into Brian Voong on YouTube. In most of his video tutorials he suggests forgoing the Storyboard feature and using code to create the UI. Though I didn’t want to lose the progress I had made, I’m so glad that I took his advice. Writing UI directly in Swift is far, far easier (for me)  and seemingly more powerful than using Storyboards.

This revelation allowed me to go back to a drawing I did a month earlier. This one:

On the left, the elements needed, on the right, a rough sketch of a much more minimal and airy design of the current summit view. The goal buttons have varying distances between them relative to how far apart they are in real life (I’m still working on getting this right in the app).

Using Swift I was able to make this happen much easier than Storyboards.

The above is one of the very first swings at this view. It had all of the elements I wanted. And I’ve been iterating on this specific design ever since. I wish I had the hundreds of iterations saved but I don’t.

Here is what the most recent iteration looks like with goal buttons that are easier to determine your progress and other tweaks to make the UI more consistent.

This is the design for this view I’ve settled with for now. I have plans to iterate on this current design for some time before, perhaps, taking a whole new swing at it. Perhaps my skills will grow to the point that I feel confident going back to Kyle’s low poly idea. But, I’m pleased with how it has come along so far.

Developers, Let me tell you about Microsoft (audio)

I’ve been writing about Microsoft’s moves for the last three years. This week everything has come together and I’ve been writing my first multi-platform application using C# and Visual Studio. In this long rant I go on and on about how Microsoft needs to spread the word about what they are up to.

Links for this bit:

Download.

I’ve spent most of the day writing JavaScript (fun!) which was an opportunity to try out ES 2018, the MDN docs, and laugh while reading Eevee’s take on the latest JavaScript spec updates.

What’s new in WSL in Windows 10

Tara Raj for Microsoft:

We’ve been documenting many of these new features and improvements on this blog over the last few months, but we’ve often been asked for a single document listing all the new improvements, and with FCU (version 1709, build 16299.15) shipping on October 17th 2017, we thought it was time to publish a list these improvements!

We’re coming up on our first year of using Windows Subsystem for Linux (WSL) at Condron Media. I mentioned in January of this year that we’ve been using it pretty extensively. Since then Tucker Hottes has been getting the insider updates (or, beta updates) of Windows 10 and has enjoyed the incredibly fast pace that Microsoft’s teams are on. If you look at the linked blog post you’ll see the improvements are myriad.

A request: If you’re a developer using Windows 10 and know about WSL do Microsoft a favor and let other Windows-using developers know. Tucker and I are always amazed at the number of developers that have no idea about WSL still. In fact, just yesterday we met one and made sure to tell them about it.

To put this in perspective; Tucker is on Windows 10 and I’m on macOS. Yet, we use nearly the same development environment, configuration, tools, etc. This allows us to collaborate in a way that was previously much more difficult. Microsoft is doing great work on WSL and more developers need to know.