A blog by the Brick Factory The Brick Factory

The Magic Is In the Makeup

In the world of website and graphic design, image is everything, and with it, the art accompanying the project just as significant. While businesses frequently face the challenge of finding images that appropriately represent their organizations and/or services, it is not to say that success will be found 100% of the time. Surprisingly, the most important aspect of their presentation can often times appear rushed, or other times under cooked.

The entire concept of image retouching is similar to that of a magician: The viewer should never be in on the trick.

Image manipulation is truly an art, and nowadays when a 15 year-old can remove a lingering pimple before posting party pics to Facebook, everyone is in on the act, albeit with mixed results.

I am always on the search for examples of what I’d like to call "photostopping,” where both the photo and reality end, leaving you wondering why an effort was made at all.

I find myself endlessly entertained by the website Photoshop Disasters, featuring examples of poorly implemented designs that actually make it past the cutting room floor. Viewing the site, you would be surprised at the epidemic of models missing limbs in advertisements.

microsoft-capture-FINAL

This example comes from the Polish edition of the Microsoft website. While it is not uncommon to come across websites using the same stock images, it would seem that there are only so many of the standard “diversity” business shots available.

In the image, one businessman is clumsily swapped for another, going as far as neglecting the color of the replaced man’s hand. While you could potentially excuse other companies for shoddy design, please remember— this is MICROSOFT!

And I haven’t even touched the subject of the obvious white MacBook prominently featured in the center of the shot.

Source: Photoshop Disasters

Further reading: Joe Wertz: The Politics of Photoshop — 10 Historic Doctored Photos

Tech Meets Cycling

I ride my bicycle to work whenever possible through the scenic District of Columbia, which offers me numerous benefits. It forces me to exercise regularly, cuts down on commuting costs, is a zero emissions method of navigating the city streets (aside from manufacturing processes), and it’s much quicker door-to-door than driving through rush hour traffic.

Naturally, I’ve dabbled with websites, apps, and mobile tools to enhance my riding experience, most of which have been of little or no use to me. That said, there are a few gems available to cycling enthusiasts, and I thought I’d highlight the best of the best from my experiences. Keep reading after the jump for my findings.

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2009: My Digital Resolution

The first Monday after the New Year brings many of us back to reality after a fleeting period of mental freedom (barring any drama with the in-laws, of course). This time of year many choose to reflect on the previous 52 weeks, and determine what kinds of lifestyle changes will make the next year (in our case, 2009) less lackluster. Instead of boring you with non-existent plans to visit the gym with increased frequency, or a false promise to cook at home more, I've decided to share my list of ways I would like — and have already begun — to change my internet habits.

Online Products Getting the Axe

  • Flickr. With more and more of my friends making use of Facebook's photo albums, I have been using Flickr less and less. While I realize there's still a place for the artsy photostream, Flickr, once a mainstay of my daily online repertoire, is largely absent from my browser's address bar.
  • Firefox. Nothing personal to Mozilla, and I still run it on my Ubuntu and FreeBSD boxes. But when it comes to my business-centered Windows machine, I have abandoned this once-touted browser champion for Google Chrome. Now out of beta, the UI is slick and it uses far less system resources than the now pudgy Firefox. Disclaimer: I am also a self-proclaimed Google fanboy.
  • Technorati. I still view Technorati via RSS, as their headlines are worth a look. However, I used to use this service mainly as a blog search tool, and Google Blog search has simply surpassed it.
  • Twitter. After Facebook implemented and revamped its status updates, Twitter doesn't quite have the same sheen it once had. In addition, most aggregate services implement with the Twitter platform if you really need to stay afloat on any crucial Tweets. Not to mention its non-impressive growth over the last few months.

Online Products I Use More, or Have Begun Using

Excluding the mainstays such as Gmail and Facebook, here are some products I've made some room for as we transition into 2009.

  • Google Reader. While I did not begin using this recently, the revamp of its design and new features have really set this reader further away from the pack than I had imagined.
  • FriendFeed. Upon launch, I was adamently opposed to FriendFeed. After some time to work out kinks and to catch on in popularity (and by nature, functionality), I have found some good news leads and websites through this service. I joined FriendFeed to show how pointless it was, and now it saves me time by aggregating all sorts of websites I'd rather not visit primarily.
  • Hulu. I only really watch It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia, and it's available on Hulu. As are all of the archived episodes of Arrested Development. I watch more Hulu than television by a long shot. Where else can I stream forgotten films of the 80's and 90's for free with (very) limited commercial interruption in 480p?
  • Truphone. I make a few calls internationally every now and then, and while Skype is great, without a truly mobile Skype phone available in the United States this service is truly discount calling on the go.

I'm excited to see the innovation that will come with 2009, and hopefully this list will expand itself with better offerings as the year progresses. What kinds of digital changes do you plan to make in the New Year?

Website Review: Updated Metro Page

There are several websites that I frequent at least once a week for entertainment value (thank you, Zero Punctuation), but there are also several sites that I visit purely for information on a once-a-week-or-more basis.  Because I live in DC, one of those sites is definitely the official Metro page.

The website began in 1996, and according to the site, receives over 16 million page views a month.  Users can use the site to plan their public transportation trips, read up on emergency alerts, and find out about discount programs and payment plans.  Yet, as useful as it was, the site was in need of a major overhaul.  Thankfully, as of December 8, my lamentations were heard, and I'm happy to say that I am quite pleased with the result.  My favorite parts of the updated site, as well as some screenshots, are after the jump. (more…)

Ubiquitous Usernames

I'll be the first to admit that when it comes to online user accounts, I am rather protective of my favorite usernames. I prefer my aliases to be free of numbers and clutter. When other people on various websites see my online identity, I want them to be in awe of the sheer minimalism and genius of the moniker I chose.

For corporations and organizations looking to control their brand's messages online, this is of greater urgency. We've already seen examples of individuals "hijacking" corporate accounts by posing as a company representative on websites like Twitter and Blogger.That's where the website Username Check  comes into play. It's a simple and novel online tool: a user inputs his or her username and the website returns a check on whether that username is registered on various popular web 2.0 sites. Thanks to this tool I was able to snag the username "eric" on a couple of websites. In the case of an organization, it could be useful checking out if there's something out there that you should be aware of.

Able to register an awe-inspiring username after checking with this tool? Let us know in the comments.