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August 19, 2009

While it’s been a fairly quiet summer around these parts, that doesn’t necessarily mean I’ve been slacking off. Let’s run down the list.

New Chalkwork Icons & Search

Back in June while sitting around recovering from some minor surgery, I spent a weekend producing a new free icon set for payments and ecommerce called, naturally, Chalkwork Payments. It highlighted a fairly obvious deficiency in the collection, so immediately after I set to work on a much larger commerce set. Creatively named Chalkwork Commerce of course.

Chalkwork Commerce Preview

Due to the growing size of the overall icon family (2500+ now), I decided a better way to find a specific icon was in order. So with a bit of PHP and metadata-creation elbow grease, I put together what I think is a fairly robust search tool that matches actions, metaphors, shapes, and colours.

Start with the fact that searching an image for context still isn’t something computers are good at. Then factor in the subjective nature of what an icon stands for, and the way one image often means multiple things. I didn’t really see a shortcut for doing the matching; it had to be a manual tagging job. I built a 110k index file that tags each icon in a dozen or so different ways. Here’s one example:

Hey, when you’re off your feet recovering, you have a lot of time on your hands. I can’t imagine I’ve covered every possible search, but that’s good enough for now.

The funny thing is that I built this mainly as a sales tool, a way of saying look, I’ve got an icon that matches what you need even if it isn’t labelled that way. But after launch it was pointed out it’s also quite useful for people who have bought the icons, as a way of making those same connections since you probably don’t have the entire list of what you’ve bought fresh in mind. Seems obvious in hindsight, but it was nice to have the work pay off in more than one way.


Back in June I sat in on a full day Processing workshop with local Flash and Processing wiz Jer Thorp. I’ve been seeing a lot of interesting work with data visualization happening lately, and given that the language was ported to Javascript last year, it seemed like a language I could spend some serious time digging into.

The workshop was a great way to kickstart an interest. I’ve spent the last month or two working up a small base of sketches (as each program is named) that are helping me work through the syntax, and more importantly the mental shift from designing for 2D text and images to the very different world of designing in 3D when change over time is a factor.

Various Processing sketches

I haven’t yet got to the point where I’m doing anything terribly useful with it, but that hasn’t stopped me from documenting the progress on a new blog I set up to keep from cluttering this one with something decidedly un-web. Check out Ex Nihilo if you’re interested in following along.


You might remember a post from last year called Producing, where I explored some options visual web designers have for creating products, aside from web and iPhone apps that require developer help.

Shawn Kelley took the idea to heart, and created a site called WallBlank that sells limited edition prints late last year. In a nice example of things coming full circle, he asked me to contribute one of the Processing sketches I’ve been working with. That’s now for sale, you can buy one of a limited edition of 100 unique prints called “Bokeh Array”.

WallBlank print examples

This one was particularly fun because I figured it would be worth taking full advantage of Processing’s generative abilities; each print is unique, though they share a common palette for consistency. Sounds tricky, right? Not exactly. Pressing a single button and getting 100 vector PDFs as output within a minute or two is just one of the many nice things about working with such a graphics-focused language.

Site Issues

It’s possible you noticed over the past month this site’s home page came and went a few times. Don’t worry, it’s not going anywhere.

My own fault most likely, but the Delicious API has been a bit problematic for me; the scripts I’ve been using to pull in remote data cache it, but despite an interval of a few hours between checking for new data, there seem to be some API calls leaking out during that interval that trigger throttling. Delicious has a low tolerance for that sort of thing, and every so often there just wasn’t anything showing up.

Combine that with a lack of posts or relevant Flickr photos recently, and the Google Reader items I’m sharing not actually showing up, and the entire home page was affected for a little while.

The Google Reader issue was interesting; at first I thought maybe they had changed something in the totally unofficial API, but then I realized that when I’d bought and started using 1Password I’d converted all my important passwords over to 32 character strings of random nonsense and I just hadn’t updated it.

Simple to fix, and problem solved. Now that I can arbitrarily share any item on the web in Google Reader I’ll likely be relying on Delicious less anyway.

How am I liking 1Password, incidentally? Quite a lot. You know that nagging feeling that you really shouldn’t be using the same password for every web service out there, and that back-of-your-mind worry that one compromised site could lead to a massive online identity takeover, and that you really should do something about it, but it’s really just too much of a pain in the ass to bother remembering all these different passwords, and oh forget it I’ll just keep using the same insecure password as always?

Yeah, that’s gone. My passwords look like this now: t0zDIHYqam<n5jCFgqGVj&Y”q=dPKmvY — and every site I use has a unique one. I actually do feel safer.


And one last thing in amongst all the randomness today. Coming up in December I’m speaking in San Francisco at An Event Apart, which will be only my second speaking date of 2009. I’ve slowed down quite a lot this year, but AEA was a must. It’s always an honour to share a stage with a roster of people like Jonathan Snook, George Oates, Andy Budd, Jeff Veen, and Jared Spool. AEA remains one of the best conferences in the business, and I hope to bring the proverbial awesome.

Want to come? Want a discount? I’ve got you covered. Use the code AEADSCSS when registering for $100 off. See you there.

Reader Comments

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August 19, 13h

I am really hoping to make it to AEA in December. I actually won a free conference ticket at AEA New Orleans, so I really should use it. Would be fun to grab a beer again.

Courtney Miles says:
August 19, 17h

You should log you icon searches (if you are not already). It’ll be a great way to see what icons people are most interested in and which ones you are missing.

Dave S. says:
August 19, 17h

@Matt - yeah, try and make it over! It would be great to share a beer or three again.

@Courtney - thanks for the suggestion. If you search for something non-existent (just enter some random characters) you’ll see that there’s a dialog asking you to flag that for possible inclusion in a future set. I’m not capturing all searches cause that’d probably be like drinking from the firehose, but I’ve got the “nothing found” scenario covered.

Courtney Miles says:
August 19, 17h

… and for those looking for a free alternative 1Password, I recommend KeePass. It’s open source, and there are versions for a wide variety of platforms.

Federico Pinna says:
August 20, 03h

Why 1Password and not Apple’s Keychain Access? I’m going to do just like you and change all my important password (it’s been on top of my to list for way too long) and I’m looking for the right tool.
Keychain pros: builtin in OS X, synchronizes with MobileMe
Keychain cons: not available on the iPhone…


Mike Sch. says:
September 09, 02h

I also prefer different passwords for different pages although it’s hard not to forget them.
What about KeePass? Is it a good alternative?

Good Iconwork by the way, I also made a few hundreds and I know how much work it is to design them.

Hope they sell good?

Sam Logan says:
September 24, 02h

Big thumbs up Dave, I love the icon set and the search tool is really impressive!

Alex A. says:
October 31, 14h

Thanks for the AEA SF discount tip.
And by the way, the choose of colours of this page especially with the pic on top is fabulous! Great composition!

Roy says:
November 10, 08h

I’ve just tried the IconMatcher (the icon search tool), My designer is now working on a new australian website and we were looking for a shopping cart icon, I used the search tool and it worked great, the engine returned couple of nice options - thanks.

As for AEA in San Francisco I really hope to be there this time, as i’ve missed the last one
BTW, thanks for the 100$ discount :-)

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