2: Thinking for a Living.

On 10 March 2010 by Derek J. Kinsman

Thinking for a Living. Lead Image

Firstly, thanks for reading (if you’re reading). Welcome. This is the first review of this blog. I had another website in mind for starting off with. I’ll get to that later, it’s why I started doing this. I haven’t proper blogged in a really long time, so I apologize if I break some sort of blogger rules.

Disclaimer/Spoiler: I love Thinking for a Living and the TFAL Network. If I had to classify my level of love it would probably be Creepy Stalker. Everything about TFAL I love. So as you may guess the verdict from this critique is that the site is good. But why? And can it be further improved? If you’re curious read on…

TFAL Booklet

A little history first. I’ve known about Thinking for a Living since this book was released by YouWorkForThem a few years ago. I had been buying fonts and vectors and a few DVDs. Really, I bought this book because it was the same colour as my website, or really close. I also had a massive thing for slab serifs at the time (that phase has passed). After reading that I bookmarked the site and have been a faithful reader ever since. Like most any other designer out there I’m sure we all know about the various parties involved with it’s creation.

TFAL Website

I can’t remember off hand if this was the only version of the site or not. I don’t think so. And if memory serves correctly the holding page for the current site said version 3.0. Anyway, Duane King & Co. have managed to create a pretty important product, service, network, educational material, blog, whatever you feel it should be labeled as. The branding and overall design is great. I love the pink, magenta, purple colour (I’m Canadian) scheme. It’s been carried all the way through from the printed book from years ago (I assume the sessions at the Dallas Society of Visual Communications Annual National Student Show & Conference have a similar feel) without ever feeling dated. This is one of those branding jobs I wish I did.

TFAL Homepage

Alright, enough trying to suck up to the creators. What works? Generally, the usability, legibility, readability, and accessibility are extraordinarily well crafted. Sitting back and reading the content of this website is a very easy thing to do. The type is large enough for me to read comfortably at arms length (will be perfect on an iPad, as it looks great on my iPad Nano), the leading and column width keeps eye fatigue down. The padding around everything is ample enough for me to easily distinguish various blocks of content and which bits flow into other bits. I love the use of serif over sans serif typefaces. As much as I love Helvetica and Mr Eaves and NBGrotesk, I’d much rather be reading a serif typeface. That’s just me though. Also, thank God there’s no Museo (not that there’s anything wrong with it, it’s just everywhere). Finally, the IA of the site makes perfect sense and just navigating around is straight forward and understandable. Of course, all this is to be expected after browsing through the portfolio’s of the people building this site.

What really does it for me and has completely ruined it everywhere else and has set the bar going forward? The keyboard based navigation. IT’S AWESOMESUPERFANTASTICSAUCE! Seriously. It’s so comprehensive. You can actually not use the mouse for probably 99% of your visit (I’ll get to the other 1% in a second). No other website does this. Non of the media bookmarking services, the Cargo Collective featured websites/projects screen for members doesn’t do it. Most blogs don’t do much. All they do is scroll from post to post. Antonio Carusone of AisleOne did a good job as his posts fit in one screen, so they can scroll from post to post without skipping by a bunch of content. No one else really does this. It’s more a novelty feature.

Let me explain how amazing I think keyboard based navigation really can be. I have really extremely bad repetitive strain injury. Carpal tunnel syndrome, radial tunnel syndrome, I have it all. I can do about 10 – 15 minutes of computer work before my arms basically catch fire and I’m popping pain killers for the rest of the day. I live in elbow & wrist wraps, I tape my shoulders and my fingers (I learned this from climbing) I go to a physiotherapist and a masseuse. I hate the magic mouse with a passion. It’s quite possibly the most non ergonomic computing device ever made (a bit worse than the really mini Apple aluminium keyboard). Basically I use the trackpad of my laptop as my mousing device. Or the pen of my tablet. I’ve been thinking about getting the Wacom Bamboo Touch just to have a larger trackpad. Thinking for a Living fixed something I new was broken and didn’t know how to fix. Or rather, didn’t realize there was a fix (I wanted the faster horse, not the car, TFAL gave me the car). I can navigate the entire website read every post, view every page without using the mouse. I can all of a sudden read something I enjoy quite a bit on a platform I enjoy which won’t ever go away (computers if you’re wondering ;) ) without causing any sort of computer related pains. I want the entire world wide web to work that way. I’m trying to figure out how to add keyboard based navigation into the app for the company that I work for. But it has to work as good as (or better) than what Thinking for a Living does. Like I said it set the bar for this type of interaction. A very high bar. I can think of maybe 2 other websites off hand that do it well, just not comprehensive enough. And anyone deciding to add key navigation to their sites better think long and hard about topping TFAL. Don’t add it because it’s a novel means of interaction. Add it because it can be an accessibility improvement. That’s how I feel TFAL is using it. As an improvement to the accessibility of the site.

Well, could I offer up any way the creators could improve upon what they’ve already crafted? Not really. I mean, they’ve already obviously made enormous improvements on the prior version(s). Maybe though I can offer up three criticisms. Nothing major. Probably already thought of. One maybe technically not possible. Maybe two not technically possible. Okay, firstly, the left right arrow thumbnails that are used as visuals for the mouse clicks seem a bit jittery if the mouse is moved fast. Not a big deal as it’s not overly noticeable and will probably be different depending on browser (as they all have different javascript engines) and it’s not a consistently jittery thing. Something just to watch for. Two & three: expand that awesome keyboard navigation to new epic heights (I keep wanting to spell words with …ei… as …ie… it’s really bugging me). So for 2, it would be cool, although probably not feasible or maybe even not possible, but, cool, if the expandable categories menu had keyboard shortcuts for each sub category. Like shift+ctrl+q, shift+ctrl+w, and on and on for each of those. Tricky, they’d have to be dynamically generated as new categories get created or old categories get deleted or merged with other categories. I was thinking as well, that just having shortcuts for all the links would be neat. Just use another shortcut, shift+tab+q, shift+tab+w, etc. Maybe putting a little span beside each link a few shades darker than the background so the user knows what short cut does what. Really, I’m only suggesting this because this is the only way to improve upon what has already been done. I’m sure this kind of functionality is hugely complex so I’m definitely not slogging TFAL for not adding that kind of functionality. Just saying, that’s the kind of functionality that will further improve keyboard based navigation on any service. My final third criticism would be the vertical scrolling. Currently it’s handled quite gracefully with some nice jQuery smooth scrolling up and down (which is arrow key-able), so there’s nothing really wrong with it. The nice to have would be no vertical scrolling. Again, I’ve no idea how the CMS is laying out the content. Are they using the jQuery Columnize plugin? No idea. Didn’t look. Could they? No idea. That probably depends on how they are dealing with the content. I don’t even know if you could calculate the innerHeight and have that determine the height of a columnized column. I don’t think so. So this is another one of those, maybe the technology isn’t quite there, or it’s resource intensive to create that kind of functionality. It’s just a thought. Currently I have no real issue with it. But, for the sake of providing some thoughts that could help going forward whether for TFAL or for anyone reading that is facing a similar situation and how to handle it. Just my two cents.

Sub Categories

All in all Thinking for a Living is one of the best websites I’ve visited. Both in experience and in information. Bookmark it, add it to your RSS, visit it everyday. Learn stuff. I’m glad I know about it. It’s changed my views. If I know I’m going to be somewhere were it’s possible that I might run into Duane King I’d bring my TFAL book to get signed. Yes it’s that good.

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2: Thinking for a Living.

Written by Derek J. Kinsman

Published on 10 March 2010

Filed under Review, , , .

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  1. Posted March 17, 2010 at 5:39 am | Permalink

    Hello Derek,

    Thanks so much for the thoughtful post. I can assure you that we are honored that you enjoyed the site enough to take the time to write about it. We’re always looking for ways to improve upon the site and your input on additional features will certainly be taken into consideration. We’ve got a lot more in store so stay tuned. Thanks again for your support and most importantly—thanks for reading.

    Be well.

  2. Posted March 17, 2010 at 2:41 pm | Permalink

    Hi Duane,

    Thanks for taking the time to comment here. That means a lot. Believe you me (that’s a dumb phrase, who came up with that) I will definitely be staying tuned in. Thanks for writing.

    Cheers, Derek.

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