My roots in design go back to childhood, when drawing and building were two of my favorite pastimes; I discovered an interest in a multi-disciplinary approach to the world early. Education at the Evergreen State College reinforced this passion for blending the theoretical with the tangible. In 1981 I started my first business, Madrona Knives, which I operated for over 17 years. In 1986 I moved to Lopez Island and started working for Gregg Blomberg at Kestrel Tool, making my own knives at the same time.
Knifemaking demands a solid understanding of technique and theory, as well as patience with difficult media. These skills served me well when designing my first website in 2005, while on the staff at the Lopez Island Library. My position there required that I develop expertise with computers, and I found an aptitude for working with these powerful—but often frustrating—tools. Working with computer novices became one of the most rewarding aspects of my job and helped me to appreciate what it takes to make a web site user-friendly.
After seven years working at the Library, I decided it was time to go back to being a “maker” of things: this time the things would be electronic bits instead of physical objects. I started Cloud Islands in 2006 working in the Lopez community helping businesses, non-profits, and individuals create or improve their online presence. I started out as a web designer at a time when the Web Standards movement was really taking off, and I was heavily influenced by the work of industry leaders such as Jeffrey Zeldman, Dan Cederholm, John Allsopp, Jeremy Keith, Eric Meyer, and Andy Clarke. The CSS Zen Garden showed the way towards richly expressive design techniques using CSS exclusively. This hand-crafted approach to web design was right up my alley and I spent the next several years making hand-coded websites.
But the Web, like everything in modern life, is continually changing and evolving. Hand-crafted websites are a blast to make, but they are not designed to be updated by non-technical users. With the rise of blogging tools such as Blogger, Movable Type, and WordPress, it became clear that people wanted to edit and update their websites themselves, and to focus on content creation, not code. WordPress gradually became the leading blogging software, in large part due to its huge user community. I made my first WordPress site in 2007, but it wasn’t until a couple of years later that the platform had matured enough that I felt it was a god tool for general website development.
In 2011 I was persuaded to teach a WordPress class through the Lopez Island Family Resource Center. I had never taught before, and overcoming intense stage fright was a big hurdle for me. But the class proved popular and clearly satisfied a need in the community. I now teach the class every year, and also provide one-on-one training and consultation.
So what’s next? The era of hand-crafted websites is over, and I often find myself needing to spend more time in meatspace than in the world of bits and bytes. I recently returned to wood carving, which had been a favorite craft space while working at Kestrel Tool. As fascinating as the online world is, for me it is but a shadow of the real world. Maybe it’s a generational thing—but I also see a huge revival of the handcraft movement, and its many of its practitioners are the so-called “digital natives,” Millennials who have never known life without iPods and 24/7 connectivity. Indie crafts, artisianal foods, localism, urban revival, and rural community-building are new-old trends that harken back to many similar movements of the 70s.
These kids seem to be able to find a balance between the digital and physical worlds: they embrace technology, but see it as a tool to be used on their own terms. I like this approach a lot, and find myself moving towards a similar manner of being in the world.