Are covers important now?

Book Covers

I don’t think it’s a huge leap to suggest that digital distribution is changing the respect for covers of books. Amazon has just come out with their own piece of hardware that allows people to read things digitally. After looking at the horrible product shots for the Kindle and saw the cover image it shows for the book, it got me to think about the relevance of book covers. It’s not a new question, but if I compare how Amazon shows the cover art vs. the way it looks on their digital display vs. the image that Audible has – does the cover really help sell the book or even make it more “real”. The alternative is no image like those text ad’s that Google displays (which from a selling point has been a success), or is there something else? Why not more fluid covers for the digital realm. Sites that care about accessibility can be resized depending on the browser or computer. Facebook can tell if I’m coming from an iPhone or Firefox. Maybe digital covers could do the same thing – in a sense it becomes it’s own thumbnail website. It’s just an idea. If things continue on the path it’s on, covers will become oblivious.

For a bit more commentary on covers and Kindle, check out the Book Design Review, Three Minds @ Organic and PSFK.

iPhone review coming from my MBP


I was going to get one sooner or later, it was just a matter of time. There’s a lot of reviews already out there so I’ll try to keep mine short and sweet. While the iPhone is great it’s not perfect which is interesting to note. The most surprising aspect of the iPhone for me is that I use it to listen to music. I’ve been a huge fan of the iPod shuffle and really didn’t have much use for a screen. I didn’t mind managing my music from my MBP. But know that I have the screen, I’m using it all the time to listen too. But another part of that usage is from the fact that I’m surfing the net a lot from the iPhone. I’ll get more into that in a moment. The beef that I have with the music play is that there’s really no way to advance the track to the next one when you’re not using the screen. (from the instructions – Skip to the next song: Click twice quickly) You can turn the volume up from the side, but not the songs.

I really like the browser, but again it’s not perfect. I had high hopes of being able to blog from my iPhone. I can but it’s not easy. I also want to be able to embed my photos from flickr into a blog post. Something about that isn’t working yet and I’m not sure why. The easy get around would be to copy + paste text from flickr, but I can’t copy + paste at all. That kind of functionality is surprising that it’s not available. I’ve heard that this might be improved through an update, but there’s no time limit for it at this point. I also miss the fact that if I want to add a site to delicious that there’s no button on the toolbar to press for a save. I have to hope that the site has that capability built into each post. Facebook has a really good site that takes the iPhone’s interface into consideration. I suspect other sites will evolve their functionality depending on what type of computer/phone is being used to browse.

Funny how I’ve talked about a couple features though not about the fact that it’s actually a phone too. The sound quality isn’t too bad and works perfectly for me when I have the headphones on. It’s such great feature that there’s a mic on the earbuds. I also like the fact that my Address Book from my computer syncs with my iPhone. Now I just have to make sure my Address Book is clean and up to date with the phone information.

The map function works decently as does the YouTube feature, though I wonder why YouTube doesn’t work when surfing from the browser. The physical iPhone is almost too light for it’s own good so I bought an Incase Protective Cover. I really like it, but I hope some of the reviews of it stretching are isolated. I find that the added rubber makes the iPhone easier to hold. I haven’t really had the chance to explore any additional web apps yet, but so far so good for the iPhone. Once I get most of my contact data of my horrible Treo I’ll have quite the cell phone crushing party. I can not believe how bad my Treo 650 is in comparison to my iPhone.

Average Rating vs. Popularity

Average Rating vs. Popularity

I’m working on a fairly interesting project that will have the ability to visualize information from a ratings system. How that information will be taken into consideration is still being decided. I’ve been looking at iTunes and they have two similar methods to help people make a choice for what’s hot. My twofold question is this, 1. what’s easier for you to understand – an average star rating or a popularity strip, and 2. have you used those ratings systems to make a decision?

My New Favourite Site

My new fav. site

News and news stories on the net are like the never ending story. Those websites are constantly updating information on a minute per minute basis. I remember not that long ago when the New York Times, Time, CNN and even the CBC redesigned their sites. With each of those advances I thought that things were going pretty well. With the redesign of Newsweek I think people’s viewing choices got a lot more advanced. There’s so many smart things going on that it’s hard to pin point any one element. This is one of the first magazine sites aside from New York Magazine that I would want to spend a lot of time with reading online. Now that the stories look interesting enough to make me want to read them, when will I have the time too? If there was one feature I would now love to have for the Newsweek site, it would be the capability to click on the story and have it read to me as I work on my laptop. It would be an interesting combination of reading and listening. For me to want to listen to the story, it would first have to look interesting enough for me to want to pay attention. Words along won’t do that, and neither would sound if I can’t get into wanting to read it with the design of it.

According to Mediaweek, the design people responsible were creative director Amid Capeci and magazine designer Roger Black consulting. The people behind the redesign were Newsweek’s Creative Director Rolf Ebeling and the Wonderfactory. I can only imagine how many people actually worked on this to bring it live…

Moving photos around



I was sent a pretty interesting link to a photo app that does have some potential. TiltView shows a bunch of photos in a grid, the twist is that the images can twist. When you click on an image it fills the screen. That in itself isn’t that special, but I think if you took that grid and multiplied it a couple times it could add some value to finding the image that you’re looking for. You can read more about TiltViewer on their blog at Airtight News.

thanks atzimba

I’m Michael Surtees and I’d like to say hi

Me on my last day at Renegade

This is one of those blog posts you don’t really imagine writing, but the circumstances are such that I need to explore every angle that I have at the moment. In short, a number of people where I used to work at Renegade were let go yesterday, including myself. If you’ve spent anytime here at DesignNotes, you know that I have a passion for design and advertising and love the exploration of all things that involve miscellaneous communication.

While it’s an uneasy feeling at the moment, I’m excited about being able to see what else is out there. I haven’t had my portfolio online since I moved to Renegade, though considering I’m looking for full time I’ve placed a downloadable portfolio pdf at and a page on my blog at HERE. Almost one hundred percent of what I’ve done in the last year at Renegade has been online, although I still love the smell of fresh ink at press checks, talking to photographers and illustrators, and hammering a freshly designed poster onto a wall. The two big projects that I spent a lot of time on was with the Redesign of Panasonic’s Consumer Electronics website, and Children for Children’s web site. For, I was the design lead for Support and Search, while for Children for Children I was the primary designer. Obviously these sites weren’t designed in a vacuum, but I can easily say that I had a major part in their development and philosophy.

Where do I want to go from here? That’s a really open question – there’s so much room to explore online, whether with trying to combine people’s new experiences with web 2.0 apps, social communities or api’s that are being made available, and/or just being a competent designer making things understandable for people in their everyday lives – that’s what I want to continue to do. I’m extremely adaptable with what’s going on today and love talking about it here on my blog. The isp’s that come to DesignNotes are as varied as my posts. I’m averaging about 9,000 page views a month at the moment – I don’t know most of the people that come here, but I’d like to. Drop me an email at michael[at] I’d be interested in saying hi, talking about the future of design that is today, and if you hear of any openings for an art director you’ll get a lot of extra karma points.

Line length of text between magazines and Google AdSense

Magazine cover lines & Google AdSense lines

Google AdSense lines & Magazine cover lines

I’ve never really thought about the number of words that are in a Google AdSense phrase, but after considering how people grab quick bytes of pop culture through magazine covers it would seem that there’s a similarity between online ads and offline magazine text. The obvious difference is that one relies on images that people are interested in while the other doesn’t. But in a weird kind of way both formats rely on what your interested. Google through search while magazines show images that people want to escape with.

Got lists?


I came across Listphile this morning going through delicious. I knew it was something for me to explore further once I started watching the demo and there was the mention of lists, atlases and databases. A list could almost encompass anything, let’s pretend there’s a geographical component – Listphile makes it incredibly easy to add your data and create a personal visual database that you can either have the option of others to add to, or just yourself. It’s a fairly simple and painless process to explore other areas of the site. I’ve taken a number of screen captures and placed them on flickr to show how the site works. The only thing that I think could be tweaked is the home page. If you’re already logged in as a member there could be a better presentation that combined the lists page and other personalized features. Maybe have a bunch of info buckets that I can drag and drop in the order of my liking like Newsvine does.

Panasonic Support

Panasonic Support

Panasonic Support went live today/yesterday. It’s been my existence for quite a while on the design side at Renegade. I’m happy that it’s functioning – but my question to you is this. If you needed to find warranty information for the Lumix Digital Camera DMC-FX9K, how would you do it, and were you able to find it in a decent amount of time?

Love to Hate Sites


We all have sites that we luv to hate, so why bother visiting them? Is it b/c we like torturing ourselves??? We know it’s a bit unhealthy to go back to the places that causes us pain, yet we go back. Well worry no more – just go to and get some web 2.0 therapy. Just place the url of your favourite hating site and check out the arsenal of options you have…

via swissmiss

A new place to read/debate design?

I came across a new site that offers a place to read/debate design (I think). From the site: A Brief Message features design opinions expressed in short form. Somewhere between critiques and manifestos, between wordy and skimpy, Brief Messages are viewpoints on design in the real world. They’re pithy, provocative and short — 200 words or less.” The site has a lot of potential to make reading design stuff on the web enjoyable once again. Read it for yourself at

Food map of New York Subway

Taste of New York Subway

The idea of Taste of New York Subway works on a number of levels though at this point I’m not sure if I would use it as a reference. I really like how the nodes and the subways lines look visually, but the map overall seems small. I would luv to hang that image on my wall as a visual but as a functioning navigation it’s a little awkward. A filtering system that would allow me to just pick one line would help simplify things too. But lets pretend I just want to explore with no real idea of where I would end up. I just pick a random node and click to find a restaurant I would never had found otherwise. A secondary problem arises. There’s a really narrow frame that provides all the info. Even if this info a been launched on a new pop up screen, it would make things so much easier to read. Its a shame that it isn’t easier to read b/c there’s so much good information hiding in the site. I can’t imagine how much time has already been put into finding all the information.

Following the contact information for Taste of New York Subway brings me to the site Idle Words. Again here’s a site that has tons of reading hours worth of information. The latest post is about their Million Marker Map – a google maps api.

Creative Bureaucracy

Then We Came To The End

A friend asked me if I was enjoying the book Then We Came To The End and I responded that enjoy is an interesting word for it… I wouldn’t classify the book as not funny, maybe just not a ha ha funny but a ya I’ve gone through that not so pleasant period and I know why that’s funny type of humour. For Graphic Designers there’s the Cheese Monkey’s for re-living the art school days while Then We Came To The End is for those working bureaucratic creative world. As with everything else, the book has a decent website that allows you to go through the office and check out the characters myspace pages (which is nothing new), though there could have been more visuals and less reliance on being clever on myspace. I wouldn’t rate the book as highly as amazon has, but for four hours of listening through audible it wasn’t wasted time.

Two new’ish websites for designers


It’s starting to get difficult to keep track of all the websites that I should be going to on a regular basis. Keeping that in mind, between updating sites that I want to like my blog, flickr, delicious and sometimes facebook, it seems like a new site that comes into play is going to take some constant little nudges to get me interested in. There’s two new targeted web sites to designers called design:related and Design Float that I’ve been looking at for a month or two. I’m not at the point where I would visit them everyday yet, but I’m starting to lean that way…

Like a lot of social networking sites, they live off of members inviting other members. That’s not always the case but when I look at how I joined facebook or design:related it was both from invites from other friends. It’s a bit of a trust thing, but also if someone else is experimenting with it maybe I should too. I think design:related has a lot of potential. The interface is extremely well though out and I can find out information quite quickly. There’s one biggie that I’m still on the fence about, and that is their stat measurement. It shows the number of views publicly of different sections that members have visited. I’m not sure if that’s entirely a good thing or not. For sites like Digg it’s a good idea to show the number of votes (and like Design Float too, but I’ll get into that in a moment). The site is still in Beta format and I expect that as more members join, a pretty tight community will build around the inspirations section. The job board looks promising too. Like I mentioned above, I think the interface is pretty clear which will be important as it becomes larger with members.

Design Float

Design Float is kind of like Digg, but for designers. I’ve never been a huge fan of Digg for a number of reasons. The popular stuff tends to always feel the same and if it’s so popular why would I bother talking about it – there’s already enough people looking at the said item. At this point I’m not feeling the same way with Design Float. I really like how they’ve broken the categories up, no easy feat when describing design things.

Visual Music Maker


From the blog reaction I discovered the Tenori-On, “a 16 x 16 matrix of LEDs that are sensitive to the musician’s touch and can recognize simple physical gestures.” There’s an English site for the tool, but I prefer looking at the Japanese site for a number or reasons. Basically I get to see what transfers across languages for navigational purposes (though some of the section headers are still in English), and the body copy set more geometrically looks better. The only irony is that I had to turn the music off b/c after a while it got annoying from the site…

Keep an eye out for your dog, and Dogbook

Maddie Left

Before moving slightly uptown I would take Maddie to Chelsea Waterside Dog Park to run around. For the most part I now just walk her up and down midtown exploring. A friend who knew that I went to that park passed me on a link warning about someone drugging dogs. In the email “This incident at Chelsea Waterside Dog Park should serve as a warning to all of our groups to be watchful at your local park. If you spot suspicious activity report it, use your cellphone camera to take a photo, get the attention of other dog owners nearby, and, most of all, be mindful of your dog. Watch for items left on the ground. If strangers appear to be feeding dogs, intervene. Do not challenge anyone, but do not sit back silently.” There’s also a CBS newscast about it HERE.

On a brighter note while everyone is talking about Facebook, there’s a new app for dogs called Dogbook that is inside Facebook. It’s kind of fun to do and connects other dogs/owners that are already friends. One feature that I’m not sure is a good thing or not, is that you can search and view other dogs in your area.

Diagram about DesignNotes

Notes about DesignNotes for my creative meeting this morning

For a while I’ve been thinking about how my blog integrates a couple other sites like flickr and delicious and in turn how that has feeds into each other for content. Where I work once a week there’s a creative meeting where one or two people present on something that interests them. It allows people to hear about interesting things that everyone else might not be aware of. Today was my opportunity so I decided to talk about my blog. I went through a bit of the random process about how a post comes together, but to also mention that I use my blog as a tool for rapid prototyping. What I mean by that is that DesignNotes allows me to experiment very quickly with a lot of tools of communication. That’s where my diagram above comes into play. I just started a couple connections of other sites that I use and how that becomes a crazy loop. There’s all the visual stuff that people see and read, but there’s also the backend that involves understanding stats on why people come to my blog, what my tags are suggesting about the patterns of things that interest me, and as an experiment to see public blog and a semi private facebook site I have. I could go on and on about it, which I will at a latter date – but I thought it would be helpful to give some context into what all those lines are connecting to.

Added Sites

Picture 6

It’s been a while since I’ve added anything new to my Other Sites section of DesignNotes, so here’s six new ones that I’ve discovered in the past couple of months.

One of my new favourite design blogs, it comes from a number of UK based contributers though it seems that Kate Andrews is the person posting everyday

Abstract Dynamics
Published by Abe Burmeister, his blog covers design, economics and culture

Good commentary about people interacting with each other by Sameer Vasta

neo-nomad ttp://
Yasmine Abbas publishes her thoughts on a variety of technology ideas that tend to lean towards mobility

The Praized Blog
A blog that looks at technology through the filter of social interaction

with hands and hair and eyes and bones and knees
A blog by illustrator Matthew Woodson, he’s sharing his process and observations

A couple flickr sets from a couple bloggers

flickr today/yesterday

I came across a nice pair of flickr sets from a couple popular blogs yesterday. Swissmiss walked by a two windows of stickynotes with the words “TO DO” in Dumbo. Over the day(s) it has turned into quite the interactive piece where people have writen their to-do’s. Take a look for yourself at TO-DO art installation in Dumbo.

The second set comes from cityofsound. He’s taken a couple pics from the Otl Aicher exhibition, Vitsoe, London. Otl is a pure design genius, I luv the complex yet easy to understand systems he has created. Looking at those photo reminded me that I should really pick the Otl Aicher book soon.

Figuring out the fold, and is it even a question worth asking?

The Fold

While reading the article Blasting the Myth of the Fold from boxesandarrows (which I recommend reading), I came across a fascinating tool in a response to the article. The tool determines a percentage of people that would see the information before a fluid fold within a browser. The site is, all you need to do is sign up with an email address and url of the domain you want to check out. The site then gives you one line of code to insert into the site, once that’s in you can determine the percentages. Of course I have no idea if those percentages are accurate but it at least gives you a guideline as to what people are seeing when they land on a page. If you’re curious to see the function in action – here’s my url for the site test:

Maps 2.0

NYC that I know, sort of...

Ever since google opened their map api, there’s been a great movement that would have been inconceivable only a couple years ago. Between customizing, collecting, tracking and sharing of information over what essentially could be considered an atlas, new forms of information has been created. Over at Mashable Networking News, they’ve assembled a lot of different types of mapping sites that they consider to be Online Maps: 50+ Tools and Resources. A further breakdown of categories is as follows: Customizable and Collaborative Maps, Transit Mapping, Subject Specific Mapping, and Popular Mapping Services.

Diving deep with images: FFFFOUND! and their image bookmarking site


I’ve been meaning to talk about FFFFOUND! for a couple days now but time has been going by to quickly. It’s a really great eclectic site of images. People post images that they’ve found on the web. What’s nice about the site is that you can typically go to the original site that hosted the image. Another feature is that the site can find other images based on what you like. I’ve been quite inspired each time I’ve visited the site, maybe you’ll be too at

Nice interactive map: Web Trend Map 2007 Version 2.0


Via Architectradure I came across a really cool interactive Web Trend Map 2007 Version 2.0 post. Here’s their description of the map: “The 200 most successful websites on the web, ordered by category, proximity, success, popularity and perspective.”. Along with the great post explaining the map and context they’ve given a number of options to download the map and created a clickable online version.

Watching all those options before the move

Before move
Options for action/reaction

I think there’s always an advantage to having the ability to see your opponents way of thinking. If you can see how they react to a move, the ability to predict their reaction to your action increases. Keeping that in mind, Thinking Machine 4 shows a beautiful progression of chess movement once you make a move. Lines dance around the computer’s options for the next move. It goes by so fast that it’s hard to make any analytical decisions though. It’s more like taking the information in on a “feel” basis as opposed to a “think” basis. On a almost parallel level it reminded me of some of the soccer diagrams out there like Twenty- four steps to heaven. It plots out the movement and the eventual goal.

Two magazines to look for

Nude & Roger

I think I’ve found a design magazine that I can really spend some quality time with. It’s called Roger and I found it at Universal News, though not in the design section. It was hiding out in the front near the fashion mags. Don’t ask me why I was in that area, it must have been an anomaly or something. I may not have picked it up if I hadn’t come across ROGER LiVE’s website a day before via Kate Andrews blog Anamorphosis* who seems to be always writing or doing something about design. While I haven’t read the magazine from cover to cover you should take a look at it if you A. see design as a verb, B. as a philosophy, and C. looking for something with depth.

Another magazine I picked up was Nude They describe it as the following “Nude Magazine issue 10: Featuring 100 pages of countercultural goodness in full colour and on high quality art paper”. For the price it was definitely worth picking up.

Status Update: Michael is addicted to watching the tour de france in the evenings. Just don’t ask him who’s winning.

Culinary Tour de France

Above in my title bar is my latest Facebook status and it’s true. This week’s evening ritual has been coming home, opening a beer, turning on the tv to VS and watching cycling – le Tour de France and then opening a mag and going through some websites. For the most part I don’t have a clue as to who’s winning but listening to the strategy and stories has kept me interested. Ok the scenery of France (and a bit of England) is not a hard sell as to watching either. If you’re at all into this month long event and luv food and live in NYC, you should check out Culinary Tour de France. It’s a website that has put together a couple restaurants that are celebrating the race with food. Merveilleux!

Muzak on a hot day

Songs for Ice Cream Trucks

Of all the music in the world, the ice cream truck music is so distinct yet if you asked someone to hum it – they probably couldn’t. I have no idea why that is but one artist has created an album called Songs for Ice Cream Trucks. It’s a playful site that samples most of the songs with themes of cold goodness. On hot summer days a little coolness helps everyone. Taste test it yourself at

Bugaboo Daytrips – nice site of the say

Bugaboo Daytrips

Via infosthetics I found Bugaboo Daytrips – a site for friendly places to stroll your baby. Me not knowing anything about the baby explosion that has happened over the last couple years and the industries it has created, this tie in between product and culture is cool. This site with all the different maps makes the case that sometimes inconsistent execution of an element can work really well.

HBO Voyeur, nice site showing the same content in a couple different ways

HBO Voyeur

HBO Voyeur

After watching Entourage tonight, there was a commercial for HBO’s new show Voyeur. The trailer was fairly restrained, just showing enough while the music enhanced the tension and drama. At the end there was the obligatory url to check it out. I’m not a huge fan of sites that are all flash, but I think did a really good job of making an exploratory experience that made me want to get more info. Aside from just being able to discover new things with minimal load times between clicks, I like how they showed the same information in a couple different ways. Like I mentioned there’s the flash where I click to discover new things, but there’s also a film trailer that uses the same content of the website, but shows the story in the more typical passive viewer format. Of course these movie files are quite large so you have to download them to watch.

In a some respects this type of hyper realistic web site reminds me of site where there’s the rendering of the image for both a tv campaign and website. There’s consideration for more then one medium. There’s the thirty second spot that gets the point across, and the website that people could spend five second, five minutes or come back five times to.

NYT and saved by – a couple questions

NYT and

This isn’t much of a blog post as much as a question. Is anyone else noticing recently that when they save a NYT article to, the number of saved people that also have it included is a lot smaller then let’s say a month ago? Is it possible that the number of people saving articles has decreased b/c the share button on the navigation of the original NYT articled doesn’t include a button to anymore – does any one know why that was removed too?

NYT and

More ways to search Wikipedia


Dave Gray over at Communication Nation mentions the WikiMindMap and I thought I should too if for no other reason than to show one more use of Wikipedia. I typed in the word “design” and the results are in the image (click on it for a larger view). Keep in mind though that I opened up a lot of the nodes. I’ll admit that the lack of outside links for the term design is a little weird and if you really wanted to question the validity of wiki’s in general you could make a point, but the idea of the mind map being used for this type of search exploration is helpful. I’m a big fan of opening up information to show context which I think this does a good job of. My only misgivings of the tool is that it’s in flash.

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