Web design that looks fresh after 10 years

What’s the secret of creating products that age well?

I’ve been cleaning up my old disks this weekend and found these screenshots of webpages from 8-10 years ago. I used to send these pictures to designers to explain art direction choices, so this collection is essentially an insight into graphics trends a few years after the millennia.

Shortlisted here, five webpages that look a bit more fresh than the rest. Let’s revisit them briefly: which designs could you get away with today (and why)?

www.elmwood.co.uk

www.elmwood.co.uk

www.theartofasbestos.com

www.theartofasbestos.com

www.marumushi.com

www.marumushi.com

www.31three.com

www.31three.com

www.foxie.ru

www.foxie.ru

A fun exercise for the next art direction meeting: how would you change your products right now to make sure they will look ok-ish in 2026?

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One system, many options

There was just one thing left for me to do on this tech meetup: I wanted to talk to the guys who made an open-source 3D printer that can be assembled at home by normal people, for buttons.

Tech meetups are events where geeks go to demo their products and inventions. These evenings offer an opportunity to discover new ideas and, right away, ask questions from the people who invented them or know the most about related technologies.

The 3D printer guys were nowhere to be found after the demo, but their table was open and full of 3D-printed objects. Those all looked cool, and I was wondering what kind of garbage I would manage to make if I had a 3D printer at home. Alex, the guy next to me was thinking the same, though he apparently knew his way around the technology.

He explained about accuracy levels and said that you don’t need to use this rigid plastic, you can print with all sorts of materials: you could create rubber-like stuff too. Wink. This was the first time I’ve ever talked to Alex, and I knew we will be friends.

Meetups are also a good way to mingle with the local startup community. We are in Berlin now, which is one of those large international cities where seemingly no one was actually born, but plenty people flocked to from all around the world. Every conversation starts with a good five minutes of the prison-talk: why are you here, how long are you staying, what do you normally do?

On startup events you constantly bump into those Zuckerberg-wannabes who either left their job to work on a side project, or are prepared to do so in the near future. Their most important task for the night is to approach every investor-looking person with a 3-minute elevator pitch, and try to say something that triggers their “I want to invest in this company with no delay” instinct.

This startup event was no different. I was rather suspicious when, to answer the “what do you normally do” question, Alex took out his phone and opened the Photos app.

“It’s going to be a PDF demo. Let’s run away!”, I thought.

He then proceeded to show a bunch of pictures, high-quality 3D renders of his furniture line. “Cool designs though.”, I thought then.

kivo-1

“I designed this Kivo system,” Alex started to explain, “where you can create any sort of environment out of triangles. If you want a silent room to make phone calls, make a booth. Or, create separators between different areas in the office. A meeting room. Individual work stations. A tent.”

I wanted to say something smart, so I went on: “triangle was my sign in kindergarten”. Luckily, Alex didn’t take my clever remark as smugness.

“That’s exactly where the inspiration comes from! When I was a child, I’ve been using a towel, carpet and other daily necessities to build special spaces for myself. Now, I wanted to create something that looks nice but is also very useful. We made these triangular modules durable but very lightweight, and chose the materials so that they are environmentally friendly.”

kivo-2

At this point I’ve only seen the designs, and I’m just about to learn how successful of a business this is: Kivo is part of the global Herman Miller brand now, used in offices all over the world, from London to Hong Kong.

[My interview with Alex continues on Yakuzuzu.]

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AI might actually kill us all

A friend asked me yesterday when artificial intelligence is going to take over the world and kill all humans. It’s a rather casual question at a Summer barbecue party, a question that I predict to come up more and more frequently in the next years.

AI was uninteresting for a long time. Yes, it was hot for a while in the 90s, but then it has not-worked for so long that it acquired a bad reputation. Even when it did work it was doing only computer stuff like playing silly games or fly airplanes: none of them feels really human or seems to be that hard in the first place.

ai-1

Now however, artificial intelligence is capable of mind-blowing things. It understands what you say to them. It responds. It translates what you see or hear, on the fly.

Have you ever seen kids say “Siri, do you love me?” It’s not uncommon at all. (And, apparently, you don’t know what sexy means until you’ve heard a guy with a slight Indian accent slowly enunciate “I want to have sex with you” to his texting app.)

Next-generation AI is all around us. It drives our cars, watches over our home and family, translates texts on our phone.

The problem with humans and our inventions is that we have a tendency to mess things up at first try. The more power we give to semi-perfect artificial intelligence, the more damage it can cause: Tesla’s autopilot made the decision to drive under a trailer last week, killing the driver in the accident. And, Google’s Nest thermostat seems to have an appetite to freeze people’s houses every now and then.

On the big picture, AI does make our life safer. The real problem is that when it goes wrong, we don’t even understand what has just happened. In normal accidents we tend to know what was going on: the thermostat broke. The engine stalled. The driver fell asleep.

When it comes to AI, most of the time we have no idea what was going on in the computer’s “brain”.

This isn’t a human move

Whenever your phone’s camera uses face recognition to identify the areas to set the focus on, it uses simple algorithms that search for a face’s core features like skin colours or the a position of the eyes.

Modern AI can go many steps further: it can also recognise things like whether you have a hat on, whether you’re smiling, or if it really isn’t you but a dog. Or an orange. Modern AI can actually tell what it sees on a picture.

ai-2

Unless it can’t. In an experiment on the University of Wyoming, researchers were able to fool cutting-edge deep neural networks using simple, random-generated images. For example, artificial intelligence looked at this first picture and said, with a over 99 percent certainty: it’s a centipede.

ai-3

What’s interesting here is not that researchers can bring up a state-of-the-art image recognition algorithm and trick it into being wrong. What’s interesting is that most of the time no one can tell where exactly did it go off track.

When you show a picture to a kid and they say something funny, we can understand how their brain worked: it’s not a cat, it’s a lion. When it comes to deep neural networks, even if they are right, we don’t even know why exactly they are right. We don’t share the context with them.

[End of the outtake from my article in Yakuzuzu Issue 7. To continue, read “AI might actually kill us all” there.]

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The best quote I’ve read this week

“It is impossible for a man to begin to learn what he has a conceit that he already knows.” — Epictetus

It’s so simple and so smart: you can’t learn something you think you already know.

And another share-worthy quote from a James Altucher blog post:

“The floors are empty. That’s the Citigroup building over there. That’s probably some ad agency there. That’s a bank or a law firm over there. All empty desks, empty floors, empty buildings.

“The middle class has been hollowed out. There’s no need for paper shufflers anymore. No need for middle management. It’s either outsourced to China or technology takes care of it. Millions of people in middle management, in middle class jobs will be fired or replaced by cheap labor and technology and there’s nothing anybody can do about it.

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Daily Email Reports with Serverless & Node.js

I like to receive quick-and-simple reports for my side projects in the email inbox every morning. This helps to have a good understanding of the progress, but without paying too much attention to Google Analytics or getting lost in sql queries.

Problem is, for all my projects the KPIs are different. For some apps it is the daily subscriber count, for others a key API’s usage for example. The technical stack also varied a lot: some project were written in Python, some in Node.js and others in Java. I couldn’t reuse much of the code for all those projects.

The solution was to create a super-lightweight external app that extracts the important data points from the database and sends it out in a nice email.

This new open-source project is then a simple tool, where you can create reports from simple database queries, and send those reports out in pretty emails. (I also did one Google Analytics integration for one of my projects, but that code still needs some cleaning-up before it can be open-sourced.)

This app runs on AWS Lambda, so you don’t need to set up servers or worry about hosting: you just deploy the function and add a scheduler on the AWS dashboard to run it. I’ve set it for daily or weekly mails, but it does support all sorts of triggers too.

Source code & quick start guide on Github.

Enjoy!

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App idea: find your double

Take this idea and run: the find-your-double app. You take a selfie, the app analyses it and tells you where your identical twin, I mean, your identical twin from-another-mother is to be found.

I’d love to have something like this out there, but won’t be able to start a new thing just now. (Insert sad smiley here.)

Another brilliant idea that I had before has just been made by PornHub: the BangFit is a fitness tracker service that tracks a special kind of fitness. Though this one is done by PornHub, so I guess it will eventually measure the mhm, exercise of men’s underarm?

There, a pivot idea for takers: WankFit.

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Scaling up WordPress: 3 advices from the newsletter

In my latest newsletter I’ve asked about whether anyone reading this blog needed (free) advice scaling up WordPress projects. I regularly help out friends with their apps and ideas, and the same topics tend to bubble up all the time – maybe there are more generic advices there that you could use too?

Here, the three questions that came up most.

1. How do I find developers?

Apart from a couple of guys I love to work with, I quite often hire people on Upwork. It’s not as easy as it seems actually: a lot of developers are available, good and bad, and if you don’t know WordPress or to code yourself, it’s quite difficult to tell them apart.

My usual practise is to come up with a small enough part of the project, and test the team’s abilities on a development server. For example, instead of redesigning the whole website in the course of a few months, they will just work on a landing page template for two days. If they succeed they are in for the long run, otherwise I only lost a couple of days altogether.

It’s important to mention that at this point the developers have access to only a copy of the project and non-sensitive data. You’d be surprised to know how many professional-looking development companies went on to accidentally delete all data from my (test) databases.

2. How much more expensive is scalable cloud hosting compared to other providers?

To compare, a non-scalable alternative Hostgator starts at $2.78 per month, which you can’t really compete with on the price level. If you never plan to scale the project it might as well be a good enough solution actually.

For apps that need to scale however, you will need to set up database and file storages, and those are to be paid for separately. (Mind you, using an Amazon EC2 instance or any VPS, and then hosting the static files and database there is pretty much as scalable as Hostgator is.)

To avoid comparing apples to oranges then, let’s just say that the maximum amount of traffic you can serve with standard hosting providers can be easily hosted on the smallest hobby Heroku instance as well, for $7/month. Amazon EC2’s smallest instance would cost around $25/mo.

File storage depends on the traffic and the size of the static files: for this blog with ~3000 monthly unique visitors I pay less than $0.1 in a year, but more traffic and bigger files (like hosting videos for example) would cost you more.

Cloud MySQL databases start at $3.5/mo from ClearDB, Amazon RDS starts around $20/mo (though you can use that for multiple projects).

All in all, a small website is around ~$10/mo on scalable cloud solutions versus ~$3/mo on Hostgator. The big difference is that if you suddenly need to support a higher load of traffic, it only takes a few clicks to scale up on Heroku – while Hostgator just slows down.

3. Why am I pushing for Heroku as opposed to Amazon?

Most development companies are familiar with Amazon EC2 and simple VPS solutions. Those are actually excellent products and are very flexible, but the exact reason I like to recommend Heroku is that it’s more strict.

For example, you can only copy files to Heroku via a Git repository, and you can’t access them via FTP. Developers like to argue that they could also use git to push code to an EC2 server. However, they can also just modify the code directly, and if that’s quicker and easier, that’s exactly what they will do.

Developers tend to get lazy and fall back to harmful defaults, like, storing files on ephemeral disks. All those bad decisions would then keep the project from scaling up quickly in the future — but if those options are not even available, at least that’s one less thing to worry about.

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My swimming habit in the US

Swimming in New York is almost impossible if you’re from elsewhere. In Manhattan all clubs seem to be members-only, so for a single session I would end up paying the $150+ enrolment fee plus $25 for the entrance. I don’t like the idea of a 45+ minutes ride to a more public pool in Queens either.

I take my new swimming habit quite seriously: starting this year, I went every single week. No matter how much work I needed to be done otherwise, no matter which city or country I was in, or no matter how tired I felt. Once I went directly from the airport after an overnight flight, getting my first sleep at noon that day.

New York was the first to stop me, but I was heading out and the week wasn’t over yet.

Chicago offered a brilliant alternative right off the bat: you can use Hotel Intercontinental’s gym even without being hotel guests. Built in the 1920s and finished just before the stock market crash, the building itself is part of the national heritage, and, it features a junior olympic size pool. Just perfect for a Home Alone style splash.

pool

I don’t think Intercontinental advertises this anywhere — on a weekday the pool was as deserted as a Kanye West concert should be –, but if you walk up to the hotel concierge and don’t look like an idiot, it’s quite likely that you’ll be let in. Entrance was $70 with tip, for the two of us, including sauna and gym. Can’t think of anything to better spend that money on.

Swimming this week: check.

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Wind in the city

The south side of Chicago is where all the drug addicts and the very-very poor people live — my friends rushed to throw this fact in, about where to stay in Windy City. Yet here we are: 11pm at night, sitting in a car and heading south.

The scenery does indeed change block-by-block. Once we pass south loop, the road becomes full of patches and potholes, and at one point we suddenly smell the very distinctive smell of marijuana. In the car, with the air filter on, in the middle of a four-lane road we ask ourselves: where can this smell possibly come from?

The weed cloud comes from one of the cars around. It’s not uncommon to smoke-and-drive here.

Could be worse.

My friend from high school, our guide for the night, works here in one of the world’s most famous hospitals: University of Chicago is where the first controlled chain reaction has been carried out. “Quietly, in secrecy, on a squash court under the west stands of old Stagg Field.”

Some of the hospital’s patients have AIDS, some Hepatitis A, B or C, and as you might have guessed: there are patients with all of those. Yet, it could be worse.

When we drive around the houses, we see many demolished buildings. With so many homeless people out there it’s hard to see what sense it makes to break houses down, but I’m actually impartial on this: if everyone moves out from one house, drug addicts and their dealers quickly move in. The state demolishes these houses to keep violence out, which does bring some transparency into a neighbourhood.

Street safety is a priority issue, especially since Chicago overtook Los Angeles in homicide rates. A dark police car is stationed at the corner of every second block. Perhaps that’s going to help, but I’m crossing my fingers now: “let’s not get a flat tire here”.

After the quick visit we are heading back downtown and have a cocktail in one of the clubs. There is Kooks on the radio, I put my phone on charge, and realise that I haven’t made any pictures in those last three hours.

How stupid.

Yeah, could be worse.

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Compromise

We are in New York with my girlfriend for some time. NYC is one of my favourite cities in the world: it’s big and smelly and exciting. It’s so creative and moves so fast that it propels everyone who comes around.

It’s a wonderful place, but I couldn’t live here: it’s really-really far from my family in Europe.

London is a good compromise. It’s close to all my family members, but it also is: big and exciting and beautiful. It too, attracts all the creative minds and inspires the hell out of them. When I tell Londoners that I find this city to be a good compromise, they are of course happy: we all understand that compromise is a good thing, and as such, London is pretty good in every aspect, though not the best in all of them.

Berlin is a good compromise too: it is exciting and inspires people, but they say that it doesn’t move that fast so you can have an actual life. It’s spacious and cheap, so you can work on side projects or book ideas or startups aside. When I tell Berliners that I find their city to be a good compromise, they seem to feel hurt. ‘You think Berlin is not the best in every way? Well, fuck you then!’

Well, fuck you too, for missing the point.

People who think that they are better than every other person in every existing aspect, are: not much fun to live with.

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