Square

Square

I'm a senior UI engineer and designer for the popular payments service.

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A creative technologist who designs and develops websites.

Over ten years of experience for a lot of cool companies: Square, Gucci, Pocket and more.

Pocket

Pocket

I was the platform lead for this widely used save for later service.

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General Assembly

General Assembly

I teach front end web development and a self-designed responsive web design workshop to future developers, entrepreneurs and designers.

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Gucci

Gucci

I was the front end lead for all design and development on gucci.com, a global e-commerce fashion site, for three and a half years.

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Latest Blog Posts

Gaming’s diversity and representation problem

Stories of harassment in creative industries dominated headlines in 2017. Harvey Weinstein’s misdeeds were the spark; ever since there have been countless exposés uncovering deplorable behavior in film, TV, technology, and journalism. Gaming hasn’t gotten as much coverage, but that doesn’t make the industry less culpable. In some ways, it’s even worse. As Xbox head Phil Spencer noted in his recent GDC keynote, if the industry isn’t willing to make changes with regards to diversity, inclusion, and harassment, it risks its survival over the long run.

Representation in-game is a weak spot. Only a handful of the top rated Metacritic titles from last year feature a woman or person of color in any significant role. LGBTQ characters are effectively non-existent. And that trend continues when examining the best selling games over the past five years. Admittedly many games don’t feature a human-like protagonist. You’re playing as an anonymous avatar, a vehicle, or a sports team. But for those that do, diverse representation continues to be a rarity.

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Burying the long tail on Netflix

On slow nights I’ll often watch something on Netflix, Hulu, or Amazon Prime. There’s many great films and TV shows available; if you’ve had access to all three services over the last year you could have caught The Witch, Under the Skin, The Handmaiden, and OJ: Made In America. But most content is hard to find, buried under poor suggestion algorithms and even worse user interfaces. Given how our watching habits are consolidating around streaming, that’s a big problem.

Let’s focus on Netflix: the service spent $6 billion on original content in 2017, with plans to release 80 original films this year. However, that rapid pace becomes an undigestible blur when any single title’s discoverability is so limited. Take Macon Blair’s I Don’t Feel at Home in This World Anymore (IDFAHITWA). The Netflix exclusive won the Grand Jury prize at Sundance and got decent reviews elsewhere. Genre-wise, its off-kilter sensibilities are a match for what I’ve seen elsewhere on the service. Or The Meyerowitz Stories (New and Selected); it’s one of Noah Baumbach’s best films in years, and I watched his earlier feature Frances Ha on Netflix. But browsing through the Netflix app on my Apple TV, IDFAHITWA and Meyerowitz completely flew under my radar.

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Game Pass 2.0 could be Xbox’s smartest move in years

Xbox is in a slump. Sales are solid, but hype and critical attention are behind rivals Sony and Nintendo. It has reached the point where Microsoft could pull out of consoles altogether over the long run with the Xbox One X their final release. But the recent announcement of an improved Xbox Game Pass subscription service (what I’m terming here “Game Pass 2.0”) changes my outlook.

Going forward, all Xbox new release first-party games (e.g. Sea of Thieves, Forza, Halo) will join the subscription service. Previously Microsoft limited Game Pass subscribers to mostly older titles from previous Xbox generations. Seen generously, this is like Netflix offering select first-run movies as they open in movie theaters, while still maintaining a flat $10 a month price. It’s a huge change from what came before.

By focusing on its subscription service, Xbox could sidestep the fragmented game landscape that they’ve faltered on for years. Console hardware sellers have always been exclusives, but Microsoft’s fall well short of the competition. Big budget moneymakers like sports and multiplayer shooters were a sure thing for Microsoft in the Xbox 360 era. Today they are a dicey investment. Budgets are out of control. Gamers are increasingly turning against loot boxes and other questionable microtransactions. Indies can grow to be a phenomenon (PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds, Cuphead, Stardew Valley), yet the market is getting oversaturated.

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Gaming’s fragmentation: moneymakers, system sellers, indies

2017 was a banner gaming year. We saw the release of several of the most critically acclaimed games in years. Nintendo mounted a massive comeback with the perpetually sold out Switch. There was also worrisome news, from Visceral Games’ shuttering to Battlefront II’s loot box saturation and the lack of originality among the year’s top sellers. Big budget gaming is buckling under the weight of costly economics. Unless we see a major shakeup in the industry, games will largely survive under three classifications:

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Bright is big budget action at its worst

All stills are property of their respective owners and are used here strictly for educational purposes only. Most shots are combined into a grid format – click or tap to enlarge.

Bright is a flat out bad movie. Its screenplay has too much sophomoric dialogue and tonal whiplash. Unresolved plot threads abound. Any charisma from leads Will Smith and Joel Edgerton rarely registers above the film’s mediocrity.

Bright is also an action film with a ninety million plus budget, yet the shootouts are barely comprehensible. Fights lack a clear sense of continuity, editing, and direction. To examine how and why that is we’ll break down a single action scene midway through the film (watch the scene on Netflix; it starts at 1:01:36.)

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Mindhunter and the power of smart shot rhythm

All stills are property of their respective owners and are used here strictly for educational purposes only. Most shots are combined into a grid format – click or tap to enlarge.

Mindhunter shows how simple shot and editing techniques can elevate a series above a routine crime procedural. For this post we’ll look at one standout scene in the final episode of season one. Subtle changes in shot length, distance, and angle heighten emotions. David Fincher directs, Erik Messerschmidt serves as DP, and Kirk Baxter, who’s been Fincher’s primary editor for almost a decade, edits. (Mild spoilers follow.)

On paper the scene is a conversation between two characters that turns threatening. FBI agent Holden Ford (Jonathan Groff) profiles and studies serial killers. Incarcerated mass murderer Edmund Kemper (Cameron Britton) is Holden’s interview subject early in the season. This last scene serves as a reunion after many episodes apart; Kemper tried to kill himself, and Holden visits him in the hospital.

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On Nintendo Switch and player happiness

Nine months ago I wrote the Nintendo Switch off as a lost cause with bad specs, a poor launch lineup, and an unclear audience. Rarely have I been so wrong.

Mid-summer the Switch briefly came into stock, and I bought one. I first wrote the purchase off as a wasteful, impulsive buy fueled by Nintendo nostalgia. However, at this point I’ve been a Switch owner for five months, and pound for pound it’s the most fun console I’ve had in over a decade. What happened?

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Destiny 2 turns its back on casual players

After twenty plus hours with Bungie’s Destiny 2, the level of Bungie’s craftsmanship remains standout. There’s pitch perfect audio, and the intuitive controls and gameplay are arguably best in class for console shooters. There’s a wide variety of fun, distinctive weaponry yet as a more casual player jumping into Destiny the first time, I’ve hit a wall. The campaign is thin, competitive multiplayer intimidating, and the leveling process frustrating.

At least the campaign is cohesive, which is a step up from the first Destiny. But even with recognizable voice talent (Gina Torres, Lance Reddick, Nathan Fillion) no character leaves a lasting impression. The attempts at humor can feel forced, at times cringeworthy. We’ve seen the story many times before, sci-fi that blends the “putting the band back together” trope with Star Wars Episode IV.

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Blade Runner 2049’s visuals can’t escape character and pacing issues

Blade Runner 2049 stands up well to the 1982 original on a surface level. The film has an immaculate sense of place; DP Roger Deakins captures future L.A. in all its neon, rain drenched glory. The production design is stunning. Yet amazing visuals can’t overpower 2049’s thin supporting characters and pacing issues.

(Major spoilers ahead for Blade Runner 2049.)

Joi (Ana de Armas) – K’s (Ryan Gosling) futuristic mashup of Stepford wife and manic pixie dream girl – encapsulates Blade Runner 2049’s character problems. She starts the film with promise; Joi opens questions on how AI intersects with love, mobility, and even societal rank (Joi is technically a slave for another artificial slave.) And in a later memorable scene, Joi uses sex worker Mariette (Mackenzie Davis) as a physical substitute for herself. Joi tries to “sync” to the movements of Mariette; the unsettling imagery of this Joi/Mariette “hybrid” making out with K has implications for identity and even future-scape pornography.

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Pre-visualization for engineers

For engineers building user interfaces, I find there’s heavy emphasis on technical chops and little to none on design comprehension. Yet a subset of design skills can distinguish great from merely good UI engineers.

I’d term these skills “pre-visualization”: understanding design specifications before writing any code, and at a level beyond what designers formally deliver. A big part of pre-visualization is the ability to break down specs into reusable components. You discern visual patterns from existing parts of your app, site, or larger OS, and apply them to a designer’s work. In many, if not most cases, much of the spec maps cleanly to what came before. Common UI patterns like buttons, form elements, and navigation generally repeat themselves. Some will not.

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