Tue 13 Sep
It was always a mystery to me why people spend so much time hanging out at Starbucks. Notwithstanding the fallacious reality of sitcoms in which beautiful people spend all day cracking wise at their local coffee houses, the idea of committing more than thirty minutes to a visit to any retail outlet is a real stretch for me. That is, until I moved to New York seven years ago and discovered that the apartments here are tiny and, inconveniently, they often come with roommates. In this city, if you want to get any kind of concentrating done without all of the distractions of your television or personal possessions — and you want to do it away from the close quarters you share with your roommate, you need to escape your home. This is rarely truer than if you are a writer, someone who requires a certain reliable quietude in order to produce to the capacity of your creative prowess.
Which is exactly the reason why my girlfriend and a friend she met in graduate school started Paragraph, a so-called “workspace for writers.” It’s a quiet, spacious retreat from everything competing for a writer’s attention, located close to Union Square on Fourteenth Street in Manhattan.
This is no ‘online venture’ started as a low-risk lark; it’s a serious enterprise started by two serious entrepreneurs and it’s for real. Paragraph is an honest-to-goodness, bricks and mortar business that Joy and Lila financed with their own hard won savings, and, having been in business for about a week now, it’s open and available for you to walk in and see it with your own eyes. Before you go and see it — which you should — you can also head over to find out more at the Web site that I designed.
If you’ve never had the experience, there are few things weirder than having the person you live with as a client, which was the case when I designed the Paragraph identity and Web site. You may think you’ve had some demanding client experiences, but it’s something else entirely when you’re asked if you should really be watching that ball game when you could be working on the new comps you promised instead.
This unorthodox situation probably accounts for the fact that I more or less completely sidestepped the formal, methodical design process that we employ at Behavior for this project. Everything here was done quickly and with frequent and sometimes uncomfortably immediate review by my girlfriend, but it has a personal, intimate quality that I’m proud of. I tend to be rather cold and spartan in design style, and she really insisted on a much warmer approach than I was used to. The end result is a nice balance, I think, between the two sensibilities, but moreover, I think it represents my emotional stake in the project — not to dispel my commitment to other clients, but when you see your girlfriend break her back to get a new business up and running, it inspires you to put a little something extra into the design.
Aside from that personal investment, the site represents some breakthroughs for me in terms of my meager coding skills. I’ve created sites that validate XHTML Strict 1.0 before, but this time out, the style sheets and markup are cleaner than I’ve ever managed in the past. I’m also employing sIFR in the headlines, having picked up some tricks on its implementation after the work that we did at Behavior on The Onion redesign. I also took some rudimentary PHP knowledge I’ve picked up and put it to use pushing style sheets contextually, which may not impress most folks but was a lot of fun for me. There’s also a bit of PHP trickery involved in getting Movable Type to publish clean, extension-less URLs — a futile triumph, I know, because apparently the latest version of that software includes this feature out of the box. Still, I was impressed with myself. And, last but not least, the application form is a personal best in my ongoing battle to design good-looking Web forms.
There’s at least a mildly interesting story about the layout of the site that I hope to tell in another weblog post, but for now, I don’t want to draw too much attention away from Paragraph itself. If you’re in the New York area, you should really stop by for a look (the space is open 24 hours a day and 7 days a week to members, but prospective customers should call on them during business hours for a tour or just a quick peek). It’s worth a visit to see what two determined people can do with a little bit of savings and a lot of hard work. When they first leased the space it was just an empty box, but Joy and Lila worked their asses off to turn it into something really beautiful; they were down on their hands and knees scrubbing the floors — that’s how much care and attention went into it. Go see for yourself.