Breaking News

BehaviorThis is going to be a hard post to write, so I’m going to keep it as short as I can, but forgive me if I run long. After pouring so much of my blood, sweat and tears into Behavior, I’ve decided that the time has come for me to leave this terrific company that, with a little bit of cash and a lot of ambition, my partners and I co-founded in the dark days of late fall, 2001. My last day at Behavior will come just a little more than four years after we legally opened doors — as of 31 December I’ll no longer be a member of Behavior LLC.

This decision is no cause for alarm; my departure is on completely amicable terms, and my partners at the company have been kind and gracious enough to wish me luck in my future endeavors. By the same token, I wish them great continued success too, and I’m absolutely confident that there’s lots and lots of great design work still to come from Behavior. I guarantee it.


The Next Step

When I first mentioned to a friend that I had decided to pursue the next stage in my career, her initial reaction was to assume that I’m embarking on a new startup to build perhaps “something Ajax-y and Web 2.0-y.” It’s a reasonable guess given the current trend of designers turning into online entrepreneurs, but I’m actually doing something that you might say runs completely contrary to that: going on-staff inside a huge company whose roots reach back into the 19th century.

In a few weeks, I’ll be starting work at The New York Times as the Design Director for NYTimes.com. I’ll be heading up their staff of Web designers, helping to bring new improvements and features to the Gray Lady’s formidable online presence, and also working to define the role that design will play in the paper’s increasingly digital future.

The Long Goodbye

It’s a huge change from Behavior, obviously, and in truth, it’s not something I proactively sought. Through the grapevine of design professionals, I had been vaguely aware that the Times had been looking to fill this position for quite some time, but I had never seriously considered going out for the job. For four years, I’ve been focused intently on making Behavior a success, and so any opportunity that didn’t expressly support that drive never registered particularly strongly on my radar.

But, through a network of professional connections, I was put in touch with the design and editorial management team at the Times this past October, and we began a series of conversations in which I felt duty-bound — by the uniqueness of the fact that the paper of record was actually interested in talking with me — to engage. There were lots of discussions with lots of people, with me asking as many questions as I was being asked, and over time I began to form at least an academic idea of how I might fit into their organization. Those talks eventually led to an offer of employment, as well to lots of soul searching on my part.

Cue Reference to a “Godfather” Offer

Ultimately I made up my mind that, for me at least, this was a golden opportunity that I couldn’t pass up. It’s certainly over-simplifying the story of how far Behavior has come to say this, but in my estimation, those events — while full of singular circumstances, extraordinary participation from my colleagues and tremendous strokes of good luck — are something I’ll be able to re-create at some point in the future if I ever want to return to the life of a design studio. On the other hand, the chance to help shape the design language at what remains, for all its imperfections, the most well-respected news organization in the world… that’s not something that falls into one’s lap with anything close to regularity.

What’s more, as much as I’m humbled by the opportunity, I also feel like I’ve been working up to this particular challenge for some time now. Taken at face value, I think it’s safe to say that there’s a certain visual affinity that the designs I’ve been producing have in common with the design challenges facing The New York Times (at least as I perceive them now, at the outset). At the very least, what I’ve been working on is somewhere in the same ballpark as what the Times has been working on, if not nearly at the same scale: the optimal display of complex narrative, output from varied workflows. In less florid terms, I’m talking about lots of text, presented in as elegant a manner as possible and with a minimum of ornamentation.

Things to Do

For me, as a provider of design consulting to clients on a limited basis, the difficult part of this work has been affecting change on the workflows, finding the opportunity to integrate the design solutions I’ve produced fully enough that the expressions are as aesthetically pleasing as the platforms. In short, I’ve been able to design, but I haven’t been able to art direct, and that’s one of the things that I hope I get the opportunity to tackle during my tenure at the Times.

It’s just one of the things on my list, though… I have grand visions of what can be done as the Design Director of The New York Times Online, but I also have a pragmatic view of what needs to be done in order to realize those visions: to make design work, especially in this position, will require dedicated labor, genuine diplomacy, judicious management and earning the respect of peers and colleagues.

There’s lots more to say about this, but insofar as I’ve revealed what I’m doing and why, I think I’ve said enough for now. At least in the first few months of my tenure, I’ll probably remain fairly tight-lipped about how things are going at the new job. I’ll continue publishing posts here about other subjects, of course, but not much about what’s happening at the Times unless it’s about matters generally available to the public. Blogging has its place, but there’s a time to get things done first, too.

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  1. Khoi, I’m excited for you, and I’m excited for the NYT. In four years I’m sure we’ll be reading a post about how you’ve left your position at the Times and are moving on to become SUPREME DESIGN DIRECTOR OF THE UNIVERSE. In all caps, even.

    Many congratulations, and best of luck in your new environment!

  2. And no one better to fill those shoes than you Khoi. As I’ve said before, good wishes my friend, cause this’ll probably be one hell of a ride.

  3. Congrats Khoi. Congrats NYT, you’ve hired one of the most talented web designer/architect/insert-something-similar-here
    Good luck, and don’t forget blogging ;-)

  4. On behalf of your comrades, colleagues, and friends at Behavior, I wish you the best of luck, Khoi! We look forward to seeing your impact on the Times, both on what it looks like and what it does (could you do something about Times Select, maybe?).

    Also, I lay claim to your filing cabinet.

    Cheers!
    -Chris

  5. Great news, Khoi. Behavior will survive without you and the NYT gains talent it badly needs.

    Will you be responsible also for the design direction of About.com and integrating its content with the NYT pages? What do you make of the decision recently to move About.com from MovabelType to WordPress?

    Lastly, do you think you can persuade the NYT managemnt that burying its best content behind a pay-wall (and not a cheap one) is a bad move?

  6. Good news, Khoi. It takes a lot of courage and faith to leave behind something so good for a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity like this. I wish you much success with the new position.

    geof

  7. What a great opportunity, and what a great guy to fill the spot. This is particularly exciting: “…also working to define the role that design will play in the paper’s increasingly digital future.”

    Congrats!

  8. Terrific news, Khoi. Just, wow. I feel like I know a famous person now. I get a kick out of being able to say, “I knew him when…”.

    Great stuff. I suddenly feel obligated to read the Times now.

  9. Big time congrats! There are few things I enjoy more in life then a pot of coffee and a few hours with the print edition of the Sunday Times.

    BTW: You might mention that making me and others pay for access to the op-eds is doing nothing to help the Times.

  10. Congratulations, Khoi! I wish you nothing but the best on your new position, and I’m looking forward to seeing the fruits of your labor at the Times.

  11. Now I’m going to have to read your blog even more frequently. I was recently hired by a news publisher to lead their journey into standards land… it’s a daunting task! News design is very interesting and poses all kinds of yummy problems. Of course, you’ll excel in the field… so I think it’s about time I get my official lurker’s card now.

  12. Congratulations, Khoi–a fitting way to usher in the new year! I live in hope that the Guardian find someone equally talented to improve their online presence.

  13. Alas, I wait until the last of your Behavior days to direct my first official response to one of your personal posts…and so I hope to make it count!

    Congratulations Khoi, I wish you the very best. Look forward to your work with the Times and your continued evolution in the space. I’d like to thank you for the last four (+3) years of collaboration, and hope to increase our dialogue for the future.

    Stay close, take care, and keep Mister President out of trouble!

    Oh, and Chris, take a number — the file cabinet goes to Brad!

  14. Nice. Congrats, Khoi. It would be an extremely difficult choice for to make to go from being a partner at a small, but successful firm to something as big as the NYT.

    Best wishes, and I hope you’ll keep the blog!

  15. Congratulations, Khoi. Since I don’t know you outside of print, I guess I can’t lay claim to any office supplies.

    I’m excited to see where you can take the Times!

  16. Wow, congrats man. That’s awesome, the NYT is pretty much the gold standard that other newspaper’s look at for design inspiration. They’ll be in good hands.

  17. Now the blog post about the loss of art direction makes sense! Annnnd I like to pat myself on the back because in my comments of that post, I suggested companies like the NYT need not to rely solely on a CMS but have a design team in-house!

    This is a total dream job! Congratulations, you deserve it!

  18. Congratulations :)
    As a beginner in web design and being a Vietnamese (were born in Vietnam through), I just feel so proud. I’ll try my best so that someday I will archive what you got now :)

  19. I think we’re seeing the next phase of development of Clemet Mok 2.0. Be sure to journal everything (not here) and write a book about “leadership through design” and how you turned the Gray Lady Online Edition into a beacon for others to follow. It will sell thousands, thrust you onto the design talk circut and get you invited to some swanky parties (where they talk more about paper stock than anything else but the bar’s free so what the hell).

    And as long as Jason and I can swing by for a tour and lunch, then I say congratulations Khoi.

  20. Congratulations. While you’re there, could you drop a few hints about the you-have-to-register-if-you-want-to-read-a-little-article for me? Thanks. :)

    If you design changes somehow trickle down to the actual paper (the paper paper), heck, I might even subscribe.

  21. Khoi, props. I’m happy for both you and my favorite newspaper and I look forward with great anticipation to the make-over the online edition sorely needs. Bon voyage and good luck. Please keep Subtraction online, eh?

  22. A silent follower of this blog, I’m surprised by the major news and also excited about seeing your mark surface at the NYT in ’06. Congratulations, Khoi!

  23. Full-disclosure: Worked for the Onion from 1995-2001 as the lead–and only–web developer.

    Learned about you from the work you did for The Onion’s redesign. Saw it and was truly in awe of the quality of the job. Knew it could not have been the Onion’s internal desin staff because they never really had that coherent a design vision. But your design impressed me nonetheless.

    My only real thought when I saw that new design was “This guy is really good, why is he not doing this for a real publication?” Now that question is basically answered.

    Do good. And please, let’s at least get more graphics accopanying NY Times stories.

  24. This is such a great move of the NYT. And what great luck for the readers all over the world. It takes guts to take on the challenge too, how exciting it may be. Thank You and Congratulations Khoi Vinh!!!

  25. This even makes me ecstatic. I’m the Managing Online Editor for a Big Ten college newspaper, and I’m happy to see what is most likely the best newspaper in the United States pick up such an amazing talent. Your work has been the greatest inspiration to me as a new designer and I can’t wait to see what amazingly wonderful things you’ll do for the New York Times.

    You go, Khoi. Knock ‘em dead with a few grids. :)

  26. Khoi,

    This is fantastic news, and it would require a lot of head-exploding thinking to come up with someone more qualified for the position. Best of luck on your Next Big Thing. And, of course, DO NOT FUCK THIS UP.

    congratulations,
    todd

  27. Congratulations, Khoi! What an amazing opportunity. I admire your work and am looking forward to what comes about at The Times.

  28. I know this isn’t going to be an easy move for you, but your style seems to be to be the perfect fit for the NYTimes job. Congratulations and all the best!

  29. Congrats, Khoi! They couldn’t have possibly picked a more perfect candidate. I, too, am moving on to the newspaper industry, so I will certainly be keeping on eye on what you do at the Times!

  30. Congrats, Khoi, and good luck. I can only imagine how hard it must be to leave a labor of love like Behavior – one that you started from scratch. Even when an opportunity like this one comes up (SUPREME DESIGN DIRECTOR OF THE UNIVERSE!!) I can imagine the internal tension.

    Thanks for sharing what’s going on. Best wishes in 2006, and to the Gray Lady!

  31. Congrats! I look forward to great things.

    My list of 5 things you can do off the bat to make the NY Times better:

    1. Provide proper RSS feeds (with more than article headings) that update properly (right now feeds keep updating even after you’ve read them).

    2. Get rid of underlined links.

    3. Option for bigger pictures in slideshows. Also rollovers on slideshow navigation.

    4. Hide Times Select advertising from Times Select subscribers.

    5. A ban on animated ads.

  32. NYTIMES BEING THE MOST RESPECTED NEWS ORGANISATION IN THE WORLD IS A BIT OF A SWEEPING STATEMENT… erm BBC springs to mind (independant as well!)

  33. Congratulations and good luck! This is not only a win for you, but for everyone who reads the times online regularly. I really can’t wait to see the improvements.

  34. Let me add my congratulations to all those that you have already received. Your new position with NYT sounds like a fantastic opportunity. Having worked with you these last 4 years, I know that you will achieve success in your new position.

    Good luck (although I’m sure you won’t need it) and best wishes for future health and happiness.

  35. Well done Khoi! I’m sure you will be missed at Behavior but I suppose if you go somehwere, the NYT is a pretty good alternative. Congrats!

    -whitney

  36. I’m a little in awe that this person is my brother. No question where all the artistic talent genes went in our family! I’m really proud of you, and know that you will excel beyond belief. Congratulations!

  37. Congrats, that is definitely a dream job. I wish you all the luck and can’t wait to see what you do with it.

  38. Yes, a small voice from the past. But still in touch with the design stylings of one such as yourself.

    Congrats, and all the best. I look foward to seeing the improved solutions… as directed by you.

    ~ Arlene

  39. Khoi – I just stumbled on this news. Having seen the impact you have made at Rare and Behavior, I can’t wait to see what you do for the Old Gray Lady. Best of luck!

    - Nick

  40. Khoi,

    To quote one of the newest icons of the 21st Century: That’s “Flippin’ Sweet!”

    Congratulations