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In the year 2005

Here’s the story of a design I never did anything with. It’s also the story of a turning point year in my life.

I don’t throw anything digital away. Sure, I lose stuff all the time, but for the most part I’m a digital pack rat.

In the early days of this site, I had a good sense that I wanted to pursue some form of working on web sites as a career, but I actually had very little to go on other than some skill working with HTML and eventually CSS. Beyond that, the actual business of making a web site was more or less a mystery to me. The initial Movable Type version of site was the first thing I ever did that even involved a database (it no longer has a database).

Back then, I was desperate for experience. To get some, I redesigned the site every few months. From 2002 through 2005, I had at least five or six designs, depending on whether or not you count the semi-default versions and the foray into TypePad. There were even more that never moved beyond the concept stage.

When I rebuilt the site last year, I started going through and organzing what I had, and came across one of my favorite designs that I never quite finished enough to use. The design on this post is a recreation. The original files are all still fine, but they’re produced for 2005 screen resolutions and designs. This is an update, but it captures the spirit of the original, with the benefit of 15 years of additional experience (and some new Photoshop brushes).

Illtron City

The earliest file, a version of the header image on this post, dates to May 12 2005. It’s a relatively simple cutout of New York City backed by an orange sky. The photo of the Midtown skyline was taken three days earlier, from Hoboken, New Jersey. I’ve also got a rough ideas file with a few images pasted in from the web, from that same night. Things really started to take shape by May 22, and I continued to work on it until the first week of June, getting as far as a complete HTML and CSS layout. If you want to see them, I made a gist of these files, because why not?

This design just feels like 2005 to me — in a good way. I’m pretty sure it’s not without a fair bit of inspiration from something I saw somewhere, but it really does capture the time and my state of mind. It feels like something that would belong in the liner notes of a CD I would have had in heavy rotation.

New York City skyline from Hoboken

Midtown Manhattan skyline from Hoboken, taken May 9, 2005. I still have this in my photo library.

Despite making it really far with a design that I really liked, I never adapted it into my site. This was basically the point when I stopped maintaining the site. Things had already been slowing down, but the Version 1 archive of this site shows only a single post after I worked on this design.

Looking back through my old stuff, it’s pretty easy to see how that happened. As I said, I never really throw anything digital away. I did all this work in the first week of a very busy, eventful, and particularly well documented summer.

In the middle of this work, Revenge of the Sith was released (’sup, Colin), which meant a trip to Cinemark in Scranton, followed a week later by a trip to Long Beach Island, N.J. At the end of the month, I was back in Forest City and Scranton for a weekend, followed immediately by a trip to Philly for the Live 8 concert.

I owe Live 8 a bigger exploration at some point, but for now it’ll do to call out the sheer amount of eclectic talent gathered in Philly on July 2, 2005. It was an all-around top-ten day I’ll never forget, but it was also the reason I can say I’ve seen Kayne, Beyoncé, Bon Jovi, Def Leppard, and Stevie Wonder live in concert. You haven’t experienced large-scale joy unless you’ve seen a million or so Philadelphians sing along with Will Smith to the Fresh Prince theme song. And where else but Live 8 and the Galactic Senate can you see Jimmy Smits and Natalie Portman take the same stage?

Live 8 was a quick affair, and immediately after the concert, I took off for Ocean City, N.J. to drop Jim at Beth’s grandparent’s shore house. Ocean City was just a layover for me; I hit the road that same night for another couple days in LBI. A few weeks later, I was back in Forest City for Old Home Week (another top experience).

Misplaced along with the design files was a résumé and cover letter for BBC America. A lot of my friends had started moving to New York in 2005, and I was furiously applying for jobs there at the time. At some point in this hurricane of a summer I made it to the city a second time for an interview there and another one at 1up.com (I didn’t get either job).

This hectic summer was capped off by a major change at the end of August when I moved from Elizabethtown — my home for the previous two years — to my own place in Harrisburg. It was more than just a move; it was a turning point. Not counting my single dorm for four months in Germany in college, it was the first time I really lived on my own. Going from a quiet rural suburb that often smelled like shit to living three blocks from the Pennsylvania State Capitol was a big deal for me at the time.

Living in midtown Harrisburg, I suddenly found myself with a ten minute commute, little direct human contact, and all the time in the world to work on new projects. This site may have fizzled out, but soon after settling in, I started work on Crap Filter, a project that would run for nearly two years, aided by the writing of 13 contributors.

I adored the freedom of living alone and not answering to anyone but myself, but it didn’t last long. By early December, I had moved in with my then-girlfriend in New Jersey, a situation which would also soon fizzle.

By summer of the next year, I wasn’t just taking pictures of New York to not use for my blog, I was actually living there — but I’ll save 2006 for another day.