Chris Caldwell

Creative Director at gskinner, CSS aficionado, photographer of interesting things, ponderer of life, and friends with the fish.

Why I Practice Design After 25 Years

It’s been 25 years since I first double-clicked a desktop icon that changed my life. The year was 1992 and I had just opened up Photoshop 2.5. I had no idea what I was doing. Fascinated by computers and making digital art, I didn’t care if I could make something look great. I just clicked on a tool and tried making anything. With each attempt, I increased my abilities and the outcomes became more complex, meaningful, and intentional. Practicing became the foundation for my education, career, and part of my ethos as a Creative Director—here’s the impact it’s had, and how you might be feeling if you’re not practicing.

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Breaking Into the Web Industry

Taking Your First Steps

Finishing school and stepping into the industry is both daunting and exciting. Having gone through the process of graduation and job searching myself just a year ago, I want to shed some light on what to expect and offer some tips along the way.

After working at gskinner for one year, I was fortunate to attend the grad show where I had first met Grant when I was a student. Along with the CTO and Creative Director, we observed the new grads and discussed possible hires. It was an eye opening experience, learning how management assesses talent. It allowed me to empathize with the hopes and fears of the new grads as they try to find a way into the industry. Luckily, the web platform is broad and provides a large pool of jobs to fill.
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Check. Check. Is this thing on?

It’s been nearly a full year since I last blogged. (Do people still blog? Maybe I should snapchat this instead?) I used to blog a lot, but life became busier, posts became more infrequent, and eventually it stopped being a habit and became a chore.

That doesn’t mean I don’t have a lot to say. It’s just that the last few years have been a crazy and exciting ride, and I haven’t had a lot of time to dedicate to writing posts.

Five years ago, Flash as a platform died. For a lot of shops, the migration was gradual. Not for us. Our clients come to us for cutting-edge tech, and almost overnight, Flash didn’t meet their criteria. We went from almost 100% Flash work, to nearly 0% in less than a year.
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8 Years, a Retrospective.

I was looking at the blog today, thinking how neglected it is, when I realized that its 8 year anniversary had recently passed. That got me scanning nostalgically through old posts, and wistfully pondering how much has changed since my very first post on Sept 1, 2003.

At the time, I was a spiky-haired, fresh-faced, freelance developer who had just recently won my first few awards, and had spoken at my first few conferences (a thoroughly nerve-racking experience). I was completely unsure of my place in the industry, had no idea how to promote myself (though I was starting to learn), and wasn’t sure what I wanted to be when I “grew up”. I just knew that I REALLY loved building cool things in Flash.

Eight years later, a lot has changed, but the important parts have stayed the same. I’m a grizzled veteran, with more than a few white hairs, and am no longer so fresh of face. I’ve spoken at hundreds of conferences and events around the world, but I still get completely stressed out before every single one. I lead a team of 14 absolutely amazing developers and designers, working on cutting-edge projects for some of the biggest brands in the world, but I’m still not sure what I want to be when I grow up. I just know that I still REALLY love building cool things and sharing them with the world.

There are a few reasons why I still love my work so much. Foremost, I love the continuous challenge and the sense of creation. I don’t think I’ve had a day in the past 8yrs when I haven’t either learned something new, or built something (however small) that I can be proud of. I also appreciate the diversity – I’m sure I’d be a much wealthier man if my company focused on building “enterprise blah blah blahs for the yadda yadda market vertical”, but I much prefer constantly tackling new challenges. We’ve worked on everything from intros & micro sites to frameworks & enterprise apps to games & installations to technical demos & art pieces.

I also really appreciate the people. My own little team is made up of intelligent, creative, and fun people that I genuinely love working with. Our clients tend to be smart, savvy, and eager to do fantastic, progressive work. And, the communities I’ve been honoured to participate in have been hugely supportive and giving. Seriously, the Flash community is one of the coolest groups of like-minded folk I’ve ever had the pleasure to interact (and party) with. I’m still getting to know the HTML/JS community, but I’m hoping they will be equally cool.

I know it’s a bit sappy and cliché, but I have a deep passion and love for what I do, and a great deal of respect for the people I’ve been privileged to work with over the past decade. I’d like to think that’s helped make my work better, but if not, at least I’ve been having fun the whole time!

(and, yes, I will try to post more often – Twitter and G+ have made me lazy)

Back from the Galapagos

I just got back from an amazing trip to the Galapagos islands. Besides providing the early inspiration for Darwin’s “On the Origin of Species”, the Galapagos is one of the most pristine environments left on the planet. It’s one thing to hear people talk about how the animals on the islands have no fear of humans, but it doesn’t fully prepare you for the reality of standing inches away from a sea lion nursing her young and completely ignoring your presence.

The islands are gorgeous, varied, and bursting with life. In places, you literally have to tiptoe through the local fauna. Snorkeling in the surrounding waters was equally enthralling, swimming within reach of sea turtles, penguins, sea lions, and an abundance of fish. I was simultaneously overjoyed with the experience, and a little saddened about how successfully humans have trained the remainder of the world’s wildlife to fear us. It was also mildly depressing seeing how much plastic had washed onto the otherwise pristine shores, likely traveling the pacific currents from Asia and the West Coast (the Galapagos is situated on the intersection of a few major pacific currents).

The cruise on the Celebrity Xpedition ship itself wasn’t anything special, but the staff were friendly, the naturalists were great, and the food was passable. I wasn’t really there for the cruise amenities anyway. Though I could have lived without everyone on the cruise getting sick (still recovering from some nasty virus).

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It Never Rains, But It Pours

Wow, has it ever been a busy and stressful month!

Everyone at have been insanely busy leading up to MAX North America, working on a bunch of projects that were featured at the conference, including working hard to finish v6 of introNetworks, which was completely re-architected as a highly modular system in Flex 2, and which was deployed for the first time for MAX.

Beyond client work, I was putting in a ton of extra hours trying to finish off my AS3 workshop for Toronto, as well as putting together a talk for the onAIR bus tour, and two sessions for MAX. I was also trying to polish off our client-side AS3 spell checking engine ( Spelling Plus Library) for release (more on this a little later this week).

On the home front, my wife and I started moving into our new house in the middle of September. Moving is bad enough, but the house also isn’t complete, so the builders are working around us, and we’re moving in around the builders.

As if this wasn’t enough, our four month old puppy Gir tumbled down a couple of steps and broke his front leg right on the growth plates less than a week before I was supposed to leave for Toronto. We wound up having to rush him 3 hours away for emergency surgery (naturally the local orthopedic vet surgeon had retired a couple weeks prior and his replacement didn’t start for another week), and are now charged with keeping a happy, energetic puppy from running, jumping, or playing for 10 weeks (7 weeks to go). Much love and respect to my wonderful wife for enduring 2 weeks with the little guy on her own in a half finished house while I was on the road!

So, all in all, a very hectic period in my life. If you’ve emailed me and haven’t gotten a response within the next couple days, please ping me again – I’m working to catch up, but want to be sure nothing falls through the cracks. Likewise, I’ll be catching up with a bunch of blog posts, and releasing some cool stuff (including the spelling engine) in the next few days.

My New Puppy. So cute!

I don’t usually post personal content, but for a puppy, I’ll make an exception. I mean, who doesn’t like puppies?

On Wednesday we picked up our new Bugg (Boston Terrier / Pug cross) puppy and brought him home. He’s named Gir (pronounced grrr), both because he acts a bit like GIR from Invader Zim, and just because I think it’s a cool dog name. Bobi says she’s going to try to make him a green GIR suit one day, though she won’t let me name our future cat Pir. 🙁

Photos after the jump.

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Back from Japan

I just got back from 16 awesome days in Japan. My wife and I spent a week in Kyoto, and a week in Tokyo, checking out the sights, eating amazing food, experiencing the culture and hanging out with friends.

There’s way too much to talk about here, so I’ll stick to super brief disjointed thoughts: Kyoto is really beautiful, and an excellent place to experience the more traditional side of Japan. Tokyo is a huge, crowded, and rather ugly city (aren’t all big cities?), but the people and culture make it amazing. The amount of respect, decency, and politeness Japanese people show others gives me hope for the rest of the world. Cherry blossom season is a great time to go to Japan – it’s so beautiful under the Sakura, and there’s so much happening. Hanging out with Marcos and Glyn (who flew up from Korea) was awesome – great company, and we got to experience parts of Tokyo that we never would have otherwise (thanks guys!). Japanese gardens are absolutely unsurpassed in beauty and detail – every step reveals a new, perfect photo opportunity. There’s a lot of super cool stuff to buy in Japan (we certainly got our fair share), including some really neat toys. Heated toilet seats are kind of nice (I suppose moreso for female types), but I’m not a fan of “posterior washes” (it’s kind of violating). You must have sushi at the tsukiji fish market at least once in your life (it’s soooo good).

We were there mostly for vacation, but I also squeezed in a little time to meet up with Mariko and Teiichi from Adobe Japan, as well as to show some of my recent work and hang out with some Tokyo Flashers. It was really great meeting everyone, and getting to see and hear about some of the cool work that’s going on over there.

Overall, one of the best trips I’ve been on. I’d strongly recommend it to anyone. I took a ton of photos, and might post some here when I have time. I’m going to have to do some re-working of my Sakura experiments to match all the photos I took.

Now I have to get busy and finish preparing for FitC Toronto (which I also highly recommend)!