Sunday, June 28, 2009

Development and Design Contracts

I've got a secret and it's kind of embarrassing - I don't normally work with contracts. Ok so I've definitely been in contact with some contracts, just nothing terribly extensive and nothing I've wrote. Today that changes, though, and while there have been times where I've had to learn a lesson or two the hard way the main factor is simply the increase in scope of the projects I've been dealing with. Contingencies are popping up too frequently to ignore, and with the way one job easily breaks down into many sometimes it's hard to know exactly where the onus or responsibility lie for certain aspects of a project. This latest project I speak of involves a number of special issues that need to be addressed ahead of time -

  • The fact that the business this site will serve is in a medical field (which will probably mean very stringent stipulations on how certain kinds of information are handled) may require I ensure a lack of liability if certain standards are not met that I've not been made aware of.
  • The fact that the design and development of this site may result in patents or copyrights and where the ownership of these properties lie, considering that ideas the client and I have had previous to this project somewhat overlap. How will these be managed in the near future? Do competing patents already exist?
  • This project may have the potential to generate publicity. I would like to have my name or my business' name in the mix where possible. I also want to make sure I retain the right to exhibit this work in my portfolio.

With all these things in mind, I got to googling and crawling wikipedia for information about intellectual property, software licenses (to possibly govern the use of software created as a result), and points covered in contracts by either software developers or graphic & web designers.

What I found was nothing less than ...perplexing. Apparently software falls under the protection of both copyright (as literature) and patent - definitely some sort of sign from the universe. Legal precedents also differ from state to state, which encouraged the shift of such matters to a national court, but even at that level there are competing bodies with differing opinions on how to manage these types of patents and whether they should even exist.

This makes the existence of other (somewhat) similar patents sting a bit less.

Anyways, here's a quick rundown of information I found pertaining to design work:

Keeping things I read at these sites and others in mind, as well as certain aspects particular to the project, I came up with the following list of bullet points I'd like to cover in my contract (as well as an example of each) -
  1. Functional definition of project
  2. Retain the right to use in portfolio
  3. Payment regardless of use
  4. Bonuses in penalties as they relate to deadlines
  5. The providing of documentation (from both parties)
  6. Ownership/licensing of copyrights and patents
  7. Procedure for enacting changes to approved designs
  8. Specific number of included (free) changes
  9. Shared-risk pricing scheme
  10. Explicit stating of independent contractor status
  11. Reimbursement of expenses
  12. Limited liability (concerning copyrighted materials and medical guidelines)
  13. Assignment of work - retaining the right to hire other designers
  14. Reservation of rights - retaining all rights to content not explicitly handled in contract (design sketches, class diagrams, notes, etc)
  15. Publication - specifying instances when I should be publicly credited with the work, what kinds of uses should be cleared with myself or the client first, etc

...and a couple of others. Once I feel I've enough reliable examples, I'll begin compiling them into one document which I'll then take to a lawyer to review for it's legality and presentation. So far this all looks pretty good to me but I'm sure there's something I'm leaving out, or at the very least that this will be something I'll speak on again in the future.

Monday, June 15, 2009

Sneak Peak @ new blog design

Blog Design w/ guides

Using MonsterDebugger with AsUnit tests

So I've been using two new tools lately to develop my framework - De Monster Debugger and AsUnit. De Monster is a tool that allows for introspection of you running swf through their air front end. All methods and properties are exposed, and can be executed or edited right from their tree interface. You can find it here or watch Lee Brimelow's tutorial about it.

AsUnit is a unit testing framework for actionscript which allows you to run automated test suites on the smallest, indivisible pieces of your code to ensure integrity. In my opinion the real power of unit testing comes from two places - it formalizes the elimination of possible bug causes, (no more sloppy, randomly placed traces or commenting out code), and secondly it's no big deal to run your entire suite of tests every time you compile your swf, so you catch on when bugs in one class effect other classes in ways you didn't expect.

In essence, AsUnit is basically a framework for setting your classes and pieces of code on stilts for further examination, but to achieve this, it's standard practice to encapsulate your classes into the test suites in awkward - yet beneficial (to the unit testing) - ways. Let's examine these.

package com.framework.tests.units {

import asunit.framework.TestSuite;
import com.framework.tests.units.LinkNodeTest;
import com.framework.tests.units.LinkedListTest;

* @author Will Saunders
* Unit Test Suite for the framework

public class AllTests extends TestSuite {

public function AllTests() {


// Link Node Tests
addTest(new LinkNodeTest("testInstantiated"));
addTest(new LinkNodeTest("testAutoAddChild"));
addTest(new LinkNodeTest("testManualAddChild"));
addTest(new LinkNodeTest("testRemoveChild"));

This is an example TestSuite for AsUnit. Test classes - LinkNodeTest in this case - contain the logic for administering and checking the tests, while TestSuites group all the tests together. If you look closely, however, you'll notice that each of these tests happen independently of one another - one test does not run on the same data objects as the ones before or after because a new instance of LinkNodeTest is established for each test. Furthermore their syntax abstracts the inner parts of the Test classes from us. While this method is mostly always a good thing (for the sake of maintaining granular, "blank slate starts" in the tests), but if you want to look into the tests with Monster Debugger to see what's actually happening or what the data looks like after your tests have run you'll have to jump through a few hoops.

First we will add a lasting reference to the particular instance we'd like to examine more closely. I only set aside one of these at a time and to encourage myself not to get too far away from the point of unit testing. We will also add the necessary classes for the debugger: 

package com.framework.tests.units {

import asunit.framework.TestSuite;
import com.framework.tests.units.LinkNodeTest;
import com.framework.tests.units.LinkedListTest;

import nl.demonsters.debugger.MonsterDebugger;

* @author Will Saunders
* Unit Test Suite for the framework

public class AllTests extends TestSuite {

public var failedTest:LinkedListTest = new LinkedListTest("testRemoveChild");
public var bugger:MonsterDebugger = new MonsterDebugger( this );

public function AllTests() {


// Link Node Tests
addTest(new LinkNodeTest("testInstantiated"));
addTest(new LinkNodeTest("testAutoAddChild"));
addTest(new LinkNodeTest("testManualAddChild"));
addTest( failedTest );

Now through this reference to the test, we may inspect the inner contents. In the following picture you can see the failedTest reference and the data inside of it :) - AsUnit and DeMonster

Sunday, June 14, 2009

Typecast slip up in with Numbers in As3

I always seem to run into the same problem with Actionscript 3 when typecasting (converting an object from one type to another). It has to do with the use of the as keyword because I've fallen into the habit of doing all typecasting this way - the benefit being that it will fail gracefully and return the default value for the type you're trying to cast to (usually this is a null).

The trickiness comes when I try to typecast something to a number like this:

var testString:String = "77";
trace( testString as Number );
// Traces null

var testNumber:Number = testString as Number;
trace( testNumber );
// Traces 0

This is a problem because this particular syntax will always return a null, which sometimes leads me to spend too much time tracing this down because sometimes I'm writing code that handles null values gracefully. Anyways, the proper way is:

var testString:String = "77";
trace( Number(testString) );
// Traces 77
Because you're actually utilizing conversion functions for Top Level classes like Number, String, Array, which override casting one might do with the Number(object) kind of syntax when using non-top level classes. These can also lead to unexpected results if you aren't careful.

Friday, June 12, 2009

The making of Bjork's Wanderlust

I recently came across this behind the scenes look at the Bjork 3d video, Wanderlust. It's by a group named Encyclopedia Pictura, and it's an amazing feat of multidisciplinary creativity (and mushrooms). Some time last year they gave a talk at Horizons - a conference on psychedelic drugs that I arranged some videography for. They incorporate 3d recording and playback, large scale puppetry, clay, choreography, green screening, and 3d compositing to achieve an amazing texture and visual quality.

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Images on Jet Propulsion Lab site open for use

I spent some time working on a site design for someone where the theme of space was tossed around a bit. I did some research and found that the Jet Propulsion Labs (a branch of NASA) - perhaps because they're publicly funded or something - allow for the open use of images gathered from satellite and robotics missions. There are a few stipulations, but giving someone a credit line for some amazing images seems like a more than fair price to pay. They even have a nice little flex gallery for browsing their collection and offer both high rez Jpgs and Tiffs.

I'm pretty sure that - within these stipulations - an artist would even be able to use these images as source material to photoshop to their hearts content, but rather than give you incorrect legal information here I'll just direct you over to the JPL's Image Use Policy so you can see for yourself :)

Sunday, June 7, 2009

Code package management in flash and eclipse

There was a time where I'd have a copy of a framework or as3 code package in the folder of every project I'd use it in. This wasn't a big deal, until I did a search one day and realized I had about nine copies of Tweener strewn about my harddrive - a situation ridiculous enough to merit change.

I created a folder named Flash Packages, and copied every bit of code I reuse (or even might) to it. In the flash IDE the change was simple enough - add this new folder to your list of classpaths. To get there you open Flash's preferences, navigate to the Actionscript panel, and - under the "Language" label - click on the button for Actionscript 2 or 3 respectively. This will alter the global classpath (affecting every flash document you create in the IDE). Settings for the document-level classpath can be found in the Publishing settings. Add your new created and sorted package folder to the list and you're done :)

What's more interesting, however, is the fact that you can add relative paths as well. There's a default entry of "." which causes every FLA to include any classes in it's own directory, while an entry of ".." would cause the directory's parent to be searched.

There are also a number of token/variable things you can use to represent certain important locations. If anyone knows of more, let me know:
  • $(AppConfig) - Flash CS3 configuration folder, which contains default Actionscript classes
  • $(LocalData) - Not exactly sure where this one points

My workflow includes both flash and the Eclipse editor, though, and for the longest time I couldn't figure out how to mirror this kind of change in it's environment. Just found out how to do it, though, and it's pretty easy. Just add a folder to your project (New>Folder), click the Advanced button, and set up the option for "Link To Folder In the File System" :) This is where you'll add packages from the folder of actionscript libraries you created earlier.

Web 2.0 Mission Statement

Was clearing out some old papers and came across some ideas I'd doodled on paper while working out the concept for an editing project I did over a year ago where I mixed animated flash content, screen captures of various websites, and live video. Thought it might be cool to share the two together. Make sure you watch it in high quality :)

Concept, Editing, Animation - Will Saunders
Producer, Copy - Lee McAlilly
3d Animation (Not seen here) - Broadway Romero
Additional Editing - Jeltron

Monday, June 1, 2009

In with the crowd.

Despite a certain article I read on FreelanceSwitch recently about the downfalls of spec work, I've joined a crowd-sourcing site. If you don't know, crowd-sourcing is when a job - normally given to a business or freelancer - is outsourced to a large mass, usually the community of a website. Designers competing for jobs, basically. The writer sites the one I joined as an example, which is run by another blog I read a lot geared towards web designers, and - amazingly enough - explains the head-explodingly meta case of another crowd-sourcing site obtaining their logo in this manner from this one (and ultimately only paying around $200).

This case - as ridiculously ironic as it is - would drive anyone to a strong opinion, but at the end of the day it still stands that everyone involved is a grown-up designer. In other words, this site can't be seen as more than a tool and any tool looks bad when used improperly. The most obvious use case for these sites - in my opinion - is passive income. I, however, choose to see them as an opportunity, if you will. I believe the number of contests requiring logos far outweigh the others, but branding is something I'd like to get (more) into anyways. A number of things will have to be kept in mind if this is to make any kind of sense, however -

  1. These are little, self-contained, modular experiments in design. I can walk into them open minded and unburdened, and - after the alloted amount of time - leave just the same. I have to remember that ultimately, I'm just here to pimp the system.
  2. I must manage time. I could be the best logo designer in the world but the cost/risk/payment ratio is so skewed that it wouldn't make sense to spend too much time or rely too heavily on these things. Also consider the fact that my 30 minute idea has gotten a more positive response from the contest holder than two I did for another that took significantly longer.
  3. What makes these "exercises" particularly potent is the fact that it's an amalgamation of design and branding, so it's not just the photoshop experience I'm after - it's also ability to do this type of high-level conceptual thinking involved with quickness and agility. A terribly beneficial aspect, despite the fact that I would probably outsource this kind of task to someone else myself if a client were to ask for it.
  4. Though this site won't teach me the value of design, I'll certainly learn a lot by seeing the designs of others and - more importantly - see how ideas can be realized, hybridized, and cannibalized, and where the fine lines in the sand between the three lie. Already I can see familiar concepts applied in new, interesting ways I wouldn't have thought of, examples of people taking my concepts and running with them, and comments from designers to designers about what they consider to be imitations of theirs.
  5. That ultimately this is supposed to be fun, and that I'm not concerned with the $200 that could - in some cases - not be paid at all if the contest holder doesn't find a design they like. By keeping this in mind I'll be more likely to stop and change direction if it's just not working out or even just keep the designs to myself.
  6. If I manage to get good at this, I can sell designs on the back hand - through a logo shop or an asset store - a site where people purchase pre-made components for use in their projects.
  7. It gives me (a) perspective on what people consider a logo. It's important to understand parameters and trends so you can make the decision when to fit your work within their constraints and when (and how) to break/stand out. Speaking of trends, I think this list will cover most of them you'll come across - easily (or unfortunately) enough. 
As I said before - logo creation might not be something I'd hesitate to bring in a specialist regarding, but the state of the art has definitely elevated to the point where the website - traditionally a source of relatively static information, now has just as much to do with a brand as a logo - and is indeed the first point of contact people have with both. I suppose this is more of a strategic exercise then, if that's the case.