Everyone has a story.
Every project has trials and tribulations that we, as creators, must endure before reaching our final product. We use certain tools, think in certain ways, and solve problems in a way that defines us. Foundation is a system that culminates all of those things. Foundation helps you tell your story to the world.
I went to high school at a performing arts school in New York City. Most of my friends were artists; they created entire worlds with their fingertips. I thought they were amazing, and urged them to create their own websites so that they could showcase their work to the world. None of them had great interest in learning how to program and used deviantArt to display their work. deviantArt was, and continues to be, a great tool for displaying work to an audience of like-minded people. However, its downfall is its inability to help the artist create a personal brand -- a personal voice -- to represent them in a seemingly endless sea of creative talent.
In school at Carnegie Mellon, the web education is terrible, and many designers don't have the technical knowhow at the end of four years to craft a virtual container that is truly deserving of the work they will ultimately put inside. I suspect that this is not unique to my design school. For years, I tried to find a suitable tool for building portfolios on the internet. From Wordpress to Cargo Collective, something was missing. Before long, I realized that I would have to build the tool that I'd always dreamed of.
We are all storytellers. Even if someone isn't a creative individual, almost always do they return home to tell the story of their day to someone, be it their friends, family, or spouse.
Even if two people perform the same function (e.g. designing logos), their experiences influence them, their process and their intent. Even if they come to the same conclusion, their journeys were different.
Everyone learns something new every day. There is always something new and valuable to teach someone -- it's just a matter of figuring out what it is.
Foundation is built around a few core ideas: the idea that everyone has a story, the idea that everyone makes different things, and the idea that knowledge that we give can become knowledge that we can take.
The system has a concept of past and present, as these two things provide a strong case for what the future holds. These states of time are represented to the user by allowing them to keep a collection of projects, both past and present, and analyze them based on their parts as well as their performance. The work that we do is largely social, and so there is also a large social component in attributing collaborators in a rich way, as the work we do we almost never do alone.
The initial sketches for Foundation can be traced back to 2008, when I had an idea for a system that allowed users to distribute grid files instead of pre-made files with set colors, typography, and hierarchy. That idea realized itself in a quick project called showcase, which never took off.
While researching and planning for Foundation, there was a surface-level audit of many several existing portfolio management systems and graphed them according to a variety of different qualities, such as customizability, social dynamics, and product structure.
The results of the research proved that current portfolio platforms are mostly hosted services with heavy, forced social dynamics and limited customization options. If you look at any set of portfolios using a given service, they all generally feel the same. As they should: many of these services use the same, or a similar, basic skeleton in terms of hierarchy, interaction and therefore output.
Foundation went through a short branding process to find its typeface, color scheme, and mark. Village Type's National was a good fit for the main logotype, being very sturdy and reliable but also having a touch of playfulness in its curves.
The interface has evolved several times since the project's inception. The overall goal is to aid the user in documenting their work as a sequence of events that culminated in a final product, not as a final product without context. All interaction decisions should ease the user through the project creation process as quickly and painlessly as possible. Visually, branding was consciously kept to a minimum. The work should complement the interface and take center stage.
Foundation employs Parsel, a simple user-facing template engine that I wrote to aid user's in creating custom templates for their portfolios. Using simple, English-readable tags, you can access information and format it by default in a variety of ways. One of the goals, and challenges, of Parsel has been to create a language that is simple for people without programming experience to use, but also flexible and powerful enough for users with front-end experience.
Parsel's inspiration comes from visual programming language, such as Apple's HyperTalk, a simple programming language with syntax resembling English sentences. There was a real opportunity to simplify common constructs such as navigation grids and slideshows by abstracting away the complex structures, styles, and scripts required to make them work. The user shouldn't have to worry about anything but styling them.
An initial working prototype of Foundation was built in 2011 for the Carnegie Mellon School of Design's "Pieces" senior project, led by Dylan Vitone. In 2012, the system was completely redesigned and will be released for a public beta test in fall 2013.
To learn more about the evolution of Foundation, visit the Foundation website or sign up for more updates.