Today’s Obsession: Making Stacey

Posted inObsessions
Thumbnail for Today's Obsession: Stacey

Over the past few weeks, I’ve been speaking with Anthony Kolber, creator of Stacey, the content management system which generated some excitement here. I got a chance to talk with him about how a designer moves from purely visual work to technically-minded projects as well, not to mention the intricacies of designing and building a CMS.

Can you give me a basic overview of your background as it relates to creating intersecting technology and design?

I originally studied and trained as a print-based designer, so my interest in the web was strictly hobbyist. All of my day-to-day work was around publication and identity design and I didn’t really work on commercial web projects at all.

It wasn’t until some years after graduating that I found a way to combine the two fields. At that time there was a distinct lack of designers who could understand the more technical aspects of the web, so I found there was a clear niche that I could fit. Everything grew from that point.

Over time my focus has shifted towards web and application design and away from print, but I still maintain a strong interest in both print design and web development and my practice crosses over both fields fairly extensively.

Based on your experience moving between mechanically-experienced and inexperienced designers, you clearly saw a need for simple applications. Can you talk a little about how your experience led to seeing that need for clarity?

The evolution was organic. At the time I was helping a number of friends get their portfolios online. There was no money, so I was building them out using static HTML, as this was the quickest, most efficient option.

The problem I ran into was that none of my friends knew how to write (or even edit) basic HTML, so I started getting overrun with website update requests.

As it happened, everyone was sending .zip archives that followed a fairly common structure: a folder matching the name of the project, a text file containing the project information and then the project images in numbered order.

The simplest way to deal with this issue was to build a system that could take this common structure and convert it into raw HTML that I could then deploy. This very simple system became the starting point for Stacey.

Assuming the rest of your process also came from a reactive point of view—learning from what your users wanted to do—how did your notions of the templating language come from this?

Actually, the design of the templating language was reacting directly to my own requirements. As everything was originally built as static html, I wanted something which would easily slot in over the top of the existing templates.

None of the popular templating languages matched my requirements, so I pieced together a system which would better fit stacey’s approach to content management. Something which could handle simple variable replacement and loops and wouldn’t get in the way of the HTML.

How’d Stacey get her name? it’s kind of perfect for a friendly little app.

I was drawn to the idea of naming it after a person; it’s friendly and humanising. But really, ‘Stacey’ just seemed to fit.

Download Stacey from its own site.

Additionally, following the examples in this post, you can run Stacey alongside Dropbox to create sites without coding. All you need is a decent host (Anthony uses Slicehost, I use Webfaction) giving you root access. plop the Dropbox daemon on your server and it syncs on its own. There’s tutorial posted here that walks you through installing Dropbox on a server.