Rebranding FantasyHockeySim.com

I launched FantasyHockeySim.com as a spinoff of DetroitHockey.Net last summer and the visual elements of it were a rush job.  Getting the site out the door was my priority, so I stole design elements for FHS from DH.N and put together a logo that didn’t say “fantasy hockey” at all.

Awhile ago I ranted about the Detroit Red Wings’ “Hockeytown” logo and how the only way it said “Hockeytown” was literally, with the text splashed across it.  I’d done the same thing with the FantasyHockeySim.com logo, as crossed sticks said “hockey” but the only way it said “fantasy hockey” was via the FHS acronym across the front.  Even then, it looked more like the logo for a high school hockey team than for simulated fantasy hockey software.

While stuck on a development project, I decided to take a crack at a new FHS logo.

Because I like shield-based logos far too much, my first pass centered around different shields.  Eventually I put together one that I really liked the look of and started building alternate logos around it.

I showed the “final” set (the shield logo and “promotional” versions featuring additional text) around and realized I hadn’t solved the problem I was trying to handle in the first place.  The logos still only said “fantasy hockey” literally, and even then it was only the promotional ones.

I stepped back from it and didn’t think about it for awhile until an idea came to me during my drive into work a couple weeks later.

Representing hockey in a logo is easy.  Sticks, pucks, all sorts of imagery is available.  How do you represent “simulation” though?  Well, simulation means computers and code and, even to a layman, X/HTML’s angle brackets are recognizable as code.  So I wrapped a pair of crossed hockey sticks in angle brackets and went from there.

The first issue I hit with the logo was that the crossed sticks looked a bit like an X, so I changed their position and added lines representing tape to the blades.  After that, I decided to give up on my attempt at a monochrome logo, changing the color of the angle brackets to help separate them from the sticks (with the added effect of appearing as syntax coloring).

As I worked on a primary version of the logo, I also created an alternate version and a “promotional” version.  The promotional logo features the “bracket” logo inside a roundel containing the “Simulated Fantasy Hockey” descriptor and the site name while the alternate is simplified version of that, without the text.

The biggest issue with the alternate and promotional logos was making sure the broken inner circle of the roundel didn’t appear like it was supposed to be attached to the angle brackets.  To handle that, I shrank down the width of that inner circle and made the break in it wider.  Changing the color of the brackets completed the effect.

The FHS site still needs a redesign to get away from borrowing so much from DH.N but at least now the logo is original and descriptive.

Grand Rapids Griffins Alternate Jersey Concept 2016

Once again, the Grand Rapids Griffins are holding their annual jersey design contest and, even though I know I disagree with their design preferences, I’m throwing my hat into the ring.

Two years ago I entered a design featuring a griffin silhouette on a shield as the primary logo, with the jersey in “vintage” white, blue, and red. The shoulder logo was a roundel with an interlocking GR logo the team had previously used. Last year I tweaked the logo to make the griffin’s wing a little cleaner, switched up the shoulder logos, changed the number font, and updated the colors to go along with the Griffins’ color change, but the striping pattern stayed the same.

This year I thought for certain that I was going to enter another red jersey, so I started with my previous design. I swapped out the “vintage” colors and simplified the striping pattern. Rather than black numbers with a white outline, I went with white numbers outlined in black as they would be more legible.  I kept the player’s jersey number in the collar webbing because, as I’ve said before, I loved that feature of their old alternate jersey.  I also brought back the shoulder logo from my original entry as a 20th Season patch no longer made sense.  Finally, I broke down and put the Winged Wheel logo of the Detroit Red Wings on one shoulder, as the Griffins do that on their standard jerseys to denote their parent club, no matter how much I dislike the practice.

The first version of my concept for the Griffins' 2016 jersey design contest.
The first version of my concept for the Griffins’ 2016 jersey design contest.

I felt like that design was too simple, though, so I continued evolving the design. For the second generation, I switched the order of the sleeve colors and removed the shoulder yoke. I wanted the Griffins’ jersey to have an homage to the alternate colored sleeves of the Red Wings’ white jersey. I also brought back the black numbers outlined in white as I figured for a one-shot jersey, legibility is less of a concern (in fact, the Griffins wore dark red numbers on a dark blue jersey for one game two seasons ago).

The second version of my concept for the Griffins' 2016 jersey design contest.
The second version of my concept for the Griffins’ 2016 jersey design contest.

Unfotunately, I thought that looked far too close to the design of the Texas Stars. While the Griffins selected a design two seasons ago that was basically a color swapped Iowa Wild jersey, I wasn’t comfortable submitting something like that.

As such, I decided to fully embrace the alternate-colored sleeves. I made the jersey body red with a black stripe bounded by white and the sleeves black with a red stripe and white outline. I also changed up the shoulder logo, replacing the interlocking GR with the griffin silhouette I used on the crest as I didn’t want to re-use one of the team’s existing marks, even modified.

The third version of my concept for the Griffins' 2016 jersey design contest.
The third version of my concept for the Griffins’ 2016 jersey design contest.

At this point, I thought that I had my final design. I started showing it to a handful of people and near-universally the feedback was that they wanted to see a black version. Of course, I had started out trying to make a red jersey, so at first I ignored this.  Eventually I hit the point where I had to listen to what my informal focus group was saying and did a switch of the colors. While a quick Twitter poll showed 53% of fans would have preferred a red jersey, 100% of people who saw both the red and black jerseys picked the black one. As such, the black one was my final design.

My submission for the Griffins' 2016 jersey design contest.
My submission for the Griffins’ 2016 jersey design contest.

There are some coincidental homages in this design.  The Grand Rapids Owls, an International Hockey League team in the late 1970s, wore jerseys with red sleeves that had black stripes outlined in white.  Additionally, the Red Wings sold “fashion” jerseys (alternate jerseys that were never actually worn in-game) that had a black body with a red stripe at the waist, red sleeves with a black stripe, and numbers that match this design.  The stripes did not include a white outline.


The Griffins explicitly stated that they wanted a dark jersey from this year’s contest.  I imagine that’s because of the AHL’s new rule that will see light jerseys worn at home until Christmas and dark jerseys after that.  Previously there had been some flexibility with regards to alternates but I’d guess that’s out the window with these new rules.

At any rate, just for fun, I created a white version of my submission.

An alternate white version of my concept for the Griffins' 2016 jersey design contest.
An alternate white version of my concept for the Griffins’ 2016 jersey design contest.

As I mentioned, the primary logo is carried over directly from last season’s submission, aside from the color switch.  This is a logo full of homages.  The shape of the shield is that of the DetroitHockey.Net logo as a reference to my previous work.  The feathers on the griffin’s wing are those of the Winged Wheel.  The griffin’s tail is that of the original Grand Rapids logo.

The crest logo for my 2016 Griffins jersey contest submission.
The crest logo for my 2016 Griffins jersey contest submission.

The shoulder logo went through a number of revisions as I sorted out what color it would be placed on, how much detail should be included, and what element would be inside the roundel.

While I think that having a silhouetted griffin on both the crest and the shoulder is a bit repetitive, I see the different uses to be somewhat like how the Tampa Bay Lightning have a lightning bolt on both the crest and the shoulder.


As I’ve said every year, I don’t expect to win this contest.  This year is interesting because ten finalists will be determined by fan vote and then the Griffins staff will decide.  Additionally, this year submissions do not have to follow a standardized template.  If I had to guess, the vote will skew towards submissions that look like they come out of a video game, as they come across as the most impressive.  Whether or not those are actually the best designs will have to be seen.


Update: After posting this I noticed that the shoulder logos are incorrectly depicted on the view of the back of the jersey.  They should be switched so that the Winged Wheel is on the right shoulder and the roundel is on the left, as they appear in the view of the front of the jersey.  I’m not going to update the graphics, just use your imagination a little.

Another Odd Site Launch: DetroitHockey.Net 2016

After launching a new site that wasn’t all that new, my next project was a redevelopment of DetroitHockey.Net that removed features rather than adding them.

With the fantasy side of the site gone and no longer reliant on the rarely-used DH.N Community Forums, I reworked DetroitHockey.Net to remove the forums.  I also pulled out my custom blog software and replaced it with WordPress.

The idea behind going to WordPress was that, while I enjoyed writing my own blog software, it left me somewhat behind the times as far as what the site was capable of.  It’s a wheel I don’t want to reinvent, so instead I learned how to tap into native functionality of WordPress to do the things I wanted to do.

With the loss of the forums and the continued simplification of the site content, I was able to go with a more streamlined design.  The header features the site logo (I launched with the 20th Season logo in place but it will revert when that season ends), an advertisement, and one navigation bar.  This is in contrast to the old version of the site, which had a logo, three navigation menus, a login menu, an ad, and a set of links to forum discussions.

I also took the opportunity to implement the sub-navigation menu system that I developed for FantasyHockeySim.com.

The home page features seven recent headlines from the WordPress-driven news section, an embedded Twitter feed (replacing a custom developed version of the feed display), the score of the most recent Red Wings’ game, and a calendar showing the current month’s schedule (with games denoted by opponent logo).

The individual article pages use a modified version of the WordPress Twenty-sixteen theme, wrapped in the DetroitHockey.Net template.

The only other page that was heavily modified was the DH.N Contributors page, which pulls from the WordPress user system.

This version of the site is intended to be transitional, with further revisions coming after seeing how the forum-less site is used.

A New Site That Isn’t New: FantasyHockeySim.com

A few days ago I launched a new website. Kind of.

FantasyHockeySim.com went live last Thursday. The site plays host to a couple simulated fantasy hockey leagues using the FHLSim software. Through FHS, league members can manage their teams in real-time, as opposed to all kinds of manual data entry that is required by FHLSim out of the box.

And if that sounds familiar, it might be because up until FantasyHockeySim.com launched, all of that was a part of DetroitHockey.Net. FHS is simply that functionality spun off into its own site.

One of the leagues that had been hosted at DH.N, the National Hockey Association, is the official league of SportsLogos.Net. And some of its members were not happy about having to be members of a Red Wings site to do their fantasy hockey. So I decided to move things to a neutral site.

With the fantasy hockey side of things no longer reliant on DetroitHockey.Net infrastructure, this would also allow me to update the two sites more easily.

Originally, the site was going to be called FHLSite, as that’s what I had referred to my software as when it was a part of DH.N. I had a hard time coming up with a logo for that, though, so I changed the name to FantasyHockeySim.com, abbreviated FHS.

For the logo, I took the shield from DH.N’s primary logo and changed the colors to gray and blue, then put the letters FHS over the top of it. A pair of crossed hockey sticks – the sticks from the DH.N logo, appear behind the shield.

The logo for FantasyHockeySim.com on a blue background
The logo for FantasyHockeySim.com on a blue background

The basic site design was ported over directly from DetroitHockey.Net but the header and footer were updated. For the main site and each league, the basic elements of the template are the same, with branding images and an accent color swapped out to provide uniqueness. The main site is a blue-gray while the DFHL is red and the NHA is a dark blue.

The biggest change was the replacement of the DH.N Community Forums as a communication hub and an identity provider. DH.N’s Invision Power Board installation is integrated into the entire site, which included the fantasy hockey side of things. It would not be available upon moving to a new domain.

I decided to create a team on Slack and build a login system around it.  I’ll write more about this in a future post on lessons learned about the Slack API, but the short version is that their OAuth workflow and API combined to allow me to have users with accounts on the FHS Slack team log in to the main FHS site and see their unread message counts, effectively replicating the functionality of the forums.

The end result is something curious, where I’ve launched a new site but created virtually no new functionality.  I think it’s a good starting point, though.

Fixing the Joe Louis Arena Farewell Season Logo

Given my recent history, it would seem that I’m contractually obligated to dislike any graphics package any team in the Detroit Red Wings’ organization puts out.

I didn’t like the Red Wings’ Winter Classic jerseys in 2014 or their Stadium Series jerseys for this year.  I don’t like their Hockeytown logo.  I didn’t like the Grand Rapids Griffins’ 20th Season logo or their updated primary logo and I disagree with their choices in the fan-designed jersey contests.

So when they unveiled the logo celebrating the team’s final season at Joe Louis Arena, it should come as no surprise that I was unhappy with it.

The Red Wings' "Farewell Season" logo for Joe Louis Arena.
The Red Wings’ “Farewell Season” logo for Joe Louis Arena.

The primary problem I have with this is that the only way it says “Joe Louis Arena” is literally.  Much like my complaint about the Hockeytown logo.  Even then, they didn’t use the arena’s actual name but the nickname of “The Joe.”

The main elements of the logo are a big block of text, a Stanley Cup silhouette, and four stars representing Stanley Cup Championships.  Visually, this feels more like a logo celebrating those championships than the arena that hosted the team when they were won.

The Joe isn’t all of that interesting of a building but at least try to represent it visually.

I threw together a rough drawing of the direction I’d like to have seen them go (and I emphasize “rough”).

My idea for a Joe Louis Arena "Farewell Season" logo.
My idea for a Joe Louis Arena “Farewell Season” logo.

The primary element of this design is a drawing of the exterior of Joe Louis Arena.  It’s not a beautiful building by any means but it is recognizable and as such it makes sense to use it in the logo.

I kept the “Farewell Season” text across the top of the logo and the Winged Wheel at the bottom.  The four stars are kept, two on each side of the Wings’ logo.  A ribbon is added across the bottom of the arena rendering containing the remaining text from the original logo.  The bounding shape is changed because I think it works better as a patch.

The only element removed is the Stanley Cup silhouette, which I don’t think is necessary.

I should again emphasize that this is a rough drawing.  The rendering of the arena is pretty sloppy.  I think a better job would be done if it were actually being used (in fact, the Red Wings already have a pretty good drawing of the arena on their “JLA Insider” page of their web site, though I think it’s a little “comic” for use in a logo like this).  For anyone who thinks an arena can’t be rendered well on a patch, I give you the Maple Leafs’ patch for their final season at Maple Leaf Gardens, the Devils’ patch for their first year in Prudential Center, and the Hurricanes’ patch for when they moved to what was then Raleigh Entertainment and Sports Arena.

So change the shape, change the colors, change any of the other elements…  Just include Joe Louis Arena.  That’s what the logo is supposed to be for.  Show it, don’t just say it.


EDIT 2/15: I got some feedback that the bounding shape is unnecessary because it reduces the impact of the arena’s distinctive shape and I agree.  I mocked up a version that uses the drawing of the arena, the ribbon, and the Winged Wheel without losing any of the important elements.  Even the four stars are kept.

Revised concept for a Joe Louis Arena "Farewell Season" logo without a bounding shape.
Revised concept for a Joe Louis Arena “Farewell Season” logo without a bounding shape.

 

Martin Biron, John Scott, and Software Development

Martin Biron was the last player in the National Hockey League to wear #00.  It’s one of my favorite stories because it mixes hockey with the pitfalls of software development.

Biron, then a rookie goalie for the Buffalo Sabres, appeared in three games in the 1995-96 season wearing #00, which he had worn during his junior career as well.  He wasn’t the first to wear it – John Davidson had donned #00 for the New York Rangers in the 1970s and Ed Belfour wore it in an All-Star Game in the early 1990s – but by the time Biron made it back into the Buffalo lineup during the 1998-99 season he’d lost the number forever, switching to #43.

Between Biron’s final appearance in #00 and his first in #43, the NHL rolled out a new stat-tracking software package.  If I recall correctly, it was developed by IBM (though I’ve heard Compuware mentioned as well, I could be mis-remembering) to much fanfare.  Unfortunately there was a bug that only applied to Martin Biron: It assumed jersey numbers were non-zero.

When I wrote the software behind the short-lived Hockey Sweater Numbers web site I specifically made sure to handle this.  IBM – ridiculously, to me – did not, and rather than fix it the league just banned the numbers that the system didn’t account for.

Why is this story on my mind right now?  Because of John Scott and my own web site.

There used to be a listing of all of the winners of NHL awards on DetroitHockey.Net.  I just pulled it off the site because that data is all over the Internet, I don’t need to worry about it on DH.N.  But I still maintain the database for my own personal uses.

John Scott is a journeyman enforcer.  He started this season with the Arizona Coyotes, out of the lineup more often than he was in it.  When the NHL launched their web-based All-Star voting campaign, though, Scott quickly rocketed to the top of the voting.  When the dust settled, he had been elected as the captain of the Pacific Division team.

Almost immediately he was traded to the Montreal Canadiens of the Atlantic Division, then demoted to their American Hockey League affiliate.  The league never wanted him in the All-Star game and it appeared that their problem was solved.  In the end, with the support of many players but seemingly few front offices, Scott was allowed to play in the All-Star Game.  He would captain the Pacific Division but would represent neither the Coyotes nor the Canadiens.  His petition to represent the St. John IceCaps, his AHL team, was denied.  He was a man without a team.

Like something out of a movie, the journeyman now-minor-leaguer with five career goals scored twice and was named MVP of the event.

Within minutes of the announcement, I found myself staring at the administration system for the NHL awards on DH.N, entering Scott as the winner of the All-Star MVP award, and stumped because my system requires a player to represent a team and Scott doesn’t have one.

The story I’ve laughed at so much has come around to bite me in the ass a bit.  Software not written to handle the strange things hockey throws at it.

Unlike the NHL, I’m adapting my software.  I’m hacking in the St. John IceCaps as Scott’s team.

NHL All-Star MVP of the AHL's St. John's IceCaps
NHL All-Star MVP of the AHL’s St. John’s IceCaps

Failing Fast is Still Failing

I love agile development methodologies.  Specifically the ability to fail fast and adapt as necessary.

I love cloud services for making failure cheaper and therefore easier.  We can try new things because the risks are lessened.

We have the process for failure figured out.  We have the technology for failure figured out.  I think we’ve still got to figure out the emotional impact of failure.

We don’t like to talk about touchy-feely things in engineering, but the fact of the matter is that failing fast, failing in ways that we’ve built business cases around, failing inexpensively…  is still failing.  And it doesn’t feel good to fail.

The team I’m working on had what we thought would be been a rubber-stamp demo scheduled for last Thursday.  We were a few weekly sprints into the project.  We’d demoed it previously and made some changes based on that demo.  We were working the way we were supposed to.

The demo revealed that a handful of requirements hadn’t been communicated.  Somehow this was missed earlier.  Much of our work was invalidated.

We failed.  We failed quickly.  We failed in such a way that we could iterate on our work and save the project.  We did what we were supposed to do.

But in our next retrospective, we couldn’t get over how much it stung to do it.  We recognized that the process was meant to catch these things, that we hadn’t done anything wrong inside that framework, but couldn’t shake the feeling that how things went down just sucked.

I don’t know how to get over that.  It feels like failure because it is failure.  If we expect it at a process level, maybe we need a way to account for it on an emotional level, too.

Google Works in Mysterious Ways

I was in a pairing session with one of my teammates earlier today and we stumbled into an interesting little bit of inspiration.

Working in Javascript, we were thinking about splitting some values while iterating through an array but that didn’t really feel like the right answer.  Looking for some kind of better solution, my teammate Googled “split” looking for documentation and similar examples.

I immediately laughed because a Google Maps search result was included, which was completely outside the context of what we were searching for (though a valid search result for the simple query we entered).  As I explained why I was laughing, though, something hit us:

That gut feeling was right.  We didn’t want to split anything.  We wanted to apply a map to it.

I guess Google gave us our answer.

Full Stack Engineer vs. Web Developer

When I started my professional career at Michigan State University’s Division of University Relations, I was a web developer.  I wrote PHP and ASP and JavaScript and HTML and sliced up images in Photoshop and designed MySQL databases.  I had to do a little bit of server management.  I also trained clients in how to use the systems I built for them but that’s beside the point right now.

When I made the jump to TechSmith Corporation I retained the title of web developer.  I wrote ASP and JavaScript and HTML and didn’t slice up as many images but did work with MSSQL databases.  I had to do a little bit of server management.  I also wrote VB6 apps.

Over the years at TechSmith the ASP and VB6 (mostly) gave way to C# but that wasn’t the only change.  Somewhere along the line I became a software engineer.

I can’t speak for the industry as a whole but at TSC there was an impression that web devs weren’t “real developers” compared to the software engineers working on the company’s desktop products.  So everyone became software engineers and everyone was equal, even if the job didn’t change at all.

Fast forward to several years ago and the term “full-stack engineer” starts being thrown around.  A full-stack engineer being someone who writes back-end code and front end code and maybe does some image manipulation and can do some server management…  And I fail to see how this isn’t what we used to call a web developer.

As an industry, did we create a new title just to get the word “engineer” into it?  “No, I’m not one of those slacker web developers.  I’m a full-stack engineer.”  I get that the term became famous when Facebook was (supposedly) only hiring full-stack devs but why give it that name when “web developer” already meant that.

For a long time, even after my title at TechSmith changed, I defined myself as a web developer.  One of my mentors called me out on it and I couldn’t explain why I clung to that label.  Maybe it’s because, the way I see it, “web developer” is just less of a mouthful than “full-stack engineer” and more accurate than “software engineer.”

If there’s supposed to be a difference between web developer and full-stack engineer, I don’t see it.

I should say that I don’t actually have a problem with the full-stack engineer title.  Web development has evolved.  There are fewer gaps between web development and mobile development than there were a decade ago, for example.  I just see web developer and full-stack engineer as the same thing and think it’s jarring to see the titles used as if they’re not.