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DEVELOPER SPOTLIGHT: htm-ale.com / Seth Brown

Craft Beer, Web Design and Podcasting.... how can you go wrong with that? An interview with the founders of HTM-ALE.com

Some time ago, I met Seth Brown and Zach Lang of HTM-Ale.com at a conference for the Expression Engine CMS system in Brooklyn. The HIA was researching this platform as we launched our 2011 awards season. Before meeting them in person, I had some knowledge of their website and it’s general concept at the time, but got to know them a little during the conference and thus more about the site. Some time ago, the two combined their love of Craft Beer with their love of the internet to create a website dedicated to providing podcasts that discusses the finer points of Craft Beer and all things Internet.

“We know there has to be a love for what you do, that there is a process, an art, that goes into making something great,” ---Seth Brown.

At the Horizon Interactive Awards, we certainly agree with that statement. The founding principle of what we do at the HIA is to recognize that process and artistry that makes great web solutions.

I recently chatted with Seth for an interview to learn more about the site:

HIA: Thanks for taking the time to talk with us.

SETH: Glad to do it.

HIA: So tell us how htm-ale was started.

SETH: htm-ale was started purely out of love for the internet; specifically web design and development, and of course beer.  Mainly craft beer.  To our knowledge, there wasn't a podcast that filled the web and beer niche.  Enter htm-ale.  Much like the brewers of craft beers, web designers and developers are passionate about what they do.  I think that's why a lot of web folks gravitate to craft beers.  We know there has to be a love for what you do, that there is a process, an art, that goes into making something great.  Not just for yourself but for the users (and the drinkers).  For us, it was a natural combination to discuss. 

HIA: Why podcasting?

SETH: We basically just thought the podcast would be fun to do.  Plus, it would give us a great excuse to talk shop and beer while having a few ourselves.  Worse case, we'd have fun doing it, learn some new tricks and technologies and find some new beers we'd never tried.  Best case, we'd be able to do that same thing while getting a few people to listen and they'd learn a little, too.

HIA: I gotta ask... how did you come up with the name. It’s perfect!

SETH: The name of the podcast seemed just as natural as the topic (heck, it IS the topic!).  We tossed around a couple of names prior to coming up with htm-ale but none of them fit quite like that name did.  We've gotten a lot of comments regarding the name.  Things like, "what a great idea!", "why didn't I think of that?".  That sort of thing.  We're glad people like it, we just hope they like the actual podcast as much.

HIA: So what has the response been and how is it going?

SETH: So far I think we've achieved what we set out to do (have fun, learn some, find new beers, and pick up a few listeners).  Would we like to pick up a few more listeners?  Of course.  But we're only less than one year into it.  In other words, we're still relatively new at it.  We're still learning things here and there on how to make it better.  That said, we welcome any and all feedback.

HIA: So what does the future hold for the site?

SETH: I think in the back of our minds there was/is some hope that maybe some day we'd pick up some sponsors.  However, if we never get to the point of sponsors, we won't be heart broken because we really only set the expectation of having fun, learning and hopefully passing some knowledge on to a few listeners.  Either way, we feel like we win.  

HIA: Hey, talk about your background and how you got into web design and development.

SETH: My experience in web started back in 2001-2002.  I was tasked with redesigning the website of the company I worked for at the time.  I had no clue where to even begin.  After all, web design and development wasn't being taught when I was in college.  Like many people in our industry, I am, for the most part, self-taught.  In the end, that site won an (albeit small) award in the PiAG (Printing Industry Association of Georgia) awards.  I was hooked!

Fast forward 10 years and I'm still at it with as much passion as I had then, if not more.  I still do mainly front end work; sketches, prototypes, wireframes and comps.  I'll pop open Coda when the need arises and knock out some css and html too.  It's definitely refreshing for me to do that.  I feel like it keeps me in the loop and honest as a designer.  I think there has been more than one occasion that Zach has cursed me due to comps I've passed on to him to build.  By doing some builds myself, I feel like those situations have been reduced.  When it comes to back end development, my brain shuts down.  Wait, shuts down?  I don't think the left side of my brain even functions!

HIA: When we met last october, we were at a conference for Expression Engine. The Horizon Awards site is built on Expression Engine. I am a front-end developer like you and Justin Kimbrell, who you also met, is our back-end guy. I simply love the open source nature of the platform. What are your thoughts about the technology?

SETH: When we met you at EECI this past October, you asked what my knowledge of EE is.  I think the above statement should clear that up pretty well.  (laughs)  The functionality of EE does interest me though.  Zach and I use it almost exclusively.  Even being a front end guy, I still feel like I need to have some knowledge of it, its functionality, its scalability, etc.  I'd be crazy not too.  But when it comes to setting it up, integrating it, customizing it, that just ain't my bag.

Enter Zach Lang.  The left brain I never had.  My hero. Zach spent the early 2000s in the Air Force,then transitioned into web development in 2006. He started using ExpressionEngine when it was 1.5 and has really enjoyed seeing the platform and community grow so fruitfully.

Put the two of us together and we think that we make a pretty damn good team as podcast hosts AND web design/development partners.  Seriously, the web + beer.  What's not to love?

Tell me more about your web design/development business?
The "parent company" of htm-ale is 19Labs (http://19labs.com). 19Labs is a two man, interactive studio in Atlanta, GA.  We strive for perfection, in turn, we produce award-winning work and make our clients happy.  It definitely helps that we really, really love what we do. Some might argue we have an unhealthy appreciation for craft beer, smoked meats and yacht rock; we think we're quite normal though.

HIA: So, what types of projects to you work on?

SETH: The majority of our clients are small business, ranging from non-profits to start-ups to universities. We focus on creating the best experience for the end-user, as well as the "owner" of the site (hence our love for the elegant ExpressionEngine).

In 2012, we hope to release a web app that helps small groups within organizations track goals, better receive feedback. . . essentially close the feedback loop between mentor/supervisor and direct report quicker and more efficiently. Both Zach and I have worked in larger agencies and have found that the traditional annual review isn't nearly fast enough for the pace of our industry.

HIA: Where do you turn for inspiration?

SETH:For me I tend to look at sites like forrst, dribbble and webcreme for small pieces of inspiration.  It could be something as small as the style of a button that can get me going.  From there I just start putting content elements into a Fireworks document, moving things around, changing colors, etc.  Then I fill in the voids with design elements and styles.  I'll also look at magazines for inspiration from time to time.  In my past creative life I was in publication designer.  I like to keep things as clean and interesting as I can.  With magazines/editorials, the content is so very important.  I try to stick to that same philosophy when working on the web as well.  Of course the designer/artist in me tends to get excited at times and I get too involved in the actual look of a site before I really need to.  In other words, I have to pull myself back sometimes. 

HIA: Where do you see web design/development going in 2012.

SETH: Mobile will obviously continue to grow by leaps and bounds.  Every day it seems that someone is doing something new in the way mobile design/development and technology.  That's not going to slow down anytime soon.  In 2012 we'll be even closer to the point where mobile browsing surpasses desktop browsing.  We also think websites will continue to become more and more user-centric and dynamic as well.  By that I mean that sites will be able to provide the user the information they want upfront based on search terms, geographic location, etc. without them having to search the actual site for it.  Sites already do this of course but with SEO, and media (keywords, etc) there is no reason more businesses shouldn't be tapping into that.  Mobile apps already connect users to the content they want right away so they can get on with their life.  More and more sites I think will start to function in this way.  Not sure if that's just a "2012" thing or not though.

To learn more about htm-ale.com visit their website or view their iTunes podcast page.