Matt Gemmell

Offscreen 8

Offscreen magazine issue 8 is now available. I have an essay in this issue about the meaning of legacy in the digital age (with a beautiful illustration by Tom Froese).

If you’re not familiar with Offscreen, here’s the blurb:

Offscreen is a high-quality print periodical with an in-depth look at the life and work of people that use the internet to be creative and build successful businesses. Ever wondered what goes on behind the scenes of the technology that makes your digital lifestyle possible? We invite you to turn off your device, grab a cup of coffee and meet their makers off screen.

You can make an app

Future Publishing’s “You can make an app” bookazine (160+ pages) is out now, on paper and in digital format. Paper copies are in UK and US newsagents, supermarkets, airports and so forth (and very likely in other countries too). For a digital copy, grab the MacFormat iOS app, from the App Store. It’s also on Zinio.

(Yes, I know how you feel about the term “bookazine”. Me too. An alternate term is “magbook”, which is almost as migraine-inducing. If you prefer, just call it a really big mag.)

I wrote the “Principles of app design” 5-page intro spread, where I talk about refining your idea, choosing features, designing the interface and interaction, and focusing on the user. I’m pretty pleased with it.

Sponsor: Dash

My sincere thanks to Dash for sponsoring my writing this week. It’s a particular pleasure for my first sponsor to be an app that I’ve personally used for years. Accordingly, these are all my own words.

Dash is a documentation browser for more than 130 API documentation sets, naturally including the iOS and OS X SDKs, HTML, CSS, JavaScript, JQuery, Ruby, Python and dozens more. It covers web frameworks, templating and scripting languages, and everything from SASS to LaTeX. All the documentation sets are stored locally, for instant access no matter whether you’re online or not, or how fast your internet connection is.

There are two main reasons I began using Dash over Xcode’s built-in documentation viewer (and I still do, for my web work on this blog, shell scripting, and as a Markdown and regular expressions reference).


I’ve decided to experiment with sponsorship here on the blog, as a way to support my writing and allow me to devote more time to producing the kind of content I think you’ll enjoy.

If you’re interested in sponsoring my writing for a week, you can find out more about sponsorship here (including what you get in return). We’ll start out with a low weekly sponsorship fee, and go from there.

You, dear reader, are the most important part of all this, so I’d like to make some promises to you.


I wonder if I was a stupid child. I don’t think I was, but then I’m hardly the most qualified judge.

I learned a valuable lesson about the danger of assumptions when I was a young man. It was also a lesson about paying attention. I’m still a little troubled that I had to be taught the lesson at all. I feel like I should have been clever enough to put the pieces together myself.

But I wasn’t, for whatever reason, so I had to learn by experience.


I’ve been known to use profanity on occasion, like everyone else. It’s infrequent here on my blog, and only slightly more common on Twitter. Still, I get complaints.

Actually, ‘complaints’ is probably too strong a word: I see people mentioning it in a disapproving way. Those people will no doubt find this article offensive too. The usual sort of remark I get is that such-and-such a piece was interesting or worth reading, but it’s a shame about the “bad language”.

Swearing isn’t bad language. Swearing is essential language.

Own your words

I publish articles in exactly two places: here on this blog, and in magazines (both digital and paper). In the latter case, the pieces are paid commissions. Sometimes I’ll republish my own commissioned articles here, and sometimes I accept requests to republish my blog articles elsewhere, but generally speaking a piece is either exclusively here, or exclusively elsewhere.

The distinction affects a number of things. Topic: I naturally choose my own topics here, whereas commissions usually specify the topic. Tone: Here, it’s my own; in magazines, it’s usually to fit the publication’s style and audience. Length: I allow articles to be their natural discursive length here, whereas (at least for print), magazines tend to specify the limit down to the word – and often the character.

There’s a reason I’m telling you this. If you’re reading something with my name on it, there are two things you won’t encounter: Someone else’s unattributed words, here; or my own (non-commissioned) words, elsewhere.


Each of us has a very personal and implicit sense of ‘normal’. I do, and so do you. Each of us also assumes that we all share that definition; that it generalises. Naturally, we’re all wrong.

When we encounter others who clearly don’t share our views or responses, those others are categorised as strange, and the world becomes a little less predictable and understandable. It happens every day, and it’s a sad thing. It’s one of the main ways we end up feeling isolated from each other.

Raw materials

Stick to what you know. That’s what they say. I’m not convinced it’s always good advice, but it’s at least somewhere to start.

I’m writing full-time now, so you’d think it would be even easier to stick to what I know than when I was making software. You just write about people and situations similar to those you’ve experienced yourself. Simple. Until you start thinking about what you know.