On The Pastry Box Project

The Pastry Box Project has now been live for a couple of weeks. I think this is a good time to post an article on how this project took shape. As mysterious as it may seem, the genesis of the Pastry Box comes from the intersection of Ototmc Magazine, Ethan Marcotte, and the Madmen TV Show.

As one of the topics on Ototmc is “Web Building”, it was obvious that at some point in 2011 Ethan Marcotte, the man who coined the term “Responsive Design”, would be featured in the magazine. Once we got in touch and worked out the details, I scheduled Ethan’s interview for the 8th of July. I then decided it would be a nice tribute to his work to make Ototmc responsive for the day his answers would be published. I updated the code, cleaned the mark-up, and came up with a responsive version of the site a few hours before Ethan’s interview went live.

When an interview is published, I always send an email to let the guest know their answers are online. I told Ethan that Ototmc just went responsive and he sent me back an email that definitely made my day, in which he used the word “awesome”. A decent motivational boost obviously ensued, and I can say with little doubt that Ethan’s nice comments provided me with the original fuel that would be needed for the Pastry Box to come to life. It was also the time when Ototmc was starting to do good, gaining a user base and getting prestigious guests, and I felt the magazine was opening some interesting doors for launching new projects.

Batteries were loaded and energy just had to crystallize on something.

The night following Ethan’s email coincided with a Madmen marathon. This show, probably one of the most subtle and well written ever aired to this day, often got me thinking about how interesting it would be to have direct access to the thoughts of 1960s ad executives, about their jobs, and what they were doing. Those people were simply defining a large portion of what their day and age was becoming (whether for good or bad, or worse) and I wanted to know if they were fully aware of the extent to which they were helping to shape the daily experience of millions of people, and, if so, how they felt about it. I had read some memoirs and some interviews, but those weren’t the raw material I was looking for, the right-now-in-the-heat kind of thinking.

Later, before falling asleep, thoughts of new projects, Madmen, and browsers being resized (I had spent a fair amount of the day testing the site) all mixed together.

And the Pastry Box Project took shape. Almost discreetly.

I realized I could gather the material I dreamed of while watching Madmen. I simply had to ask people to share their thoughts about their work, the industries they’re developing in, and themselves. The topic was so obvious that I didn’t even consider another option: people shaping the web would be put at center stage, people who contribute to building the touch and feel of an era, with an emphasis on UX and design.

From that point on, it was all about wrapping the idea into a concept that would keep any excess of pompousness at a distance (a concept which I drew from my personal addiction to pastries), building a website, coming up with a list of guests (new voices as well as recognized stars who all share a community orientation), and sending the invitations.

And I almost immediately started receiving positive answers.

That was it. Ototmc, Ethan Marcotte, and Madmen had produced their result. The Pastry Box Project was on.

I guess I cannot thank the bakers enough for having accepted to be part of the cultural experiment that is going to be The Pastry Box Project. Maybe in 50 years or so, a TV show will look back on our times through the prism of the web industry and its actors, and some of the characters invented by the writers will draw inspiration from the people the Pastry Box will follow through 2012. I would definitely watch a show like that. Now, whether the characters will drink or not, cheat or not, and be nervous wrecks or not are questions the Pastry Box may not fully answer.