Note: In this post, I talk about the death of someone whose work meant a lot to me.
This week, we lost Dean Allen. I didn’t know Dean well at all; I did meet him briefly, once, years ago. We exchanged a few words, none of which I remember. I do remember he was exceedingly kind and gracious, clasped my hand in both of his, and shook it twice.
I remember him smiling.
Dean Allen’s writing and design were—and are—outsized influences on me. I discovered Textism, his (sadly now-defunct) blog, shortly after it launched, and it changed the way I think about my own words. Dean wrote about oatmeal and bagels with more craft and care than I’ll ever bring to a keyboard. I’ve reread Dean’s justification for closing down his popular Twitter service Favrd five times since yesterday. Hell, his habit of referring to his then-partner as Herself moved me, at least in part, to begin writing about She.
Like “A Dao of Web Design” before it, Dean’s “Reading Design” imbued a sense of worth and weight in the weird, tiny medium I’d started designing for—he changed the way I looked at the web. And I think about this entry almost monthly. Not least because it linked to this moving piece by Paul Ford, which is still one of my favorite pieces of writing. And through Paul’s site, I discovered Jeffrey’s, and then Scott Andrew’s, and then Erin’s, and then Eric’s, and then Molly’s, and then, and then, and then. Honestly, I very likely wouldn’t be here without Dean’s writing; at the very least, my career would’ve looked dramatically different.
Losing Dean feels like losing a bit of the web that shaped me, of the web I fell in love with. Of course, the “old web” was, as Erin rightly points out out, a beautiful and broken thing, more flawed and exclusionary than we realized. Back then, most of the folks I looked up to were almost-entirely male, and entirely-entirely white. I’m grateful that’s changed in recent years, and the web’s better for it—I am, too. I wouldn’t trade the new voices in my life for anything.
But I still miss Dean, his dogs, and his words.