On the weekends we would go into the design agencies where Joe or Matt worked at and use their computers and eat their food all weekend long. We would also go around town and stuff our printed material into design books (if the publishers weren’t going to put us into the books, I would do it for them) and the Walker Art Center threatened to report us to the police.

Your name, plus your original "web name/handle"

Michael Cina AKA Cinahaus and TrueIsTrue

Your first web encounter, year etc.

My first web encounter was in the 80s when I visited a friend of the family. They had a son who was ‘online’ and would show me things.

I don’t remember a lot but he would connect through a dedicated phone line and he would talk via text with people. If I remember correctly, he eventually got in trouble for hacking into something big and was banned from being online.

In the 90s I went to school for Communication Design and I had a friend who was online in 1995. I asked him what he did online and he basically said play around and meet people.

What our readers might recognise you most for, when you first hit the web.

When 1996 hit I got a USRobotics 28.8 modem and started learning html.

My first website was all text and I tried to use my web design skills as a “selling point” to get a job. When I would interview at these design agencies a very small percent even knew what the internet was, and if they did, they didn’t even care about it.

I would tell them that it would be a great opportunity to be able to get their clients online but they didn’t care. Personally, I was amazed when I realized that you could post your design work to the world for free. So I built a site called Cinahaus where I would post my fonts, music reviews and graphic design work and I would always update it.

I met up with Chank because he was one of the few designers online at the time. I had been making my own fonts so it seemed like a natural alliance. I don’t remember seeing any websites dedicated to ‘design’ back then, Chank was pretty much it.

There were only a handful of designers around in 1996 and few of them had a website. Seeing a newly designed website was fascinating because there were few expectations of what a site should even look like.

My friend, Jay David, started a small directory of designers called the Design Posse (fall of 1997), which I eventually managed when he didn’t want to anymore.

I remember being one of the few designers linked on Yahoo. It was around then that I teamed up with Matt Desmond and Joe Kral (eventually we would form TestPilotCollective) and we worked on design and typefaces almost every night after work.

When 1998 hit, it seemed like a ton of designers were getting online and there was such a rich and vibrant design community. Everyone was friendly and there was a lot of healthy competition.

You couldn’t do a lot though because even having two small images on one page could take a couple of minutes to load, even with the best compression.

The community was growing so fast, and things changed so much, that a month often seemed like a year.

Joe was working a lot on compressing images at work. One day he drew a “line art” illustration of a Canon camera with pixels. We figured out that you could draw design with pixels and control your compression to get larger images and tiny file sizes. This was a huge breakthrough.

I redesigned Cinahaus using this concept and it got a lot of attention. We also decided to combine all of our efforts together to form TestPilotCollective around this time.

On the weekends we would go into the design agencies where Joe or Matt worked at and use their computers and eat their food all weekend long. We would also go around town and stuff our printed material into design books (if the publishers weren’t going to put us into the books, I would do it for them) and the Walker Art Center threatened to report us to the police.

I also became an editor for the design blog called k10k (RIP) around then.

Your digital journey since.

I was able to do so many things around this time, I can’t possibly name them all. Technology was speeding up and you started seeing “Flash sites.”

I teamed up with Josh Davis (Praystation) in the late 1990s and he started this site called Dreamless where he would post flash files and I would pass him vectors and designs. He got me into working with Flash 3 or 4.

Everyone was trying to see how fast they could make Flash go (it normally ran like crap even with a fast processor and connection) and how far they could push it.

Eventually Dreamless turned into a chat forum and it was really a lot of fun. Better than TV. Start-ups and design agencies were popping up every day and I fought the temptation to get involved, even though the salaries were unreal.

I decided to start a site called TrueIsTrue where I would question the way people interacted and used the web. I would make “hot spots” that when you clicked on them, they would not start until 30 seconds or I would make these really long animations that barely would change over the course of 10 minutes or so.

I would update that site almost every other day with something new and not archive the work so you just had to check it all the time. It was the opposite of fast and easy. The emails about TrueIsTrue were always interesting!

Around 1999 I decided to quit my job and go freelance. That went really well for me. I got to work on some great jobs like working on MTV’s first ‘real’ website.

I met up with Michael Young and we started talking a lot because we were the only two people who would be working and on AIM at 4AM. We made a screensaver (Mr Red and Mr Blue) together and eventually decided to start an agency called WeWorkForThem when all the start-ups were closing their doors. It was a really tumultuous time.

The internet had grown so much by 2000 that you could crash servers and people started racking up massive bills because of bandwidth.

You pretty much had to team up with a hosting company for your site to not pay those big bills. MediaTemple played a huge role in sponsoring designers so they could push bandwith/ideas and not get hit hard.

WWFT went extremely well (there is so much to tell about this) and I got to work with dream clients almost every day.

I wanted to build a site to host my typefaces, so WWFT saved up money and started YouWorkForThem to sell designer goods. YWFT did better than expected and I ran that for almost a decade and in 2010 I decided it was time to get back to doing what I love.

What are you up to now?

I really wanted to get back into practicing design, so I started up Cina Associates.

I have always had the insatiable drive to create things and I missed that while running a company.

The work came immediately and Cina Associates has been running strong ever since. Each year we keep growing and getting better work.  

Cina Associates primarily works on branding and custom typefaces for companies and agencies around the globe. I approach everything as an extension of branding.

We are working on 3 different custom typeface jobs right now and also some network rebranding through another agency.

I do a lot of music packaging for Ghostly International and some other labels.

The last four years I started painting again and that has been going really well. There is never a boring day around here!


Michael Cina, Then and Now
Michael Cina, Then and Now

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