"We are experiencing a high level of calls at the moment. If your call is urgent we suggest you call back at another time."
"We are experiencing a high level of calls at the moment. If your call is urgent we suggest you call back at another time."
I've saved up a few half written blog posts and put them together as one loosely joined blog post. If I'd have posted it over the Christmas break it would have been a sort of review of the year. Warning: jumps around a lot.
In praise of Nest
I'm a huge fan of Nest. I think they're one of the most exciting companies around at the moment. Taking the exciting stuff of the last x years and putting it into boring things. Making boring things better. The internet of boring things. I love that they are taking dull but useful and important things and making them much better. A smoke alarm is exactly what clever people like that should be working on. Not shiny things for a niche, smart, clever things for the masses. That's good, that's the goal.
They have had criticism for making a £100 smoke alarm, but that is how they have to start. The price will come down. There is a lot more to come from Nest.
And their marketing is good too. Simple, well crafted. "It should warm you before it alarms you" is a great line with a good visual. Brilliant stuff.
(I actually wrote this last year before the Google acquisition, but in my mind that changes nothing.)
Good + scale, not good + niche
That's what you're aiming for a friend told me. Does what you're working on pass the taxi test. Taxi test? "What do you do mate?" " Oh, I work on X" Has the driver heard of it? Does it make sense? I bet they remember the original Carling Black Label ads... See also; In praise of Nest.
Marissa Mayer / Christoper Bailey / VCs
Christopher Bailey - a designer recently promoted to CEO of Burberry. He had actually been shadowing the old CEO for sometime, so is more than ready to step up.
Marissa Mayer - not a designer in the traditional sense, but someone that understands the design of products in the fullest sense. Not everything at Yahoo! is perfect (see blog post here) but she's doing exciting things. Momentum.
And John Maeda has joined well known VC Kleiner, Perkins, Caufield and Byers as a partner. More here.
This isn't really a thing, but it's something I'm interested in. I've always been interested in the business, management, spreadsheet side of things.
Which brings me on to "the strategy is delivery" a blog post Mike wrote at the start of this year. It's one of the most popular GDS blogs and keeps getting referred to. It ties in with the point above and has been something I've always been keen to focus design on. What's the point of what you're doing? If you're a designer that doesn't understand delivery then you're just making pictures. And that's OK, but be sure to know the difference and be sure to know which one is needed when.
Beyoncé released an album solely in iTunes.
She announced it on Instagram. Went to number one everywhere. Marketing spend? I know some people at record companies and it seems no-one knew anything about the release date. Not her record company or anyone else's. And they are not happy off about that. Highlights the power and freedom a successful artist who understands digital can weald. Would make me extremely worried if I worked at a record company. Lessons here for others too.
Play is playful play
I've spent a lot of time last year out and about in the UK with people working on government services. Important, but unglamorous things like Carer's Allowance. Trying to use design to make those services better. As I sit on the train reading Tweets from the usual suspects, one thing has really struck me - how would that sound to Maureen in Arcacia Avenue, MIddletown, England? Would that sound like help? Does it make sense or does it sound like jargon. In my opinion, most of it sounds like jargon. Play is playful play is a phrase I just made up. But you know what I mean. We've all done it, I'm sure I have. But next time, ask yourself if this is helping real people make stuff better. Say it out loud and ask yourself what it would sound like outside of zone 1. (Works for smoke alarms.)
GDS won some awards this year (more here)
Winning Design of the Year and a Black Pencil was an odd experience. Design of the Year got by far the most attention, by absolute miles. Francis Maude, our minister, enjoys telling people and you can see it makes sense when he mentions it. Black Pencil? No-one mentions it and I think that's because it's so hard to explain what it is and why it's good. The narrative is too complicated.
To my agency friends, Black Pencil is disproportionatley exciting. It's like catnip. The effect is startling. I remember when Tony D was president of D&AD and he was always saying it should become like a hallmark and it should be on things that have won so that the public get used to seeing it and it would mean something. He was on to something there. D&AD should think about that.
I went to service design conference in November and they made a poster about it. I met a lot of service designers this year. As ever I'm wary of all terms (see also Design Thinking, Mobile First) but they are starting to feel like the right sort of people. Less ego, less superstars than other areas of design. Less "we can fix this with more design". More actual doing. More desire to fix things and go outside of design if that's what's neccessary. Good, thoughtful people. They need to do more, have more successful examples, but still - good.
We got this over Christmas. It's a handy little tool for opening that horrible sealed plastic packaging that's everywhere these days. I have seen life hacks where they recommend you do this with a tin opener, but this tool is better.
It comes packaged in that horrible sealed plastic packaging.
Something about the product is the service is the marketing and the form not following the function and packaging / marketing not understanding the product. A missed opportunity.
We're working on a bunch of new stuff at Newspaper Club. Expect exciting launches later on this month.
I'm not sure if I'm supposed to talk about it, but you know. Anyway.
I've just finished Michael Bierut's 100 Days Project. Above is the final "design operation" and below is the first. I still like that one.
The full 100 is here on Flickr.
A quick recap. The brief (given by Michael to Yale students) is to do a "design operation" every day for 100 days. I chose to imagine my life was a New York Times Op Ed column and do a little graphic illustration for each column.
It is incredibly hard. Just remembering to do it every day is hard. Finding time to do it with a family and a job is hard. And choosing the 'op ed story' each day was hard. Making them good was hard, but if you wanted to make one hundred good graphics this isn't the way you'd go about it.
This project is about process. Michael told me he gives the brief to teach students what work is like and to help them develop ways to cope with that. Repeating a design operation every day whether you want to or not. Doing it when the ideas are flowing and then doing it when the ink has tried up and the computer doesn't work and the client hates everything. Doing it late on the train. And then doing that all over again the next day. That, after all, is what work can be like.
You learn techniques to get you through the days. Little mini systems that get you through the dark days. You let a few duff ones go by. You get good patches. And eventually you get a decent standard you can pretty much deliver all the time. Occassionally you do a really good one.
The one big difference from real work for me, was that you can't easily ask for help and you can't commission your way out of it. Or rather you could but I didn't. I'd like to have tried a week of commissioning illustrators.
I enjoyed it immensely but I'm glad it's over.
For what it's worth here are some highlights and low points.
I think these are my five favourites.
And here are five I'd rather forget.
Days 45 - 51 was the series that worked best for me. I'd like to repeat that.
Day 81 got the most views on Flickr.
Day 21 got the most favs on Flickr.
I was happiest with the little techniquie I'd developed by the end. I wrote about that in the 93 days update.
I woud do it again. Maybe I will. I'd quite like to talk about it somewhere, maybe at a college? And I'd love to set it as a project. I'd better ask Michael if that's OK.
I haven't given an update in a while. Sorry. I bet some of you thought I'd given up. I hadn't, but circumstances had made me come pretty close. I haven't uploaded any to Flickr for a while becuase of Christmas and stuff and I had the odd lapse where I did two on one day. Does that mean I fail? Maybe, but I hope we can all be generous here. The holidays were always going to be hard.
Since the last update:
I saw Michael Bierut in New York who spoke a lot about the project and how different students approach it, he said the one of the things the project is supposed to teach a student is that design as a job is about coming at the same problem every day, day after day. Even when you don't want to, even when you're tired, even when you hate the client and the brief, even when all the other 99 ideas have been rejected, you go again. I guess that's the difference between working as a designer and being an artist.
He liked these ones, as did everyone.
While I was in America I thought I would find it hard to do the drawings but it was surprisingly easy. It's odd I have patches of days when the ideas seem to come easily and the sketches seem natural and then patches when it seems really hard. Just like real work. Anyway.
These were good from my American trip.
There was a fallow period when I got back when I did rubbish ones like this.
And then I decided to try something different. I remembered Telescopic Text which I have always loved and I tried to create that in real life. With post-its. It sort of worked, but I only managed to keep it up twice. It was very hard.
And then we started heading towards Christmas. I decided to try and do them all in this book of different coloured papers I got given at AGI Open.
That seemed to work. These are OK.
And then I worked out that I could rip out sheets and print on the paper and then sketch on top. This has produced some of my favourites.
Throughout this project I've been trying to do something like Mind Over Matter by Alan Fletcher. Obviously I'm not as good as the great man, but that kind of light touch, wit and brevity seems perfect for this project. Fletcher would have been brilliant at this. All 100 would have been good.
I managed to pick up a few newspapers on Friday. I'm always fascinated to see how newspapers handle big stories like this. I thought this crop were pretty dull and nothing really captured the iconic nature of Mandela.
Interestngly Guardian staff were tweeting this cover on Thursday night, but it had changed by the morning.
In the UK I thought the Metro cover was the best, which maybe marks a coming of age for those free newspapers.
I went on holiday last week and visited some friends in America. Michael at Pentagram New York.
We went for lunch at his club.
Tait and Jones came too. We all wore ties. (Day 59)
And then I came back to London and with the GDS design team visited the Barclays design team who are doing some great digital work and have great views from the 22nd floor of their office in Canary Wharf.
On Thursday I presented to some MPs and Peers in the All Parliamentary Design Group in the House of Commons.
All good Foursquare check-ins.
Just over half way. Arthur, a fellow artist, has been doing the 100 days project with me. Arthur is 13 and he writes,
"Now that I have hit 50 drawings, half way through my 100 drawings, I can safely say that above all else this is the most annoying thing I have ever done. What makes it so hard and tedious is that it’s hard to be very different and interesting. When you start from your first drawing you should not expect that your drawings will end in the same place. What, I think, makes it easer is if you get someone to give you a task to do your drawings. On the good side - it gives you some structure to the day."
Here are some of Arthur's works.
Since we last spoke I accidently started a series within the series. That worked really well, I enjoyed that and for the first time I felt I was getting somewhere. And then, late on Saturday night I put the paper in the wrong way round.
Other patterns are starting to emerge too. Here's the 'architecture in the regions' series.
And here's the 'cycling home' series.
Seeing the professor next week.
Alex from University Campus Suffolk wrote to me the other week and asked me to donate a piece of work for the an "International Design Auction". I really don't think that anyone would bid money to get a framed print of my work so I declined but offered to blog about it instead. This is that blog post.
These auctions have been popular for a few years now. It's a way for students to raise money to pay for their final show. They have 40 lots from designers all over the world including: Milton Glaser, Stefan Sagmeister, Eddie Opara, George Lois, Johnson Banks, Brian Grimwood, Steven Heller and Michael Bierut. All of which will be auctioned off to the highest bidder in one night. The money raised from the event will fund the end of year show to be held in London in 2015 at the Coningsbury Gallery. They are aiming to raise around £2,500.
Pop over and look at the website.
The work is great too.
A friend of mine has started a business called Vinatge Photo Lab. It's a great idea, you send them a box of old photos and they scan them in for you. It's especially good if you have a box of photos you've been meaning to scan in for years and years... and we all know scanning isn't easy.
I've got a box of old tickets. Random things I've collected since 1996. It's not comprehensive although it gets better in more recent times. I asked Ed is he could scan that instead of photos. He obliged and they're all on Flickr. See the full set here.
Graphically some of them are goregous, some are interesting - most aren't. They're artefacts of a machine readalbe OCR thermal printer world. There is a charm to that but it's accidental.
Obviously looking at them now brings back incredible memories and sometimes I can link them to a another picture of Flickr which is great. There are lots of things I just can't remember at all. I appears that I have seen Travis four times, I only remember the one gig.
There's something for everyone, concerts, operas, proms, football, rugby, cricket, cinema, zoos. Take a look.
42 days in. It's not easy. It's tough. Some days I feel like the output is a shit A-level project and I get sad. Other days it feels like fun and like the best days on Foundation and I feel glad. Some days colleagues like my effort and use it at work. That makes me feel super happy. Sarah and Lorena were bigs fans of this one.
Since we last spoke, I tried to make them more like tshirts. Here is one I liked.
and here is one I hated.
It basically works, but it gets pretty dull pretty quickly. They feel too boring and too computer generated. Reliant on Illustrator skills to make them work.
So I started breaking the rules and mixing it up a bit. And I tried to make them a bit more fun.
And in the last two days I seem to have dropped the type.
Finding the time every day is hard. Keeping it moving so you don't get 100 days of the same thing is hard and coming up with the 'stories' is hard. Making them good is hard.
I'm also desperate to commission someone. This is a hangover from my agency days where we would do things similar to this, but we'd get an idea as far as the sketches above and then get someone good to do it, like Anthony Burrill. I might try and cadge some favours before the 100 days is up.
I'm trying to do them all on the actual day and I'm trying to do them all very quickly. On average they take between 30 minutes and an hour. They seem to be better on Monday and Tuesday than the rest of the week.
I'm also off to see the Professor in a few weeks, so I need to get something ready to show him.
One of my favorite kindle buying experience things - it tells you (and stops you) when you've already bought the book.— Michael B. Johnson (@drwave) October 21, 2013
We have an HP printer / scanner at home.
Every time I want to scan something, which is rarely, I search for scan in the finder and I'm given two choices.
The HP software always does this.
And the via the Mac System Preferences I always get this and I can just scan in a few clicks. It's not easy but it's easier than the software that actually came with the printer and only has one purpose - to scan with just one, known, machine.
I know very little about scanning. Although, because of my profession, presumably more than the average punter. But even so, scanning feels like something from another era to me. And era of print software and ripping and files that take a whole afternoon to pop out a grey box.
Something we should have made easier by now.