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THIS IS DESIGN.SCHOOL: A podcast for designers everywhere.

No matter how much success a designer achieves, they are still human. They can still get nervous before a client pitch, get creative block on projects, and swoon for their own design idols. They also went to design school, just like you and me. They suffered through critiques, didn’t understand the difference between sans serif and serif fonts, and probably also tried to lop off their fingers when trimming out a final project. Every designer has humble beginnings, even if their work is the most epic you have ever seen.

Remembering these facts is what makes THIS IS DESIGN.SCHOOL podcasts so interesting. Based in the PNW, they were started by designers Chad P. Hall (below left) and Jp Avila (below right) in 2014 “for those interested in design, starting a career in design, or needing a reminder of why they went into design.” Each month they interview a newly minted designer, a seasoned professional, or a design academic.

What makes these podcasts so endearing is that they are a great equalizer. It frankly doesn’t matter what level the interviewee is at in their career: They come across as humans just trying to figure out their careers, beliefs about design, and how not to be nervous doing their first podcast. It doesn’t hurt that Chad and Jp’s voices are so soothing to listen to either.

Chad P. Hall (left) & Jp Avila (right)

This month they have interviewed Taylor Cox, a newly minted designer that decided that sitting in front of a computer screen everyday wasn’t for her. Letterpress printing had claimed her design heart. She founded Coxswain Press and now fills her days climbing inside Heidelberg Presses, perfecting her kerning skills, and attempting not to get lead poisoning. (No one said letterpress printing was for the faint of heart!).

All Aboard the Struggle Bus

Want to hear more? Check out the full podcast here!

Be sure to visit THIS IS DESIGN.SCHOOL every month for their newest podcast installment. You never know who they’ll find to fill their air waves.

Swiss Watchmaker is Teaching Apprentices for FREE

If you know me, you know that education and how that is approached is very important to me. It wouldn’t be a reach to say that it’s my soap box. Give me a little room and I can seriously bend your ear. Growing up under the dedicated eye of two public school teachers, I spent many evenings listening to my parents discussing the best approaches to education, the value of different methods and the hope that one day “the people in charge” would see that everyone learns differently (including differently from subject matter to subject matter).

My thesis even had a huge component to it that dealt with the power of learning design through a seemingly antiquated method of education: the master, apprentice, and a community of practitioners. However, the more I delved into it, the more examples I found where that method was alive and well. It even exists in our highest-esteemed fields of study, law and medicine.

The most recent example that I came across is in high-end watchmaking. Patek Phillipe, a 175 year old watchmaking company based in Switzerland recently announced that they have opened a new apprentice program in New York City. The twist? It’s free. Their need for watchmakers is soaring as those who love mechanically-based watches outnumbers those who can maintain them. But don’t pack your bags just yet. Out of 300 applicants they took six. Applicants need skills in so many areas that getting that right mix, well, it doesn’t come along everyday.

Not sure what you’re missing out on? Check out this video by Patek Phillippe that chronicles the most complicated watch they have ever made. The reverent tones that play in the background truly makes you marvel at the engineering, design, and artistry that goes into making such a watch. It’s worth watching the full 10 minute video. I promise.

I do not even know the price of such a piece, but I urge you not to look it up for fear of passing out from disbelief! But just remember that the old watch you have in your drawer somewhere, its humble mechanics is spawned out of something exceptional, and quite possibly timeless.

 

 

Spotify: Quietly Introducing Listening Data for Our Pleasure.

I always knew that data was important, but had I ever really stopped to consider its use more deeply? No, not really. To be completely honest, I think my closest interaction with data was when I was a child and received my monthly subscription of National Geographic (example below). They made these beautiful figures and graphics trying to explain a data set, a supporting process, mapping, etc. I was always amazed at how they packed all that data in there, but then usually immediately turned the page to see the baby seals. (Who doesn’t love baby seals? I was 9 years old.)

National Geographic: Superstorm of 2100

When I went back to school for the second time, that is when I finally realized how interesting data can be when it is corralled to tell a compelling story. Between taking an information design class with Professor Karen Cheng (truly the Information Design Queen), and co-founding Science by Design with Gregory Quetin that brought together scientists and designers to discuss communication methods, I quickly learned how kick-ass data can be.

Therefore, you can imagine my surprise when I accidentally ran across Spotify using their listener’s data on which artists they listen to, how often, and what cities listen to an artist the most. Spotify is a Swedish music-streaming company that started in 2008. As of 2015 they had over 75 million active listeners. 75 MILLION PEOPLE. Now privacy issues aside for a moment (I signed the agreement. I knew what I was getting into for $4.99), that is an amazing amount of potential data collection! Especially about a topic that is brought up on every dating website, is a go-to for small talk at parties, and the cause for many a breakup after a road trip.

If you saunter over to your Spotify application, you can follow along at home. Type in your favorite artist (Yes, I like John Mayer. Moving it right along…) Then click on “About.” Instead of the usual glib drivel that sounds like it came from Perez Hilton’s celebrity blog, I saw stats and was instantly drawn in.

Spotify

Yes, I could still read about John Mayer and view pictures of his bizarre outfits (I seriously remember him being cooler back in the day), but more importantly I could see how many people were listening to him today, monthly, and how he ranked in the world compared to other artists. Apparently his listening stock was up that day. When I had checked the day before only 7, 624 people had listened to him and his little triangle was down.

Spotify

Then Spotify took it a step further and let you know which cities in the world listened to him the most. In other words, if Seattle didn’t work out for me, I have 5 other cities that would accept me with open, John Mayer-loving arms.

Now in my head, I am certainly asking a few questions about how this could be presented better. I wanted to be able to click on the stats and cities or perhaps have hover states that would garner me additional information. But no such luck. From a more data accuracy standpoint, I’m sure I could show this to any one of my data savvy friends and they would have questions about how Spotify arrived at their findings.

But what Spotify did do, is as a user, I instantly felt like I was part of a community; A 12,490 person community and each of them knew just how much John Mayer spoke to my soul that day. Seems perhaps small and insignificant at first, but stop and think about it: I believe that a lot of people think that data is cold and unfeeling, perhaps incomprehensible, doesn’t apply to them, and the myths continue. But in a very simple way, Spotify took their data relating to something almost every person in the world loves, and used it to make a tighter community of their users. Simple, and very effective.

I have a feeling this feature is relatively new and that Spotify is just coming around to the idea of displaying their fascinating data and will continue to bring that to their users in diverse and interesting ways. Their enhanced UX definitely had this designer spending more time checking out her favorite artists to see how they ranked, rather than just clicking on a playlist and getting on with her day. Well played Spotify. Well played.

Chapter One…Wait, what?

Dear Readers,

It certainly has been a while. Just a little over two years since I last wrote. I didn’t completely stop writing, I just put those efforts toward more scholarly pursuits, writing about design education, and where I thought the future of design might go. Which by the way, it’s nomadic. Peripatetic Nomads to be exact. Feel free to request that gem of a paper. I may have had had a temperature of 103˚ when I wrote it, but it actually makes a few good points…But I digress.

I am proud to say that I completed my Masters of Design this year in June. It was a wild ride. I have met so many amazing people: Classmates, professors, students, friends, collaborators. Between being in a new part of the country, which in many ways was a culture that required assimilation, and surrounding myself with these new perspectives, its truly been a growing and enriching time in my life.

I got to work on some really interesting projects that ranged from understanding how and what we feed 30.7 million students through school lunches every day to creating a smart wearable that could intervene in sexual assault in alcohol-fueled situations. There was no topic off limits. And then there was my thesis. My completely beautiful and life-altering project that not only focused on my favorite things (people, education, and making), but allowed me to really dig in. When you’re in such a project, it feels like it will swallow you whole, but eventually you find (or damn, weave it yourself) that golden thread that connects all your thoughts together into something that isn’t too shabby in the end.

So I’m picking up where I left off. A little older (I have the gray hairs to prove it). A few more experiences in my back pocket (remind me to tell you about trying to cook a geoduck…). But ultimately, I’m starting fresh. Little did I know that the learning process was just beginning again. Or rather it never ended. (Prosaic, I know, but bears stating now and again!)

Check back in each week as I share the new and interesting things I learn about design, the people involved, and the inspiration behind it all. Have a topic you find interesting? Drop me a line and let me know. I’m sure I’ll want to learn about it too!

Sincerely,
Abigail

MDes 2015 CohortThis is my Master of Design Cohort at our thesis exhibition at the Henry Art Gallery (2015).
From left to right (Scott, Shagheyegh, Me, Ryan, Kun). 

The Creative Process

Oh the creative process. I have to sigh before even writing this post because if you are a creative, then you can know the joys and woes that come along with the words “creative process.” I have often said that it’s a marvel and a curse. It’s a marvel that such a process exists where you start from nothing and in what seems like magic, something beautiful, wonderful, insightful, fantastic, and tantalizing presents itself and the world is saved once again (yes, it can totally feel like that).

The curse comes when that process betrays you. Each creative has their own process and they are as varied as there are stars above. But sometimes that process gets stopped or blocked. It is either someone else blocking our path because of budgets and asinine requests (insert the word “client/committee” here), which once you’ve been in the “creativity as a service” industry long enough, you kind of get the hang of dealing with them. But then what happens when YOU block yourself. When that innate part of you that you’ve always been able to call upon refuses to give you that spark of inspiration. Or refuses to run smoothly, where each step forward feels akin to running into a brick wall repeatedly. Oh yeah, it can feel like that. And mind you, all of this is taking place inside your head. Yikes…

But us creatives keep coming back for more. There are those of use who do turn their backs on their creativity and that spark because it’s too emotionally draining, but most of us keep coming back for more. We can’t help ourselves. To be without it would be to be missing part of ourselves. Plus, look at the tangible items that come from the creative process? Houses, planes, sculpture, spoons, posters, films, fashion, cars and the list goes on. Our world has seen some pretty freaking awesome things come from the creative process.

I’ve spent three paragraphs attempting to explain the creative process and didn’t even come close to it, if you haven’t experienced it yourself. But I came across a commercial for Dodge (It’s always the car companies. Damn them and their huge marketing budgets…) that attempts to show not only the creative process, but the process of specifically bringing a vision (car) into a reality.

So if you have a creative process, then you’ll definitely identify with the video. If you don’t have one, then you’ll get the most accurate version that I’ve seen of the creative process out there, even though it’s about cars. Enjoy!

Thwack, thwack, thwack, click, ding!

The Typewriter. For most of us, it was almost on it’s way out when we were born. Computers were finally starting to come around and while many adults were still comfortable with a typewriter, youngsters were charging forward with technology.

I still remember my mother telling me about her typewriting classes in high school, and how they would have a metronome going to keep people typing at the right speed. Oh, and her nails! Her instructor was always telling her she just had to cut her beautiful nails, but Mom persisted, and managed to keep up with your talon-like nails, which were all the rage at the time.

Or I remember my grandmother had one up in her spare bedroom and she always typed her stories on it to submit to the newspaper. Even though there was a computer down the hall, she only had eyes for the typewriter.

There was something very satisfying about hitting each key and hearing it twack against the paper, making a nice imprint on the smooth and pristine paper. Twack, twack, twack went the keys. Everyone knew when you were typing something up. Spies, be advised.

Now things could get tricky when you made a mistake. Me and the white out strips did not get along. Or when the ink ribbon decided to twist or when the carriage return jammed. They were not the easiest things to deal with: To complete anything it usually involved several curses, some sweat (remember how HEAVY those things were?) and a paper cut for sure. But you were always very satisfied when you finished. Not exactly the same feeling I get on a keyboard…but I digress.

The editor of UPPERCASE Magazine, a “magazine for the creative and curious”, developed this video as a way to raise money for the book entitled, The Typewriter: a Graphic History of the Beloved Machine. They look to still be taking donations! But just perusing the site and watching the video is great for anyone that is a designer, a collector, or someone with an aesthetic eye!

This post would not be possible without Lacy Kelly, who sends me all sorts of wonderful things that I would never know about without her! Thanks lady!

Color & Ink: A process

Colors are magical. I still remember how beautiful the red, blue, and yellow buttons on my parent’s VCR just seemed like a happy gathering. Always brought a smile to my face. Or the color of a lawn that has just been mowed. It’s green, but with so much more. As a graphic designer, I am very aware of color and how it can be used to create a certain feeling or mood for my audience. As a letterpress printer, I’ve become even more tied to my colors because I am always mixing up my own. True, I can match them to a pantone chip, but to my mind, the color I come up with is always just slightly different. That perhaps I have found a new hue that has never been made EXACTLY to these proportions. That just makes me have a sense of awe and wonderment at the possibility. So as I said, colors, and their many shades, create a mysterious and beautiful world.

Eventually these colors have to be obtained, created, and dispersed into the next part of their life: being part of a bigger vision. While I love mixing colors, seeing that color being printed makes me so completely giddy! But how do we even get to the point of picking up a palette knife and taking a smidge from this can to mix with a dollop from that can? One company has come up with an excellent and artistic way! The Printing Ink Company, along with Vepo Studios has created an in-depth look at how ink arrives at it’s final destination and the intricacies that go into creating such beauty.

So indulge your nerdy design senses!

For the love of letters!

The life of a designer usually includes collecting ephemera to some degree. Whether it’s posters on our wall, cards in our desk or matchboxes in a bowl, we usually can’t get enough of it. There is something about the tactile sensation of it all that just draws us in. I am no different. My collections over the years have grown immensely, been cleaned out and started again numerous times. We’re each other’s best historians, simply by purchasing our friends’ work to have in our own collections. The best part is when we can purchase something lovely for our collection and completely help out a worthwhile cause.

The Hamilton Wood Type & Printing Museum has had a bit of a rough year, in that they have to pack up from their home (an original Hamilton building established in 1927) and move to a new residence. I was lucky enough to make it up to Two Rivers, WI for their last Wayzgoose (a gathering of printers) just this past November. The space is amazing and honestly jaw-dropping. When you walk in, it’s just like coming home. That’s hard to create once, let alone recreate. But they will have to do so in their new space. But to get there they need some help.

For months they have been having events to raise money and awareness to their cause and the response has been incredible. Slowly, but surely, they are getting closer to reaching their monetary goal that it will take to save certainly one of this country’s treasures.

Now I know you might be asking yourself, “I have no idea what letterpress printing is or who these people are. Why should I help?” Let me present it to you this way: Do you like pretty things? Do you need a Valentine’s Day gift for that special creative in your life? Do you hate putting water rings on your favorite table? If you answered yes to any of this, then I have the opportunity for you!

Mama Sauce, an awesome letterpress/silk screen and design shop out of Florida are offering up Love Letters, a set of coasters created by some of the most talented designers and illustrators out there today. To make sure proceeds go to the museum, everything was donated, from the designs, the paper (Neenah Paper & French Paper), and the printing by Mama Sauce. Talk about a set of awesome and passionate people!

So with Valentines Day just around the corner, and these coasters in stunning red, this is not a bad place to invest your money. Those chocolates, roses, and stuffed animals can wait until next year. Give a gift that will wow your special someone and help out a wonderful cause!

ORDER HERE YOUR COASTERS HERE!

Mama Sauce’s friends at Fiction heard of their endeavor and made this wonderful little video to help.

Love Letters from FCTN on Vimeo.

ROI Rage

For several years I’ve been hearing quite a few acronyms when it comes to metrics, social media, and companies FINALLY starting to see that there really is something to doing metric measuring campaigns. With every new technology, it sometimes takes a little time for people to become comfortable with the idea of it and to honestly figure out how it can fit into what they’re currently doing. I sell muffins…metrics can’t possibly be for me. I sell lawn mowers…no one cares if I have a digital presence. Not true my dear, delusional friends. You too can have a digital presence and make sure your money is being invested in the right type of social media too!

For so long there have been rumors and myths moving through the corporate world that metrics don’t work or they’re limited. And the age old question is always, “What am I actually getting from my monetary investment into social media and digital campaigns? If sales don’t double, really? What is the point.” Here is where the acronym ROI comes in. It stands for Return On Investment. Every company wants to know what their return on investment will be. We’re all about the benjamin’s baby.

But it took the Grandaddy of digital…well digital anything at this point, Adobe to put a smart, well put together ad out there to really ahem, slap people into reality. My favorite part is that Adobe isn’t even worrying about print vs digital and that petty argument these days. They’ve risen above it and simply said, let’s talk metrics. Whatever format you’re approaching metrics from, lets get it straight that it’s a functional and accessible part of business today. It’s a little hard to ignore now, especially when you’re being ahem, slapped in the face with the use of metrics and digital campaigns, whether that is through an app, a QR code or some other measurable, metrics system.

So get in touch with your inner ROI rage and if someone tells you ROI is a myth…just ahem, slap them into a reality check. It’s all about the ROI’s baby.

*Do not attempt this. But feel free to laugh at the idea of doing this in the office.*

The final frontier…

First, I have to start out by apologizing to you all.

For the last several weeks (okay a good six) I haven’t written a blog post. I’ve even had a few of you contact me, wondering what is going on! haha Apparently it is how many of you keep tabs on me, my life, and if I’m still alive! Well the answer is, I am. But I’ve been pretty sick on and off, then we had Thanksgiving, I was traveling more on the weekends to fabulous conferences (which I will slowly post pictures of on future posts), and taking on more responsibility at work. The whole blog writing thing just got away from me. But I missed you all! I missed writing down my findings and hearing your responses. So please forgive me. This will probably be my last post for the year and then I will pick it up again in the New Year. Thanks for listening!
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The holidays are here. Not, they’re on their way or it will be nice when the holidays are here. After Thanksgiving past (and even before) the holidays are upon us and it’s a sometimes neck-breaking roller coaster ride to New Years. You get caught up in the holiday parties, the gift buying, the socialization of it all. Who wouldn’t? But then you end up like me: It’s a week before Christmas and I realize that I haven’t sent out holiday cards. I had originally thought that I might letterpress print my cards on Sir Sigwalt, but it just didn’t work out. I loathe buying holiday cards, but I hate not sending anything out even more.

So I hightailed it to Target to see if I could come up with something that didn’t make me grimace. Makes me feel at least a little better when the card has some kind of typographic and color aesthetic merit. Things can get a little atrocious and dicey with holiday cards…buyer beware.

I sit down, make my list of recipients and start writing. Oddly enough, I feel a little weird. My own handwriting is looking a little chaotic, not smooth, and I’m just not happy with it. What the hell has happened? Then it came to me: I’m out of practice. Talk about a mind explosion. I’m out of practice for writing? There is something seriously wrong with that idea, but I know it to be true. My life has come down to hundreds of emails a week, a post-it note here and there, text messages and that’s it. In a world where we’re going head-long into technology based methods of communication, here is a tradition that still lives on, frankly, flying in the face of every technology user everywhere.

In a world where we send evites for baby showers, weddings, and birthday parties, the holiday card lives on. Why? Is it because the holidays are a time of slowing down and reliving the memories of happier times in our lives? Sounds like we’re going back to a time that we remember taking the time to actually WRITE out our messages of cheer and love to one another. By hand. With a weird thing called a pen.

I can tell you this: I haven’t received one e-holiday card this year, but my mailbox has been flooding with handwritten, paper holidays cards. People are posting pictures of mantels and doorways plastered with cards. They love it! So maybe that’s it. It’s the one time a year that we go back to something that we liked to do, but don’t really have time anymore to complete. We go back to the naive wonderment of writing a card to someone, licking the awful glue to close the envelope (makes you feel alive!), putting a stamp on it, and putting it into a post box, with the anticipation of it reaching our loved one and bringing a smile to their face.

The only thing I can think of is this: technology might be winning the war, but I hope it will never win this battle. Score one for the holiday card. Better luck next year technology…