Give Yourself a Daily Treat

Thirteen years years ago I started a routine in which I’d get a coffee every day around 3pm. I didn’t realize what I was doing until someone asked and I replied, “Giving myself a treat.”

A treat is something to look forward to during the day that has nothing to do with work. It may or may not be a reward for getting things done because it will happen whether you’re having a good or bad day. My treat happens to fall during that post-lunch lull when my energy is low and I need something to perk me up.

My treat schedule has been pretty consistent for all these years because working in an office is highly routinized and I'm a total creature of habit. Now that I’m working from home my treat schedule is changing. Currently my routine is shifting so my treat time hasn’t settle in any one place but I think it will once I settle into a groove. What daily treat do you give yourself?


More is not always better

People like the idea of having options but when faced with too many they shut down. It’s almost always better to present people with fewer, higher quality, options than to overload them.

Remember the last time you tried to make a selection from an ten page Chinese restaurant menu? You probably chose something from memory. Back when Blockbuster was in business I had to decide what movie to rent before I arrived because, if I didn't, I'd just wander the aisles in a state of information overload.

Whether you’re sending a client mockups or designing an interface keep the options focused and few. Of course there are exceptions. A power Photoshop user want an array of tools at their fingertips, a pilot wants all their instruments in view. But if you’re designing for the mainstream and want to facilitate decision-making present fewer options that represent your recommendations.


What you didn't learn in school: Working for yourself you'll spend less time doing the thing you love

Yeah, I know this sounds cynical but it's also true. When you make the decision to work for yourself, either freelancing or running your own company, you’ll end up doing less of what inspired you in the first place. That’s not to say you won’t learn to love all the new skills and duties essential to running a company but you can expect to spend 75% of your time finding work (and everything else related to running a business) and 25% of your time getting your hands dirty with creative work.

Is the autonomy worth it? For some entrepreneurial folks, of course it is. But some people would rather focus on making stuff and letting others handle the contracts, invoicing, biz development, etc. What kind of person are you? In either case, there are tons of tools out there to help you manage yourself and your business. Find and master the business tools that let you spend more time making stuff and less time managing stuff.


Interview: Tina Guo-Morabito

Tina Guo-Morabito is an internationally known cellist, a photographer, a philosopher of metaphysics, and a really nice person. She expresses all of these loves and skills daily and with a level of commitment that suggests she really enjoys what she's doing and respects her creative/intellectual pursuits enough to do them well. And she doesn't just do them well, she kicks their asses.

How would you describe you what is it that you do?

I play the cello and the electric cello.  Classical, Metal, and New Age are my favorite genres to dabble in. 

Have you always done this for a living or did you transition from something else? What triggered your decision to make a change?

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Seeing is believing: use art to develop consensus

Artists are in a unique position to develop consensus and prove, or disprove, ideas. Why? Because a picture is worth a 1,000 words. Put a group of people in a room to discuss a visual solution to something and I guarantee they will all leave the room with different pictures in the heads. Have that same group reacting to something visual and the conversation will be more focused, shorter and the picture in everyones heads will be more similar.

If visuals haven’t been prepped in advance, use a whiteboard or a scrap of paper. It doesn’t need to be a work of art, it just needs to communicate an idea. If conversation is going in a circle and everyone is championing their own idea I’ll even suggest a meeting be rescheduled so I’ll have time to make some visuals.

Use images to get gutchecks on an idea in it’s early stage and use them to help set agendas for conversations.



The Kung Fu of Creativity: Stay Relaxed

Whether you’re facing oncoming opponent, a difficult meeting or a big project you’ll be stronger, more nimble and better able to improvise strategies if you're relaxed. Breathe, trust your training and preparation, and accept that there is no situation you can control 100%. Be prepared to take some hits but don’t hold onto those bruises emotionally. Acknowledge them and move on. You'll have time later to review where you went wrong.

Before your next meeting pause to take a few long, slow breaths. Slow yourself down and review what you know in your head. If you’re prepared and relaxed your ideas will come more quickly. We’ve all been in situations where we’re underprepared and out of breath. It sucks. If someone surprises you with an unexpected, stressful, conversation, take control - tell them to give you a few minutes or take a deep breath before diving in. Either way, it’s up to you to set the tone and pace of conversation.



Interview: Brad MacDonald

Up until recently it never occured to me to submit to one of my own interviews. Thanks to Francy for calling me on this and writing up some special questions for the occasion. Francy, I'm stealing some of your questions for future interviews!

You are a writer, teacher, lecturer, event coordinator, musician, artist.  How would YOU describe what you do?

I've been trying to find a catch-all phrase that covers everything and, frankly, I'm stumped. Recently I was designing a new business card and I asked some close friends for suggestions of job titles. My friend Pete suggested Practical Design Philosopher. It’s a little silly, broad enough to encompass different disciplines, touches on my obsession with studying and sharing what I learn about the creative process.

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Documentation doesn’t replace dialog

Have you ever sent an email packed with details and been frustrated because someone didn’t digest and retain all the information? Or maybe you drafted a comprehensive design doc that no one read. There are countless scenarios where we expect colleagues to dig into our documents like they’re the next GoT volume. It’s disappointing when we realize our efforts aren’t appreciated but here's thing: People don’t read, they skim. Don’t blame them. Chances are you do the same thing.

Email sucks for brainstorming and the exchange of abstract ideas. If you want your emails to be read, keep them short. If you want creative exchange, talk to your collaborators. If you’re writing documentation, you guessed it, keep it short. Writing consumable and clear documentation requires strong editing skills. Prepare to spend as much time paring down your text as you did writing the first draft. And be prepared to talk through your ideas.


Fake a commute

This advice came from Mark Smith, a friend and talented computer engineer who has been successfully self-employed for as long as I’ve know him. It’s the greatest advice anyone has ever given me regarding working from home.

My fake commute routine: Wake up, shower, stretch, get dressed and leave the house. No email or TV and no lounging in underwear all day. When you’re moving, your blood is flowing and that gets oxygen to your brain and the ol' endorphins flow. Ever wonder why so many people get great ideas while they’re walking? Bingo.

My faked commute has three parts. 1) Walk to a cafe while I think about, and prioritize, projects. 2) Drink coffee and identify questions and areas of interest for the day’s project. 3) Walk home, start making connections between ideas and visualizing solutions.


Interview: Tamar Kali

Tamar Kali is fierce. She's also obervant, intelligent, worldly, artistic and maybe even a little bit of a romantic. A few years ago I caught her pyscho-acoustic set up in Harlem and it felt like going to church. At least my fictionalized dream of what church should be. Join her for a drink or see her live show and you realize that she is who she is. There's no front and there's no room for pretense. 

How would you describe you what is it that you do?

I’m a performer, composer, vocalist and songwriter.

Is there another artist from whom you draw inspiration?

Many. Musically my inspiration ranges from Beethoven to Bad Brains with some Riot Grrl and Grace Jones in between.

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Make recommendations - What drinking has taught me about design, Part VIII

I like asking bartenders about new beers. I enjoy trying their recommendations and determining whether I agree with their assessments. If I don’t agree with them I don’t get mad. I get a different drink next time, a little better informed. I won’t waste time being miserable about a bad beer. It’s not worth it.

You have expertise. Share it. If you’re not offering the whole of your skill and experience please ask yourself, “Why not?” Are you not being paid enough? Is it a fear that you’ll be judged? Do you not care about the project? You get what you give. If you’re holding back it’s likely the people around you are following your lead.

Make recommendations. Do you want to be valued as a creative person or a tool to execute some else’s ideas? Not all of your suggestions will be followed but the more you offer the more you influence.


Use a single piece of reference

When exploring look and feel there can be only one. Okay, maybe there can be more than one but the point is this: Less is more. It’s more selective, it’s more empowering and it’s more efficient. Using fewer references forces you to select the most valuable starting point.

This doesn’t mean you should copy directly or be a clone. Just have a simple statement of your aesthetic goals and trust that the process of creation will result in something unique. 

For years everyone one of my projects had folders of reference matierial for character design, UI, typography, environments, etc. I wasted alot of time trying to synthethesize all those diverse elements. Now I force myself to be selective and choose the fewest reference points I need to get started. While working I allow myself to follow tangents so each piece can find its own identity.


Interview: Rose Freymuth-Frazier

Mastery is not an accident. When I first met Rose Freymuth-Frazier she was painting still lifes in her studio and in Central Park. She busted her ass practicing her craft and tool another big step - she sought out mentors. Between her talent, intelligence, discipline and selection of mentors it's not an accident she's as good as she is.

How would you describe what is it that you do? 

I am an oil painter. I basically spend all of my daylight hours pushing around pigment with animal hair tied to the end of a stick. When I’m done I call the resulting paintings “figurative realism”.

Have you always done this for a living or did you transition from something else? What triggered your decision to make a change? 

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Know your audience - What drinking has taught me about design, Part VII

If you've worked in a bar you know there are different types of drinkers and it pays to read them properly. Do this well and it will result in deeper relationships, greater tips, and fewer lawsuits. I cast a light into the dark recesses of my brain and there, under layers of dust, I found my old classifications of drinkers. 

The Health Drinker - Steady retention, low monetization. 
The Social Drinker - Sporadic retention, good monetization.
The Problem Drinker - Low retention, low monetization. Trouble.
The Under-aged Drinker - Heavy retention, low monetization. 
The Alcoholic - Heavy retention, heavy monetization. Guilt.
The Binge Drinker - Low retention, heavy monetization.

Do these classifications relate to your audience? And does the way you relate to them change positively based on their motivations?



How do you make the case for the unexpected?

My term for well-executed but flavorless, emotionally void, design is ‘cereal box art’. It includes actual cereal box art, architecture, music, dance, video games, movies and anything that has the potential to be daring but takes the frictionless path.

Not every design needs to be an emotionally rich, daring, adventure for the end-user but how do you determine when and where your work can be pushed to challenge expectations?

If you’re working on products for the mainstream this will come up. We all want our products to be wildly successful but that often results in designs and concepts whose edges have been filed away to maximize appeal. Focus testing is great but most of us don't have the budget to collect real data. So, when faced with conservative clients, how do you make the case for the unexpected?



Interview: Baba Israel

I almost never bump into Baba Israel in NYC but the past two times I've been in Amsterdam I've seen him on the street. The same street, outside a cafe called Baba's. He's like that. He gives and recieves creative energy equally and, as a consequence, things just seem to happen around him. He manifests opportunity and, as a poet, an artist, a teacher, an emcee and a beatboxer he's always involved in something interesting.

How would you describe you what is it that you do?

I am an artist, producer, educator and an improviser. I was raised in NYC and found my creative voice in Hip Hop culture. I was raised in political and community based theatre and that is a big influence on my choices and focus. Specifically I am an emcee, writer, beatboxer, beatmaker, and theatre director. 

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Mastery is not an accident

Even though Luke had a natural gift for the Force he still needed to learn the ways of a Jedi Master. He had to travel across the galaxy to find a mentor and train hard to meet his goals. If he hadn't been committed to learning and growing he probably would've gone back to Tatooine and wasted away in the bars of Mos Eisley.

Through mythology we learn, over and over, that a hero needs to overcome trials before they can succeed but this is something we all face every day if we're taking steps towards growth. We're not all fighting Sith Lords but we do wrestle with the demons that supply excuses and limit the loftiness of our goals. Smite them.

Wishes and fantasies are great but they need action to make them happen. What do you want to master and does your effort match your expectations?


Consult the experts - What drinking has taught me about design, Part VI

I know you're probably amazing at whatever it is you do but I'm sure there are areas that are outside your depth of knowledge - areas where you aren't so amazing. No problem, that's why you have experts as friends, colleagues, and mentors. If you have the budget, hire them. If you don't have a budget, offer an exchange, or buy them dinner and drinks.

Consulting experts will get you to solutions faster and shorten your conversations with clients. That's more upside for you if you're working on a project or flat rate. If you work hourly it means moving to your next project sooner. 

Where do you lack expertise? Now, which of your friends and colleagues have the skills you lack? Reach out to them. Don't worry about being a pain in the ass, you'll return the favor at some point. That's cheaper than going to school or learning the hard way.


Interview: Pete List

In addition to being a good friend Pete is an animator, multi-instrumentalist, and beatboxer. Over the years we've collaborated on a number of musical projects, such as our band Djinn, and I'm always amazed by his abilities as a technician and an artist with a distinct vision. He's ambitious, a perfectionist, and he lays down some phat beats. After all these years it's interesting to get some insight into his creative process.

How would you describe you what is it that you do?

I’m a multimedia character animator and composer. I create hand drawn animation, stop motion, photo animation, clay, but always animating characters. I play a number of different instruments, but I think of myself more as a composer than a musician.

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Stay loose. But not too loose - What drinking has taught be about design, Part V

Sure, a drink or two helps relax inhibitions. That's why so many people rely on a drink to relax and be creative. Somewhere between tipsy and sloppy there is a relaxed zone of openness, socialiblity and creativity. But it's a fine line. Being relaxed is good. Being sloppy and unable to exercise good judgement? Not so good. You're not a monkey throwing feces at a wall and hoping it'll be art. You want quality ideas and the skills to present them well.

How do you find the creative fugue state without the vino or absinthe? Practice and many hours spent doing the thing you love. Don't worry about making something perfect. Just make something and learn from the experience. Stay relaxed. It’s proven that falling when drunk will result in fewer injuries than falling down sober. Make some mistakes and learn how to stay loose in the face of adversity. The thing you're making might become something unexpected, and better, if you let it breathe.