To Design is to Decide
 Jon and Joe  "take a minute"  to decide their next move.

Jon and Joe "take a minute" to decide their next move.


On last week’s blog, I mentioned how I wish more designers would write about design with the same kind of precision as some writers who write about writing. A few comments on LinkedIn and Facebook encouraged me to try “designing” design. 

It’s a fascinating idea that I’ve been thinking about all week. I’m still not sure how one would begin to design design (confused yet?). My hunch is that it would need to be visually engaging, and would involve a mix of video and animation. I can imagine the helpfulness of a film that streamlines and examines the tools and processes built into the evolution of logo design excise from start to finish.

I’m reminded of the compelling call for design criticism made by designer Jarret Fuller, thoughtfully communicated through a video essay he produced as a student at MICA. Or, within the world of audio and podcasting, Song Exploder provides musicians a place to dissect and examine the road of their creative process. Together with the host, Hrishikesh Hirway, artists unpack each layer of the studio process, highlighting the trivial or the stories behind a song. It’s wonderful.

Inspired by Song Exploder, I have had the dream of creating a podcast or video blog that explores the journey of the design process. (I’d call it “Process Out Loud.”) I made a prototype earlier this year where I walked through the evolution of the brand identity refresh for a client, Indigo Hippo. It’s rough and way too long— I dare you to watch it

How to go about designing design is one riddle, but another inquiry that has been on my mind is this: why is designing/writing about design so important to me? About half-way through the week, I had my “ah-ha” moment: I realized that to design is to make a series of decisions; some tiny, others gigantic. What I desire is to learn what informed the decision making behind great design. In other words, a peek behind the curtain to see what feeds the wizardry and magic.

It’s one thing to be inspired by and swoon over wizardry and magic (i.e. style), but we designers are often guilty of merely copying aesthetic alone, instead of pulling back the curtain on the mechanics that give life to a project. I’m not against copying, but if anything is to be borrowed, we should begin with the who, what, where, when, and why a design was chosen upon in the first place. 

In the end, our design decisions should be informed by the particular puzzle we’re trying to solve. It benefits us to understand how other designers have solved similar obstacles; how they made similar choices. Take the example seen in Arthur Conan Doyle’s sleuthing Sherlock Holmes: often he was found researching historical crimes because he knew how the elements behind a case would usually repeat— the details of a trial from a hundred years ago might be the thing to help him solve a quandary that’s currently vexing him. He’s digging below the surface, for motives and evidence, not an outcome. That’s the motive I hope to bring with “Process Out Loud”— whenever it comes about.

Enjoy the links,


What is your production function? What do you do differently from others that enables you to create what you create? How does what happens in private line up with what happens in public?” I believe mine has something to do with finding the seed that evolves and influences the intentions of my clients' design strategy.

Design as a noun, adjective, and a verb Design is not about finding the most direct journey from A to B. Trial and error along with an open mind are what leads to enlightenment and innovation. As designers we need the curiosity and courage to choose a meandering and unknown trail toward B.”

The 4 Things You Need to Thrive in the Gig Economy “A big distinction between successful independents and the ones who aren’t or go back [to corporate jobs] is getting to that place of knowing what you’re meant to do. That gives me resilience for the ups and downs. It gives me the strength to decline work that isn’t in alignment. It gives me a quality of authenticity and confidence that clients are drawn to. It’s helpful to building or maintaining the business and serving the people I am here to serve.”

On taking the long road After writing this week’s blog I re-read my highlights of this interview with Sarah Nicole Prickett and realized where I inadvertently stole my ah-ha moment. “Writing is all decisions. Putting one morpheme, one word, one clause and one sentence and then one paragraph in order. I can be decisive to the point of judgmental about movies, novels, which car to buy, who to befriend, but in my writing I feel terribly, constitutionally indecisive.” I like how she put it better, but maybe that’s because there again we have a writer writing about writing. 

Why Design Thinking Is Bullshit — “Design thinking marketing needs to stop enchanting industries with a diluted design process. The reduction of a complex creative problem-solving mindset into five steps makes design seem easy when it’s not. A certificate for the completion of a design thinking course is not enough to transform a business into the next Apple. So don’t be deceived by the demystification of the design process or the chance to workshop out million-dollar ideas over post-its. There’s more to design than what design thinking dealers are preaching.”

Wieden+Kennedy Portland create Studio Ghibli-style animation for Travel Oregon More reasons to be excited about Meg’s and my cross-country train trip to the Pacific Northwest this summer.


Kudos to Christopher Maier for edits and Jocelyn Glei for link ideas. 

Proposals and Evenings with Authors

It’s been quite a week— these last few days have been busy with some new potential projects and evenings capped off by listening to some incredible writers. At last count, there were at least five project proposals in the hopper, and I was lucky enough to hear authors Min Jin Lee and Neil Gaiman speak and read from their work.

I tend to romanticize the art of writing. I usually imagine Hemingway in Paris— waking and writing from an old drafty apartment. He labors over a manuscript, and the room warms up as he types away on his Royal Quiet de Luxe stationed next to a crackling fireplace. He steps away after writing something utterly profound, and goes for a walk, an espresso, or maybe brunch with his buddy, F. Scott.

These days, I’m interested by writers’ thoughts on the art of writing. The observations of Anne Lamott comes to mind— her book on writing, Bird by Bird, is a favorite of mine. I wish designers explored/reflected on their processes as well as writers do. Perhaps writing about writing as a writer is more natural than a designer writing about design.

But I do enjoy the act of writing. I don’t think I’m particularly good at it, but it’s something I want to become good at. (That’s why I’m here.) Blogging is enjoyable, but unfortunately there’s no attached paycheck to take home. Project proposals do the trick— or rather, that’s the goal. 

So in this last week, I’ve had a change of mindset on my process of drafting project proposals. What if I found a way to make them just as fun to write and read as writing a blog? I can’t say I’ve mastered this shift in methodology, but this new question does challenge me to try a new approach, especially if a particular method for a proposal doesn’t end up being successful. (On a similar theme, it was encouraging to hear Min Jin Lee talk about all of her rejected proposals even as a successful author.) 

So keep writing. “Ass in the chair,” as Mary Heaton Vorse put it.

Enjoy the links, 


Neil Gaiman on why the future depends on libraries, reading and daydreaming – I haven’t read any of Gaiman’s works, but I attended his lecture anyhow— and I’m glad I did. He read the above essay to the crowd, and it’s a powerful one. I wasn’t much of a reader until I decided to become a designer. At that point my grandfather (also a designer) said: “If you want to become a designer you need to learn how to read.” I asked if he meant photoshop books. He said, “No, whatever you can get your hands on.” That was definitely a turning point. Reading has changed my life. After years of mostly reading non-fiction, I’m finally diving into novels. My life is changed once again for the better. 

From the Hive, Episode 17: Leslie Hershberger - Intention, Pause & We-ness – This From the Hive interview with Leslie Hershberger is one of my favorites yet. It’s especially helpful to connect meditation practices to every compartment of one’s life. Meg and I are taking an enneagram class with Leslie at The Hive that started this week.

Taking the Empire Builder train across America – Meg and I are taking a train to Seattle at the end of June. This article whets my appetite for the slow adventure ahead of us. This quote from the article has stuck with me: “There is a mindset adjustment required to unlock the willingness to enjoy the journey rather than project forward to the destination. But once that switch is flicked, ridin’ those rails is a lot of fun.”

Social Innovation, Social Justice: Rethinking Design Anthropology – One of the perks of being an adjunct professor is being surrounded by about all the inspiring events happening at the university— like this one coming up at the end of the month. I’m particularly excited about the improv and service design workshops. 

Brain Rules Part 1 and Part 2 with Dr. John Medina on the Buyer’s Mind podcast – Here’s Dr. John Medina on the science behind the brain’s functions and why’s it’s helpful in our interactions with others and yourself.

Kudos to Pat for introducing me to John Medina and Christopher Maier for copy edits. 

Reflect On/Off

My friend and studio mate Chris Glass shared a thought with me earlier this year that I continue to ponder. We were talking about Netflix binging. Chris said he's not a fan because in a binge there's no room for reflection. I hadn't thought about it that way. In a sense, binging is like auto-pilot. The viewer gets locked into a zoned out, robotic state. It's comfortable and doesn't require much brain power. Time seems to disappear. 

I don’t binge much anymore. Maybe once or twice a year on a sick day or holiday. Turning off auto-play helps a ton. If only it were so easy to turn off auto-play (or auto-pilot) in life. It’s second nature to stack the calendar with busyness or to go through life chasing empty carbs (a term I recently learned from Troy Bronsink).

Reflection's hard when we're cruising from one diversion to the next. 

Reflection is counter-intuitive in a design environment driven by “sprints” and mottos like “move fast and break things.” To pause means I might not be able to catch up. It often feels that there’s not enough time for contemplation or that it's not a responsible use of billable hours. But what if I'm chasing the wrong carrot? What if I'm taking the easy way out? What if I could be contributing more value? 

Reflection's a powerful tool. It helps us connect with new possibilities in our design work (and lives). For instance, I was meeting with writer and “design medium” Meg Farmer to discuss an upcoming collaboration. It was apparent that she had made space to study the client. Her insights were evidence of reflection. She had tapped into a deep project ethos. It was a reminder that beautiful, usable, and impactful design requires consideration. 

The links below all connect to the theme of reflection. They've been helpful as I've sought to turn off auto-play in my life and design practice.  



Low & Slow (vs. Fear)
Seth Godin uses a metaphor that’s close to home. Sourdough bread making. Meg (my wife) makes sourdough bread every weekend. It's a weekend routine that rose last year. She never baked sourdough bread before that. Patience, along with salt, water, and flour, are the key ingredients. Seth writes about discerning when patience–and impatience–are necessary ingredients in our work. 

The Case For Self-Promotion
I hate self-promotion, but as a business owner, it’s a part of the territory. I love the simple heuristic that Courtney suggest we pause to ask ourselves: “Am I sharing or bragging?” The question connects very much to the next link about signaling. 

Robin Hanson on Signaling and Self-Deception
Awareness is the first step. This conversation with Tyler episode with Robin Hanson illuminated the idea of signaling to me. It’s those hidden motives behind the things we do or say. For example, I want people to think I’m smart so I write this blog. Which leads me to pause and ask, “am I sharing or bragging?” 

How Conversation Dinners Revolutionize The Ways We Communicate
This article connects to the theme of last week’s post about questions. It covers a dinner event that serves thought-provoking queries with each course. Meg (my wife) is an excellent question asker. It’s one of her superpowers (next to making sourdough).  At several dinners this week she’s offered questions to the group, not unlike those referenced in the article. The conversations that followed were thoughtful and dynamic. I learned a lot more about the people we were with because of the questions.*

*The questions were "what does your ideal day look like in five years?" and "tell a story about a time a stranger has done something kind for you." Kudos to Sam Wilder for inspiring the first question and Miriam Hodesh the second.

Why I Keep A Diary and Notebook Turducken
Two helpful posts by Austin Kleon on how he reflects on his days. I was motivated by both of these so much that I went on a Moleskine Hunt through downtown Cincinnati.

Kudos to Nick Bartelme, Megan Trischler, Jocelyn Glei for article recommendations. 

DJ Trischler
What Is Your Quest?
 Thursday morning woods walk turned  wet walk.

Thursday morning woods walk turned wet walk.


I continue to linger on the contrast between learning and problem-solving (see last weeks post and Hurry Slowly Ep. 17). There’s less fear and anxiety when equipped with a lens of learning. A kind of childlike naivety opens the mind to different ideas. Problem-solving, on the other hand, implies stress, which can close the door to original pathways.

Good questions are an excellent vehicle for learning. Richard Saul Wurman speaks to that with an interview with Debbie Millman (see link below). He elevates the word “quest," which I appreciate. A quest is a long, arduous search for something (Google's definition). I'm starting to understand that we're all on our journey or quest. What is your quest? There's no better place to look than at the questions we ask others and ourselves every day.

How do I dodge complacency and recognize and reframe my deep-seated biases? That appears to be a quest of mine. At least that's the theme I draw from the links below. That, and initial preparations for my fall UCD course at DAAP. Eek! August will be here in no time. 



Richard Saul Wurman Interview With Debbie Millman 
Debbie Millman does a good job interviewing Richard. The most compelling segment is toward the end when Debbie goes off script and asks Richard what he wants to talk about. Richard doesn't want to answer Debbie's initial round of questions regarding his past. Richard prefers to talk about the future. What leads me to question the tendency to ask older or successful people to recount their experiences as if they’ve completed their journey? What if instead of asking about the past, we talked about what’s now or what’s next? I tested my new theory on a friend who’s thirty-years older than me. Like Debbie, I dwelled on his past. I caught myself and asked him what’s next? It led to one of the most intimate conversations I’ve had all week.

Everything Easy is Hard Again by Frank Chimero 
Every so often I feel the pressure to learn how to code. While there’s been plenty of false starts, I’ve never made a genuine commitment to the cause. Frank’s perspective, from someone who does code, is encouraging. It’s impossible to keep up with the web, and perhaps the old, slow solutions are enough. I doubt I will leap into code. However, I do hope to find a reliable dev. partner in Cincinnati or beyond. I’m continually receiving requests for web design projects, and I don’t think that trend will fade anytime soon. Reach out if you’re interested or have any tips.

Design Discourse Is In A State Of Arrested Development 
Are we (designers) adding value? What happens when we start to ask that question of our work and others’?: “Our tendency is to focus on techniques and tools and to ignore the deeper questions. And it’s not just that we’re unwilling to examine our failures; we’re just as likely to focus only on the superficial aspects of our successes, too.”

As a design student, how do I deal with my professors teaching outdated tools and methods?
“Use this opportunity to ‘learn how to learn,’ and use resources outside of school to teach yourself the latest tools and techniques. That curiosity and drive to learn on your own will serve you well in a design career.” I found this advice likewise helpful for the professor when it seems impossible to keep up with ever constant change. A focus on the foundations and teaching the students how to learn gives them timeless gifts that they will use beyond the classroom and throughout their careers. 

A Helpful Diagram (for design students)
"Venn and The Art of Being a Design Student."

The Silent Rise of The Female-Driven Economy
“Put very simply, most of the structures, design, technology, and products we interact with are designed with male as the default.” How myopic. It’s time to start asking who will be alienated by what we design?

The Side Effects of the Decline of Men
Instead of learning to code (see Chimero notes above), perhaps it’s more important than ever to build an emotional IQ?: “The researchers suggest the scientific evidence shows that women have on average stronger skills in empathy, communication, emotion recognition and verbal expression, and corporate America is valuing those qualities all the more.”

Kudos to ChrisKathryn, and Meg for link suggestions.


Curiosity Didn't Kill The Cat
 Mandy Smith in the Oratory at Grailville on Monday.

Mandy Smith in the Oratory at Grailville on Monday.


This week I was confronted with how much I don't know— and it's not the first time this has happened. A feeling of weakness usually follows. To avoid that feeling I try to do and learn things to compensate for my sense of inadequacy. And that's never enough. 

But in a moment of clarity, I realized that there's a better perspective; an option that's less confrontational and more hopeful.

The less I know, the more curious I can be. 

Consider the example of a conversation. With a perspective of abundant curiosity, I am more likely to listen and ask questions. Alternatively, with an attitude of scarcity (or overconfidence), I’ll either become reticent or overcompensate by sharing information and giving advice that’s not valuable to the listener (or me).

Through these thoughts, I’ve had the realization that the world doesn’t need another white male with all of the answers. What’s more valuable is someone who’s curious and humbly accepts their limitations. That's my intention as I continue to write this blog.

You may be wondering what killed the cat?

Maybe it's overconfidence, not curiosity, that killed the cat.

Most of the links below reflect my curious intention for the week. It’s odd how when you think of a word it often shows up in elsewhere. For instance, The CreativeMornings global theme for February is curiosity. Don’t forget to sign up for the Cincinnati event this coming Monday. Tickets go fast.



A Morning With Mr. Schickel
Here’s an artist who wasn’t confined to his medium and let his curiosity transport him from the design of stained glass windows to building church structures that supported those first visual portals. 

Josh Clark, The Era of the Algorithm, CreativeMornings|NYC
Josh shares how machines have an overconfidence issue, which is often a reflection of their creators. He suggests that as designers we become more mindful of the self-importance we project into the tech we create. He calls for “systems that are smart enough to know that they’re not smart enough.”  

Hurry Slowly, Episode 017: Bill Duggan You Can’t Rush Aha Moments
I like the idea that we can only create out of what’s in our memory. Instead of laboring to force a solution, perhaps it’s best to step back and learn. Become curious. It reminds me of a line from Pachinko: 

“’Just study,” Hansu has said. ‘Learn everything. Fill your mind with knowledge—it’s the only kind of power no one can take from you.” Hansu never told him to study, but rather to learn, and it occurred to Not that there was a marked difference. Learning was like playing, not labor.” 

How Jason Kottke is thinking about at 20
Chris introduced me to It's one of the longest-running blogs on the Internet. I go there pretty much daily and find many delightful and thought-provoking perceptions. Reading this interview makes me wish I were involved in the internet’s early days.* At least I get still get to enjoy the curious mind of Jason Kottke and all that he generously shares each day.

*I'd like to write about this more.

Marionettes episode of 'The Crown'
Easily my favorite episode of The Crown so far. It portrays how to be genuinely useful in protest. In this case, it came down to humility and deep respect for the crown. For more on this type of protest, check out the Generous Orthodoxy episode of Malcolm Gladwell's Revisionist History podcast.

Buddhist monks on the value of video games
I’ve quoted this article a dozen times this week. For me, it’s a reminder to forget the carrot at the end of the stick. Be present at the moment whether that’s a video game or meditation session. 

The advantages of organizing knowledge in terms of country and place 
I wish I had a physical space where I could hold clippings and curiosities in designated spots. For now, I have Moleskines, Evernote, Dropbox, and this blog. 

Fine Amnesty Day 
I owe the Cincinnati Library $1.20. Not for long. Thanks to sharing Meg. 


Kudos to Tyler, Chris, Jocelyn, Meg, and Mandy on tips on this weeks links.