Previous month:
December 2008
Next month:
February 2009

11 posts from January 2009

The Road Less Driven

Hit the Brakes

"The most important thing is to be able to enjoy your life without being fooled by things."
--Shunryu Suzuki

This morning I was crossing the intersection of Denny and Broad, and the truck heading towards me wouldn't stop. It wasn't until my eyes met the driver's gaze that he hit the brakes. Otherwise, he would have mowed me down.

Catching my breath, I couldn't shake from my mind the following thought: He wasn't even there until he saw me.

Just as when I'm in a meeting, or talking with a friend, or driving myself to work, or reading my news feed on Facebook, my mind regularly wanders off on a tangent, taking my everyday awareness with it. It's like my head is just a balloon tethered to my body by a thin red ribbon. When this happens, I lose the ability to understand what people really mean when they want to communicate with me.

This is very problematic, since some of the most important traits of a designer -- and by extension, a human being -- are as follows: to listen, to accept, and to understand.

You listen attentively because you don't know all the answers. As we get older, we increasingly understand how little we have a capacity to know.

You accept what you are being told because it's another person's point of view, no matter whether you agree with it or not.

You understand the essential feelings that your clients need you to express at a fundamental human level. This happens on a plane beyond language, and we attempt to distill those feelings through our practice into tangible things. And we can never afford to be fooled by them. You are not your work.

Continue reading "The Road Less Driven" »

What Are You Waiting For?

Getting Real

The next big client isn't knocking on your door. You are.

I haven't seen many companies barging around, waving fat wads of cash to create the next big whatever. That is, not without major strings attached. Until the next wave of savvy clients arrive, you should consider using the power of design to make something better. Anything, really. Use your powers to design something useful for you, and by extension, the world.

Continue reading "What Are You Waiting For?" »

Quick and Dirty Usability Testing

Destroy All

His eyes were dancing over the functional prototype on a 17" monitor. Tiny furrows were raising up on his brow. He was biting his lip so hard, he almost drew blood. Safely behind the glass, protected from the fury of his white-hot gaze, we could practically feel the heat emanating from his sandy brown hair.

Clearly, the interface wasn't faring so well.

Continue reading "Quick and Dirty Usability Testing" »

Collaborative Design Practices: Making the Design

How to scare your Creative Director

If you're just starting out as designer -- or looking to grow into a job at a studio or an in-house creative department -- a new set of posts on the blog may be helpful for you. This set of three posts is about how designers work best when allied with copywriters, art directors, creative directors, and any other kind of person that'll be part of the creative process. I also dust off the Self-Critique Checklist that I included here about a year ago.

Get started with Collaborative Making, Part 1: Workflow on the 80 Works for Designers blog.

The End of Finality

Really Done

Preparing comps with Letraset and rubylith. Shooting the pasted-up layouts on the stat camera. God, some days I really miss you.

A month ago, my band decided to break up. I was tasked with making the poster for our final gig. As we played through songs at practice, I couldn't get a feeling out of my body: the idea that as this band would be no more -- torn asunder, in a sense -- the poster would need to be made of torn type and imagery, which I would then photograph and throw out. The act of performing music, the making of the poster, and the end of the band would be one and the same in the design.

Of course, the final design didn't express all of those qualities -- that would be impossible. But the act of making the poster, layer by layer, was cathartic. Especially because in the end, I was my own client and could do away with the materials as I so chose, without fear.

And my bandmates thought the poster was good. Except, of course, they wanted to know if I could make a revision and remove the words "final show" from the poster. Which, of course, was impossible. I would need to create an entirely new poster to accommodate the change. A serious lack of foresight on my part, not assembling the work within the computer to allow change.

Or, if looked at in another way, I had chosen that working process in order to (subconsciously) avoid change entirely.

Continue reading "The End of Finality" »

Spotted in Seattle: DC Web Stencil Kit

DC Web Stencil Kit

My friends over at Design Commission sent me one of these Web stencil kits for the holidays this year, and I'm totally hooked. You can now buy one of your own through their Web site for $19.95 + tax/shipping, which gets you a stencil, a pad of grid paper, and a mechanical pencil.

I'm looking forward to seeing what these guys are going to make for next Christmas. Perhaps an IA stencil?

Collaborative Design Practices: Concepting

creative idea, inspires process of making, requiring tools of application, results in finished artifact

There's an unusual sort of friction that occurs when you go from a personal design practice -- which is usually fostered through design school assignments, individual studio practice, and 1:1 client engagements -- to a collaborative practice at a design firm or agency. And when that friction occurs, the various tasks that you carry out to ideate and create a designed artifact gets questioned at a fundamental level. You find little bits and pieces of methods that further aid your practice, and help you work more closely with wildly disparate talent. At the same time, that friction can help uncover some fundamental working methods and processes that were forged in school, but aren't entirely useful when thrown into, say, working at Hornall Anderson.

This is one of the reasons why certain designers, when faced with a very large creative team with a certain level of expertise, often freeze. I did, as a tactic of self-preservation for my working process at my first "big agency". It took a very wise art director to pull me aside and basically tell me that I needed to learn how to work with people, not at them through my designerly tendencies. Of course, his criticism sunk in much deeper because I'd just barked at an account manager about how there was no reason to change the paragraph rag on page four...

This is the first part of my attempt at a practical, as opposed to theoretical, consideration of how we can tease out the nuance in our collaborative design practices. Understanding how we function best in team environments is critical when you're under extraordinary deadlines -- which is more common than any of us in the working world of design would care to admit.

If you're a design student or just starting out in the industry, this series of posts may be very helpful for you. They're expanded from a mini-lecture I gave last week.

Go on to Collaborative Concepting, Part 1: Overview + Project Inputs on the 80 Works for Designers blog.

The Eight Archetypes of Art Directors


After you've worked in a lot of creative shops, things start to blend together: hectic days, never-ending meetings, major deadlines looming like fiery blimps on the horizon just threatening to crash down and raze whole townships.

And then there's the art directors. At my first few agency jobs, I just couldn't figure out where they were coming from. Add more "air" to my layouts -- did you mean leading, sir? Shall we spend yet another hour pondering the esoteric quality of the letter "b" in a serif or sans serif typeface for that identity? Every new job seemed to bring a new personality to the table. I would need to learn to take feedback from them in a constructive manner.

I feel like I've been doing this long enough that I'm finally starting to recognize the various hats that we may wear throughout each day. (Some more so than others.)

Designers, do you recognize any of these characters as your boss? Art directors, did I miss any of our ilk?

Continue reading "The Eight Archetypes of Art Directors" »

Multifont Buckle by Steel Toe Studios

Multifont Buckle from Steel Toe Studios

All you letterpress fanatics, beware: Steel Toe Studios, a design and metalsmithing company in Seattle, recently came out with a hand-forged belt buckle cast in a pattern to mimic metal type.

You can buy it through the studio's Etsy store or direct from the studio, where you can use a mini-Flash app to select buckle types and belt sizes. You also get the choice of purchasing a belt made from recycled bicycle tire tubes to match! (The belts are made by the local firm Alchemy Goods, who continues to find new uses for old rubber, vinyl advertisements, and other leavings.)

Major props to my coworker Carrie Byrne, who spotted the studio, purchased one of the belts, wore it in to work, and ended up easily convincing me into buying one of my own!

[Edit 01/08/09: The belt buckle isn't made from metal type; it is cast from a pattern formed from metal type. No lead for you. :) ]

Creative Brief... Could You Be More Specific?

Half Truth

A few weeks ago, I wrote about clearly setting a mark with new clients. I see now, in hindsight, that I should have been even more specific.

The devil just isn't in the details. The devil is the detail.

The best creative briefs are narrow. Scarily so. They make clients sweat a bit under their collar, because we're pinning them to one extraordinarily specific business strategy. No wiggle room! 

And if the strategy turns out to be misinformed, you and the client will pay for it as the project plays out. Always. If you have a well-crafted brief with a very specific key insight, there's no going back without it costing the client, both in terms of money (change order) and time (the amount of labor necessary to reconcept work). If an assumed strategy changes mid-stream, they will always end up bearing increased risk. 

So let's keep the brief loose. A broadly written brief provides just enough space to let you keep working through the strategy in the creative without having to pay for it. After all, you just didn't hit it with the third round of concepts...

Now, that's the pessimist's view. I think that most clients don't consciously steer us towards strategic thinking in the creative work. They just want great creative that meets their business goals, and they look to us to help craft a brief that's going to fulfill those goals in a timely fashion. But it's a shared responsibility, not just ours or theirs. And these kinds of situations usually occur over and over again because the client, the designer, or both parties just don't know any better. And the briefs, lacking in specific detail, are what get you every time.

Here's a few hard-won tips that will help you increase specificity in your creative briefs, and reduce your overall project risk.

Continue reading "Creative Brief... Could You Be More Specific?" »

80 Works for Designers: Book, Class, and Launch of

Here's a quick update of what's going on with 80 Works for Designers...

The Book. I've signed up with HOW Design Press to write a book for working designers! The book will be based off the 80 Works classes I'm teaching these next few quarters. You can get the full story here.

The Class. The first 80 Works for Designers class starts this Thursday, and there's still space for one or two more designers. Read details about the class here and contact me at dksherwin at if you'd like to participate. Work on certain exercises in the class will be considered for inclusion on and in the book.

The Blog. There's now an 80 Works blog that will let you follow along with the class week by week. You can read it at and watch how things develop! I'll also frequently post questions for discussion and class exercises for the community to take part in, as well as calls for submission for contributing to the book.

To keep ChangeOrder's focus on business and design process, I will only include news about 80 Works for Designers here as stubs, while will contain frequent postings about the class and the book.

Thanks to everyone who's helped support this idea since the very beginning... it's turning into quite a journey!