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7 posts from May 2009

Do or Die? Six Secrets for Managing Deadlines

Do or Die

The art director shut the door quietly behind me, waving me into a seat. Out the windows of his office, I could see snarls of traffic waiting at a traffic light. Rain sluiced off our building in rhythmic waves. The gray weather outside lulled me into a sense of serenity. I liked my new job and the people that worked there. This was my first big agency job, and so far everyone I'd met had been quite helpful. I didn't know what this meeting was about, but I assumed it regarded a new, exciting client engagement that I would soon tackle.

The first thing out of my boss's mouth?

"The most important rule here is that you don't miss a deadline."

Continue reading "Do or Die? Six Secrets for Managing Deadlines" »

The Top 5 Reasons Why Brainstorms Fail


1. It's not really a brainstorm. Instead, call these meetings "Idea Validation Sessions," where everyone has done their own brainstorming in advance. Now, they simply want to confirm with the group that their ideas are worth executing (or buff their ego). In the worst case scenario, these meetings serve as an opportunity for the top brass in your firm or client organization to show the power they hold over the flow of ideas. You can nip these faux brainstorm sessions in the bud by letting all meeting participants know that their seed ideas are merely a starting point for a much grander journey.

2. The meeting has no structure. Don't carry the illusion that brainstorm means lack of organization. "Let's just get together in a room and the magic will happen," has been the status quo at some agencies I've worked at, and that tack can misfire. Even if you're working with a team so long that you've developed some level of chemistry, consider providing a structure for each meeting. If you don't have an intent for your brainstorm at the outset, including the desired result, you have no way to fulfill your goals. With a group of free-form thinkers, this can become a problem pretty darn fast.

3. You didn't work from the brief. No surer words can raise my hackles than, "Let's just forget about the brief for a second..." I'm completely comfortable with going with gut intuition and throwing on the board any random thing that comes to mind—which is a big stretch for more linear thinkers—but in the end, it always comes back to the brief. If you're ignoring it, you need to ask yourself: Was it even correct in the first place? And why are you brainstorming when you need to go back and correct it?

4. You didn't travel far enough from the realm of logic. If you're free associating, start with close associations, then move your mind into places where there's no association whatsoever. If you're thinking about lunch, write up on the board what you want for lunch. You'll be surprised how those seemingly mundane details become luminous when associated with potential concept directions.

5. There was too much bounce back and forth between free thinking and critique. The brain isn't a light switch you can just toggle back and forth mercilessly between the left and right hemispheres—but if we treat it as such, we subconsciously expect to stay logical and never submerge ourselves fully in more free-form and nonlinear thought. This is a shame, because subconscious and latent thought are what provide the real "meat" in a brainstorm. You can start out with logic when the brainstorm kicks off, but you should try to preserve a suspension of logic through the midpoint of your brainstorm. And the right place for critique is always at the end of a brainstorm, not during it.

On Design Research and Buddhism

Kyoto | Girls at Taito World

I often think about analogues between design research and Buddhism. Not in a practical way—if there is such a thing—but more in a sense of how the process of design attempts to bring a brief moment of permanence to an idea in an ever-fluctuating world. The more meaningful an idea, the more likely it will gain root in the rich soil of our minds.

Ideas are the leavings of an insight—a deeply rooted and observed human truth. Without an insight, good ideas are mere flower petals scattered across the road and apt to float off in a stiff breeze. Beautiful to admire, but no more meaningful than wallpaper.

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Smart Design Starts and Ends with Optimism


Optimism is a misunderstood force.

People may delight in such entertainments as the FAIL Blog and the Darwin Awards, but all too often, we are doing so only because the problems in our lives pale by comparison.

This kind of relativism doesn't quite do the trick when it comes to solving problems. We're in pain. We tackle these problems alone, or with a dash of input from our friends. Through much personal struggle, we emerge from these encounters with a dash of wisdom—where we're "on the upside." We most often keep these kernels to ourselves, and share them sparingly in the digital world.

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Thinking Beyond Design Thinking


How have design thinking and design aesthetics become such strange befellows?

These past few weeks, I've been meditating on the following quote by Charles Olson regarding the two critical human inputs into a powerfully charged poem:

the HEAD, by the way of the EAR, to the SYLLABLE
the HEART, by way of the BREATH, to the LINE

In Olson's quote, he's referring to his theory of organic poetics, which is a type of poetry that derives its power from closely mimicking the ebb and flow of thought as opposed to falling into the lockstep cadence and strictures of versification, meter, rhyme, and other European contrivances. As a result of this alignment of the head and the heart beyond intellectual constructs, the art that you experience through the eye and the ear inspires direct transmission of experience.

Why is there not such a unity in how we talk about design? Perhaps because we still have no vocabulary around how to describe the most important result of the design process: the direct transmission of knowledge.

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Designer, Promote Thyself

Promote Thyself

Self-Promotion for Designers Now Lacking in Traditional Media; Blogger Makes Case for Teaching Designers Basic Format of Press Releases

Seattle, WA, Thursday, May 7--David Sherwin is admonishing working designers and agencies for not using press releases more often for both self-promotion and coverage of client projects. Even with full-time projects for designers in decline, there are still ways to reach outside the blog and speak to the press.

Traditional media opportunities are on the decline, but they are not out of the picture. "If you don't promote yourself now, when opportunities are slim, you will risk gaining the proper level of exposure when the market improves," Mr. Sherwin said to his empty living room after eating two bites of dark chocolate. "Even if you're a highly active blogger, it doesn't hurt to reach out through traditional media channels. It can aid your blogging and self-promotional efforts when applied effectively."

As part of Mr. Sherwin's ongoing PR education campaign, he outlined the following basic structure for a press release that any designer can use. Whether you've completed a small project, won an award, or have seen the impact of your efforts over time for a client initiative, the form of a press release is always accommodating.

A great press release will contain:

  • A headline and an optional subhead. Designers should seek a concise description of the angle you're taking for the overall press release, summarized in a strong headline. A subhead can be added as necessary to "unpack" the drama inherent in the headline.
  • The lede. The first paragraph of any press release must include the who, what, when, where, and why of your overall story. Ideally, the lede will be concise enough to be reprinted without any editorial effort on the part of a wire service, press outlet, or blogger.
  • Supporting context and quotes. The following paragraphs should provide the grounding for your lede, helping to deepen your argument and create a greater context for your story. Adding in quotes from yourself -- as much as it may hurt to put words in your own mouth in the third person -- is critical. The addition of client quotes is also a great idea, being mindful that you will need to likely write their quote and have them approve it.
  • If necessary, long-form data in bullet points. If you have a ton of information to cover, a bulleted list such as this one can provide the right format to showcase the depth of thought required behind a piece of work or an overall campaign. "Quotes can also be included in these data sections as well," said Mr. Sherwin, "which helps liven up lists."
  • The boilerplate. Every press release should conclude with boilerplate language, which is where you fully describe who you are, what you do, and how you can be contacted via the Web or phone.
  • Showing the work. If you're discussing a campaign or a creative product, consider including photographs within your release or providing links out to downloadable files that journalists and bloggers can reference.

"Closing your press release with an expert point of view can further aid your argument," said Paul Rand, who was contacted by the author via time machine. "But to remain completely professional, be sure that you get written consent from your contributors, unlike David, who decided to utilize my name in conjunction with this fabricated tripe."

About David: Ah, forget the boilerplate. The author of this release would like you be very aware of whom you contact with your press release. Many bloggers do not appreciate being emailed with press releases. Create a list of people whom you feel would appreciate being contacted by you, and then reach out them via email with your story. They will appreciate it, and be more likely to provide you with a PR opportunity.


Permission Granted: The Heuristics of Design Decisions


Clip out the above coupon, pin it to your corkboard, and fill it out and use it whenever you're struggling to commit to an idea that just feels right.

These past few weeks, a number of people have shared with me truly game-changing design ideas. Most of those people were on the fence regarding whether they should execute on them. There was a fear that their ideas needed to scrutinized more closely before they were made real.

In every single case, without reservation, I told them to go for it. Not just because I thought their ideas were great (though they all were). My actions were grounded in recent research into heuristics, and how they can apply to design thinking.

Continue reading "Permission Granted: The Heuristics of Design Decisions" »