Tiny Books

Short, sharp books for creative entrepreneurs that explore the design of business and the business of design.

Available in PDF, ePub and Kindle formats.

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From the Journal

  • A Tonne of Gold

    A Tonne of Gold [Detail]

    Much has been made of Apple’s ability to innovate, compete – and even matter – in an era characterised, inevitably, by a CEO other than Steve Jobs at the helm.

    Every other week it seems we hear another story about how the company has lost its way, is drifting or – worse – is facing impending collapse due to a lack of innovation.

    As an Apple shareholder I have a number of concerns about the product decisions the company is making (more on that, in due course), but I have no doubt about the company’s ability to innovate, compete and matter.

    Of course, Apple – under Tim Cook’s guidance – has different priorities. Anyone who’s worked in a company of any reasonable size will understand that when the leadership changes, the priorities change and the direction of travel alters.

    Perhaps the problem with Apple – one of the world’s largest companies – lies in the fact that the focus of the world is on the bottom line (of profit), when it should be on the bottom line (full stop).

    If there’s one thing Tim Cook’s era – so far – has underlined, it’s that Apple has a responsibility beyond the bottom line in pure cash terms; rather the company has a responsibility, as one of the world’s largest companies, to set an example for others.

    Cook is, unquestionably, leading by example here, with Apple’s focus on environmental and other, non-product, concerns.

    Sustainability is hardly eye-catching when your focus is solely on profit and loss, and yet – if you put your mind to it – sustainability might just be all about profit and loss.

    Apple’s latest environmental report provides detailed information about the company’s efforts to put the environment front and centre and, thanks to the company’s scale, this effort is more than paying off.

    As Tech Insider put it:

    Apple found $40 million in gold from used phones and computers last year.

    When the average smartphone uses fewer than 30 milligrams of gold, mostly in circuit boards and other internal components, recouping tonnes of gold is no small order. This gold could end up in landfill, carelessly discarded, but when a company the size of Apple addresses the issue – and innovates around it – it becomes a sizeable source of revenue.

    Of course there are other notable by-products of this approach, namely a company acting as a beacon signalling the importance of environmental responsibility to others.

    This focus also helps to tell an important story, that – when a product has reached the end of its useful life – that useful life is, in fact, only beginning. That a company of Apple’s scale is focusing on telling this story is admirable.

    Yes, there might be issues with some of the product decisions the company is making, but that doesn’t mean the company isn’t innovating elsewhere and telling a captivating story in the process.

  • Future Steps

    The Craft of Words [Detail]

    A week ago Five Simple Steps sadly called it a day and closed down.

    With that closure a great deal of knowledge – around designing, and building, for the web – disappeared. As a Five Simple Steps author I was, understandably, disappointed.

    Thankfully, a number of Five Simple Steps authors have pooled their resources to make their books available via Future Simple Steps. If you’re looking for something from the Five Simple Steps library, the chances are that Future Simple Steps has you covered. I’d encourage you to take a look, there are some fantastic books on offer.

    I’m happy to say that my two-part volume, on ‘The Craft of Words’, is now available via Gumroad, where it’s on offer as a discounted bundle. If you’re a designer working on the web (or even a designer working off the web) the chances are that words are a part of your design vocabulary. As I put it in the books:

    Look carefully and you’ll notice that many of the most successful designs are built around words. Apple tantalises us with the ability to hold, “thousands of songs in your pocket.” MailChimp has created a wonderfully engaging brand, heavily focused around language.

    Almost every interaction you make – whether online or offline – involves words. Words can help, words can hinder. As a designer you owe it to yourself, and your clients, to learn about the power of words.

    For a limited time, use the offer code ‘language’ for an additional 20% discount and get two books for less than the price of a pint. A bargain!

  • Italics Examined

    Requiem Ligatures [Detail]

    In addition to creating painstakingly designed typefaces, Hoefler & Co. focus – helpfully – on telling the story behind typefaces and typography. Their latest post, Italics Examined, explores a dozen italics delving into their cultural contexts, historical backgrounds, and practical applications. It’s well worth a read.

  • Defined Constraints

    MMcN TwoPoint [Detail]

    MuirMcNeil’s flexible identity for TypeCon2016 is typically systematic, modular and rigorous. As the TypeCon team put it:

    MuirMcNeil constructed a systematic visual hierarchy that operates across all graphic components. The entire system is based on an extensive set of custom parametric typefaces and corresponding background panels, utilizing black and PMS 802C neon green.

    The result is, quite literally, striking. Built around MuirMcNeil’s modular type system, MMcN TwoPoint, the end product is a playful typographic identity with literally thousands of potential configurations. Lovely.

  • Limited

    WAP390 [Detail]

    Released to coincide with Record Store Day, Warp Records have announced a limited edition 12” featuring Mark Pritchard, Bibio and Clark. The design revisits Warp’s acclaimed purple series: vinyl, minimal and iconic.

  • Small Is Beautiful

    Small Is Beautiful [Detail]

    Small Is Beautiful looks interesting. An annual conference and a celebration of the world of creative micro-businesses, it promises to, “bring together some of the world’s leading thinkers on solopreneurship.”

    In Edinburgh this June, tickets are available from just £99.

  • Talent In, Talent Out

    Talent In, Talent Out [Detail]

    Countering Donald Trump’s assertion: “Always be around unsuccessful people, because everyone will respect you.” Austin Kleon states: “Stand next to the talent.” As Kleon puts it:

    You’re only going to be as good as the people you surround yourself with.

    It might be difficult, at first, but the best way to grow is to surround yourself with talented people. As I put it to my students: “Talent in, talent out.” The best way to grow, regardless of your discipline, is to surround yourself with others that are talented – preferably more talented – than you are.

    Aligning with other talented people encourages you to develop your practice, rise to the challenge and improve.

    Of course this isn’t easy – it’s much easier to enjoy the limelight around others you deem less talented – but when you’re moving in the shadows there’s little incentive to move towards the light.

    The best way to grow? Find other that are brighter than you. Work with them. Learn from them. When you do so, you’ll find your talent – and, by extension, your success – grows as a result.

  • The Ache of Not Owning

    Music by the Numbers [Detail]

    I’ve always enjoyed music and, as the owner of an independent record label – in the days when CDs were one of the primary means of distribution – I’ve purchased a great deal of music in my time. My music collection is, as a happy by-product, extensive.

    As the world of music moved on, from one characterised by ownership to one characterised by borrowing or ‘renting’, I regretted the evolution from physical to digital. I missed the days when music was given meaning by the quest to own a particular release, pinpointed, hunted down carefully and – ultimately – owned.

    Adrian Shaughnessy’s Music by the Numbers, unsurprisingly, resonated with me and, if you’re involved in the world of music, it’s well worth a read. (Even if you’re not musically inclined, it has lessons to offer.)

    Shaughnessy recalls a time when his, “Inability to buy [certain records] turned them into objects of mythic unattainability – jewels that could only be enjoyed by reading about them.”

    That memory echoed my own, when I would yearn for certain releases, only available physically, often far from reach.

    As Shaughnessy puts it:

    I have floor-to-ceiling shelves packed with CDs.

    But today these trophies of my musical infatuation lie untouched, forming a sort of silent mausoleum to my long-standing obsession with music of all kinds. And as they slowly acquire the dull patina of neglect, my musical needs are served by the new online streaming services that offer a cosmos of music in exchange for the physical expenditure of a few keystrokes, and a small monthly fee.

    In that accessibility, available at a few keystrokes – the promise of a near infinite supply of… almost everything – something is lost, however. The ‘collection’ is replaced by the ‘everything’, and in the ‘everything’, we find ourselves owning ‘nothing’.

    As we move towards a digital culture, where everything is within our digital grasp, infinitely reproducible, we are in danger of losing what attracted us in the first place, namely, the unattainable.

    Algorithmic recommendations surprise us – pleasantly, of course – but an algorithm is no substitute for a friend’s heartfelt assertion: “You must get this!”

    What can we learn from this?

    We might have moved from a world of atoms to bits (as Nicholas Negroponte predicted in his excellent, and still relevant, book Being Digital), but – in that journey – we’ve lost something important. As humans we yearn to own objects, objects that we can identify with, as such it’s no surprise to see the rise of physical ownership re-asserting itself.

    We might be living in an increasingly digital world, but – contrary to popular opinion – the analogue age hasn’t passed. The yearn to hold something in your hands, something physical, remains.

    Your products might be digital, but that doesn’t mean you can’t consider the tangible when you create your touchpoints. Ask yourself: What physical counterparts might you offer that align with your digital catalogue? Make these. Share these. Your audience will thank you for it.

  • Defy Conventions

    BUY TICKETS [Detail]

    If you’re free from 18-19 August, 2016, I can think of no better place to be than in Berlin at HybridConf. The team unveiled a new web site today, and it’s lovely.

    Tickets are on sale now, including an opportunity to ‘Pay It Forward’, offering a little support to those that are under-represented or otherwise might not be able to attend (a nice touch).

    I had the honour of speaking at HybridConf, Dublin in 2016 and I can assure you that Zach, Laura and the team put on a great show.

  • Beyond Tellerrand

    beyond tellerrand [Detail]

    I’m delighted to announce that I’ll be the opening speaker at beyond tellerrand in Düsseldorf, in May.

    I have the greatest respect for Marc Thiele, the conference’s organiser, and I was honoured when he invited me to be a part of this year’s Düsseldorf lineup, alongside some wonderful speakers. (The moment Thiele asked me, I cleared my calendar.)

    I’ll be speaking on the topic of Time + Creativity, exploring how time and creativity are bound together. As I put it on the conference web site:

    Time and creativity are inextricably intertwined. The more time you make available to ‘prime the brain’, the greater the range of potential creative outcomes you’ll be sure to enjoy.

    In short, time and creativity go hand-in-hand.

    In my talk, I’ll explore strategies for maximising the time you have available to improve your creativity, by: embracing planned procrastination; shaving yaks; and allowing yourself the luxury of working on ‘distractions’, when you should really be focused on the task at hand. (Those ‘distractions’ are, of course, critical to your future creative success.)

    I’ll explore strategies that can double or even triple your time, if you just let your hair down and let go a little. True to my – procrastinating – word, I’ll be working on my talk, right up until the moment I go on stage.

    I very much hope to see you there and if you’re attending please do introduce yourself and say, “Hello!”

  • Live

    The Tiny Books Universe [Detail]

    It might have taken longer (much longer) than I had anticipated – and there’s a lesson to be learned there, of course – but, after three months of toiling away behind the scenes, I’m delighted to announce that the Tiny Books site is now live.

    I’ve been working under the radar, hidden in plain view, for the last three months developing the site and gathering helpful feedback, and today – 1 April, 2016; April Fools’ Day – I’m delighted to announce that the Tiny Books site is now, finally, live.

    I’m grateful to everyone that has helped me to get to this point. In particular, I’d like to thank: Jordan Moore, for helping me build the final site, ensuring it’s fit for purpose; Vic Bell, for developing a brand, that I love; and, finally, Cara Murphy – my wife – for cracking the whip and keeping me focused, as Tiny Books’ Project Manager.

    On 1 January, 2016 I wrote a short post – Start! – acknowledging the fact that I’d promised progress, but delivered very little. As I put it then:

    I made promises too soon. I didn’t deliver. Lesson learned.

    I’ve learned a lot of lessons along the way, not least the need to be a little more realistic in my timelines.

    I’m working on Tiny Books on top of: my teaching at the Belfast School of Art; my work as a design consultant; my writing elsewhere; and my speaking engagements… all of which inform my thinking. There are only so many hours in the day, and it’s been a hard lesson to learn that I can only do so much in the time I have available.

    I’m delighted, however, to finally share some of what I’ve been working on, and I’m looking forward to sharing more of my thinking – here – from now on.

    My first book, Start!, is currently in the final editing phase. A final draft is written – Hurrah! – and I’m currently working through the edits with my editor, Owen Gregory.

    I’ll be writing here, at the Tiny Books Journal, as I work on completing it, the first book of many I have planned. I’ve missed writing and sharing my thinking since I called it a day at The Standardistas – almost three years ago – and I’m looking forward to having a home for my thoughts, once again.

    If you’re RSS inclined, the site has a feed. Alternatively you might like to sign up for the newsletter, to be notified when books are published. Lastly, you might like to follow me on Twitter, where I’ll be sharing links I think readers will find useful.

    I’m looking forward to embarking on this journey, and I hope you’ll join me for the ride.

  • Swiss in CSS

    Swiss in CSS [Detail]

    A homage to the International Style, Swiss in CSS celebrates the simplicity and elegance of the Swiss designers that pioneered the typographic style that shaped much of the twentieth century’s minimal and focused graphic design.

    Jon Yablonski, a frontend designer focused on creating compelling digital experiences, recreates the work of – amongst others – Josef Müller-Brockmann, Armin Hofmann and Hans Neuburg, capturing the spirit of the age perfectly.

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