From the Journal
The first post – after a break – is always the hardest. The rhythm of writing, interrupted, is hard to re-ignite. A day becomes a week; a week becomes a month; and soon the months are stretching out ahead of you….
Before you know it the habit has been broken and it becomes easier to bury the thought (“I need to write!”) at the back of your mind, suffocating it hurriedly whenever it surfaces for air. Silence is easy, and soon it becomes second nature.
Life often interrupts.
Due to unforeseen circumstances – life, interrupting – I’m three months behind. June, July and August. Gone.
This post, short as it is, has been a struggle to write. It’s hard to start again, but it’s necessary. Take it one step at a time.
In May I hoped to have a PDF of ‘Start!’ for beyond tellerrand. I didn’t. I promised too much and delivered too little. I broke a golden rule that I always stress to my students: under-promise and over-deliver. When you make promises you can’t keep, you deliver on one promise and one alone: added stress.
I’m back in the saddle, I’m working on ‘Start!’ again, but I’m not making promises. I’m proud of the book and it will be published soon. I’m looking forward to sharing it and I’m hard at work on it.
Generous to a fault, the fine folks at FontShop are offering eight different families of Adrian Frutiger’s beautifully designed typefaces for a mere £50. (You read that right: £50.)
Until 26 May, 2016 FontShop have priced The Adrian Frutiger Collection, thirty fonts by the renowned type designer, at a price that can only be described as a steal. Get £680 of typefaces – timeless classics including Neue Frutiger, Avenir Next and Univers Next – for just £50.
It’s an offer you won’t want to miss. Go!
Earlier this week I finished the final round of edits for the first of my Tiny Books, Start! Stop Procrastinating and Pursue Your Passion. Working with my editor, Owen Gregory, the book has been considerably refined and all that remains now is to format it.
Kai Brach, Offscreen magazine’s publisher, has very kindly written a foreword for the book, which I’m looking forward to sharing very shortly. I’ve always admired Brach’s work on Offscreen magazine and I’m delighted that he enthusiastically agreed to write a foreword.
With the edits complete, all that remains is the small task of creating PDF, ePub and Kindle files to get it into readers’ hands.
Did I say small task?
Of course the task is considerably larger than I’d anticipated and is by no means small.
One of the many benefits of working with Emma Boulton and her wonderful team at Five Simple Steps (and the other publishers I’ve worked with) was that all of this complexity was handled – as if by magic – in the background.
Looking back this was so much easier. When the manuscript was completed, your job was – for the most part – over and the publisher took the baton and finished everything.
When you’re the author, designer and publisher, all of this becomes your responsibility. Breaking the task down there’s a lot of complexity: three different versions (PDF, ePub and Kindle); a distribution channel to get the book into readers’ hands (Shopify, in my case); writing and formatting launch emails… the list goes on and on.
Don’t get me wrong, I love a challenge and wrestling with InDesign to ensure the typography is beautiful and considered is, for a typographer, a pleasure. As far as creating the ePub and Kindle files goes, well… that’s another small task that I’m approaching with trepidation.
I’ll get there, eventually, and I hope to have a PDF – at the very least – finished for beyond tellerrand, where I’m the opening speaker. A few late nights and a lot of hard work and, fingers crossed, I’ll get there. As my editor expressed it: Toi, toi, toi!
Ever helpful, the team at Intercom have launched their fourth book, Intercom on Jobs-to-be-Done. Better still, it’s free, or – should you prefer – available for a small donation to Code2040.
As the team summarise: “Great products start with real problems.” Start with real problems and design solutions to those problems and you’ll find yourself building better products.
Drawing together the lessons the Intercom team have learned over the lifetime of their product the book offers tried and tested advice on how to approach your business, its growth and innovation.
As Rocket Insights’ Joshua Porter puts it:
This book helps you look at the whole product picture from the point of view of your customers. For anybody looking for a powerful framework to guide your product building, this is it.
I’d encourage you to get a copy, it’s lovingly designed, beautifully illustrated and filled with great advice.
Words are a powerful – if often overlooked – form of communication. Understanding language, and being able to wrestle it into shape, can potentially make all the difference to the stories you tell and will certainly improve your capabilities as a designer.
I love this short, but incredibly potent passage by Gary Provost, in 100 Ways to Improve Your Writing:
This sentence has five words. Here are five more words. Five word sentences are fine. But several together are monotonous. Listen to what is happening. The writing is getting boring. The sound of it drones. It’s like a stuck record. The ear demands some variety.
Now listen. I vary the sentence length, and I create music. Music. The writing sings. It has a pleasant rhythm, a lilt, a harmony. I use short sentences. And I use sentences of medium length. And sometimes, when I am certain the reader is rested, I will engage him with a sentence of considerable length, a sentence that burns with energy and builds with all the impetus of a crescendo, the roll of the drums, the crash of the cymbals – sounds that say listen to this, it is important.
So write with a combination of short, medium, and long sentences. Create a sound that pleases the reader’s ear. Don’t just write words. Write music.
If you’ve ever found yourself doubting words, read this. It sings.
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.
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!
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.
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.
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 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.
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.