Why hello there, first blog post of 2014! What have I been doing, besides not publishing stuff on the internet for 8 months? Aside from participating in a tech summit at the White House (yes, that White House) on the prevention of campus sexual assault, I’ve honestly been enjoying keeping a lower profile for awhile. Because it’s safe and easy and I’ve been able to maintain steady work without it. In reality, maintaining a business isn’t the same as growing it. And not making writing a priority is all excuses disguising a rip-roaring case of impostor syndrome. Am I over this? Am I cured? If not forever, at least for now being able to type these words indicates yes. And I have to thank WMC Fest as a major factor in this development.
Happening in precisely one month, in Cleveland, this’ll be my third consecutive year being involved in this event. The first time I went, I gave my first major public talk and to this day it’s still the best talk I’ve ever written and this post about it is still receiving regular traffic. Last year, going as an attendee was magical for other reasons, namely how awesome it is to be on the sidelines rooting for my creative friends on stage. I don’t think people give that support role enough credit. Without it there would be no festival to speak of. And this year, I’ll be on stage in a different capacity as co-host with my comrade Stewart Scott-Curran. We also curated the speaker line-up as well, which we’ve been planning since January. It’s been a pleasure and an honor to have this role. I can’t wait to see this all happen again IRL.
Here’s some specific things I’m excited for this year:
+ Beyond single speaker talks, we’ve put together two panel discussions and a formal debate. This’ll guarantee some legit Real Talk™ about the race, gender, and class issues in the creative/larger world. Our moderators are pros and will ensure the discourse is balanced and productive. They will give us all clear take aways to build more equality in our day to day lives.
+ I made a WMC inspired Spotify playlist! With songs that either talk about Ohio, the Midwest, or by groups who are from Ohio/Cleveland. There’s also a few songs from bands playing the festival this year, as well as some random summertime jams that are good for car trips and plane rides. Even if you can’t join us this year, you can enjoy this in spirit of the event!
+ Anna in the Raw vegan and vegetarian café is catering the festival. This’ll be a good balance with Happy Dog, another attendee favorite spot, which is just up the street from the venue, the Cleveland Public Theater. Not that their hot dogs (veggie or beef options) which come with a massive array of unexpected toppings and tots on tots on tots aren’t delicious. They are, and I can safely say would topple almost all of the dogs in Chicago (scandal, I know! Deal with it). However my belly appreciates some fresher food as well to, uh, keep things moving.
+ This is a given, but seeing old friends & colleagues from previous years, as well as meeting a slew of new folks. I haven’t subjected this to rigorous intellectual testing, but I’d wager WMC Fest has much a higher rate of return attendees over other similar design or creative conference which says a lot about the programming and the vibe. Events like this do something a little different for everyone, so it’s hard to define what the result will be for you. But, if my own experience is any indication, there will be cumulative results. Might be a bit of surprise what they are exactly, but regardless, they will be awesome.
+ Another difference is that all of the events are in one location, which makes for a more immersive experience than other conferences. Obviously, I’d love for the whole world to come to the talks and panels, but it’s fair if you want to check out the Rock ’N Roll Hall of Fame (recommend this, it’s insane!) or Great Lakes Brewing Co., or the charming Ohio City Farmer’s Market, get it done. There’s also locally owned coffee shop, Gypsy Beans, two doors to the left of the theater which’ll more than satisfy the joe fiends out there.
+ Check this twitter list for all WMC Fest speakers, panelists, musicians, comedians, and sponsors.
+ Hosting! A good host is like good design. If it’s well done, it works without calling attention to itself.
+ Also new this year: comedy! Sunday night’s a solid line-up curated by Cleveland Stand-Up Ramon Rivas.
+ Other things I’m hoping to squeeze in if I can: a visit to the historic Cleveland Public Library, which is across the street from the swanky Hyatt Regency which is also a historical landmark. Also: Cleveland’s Museum of Contemporary Art!! They are showing an exhibition on graphic design legend and one of my hugest design influences, Sister Corita Kent in August.
So, will I see you there? I sure hope so. And, even if you won’t be able to make it and you’re reading this anyway I’d be thrilled if you said so. Just knowing that this transmission has made its way through the internet tubez to a real person would make my day.
Last Saturday I spoke at Sketch Camp here in Chicago, which is a yearly event focused on…what else? Drawing. Well to be more specific, there were all sorts of workshops on the ways and reasons to draw. Once could practice still life drawing, storyboarding, rapid prototyping, wireframing techniques, and graphic facilitation – which is a fancy way of using drawing as a form of recording brainstorming session. It’s also known as taking sketch notes. My talk was about using free association drawing as a way to uncover your own ideas, because it’s really hard to storyboard or whatever if you don’t have an idea to draw in the first place. I did this because I’ve been wanting to find the time to draw more, to revisit what I learned in four years of art school, and to practice my speaking skills.
First we had to get past the fear of the blank paper, and how important (and hard!) it is to find a place to start. This is one of my favorite questions to ask creative people, in fact. For Kate Bingaman-Burt, it’s to draw something she bought that day. For Picasso it was the color blue. For a long time for me it was to doodle an ampersand or two. However simple or complex, it’s just a trigger for your hand and your brain, and once it’s practiced enough, an idea is sure to follow. It’s the same concept as the warm up exercises that dancers or athletes use and it works.
For the purposes of this class we made paper airplanes instead. The creases in the paper make a beautiful pattern, a landscape that maybe makes you use the paper in a way you’ve never considered before.
The next exercise in class was a game, what I’m calling “visual telephone”. One person starts by writing a short non-sensical sentence. They pass it to the next person, and person #2 has to draw that sentence. Then they fold the paper to hide the original sentence and pass to person #3. Person three writes a sentence based off the drawing, then passes along to the next person so they can draw the newest sentence, as so forth. Throughout the chain of people the original sentence invariably becomes mangled to hilarious result. What’s great about this is that it’s a window into other people’s thought process, as well as an ice breaker/team building exercise which are always useful with groups of people who don’t know each other.
And finally, we used Cards Against Humanity cards as drawing prompts. Although beforehand, I picked out the most offensive cards from the deck, because even though they are funny in the context of the game, I’m not willing to sanction drawing racist, violent, or sexual themes in a classroom setting. (Sorry, Max Temkin.) We spent the last 15 minutes or so of the hour long session free drawing from the selected cards and giggling over what everyone was drawing.
I definitely had a lot of fun teaching it, and several participants mentioned how much fun they had too which makes the whole thing worth it. I can’t speak for anyone else, but for me, attending this camp worked. I’m definitely way less scared of drawing than I was, even last week. I’ve been practicing different techniques (do you like my brushwork in the slides? Of course, I had to draw them all – it being Sketch Camp and all!) and while I’m not about to chuck my computer out the window and go full-analog, it’s been a goal for awhile to find as many opportunities to merge old and new school ways of making things.
Quick, someone else hire me for another drawing workshop so I don’t have anytime to get rusty! If you have any tricks that you use to keep your hands ready and your mind trained, please do let me know! I never tire of hearing how other people manage to solve this conundrum.
Why bother with any financial planning when you don’t have any funds to… plan? While this line of logic isn’t entirely sound, I understand it entirely. It’s easy to see how it becomes reality if someone is stuck in debt quicksand, or has negligible savings or an unsustainable income. Toss in a couple of kids, maybe an illness, or a layoff, and forget it. Exhaustion usually wins out at that point.
It’s a relatable fact of life for many. Education was the “way out” in our house, valued above any other type of investment. Because there was no other option. I listened and put myself through school, graduating with 60k in student loans. Then I moved to Chicago with two suitcases, and $500 dollars to my name. No job lined up, no parental safety net. I shared a lilliputian studio apartment with a friend, sleeping on the floor because there wasn’t a couch to make a bed. At one point around this time, someone gave me Suze Orman’s Money Book for the Young Fabulous and Broke, which I read but didn’t manage to retain a lot of it. The entry-level design job I’d found by that point was paying me $12/hr, so I glossed over the non-applicable sections on 401ks (ha), buying a car (as if) or a house (not a chance). Suze’s mask-like perma-grin and aggressively popped collars didn’t help either.
Later, I did manage to set up 401k at another design agency job that offered a more respectable benefits package. However, it was for precisely 6 months. 2008 happened and it seemed like half the city got laid off, taking me with, and launching me into this life I have now. 6 months wasn’t long enough for the company to match the savings, so the modest sum was dispatched back to me and I had to pay taxes on it as income. Less than a return on investment.
These days though, after 5 years of self-employment as Pitch Design Union, it’s way more complicated than I could have expected. Still, every year gets a little better. Experience is everything, as is a good accountant. I still have debt, but it’s in a manageable place. There’s still so much more I need to be doing though, and I’ve been looking for ways to speed up this process. Lo and behold, the internet in all it’s wide and baffling awesomeness has many answers. (Spoiler alert.) At this point one of the tools that’s helping the most is NPR’s Marketplace Money show. Hearing people call in with questions is great because it makes me think of what my questions are. There’s always something new to think about that never would have occurred to me alone.
When I feel like reading the Billfold is my next step followed by Mr. Money Moustache. The Billfold’s series “How Do Other People Do Money” is great. It’s tag is simply: DOING MONEY which makes me laugh because all-caps blundering is pretty much what it feels like. Mr.Money definitely seems cheesy at first, but I swallowed that reaction when I saw that this guy was able to save enough money to retire at 30. Yes, he is a lunatic financial magician, but clearly this is a person who knows a thing or two about improving saving habits. Still looking for more, always. The Design Sponge Biz Ladies column might have some ideas, but not in their recent posts nor the first few search results. And since it’s 1 am I’m not about to click through years of archives. I’ve also found a number of resources that have a distinct bro-y vibe, or sound like a used car salesman. It’s hard to trust what they have to say. Have you found anything good lately? Send ‘em my way & I will put them in my newsletter. (If you’re new here, you can sign up here.)
Has anyone ever asked “what inspires you?” It is a valid question, but I think it misses the mark a little. It implies that getting inspired is something that just happens, as if by chance. It’s fleeting and out of our control. I think “what influences you?” is a better, more empowering question. It means that we get to chose what filters and funnels into, and out of, our work. Influence is contagious; it has a lineage that can be traced. Viral, as it were. Good things go viral, but a lot of crap too. We all have positive and negative influences in life, and sometimes they are the same thing which is tricky. Consuming and enjoying content that has roots in negative places is perfectly fine, so long as we are critical and conscious of the negative aspects. I’m an ardent hip hop fan, even though there’s a lot of it that is gross, violent, misogynistic, vapid. There’s also a lot that’s not those things. It is even possible to like some of the iffy stuff and not be a bad person, especially if this fact is acknowledged and balanced somehow.
If you are searching for a way to grow your influence, then you must question what is currently influencing you, and shift your focus to target what’s most accessible and likely to influence a wider and more diverse group of people. We must all remember: reacting in a better way than our negative influences is the only way to ensure that what we make in response will have a better affect on others in turn.
One of the best times I learned this was last summer when I was working on a book with Jeanne Gang of Studio Gang Architects. The book featured a selection of Studio Gang’s projects and the kernels and idea seeds that sprouted them. One notable example is the Arcus Center for Social Justice Leadership at Kalamazoo College in Michigan. The design for the building is influences by this photo of the Arab Spring uprising in Cairo in 2011. This highly organized camp is what the protestors built together in order to promote their cause. It’s a perfect thing to influence a building of the same goal.
The façade of the building is made from cross-sections of tree trunks cemented together. The idea for this came from Obama’s inauguration in 2009. You can see the faces and diverse attendees in the crowd are echoed in the different colors and types of wood. To take it a step further, Studio Gang reversed-engineered the construction so it was carbon-neutral and highly insulating for the smallest environmental impact possible.
Compare this to a similar project from one of Jeanne’s contemporaries. Another world-renowned architect once made a book of his influences, a beautiful and expensively produced tome, with the side effect of revealing his love for trashy imagery that diminishes women. Quite the difference in influence, no?
So what else can good influence look like? Here’s some examples that the show influence in a variety of ways, all surprising & unique. Why did I pick videos to showcase this? Well, TV is most accessible type of culture these days, with the capability to affect a huge amount of people in moments. Also, there’s so SO much dumb/tacky/off-color/whatever TV, I wanted to curate some of the best. After watching hundreds of videos over the last few weeks, these are my favorites. I hope you enjoy.
[Full disclosure, the Apple one was included as a thank you to Apple for hosting me. And, if we have to watch a commercial at least it’s a good one, eh?]
Thanks for reading/watching! Want more? Sign yourself up for my newsletter, there’s plenty more I’m sharing there. Also, in the interest of transparency of what *my* influences are, here’s the places and people who helped shape this talk. No secrets or guilty pleasures here. :-)