Archive for the ‘Thoughts’ Category

Things I’m excited about for WMC Fest 2k14

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.

weaponsofmasscreation (Illustration by Mary Kate McDevitt)

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.

On Financial Habits

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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.)

Inspire Vs. Influence

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.

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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. :-)

Quora, Ann Friedman, Swiss Miss, The Hairpin, The Kid Should See This, io9, Erin Kissane, the Fox is Black, Diana Kimball, Jonathan Safran Foer, Jonah Lehrer, Radiolab, Lindy West, George Saunders, LA Times, this article on Wikipedia. And of course, Youtube and Vimeo.

The content is re-published from my Apple store talk last week.

On Listening

“I believe equality will be won with thousands of small, quiet gestures…Every time someone, male or female, steps up and declares that they’re taking action, the more likely it is that these gestures will happen when they need to.”

This is an excerpt from nickd’s blog on the choices he’s made to promote diversity and gender balance in his life and career. It’s an excellent list; if you need any ideas, please start there. Aside from that, I want to supplement his post with a couple of additional requests of my own. And while there are plenty of big ticket feminist issues that deserve every ounce of discussion and support they can get, today I want to focus on making little changes in our daily lives too.

Here’s a scenario that happens frequently at social events. I’m there happily shooting the breeze with an acquaintance of some kind – let’s call him guy #1. Suddenly, guy #2 comes up to say hello to guy #1, perhaps cutting me off in the middle of a sentence. And then the two of them start talking together, as if I weren’t a part of the original conversation. Guy #1 doesn’t introduce me, and I’m left awkwardly half in the conversation, half removed from it. This is irritating, but what’s even worse is what often happens after this.

Depending on how much I like either one of these guys, I will make attempts to insert myself back into the discussion. However, this sometimes doesn’t work: my comments or questions are simply ignored or diverted. This behavior is reductive and has the affect of making a person feel invisible. No good outcome comes from this, typically I decide neither guy has manners and I walk away, and our relationship remains tenuous.

The most memorable example of this happened last year while Chad & I went on a weekend jaunt up to Milwaukee to see art and take a break from Chicago. We went to an apartment gallery, American Fantasy Classics, which was more apartment than gallery; maybe 10 people were there. Chad knew a guy who had artwork up, and they eagerly began talking about running art spaces. This guy knew of the Post Family, and started peppering Chad with questions. At this point I’m wandering around solo, trying to make sense of the most arresting piece of artwork in the show. It was a cartoonish and grotesque sculpture of a horse made of collected bits of trash and fabric, complete with a creepy and glittering oversized penis. I didn’t realize it at the time, but the sculpture’s overt statement was a preview of the macho behavior I was about to encounter.

I made my way back to Chad, curious to hear more about the space and its baffling artwork. Introductions are made, and the conversation carries on – only I’m not part of it. I try multiple times to insert myself, offering insightful and relevant things to the conversation. I’m met with blank stare and diversion, followed by, “So, Chad, what about…?” Chad, thankfully, sees me getting frustrated and makes a point to explain why I know what I’m talking about. I kid you not, this guy did a double take. In this moment I transformed into a real person with valid thoughts and feelings.

It’s not right that it takes Chad – or anyone – to speak up on my behalf in order to be taken seriously. I am not a unicorn. I am a person, and I’m good enough on my own. You just have to talk with me, not at me, hear my words and respond in kind.

Even though this is a small request, my hope is that it catalyzes more listening, without complaint. So often when I see anyone making a stand for better treatment of women and minorities, there’s at least one guy bemoaning the request or making attempts to justify or defend the boorish behavior. I am so done with that response. It only makes things worse – it’s so much better to accept it with a smile, and offer an earnest apology so we can both move on. We can even still be friends; in fact, I will respect you that much more for handling the foible with grace.

This isn’t just my own perspective either. In Mychal Denzel Smith’s recent piece White People Have to Give Up Racism, on The Nation, he makes a similar argument with regard to African American culture. Among many great points, he implores white people to improve their listening skills. How? One way is to seek out more diverse media, but another is to simply hear what’s already being said around you. Chances are excellent that we’ve been talking this whole time, but you just had us on another channel.