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.

Apple Store Talk + Newsletter



Hi! So as of a week or so ago, this place looks different. This is the first in series of upgrades I will be rolling out over the next few months (next up, responsive and retina support). Along with the obvious design upgrades and updated information for now, one notable change is that I’m starting a newsletter! Mostly because I think it will be a really great way to engage with people in a more meaningful way isn’t happening with most blogs these days. My aim is to send you a note every couple of weeks with green thoughts, and links to other’s content that’s grabbed me for whatever reason. Of course, there’ll be the usual new-y bits too. So excited about this medium though, when done right, I’ve noticed actual anticipation for the right emails. Which is far and beyond those spammy, tired promo emails we’ve all come to hate at one time or another, even if they were appreciated at first.

Sign-up here!
(or scroll down to the footer, if you prefer).

Also, for the locals, just a reminder that I’m doing a talk at the Michigan Ave Apple Store on Tuesday! 7 o’clock. Since this is a casual event, open and free to all, and will have plenty of non-graphic designers in proximity, I’m going to be taking a more general approach with my words. Through a series of short films, I want to talk about what makes things influential, and the different ways to make and create more influence in your own projects. Also, who doesn’t love a free picture show on the big screen? Roll out the red carpet, and byo popocorn. Apple’s not allowed to offer these things, unfortunately, but we can pretend. Hope to see you there!


On Usage Terms


So a few of you know that I’ve got a Skillshare class on contract writing for creatives. It’s a short series of lectures the ins-and-outs on contracts, writing a scope of work, and what’s most helpful in these documents. Recently I’ve been getting more questions on usage terms and I wan’t to define them here for anyone who isn’t already in my class. Terms you say? Yes, ze legalese. Jargon. Let’s dig in. Afterwards, there is a spelling bee. (Not really.) But, if you want to learn more, then sign up for my Skillshare class! On discount, even! 30 coupons available for 50% off. Limited availability, so get on it STAT. Code is: MONEY.

Moral rights:
The ability to have rights to your work in the manner you choose. Comes from the Visual Rights Act (1990) that states you can claim authorship, prevents the use of someone else’s name on your work, right to prevent your name being on works of yours that have been modified in a way you don’t like, right to prevent anything that would prejudice your name/reputation, right to prevent derivative works.

Derivative work:
Anything that is a rip-off of your work. What constitutes a derivative work varies by situation, what sort of rights and terms are applied to the usage license of the work in question, and by country. Wikipedia actually has a great explanation of what constitutes a derivative work.

First rights:
This a general term for the most commonly used form of rights. When someone is referring to “rights” it is shorthand for first rights. However, “first” means that it’s the first time it has been published. Be careful of the distinction if you are a photographer, illustrator, or a writer and ever want to sell that piece of work elsewhere in the future.

One-time rights:
Good for writers, photographers, and illustrators. Means the person gets to use your work just one time. A non-exclusive, one time right would mean you can sell rights of the image to multiple magazines at one time, for example (ie- it is “not exclusive” to that magazine). Be mindful of competing companies, a news outlet would not love having the same front page image or story as someone else.

Second rights
= aka reprint rights. A book could have different rights on a re-printed edition. Also, if the work has already been licensed to someone else, then you must disclose this to the client/potential buyer. Typically 2nd rights pieces are sold for less because they’ve already been “used” one or more times. Often original publisher will also want to be credited as well.

Electronic rights:
If you’re ever making work for an electronic medium, make sure to specify the what type of electronic medium the work will be, or can be, used in. App, ePub, website, etc. A one-time non-exclusive internet use, would mean then that your article can be published once on that website, only on that website, and you retain the rights to sell that work to another source if you want.

All rights
= you can never sell that piece again, though you do keep your ownership of it. This is a more expensive type of rights use, so charge accordingly.

Work for hire
Muy importante!! If you are signing a contract with a work for hire mention, it means you’re signing away all rights AND copyright to your work. They don’t have to include your name at all in the final product. They get to edit, alter, reprint, resell your material. Be aware that you could be liable for copyright infringement if you publish another piece that too closely resembles your own “work for hire” piece. Sometimes these also come with non-disclosure or non-compete agreements. Typically design firms contracts have of these things if you are working onsite with them, but increasingly magazines and other publishers are including it as well. Know what you’re signing up for and take it case by case.

This is also called buyout or full buy out = same thing as selling “all rights”.

Force Majeure:
Latin for “superior force”. Protects both you and the client from being liable if a big events like cancer, death, accident, war, earthquakes, etc happens. Something that is out of your control and may infringe on either party’s ability to turn the work around.

And there you have it! Now go forth and make that cheese. Don’t forget the discount code is: MONEY as in, make some, for yo self.

– Margot