Category Archives: Inspiration

Year One in Review

As of this writing, it’s the beginning of 2015, and while most of my blog readers tend to be spam bots looking to link bomb me or sell me drugs in the comments section, this last year has still proven to be a great time of learning. First of all, I’d like to review my goals for 2014:

  • One blog post every week.
  • Build a digital portfolio.
  • Style this blog.

Okay, so, really, none of my goals for 2014 were met. Whomp whomp. Why, you ask? Well, here’s the deal:

  1. I’ve actually written what amounts to a blog post every week, but most of them have not been, nor probably ever will be, published. I’ve had trouble figuring out exactly what I want this blog to be about. I think in the long run I want it to supplement my design business and interests, but is my audience other designers or is it potential clients? Or maybe it’s something else? I really need to figure that one out.
  2. The digital portfolio thing is a little harder to excuse. I have the work, I just need to take the time to post it. I did, however, start a Behance account and got on Dribbble, so that was nice!
  3. Styling this blog has really taken a backseat to the other work I’ve done this year, first my wife’s website, then a self-initiated web app and laying out a 300+ page book. I’ve drawn and redrawn sketches for the site itself, but I think I need to live in this blog a bit more to feel it out, not unlike breaking in a new pair of jeans.

What I did in 2014:

  • I started blogging. This was really really hard for me, simply because I don’t see myself as a blogging kind of guy. Maybe I am. I don’t know. But finding something worthwhile to say was difficult. There are tons of blogs out in the internets that are much more knowledgable than I am regarding pretty much everything I can blog about.
  • I redesigned my wife’s website responsively from the ground up. That was fun.
  • I built my first web app in AngularJS. That was not fun.
  • I promptly started learning Backbone.
  • I attended two conferences, Circles and Front Porch.
  • I earned 15,807 points and 221 badges on Treehouse.

What I want to do in 2015:

  • Digital portfolio. Seriously, this needs to get done. No excuses.
  • Complete some advanced Computer Science education.
  • Attend online classes for UX certification.
  • Attend the Squares conference and 3 Meetups.
  • Be more intentional with this blog, and that means posting maybe every 6 weeks, if I have some quality content, and focus more on personal experience. Maybe even do some JavaScript tutorials (I’m learning some cool stuff from the book Effective Javascript).
  • Take a break from Treehouse. With all of the extra stuff I’m working on, there’s not much time for Treehouse right now.

Just Make It Work

Since beginning a new web app project, I’ve learned a thing or two about product design. I wanted to take a few minutes to share one of the most important lessons I’ve learned: Just Make It Work.

You’ve been there. You have the best intentions to start a new project. Maybe it’s something that is a personal passion. Maybe it’s something that will make your life easier. Maybe it’s something that will get you recognition. Whatever it is, no matter your intentions, there’s always the danger of dropping the ball. I’m sad to admit this has more often than not been the case for myself.

This makes what just happened yesterday that much more exciting to me. I’ve finally finished the first working prototype of my app’s main email module. It’s great to say that. And yet, it’s certainly not what I envision for this product.

While exploring the product architecture of the app, I began to realize the full scope of what I wanted to build. I began to realize this was a much larger product than I initially predicted, and I froze. I couldn’t figure out what to work on first. Meanwhile, it was taking me fifteen minutes to put together a list I could’ve easily typed into the body of an email.

It was during my daily list-making that I got a revelation: build a prototype of the email module that just works. It would need to be something that could grab a JSON file, display it in the browser, allow me to perform CRUD operations on the data, and then save the new JSON file over the old one.

I didn’t worry about aesthetics. It’s not grotesque looking, but it certainly isn’t winning any beauty pageants. I didn’t worry about experience design. There are more rough than smooth edges in this prototype. What I focused on was the exact minimal requirements I needed. The result is a finished product that I can now use to inform the design of my final app.

If you feel like you’re stuck on a project, what’s the absolute bare minimum you need to meet your goal. Build that and use it as a starting place.

Notes from Circles 2014

What I got from the Circles conference:

Design Authenticity

  • Design should be authentic. Every piece of your design should have a purpose.
  • Start with meaning, What is this design supposed to do?; then and only then can you move on to aesthetics.
  • Whether it’s your company’s history, your portfolio, or even a design pitch, the ability to skillfully craft an authentic and compelling narrative is a crucial skill in today’s design industry.


  • If you’re looking for inspiration on a logo or design, start by researching the company’s/subject’s/message’s past. You’d be surprised what might turn up to inform the design.
  • Rephrase what’s being asked of you. Sometimes this helps get rid of self-imposed limitations.
  • Sometimes you need to forget about inspiration and just start.
  • Embrace the awkward first draft. The quicker you accept the awkwardness, the quicker you can move on to finishing and polishing it.

Good to know

  • As creatives, we all have fears and insecurities, no matter how “successful” we may be.
  • Saying no to others’ ideas of you, overcommitting and standing still can be the best thing for your creative career.
  • Three important traits of a designer: Humility, curiosity and willingness.
  • Learning is the only skill that will be relevant your entire life.
  • You have to respect the people you work with and have each other’s back.
  • I should always assume I’m dehydrated (thanks Jessica!).

Have a Purpose Bigger than Yourself

  • What you do is not as important as why you do it.
  • If you design just for the money, you will end up being sorely disappointed.
  • Look for ways to give back. Share resources and knowledge with the design community. Mentor someone. Give your services to a charity that you feel especially connected to.

If you didn’t get to go this year, you can still catch all the greatness on demand on the Circles website. And make sure you sign up for Circles 2015. It’s definitely something you have to experience live!

And Now for Something Different

It’s been a few months since I began pushing further into the world of designing for the screen, and I have thoroughly enjoyed the change of pace. One of the things I find the most fascinating is the ability to make my own tools. To clarify, building tools isn’t always necessary, but the experience gained in making them is priceless.

Currently, I’m working on an app for my day job. It’s basically a to-do list, but with a few modifications that tailor it specifically to my work environment. When it’s done, it will hopefully streamline the creation of my daily job progress report, nicknamed the Hotsheet. Basically, the Hotsheet is just an HTML email of work project tasks, when they’re due, as well as other bits of information that are important to the progress of a particular job.

The idea to build an app was born out of a persistent problem that bugged me. One day I was entering in project information and realized how much I was repeating myself. The project managers I work with print out production sheets that contain due dates for all major milestones of each project, and I found myself hand-keying each item into an email, finding the due date, and then manually updating the status (e.g., late, need item, etc.).

I’m a fairly careful person, but nobody’s perfect; I would forget to update tasks, projects were missed because they had been added after the latest production sheet, dates changed, etc. Coupled with an outdated and very WET system for tracking each individual project, this presented a great opportunity to simplify and automate.

I read this great 24 Ways article that inspired me to learn Ruby on Rails by digging deep into the trenches. So, that’s what I’m doing. When I’m done, I’ll hopefully have something of value that could possibly help out my print design compadres. Or, at the very least, I will have gained invaluable experience. I’ll keep this blog posted on my progress.

The Great Discontent Redesign

That other Ryan and Tina just rolled out a redesign of their excellent online interview mag The Great Discontent. I thought it’d be a good idea to break it down a little bit, especially since I’m still gathering inspiration for my FDGB redesign.

I think the biggest change on the website has to do with the IA. TGD’s almost three years old, and now that the site’s content needs are better defined, the structure has changed accordingly. Blog posts have now been broken out into a separate Blog page, and interviews can now be easily filtered on the Interviews (formally Archives) index through a more prominent tagging system. One of my favorite additions is the Recommended tag in the Interviews section. This really helps guide a new user through some of the best interviews TGD has to offer.

Typography has always been one of TGD’s design strengths. The main block copy and pull quotes are set in Leitura News, a smart serif face with editorial roots designed by Dino dos Santos, and the headers and various other pieces of micro copy are set in Maison Neue, a friendly contemporary sans-serif designed by Timo Gaessner. One nice detail about the layout is that FlowType.js is being implemented to ensure a comfortable line measure is always employed.

The layout, as before, is minimally elegant, but now reflects the new print magazine design, with Mondrian-esque thick black borders that section content and lead the eye. It manages to be at once both playful and poignant. The main hero block of every interview is still art-directed, and can now be either landscape or portrait, black-on-white or white-on-dark.

Overall, the redesign keeps everything that works about TGD while better defining its ancillary content and making once-buried-but-useful features more prominent. It even looks beautiful in the source code. TGD is a website I have constantly frequented in the past for inspiration, and this refresh will keep me coming back for the foreseeable future.

If you haven’t already, go and bookmark The Great Discontent, and start digging into its rich history of creative industry reviews.