Saturday, April 29, 2006

Inspired by Steve Jobs and Apple Computer

Last year Steve Jobs gave a thoughtful commencement address at Stanford University. I highly recommend that you read it:
Steve Jobs Stanford Commencement Address
In addition to being a college dropout, he's been fired from the company he started, and been diagnosed with cancer. In spite of that he says:
"Again, you can't connect the dots looking forward; you can only connect them looking backwards. So you have to trust that the dots will somehow connect in your future. You have to trust in something — your gut, destiny, life, karma, whatever. This approach has never let me down, and it has made all the difference in my life."
How long ago do you think that he started the strategy that has resulted in the iPod, iTunes and now the Intel-based Macs? (A brilliant strategy. How long before corporations see the value of moving to the Macintosh platform?)

He's proved that a company doesn't have to be the size or scope of Microsoft, as long as it's focused and creates products that are preferred by its customers.

And although he's surrounded himself with product designers and those capable of executing the vision he has set forth, it's largely in part to him that Apple has enjoyed this success. He is the quintessential entrepreneur and business leader.

Truly remarkable. Thanks Steve!

Wednesday, April 26, 2006

A day in the life of a designer

5:30 AM – Awake, hit sleep button twice (10 minute intervals) despite daily resolution to get out of bed when alarm first goes off. Entrepreneurs are supposed to have drive and boundless energy.

6:20 AM – Downstairs. Read Romans 4, NLT.

6:30 AM – Son comes downstairs, asks if I can get a kickstand for his bike.

7:20 AM – Leave for client meeting, drive 35 mph in rush-hour traffic for 10 miles or so. What are these people doing?

8:30 AM – Client meeting regarding web renovation project. Find bug while demoing web software. Argh.

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9:30 AM – Leave for office, see bike store. Go for coffee, wait for 30 minutes until store opens. Call new client and manage projects via cell phone.

10:00 AM – Bike store opens, buy kickstand.

11:00 AM – Arrive back at office, after picking up donated items for Second Harvest Food Bank of North Central Ohio silent auction event.

11:15 - 1:00 PM – Debug web site, work in Windows (urgh), quote projects, catch up on projects in house

1:00 PM – Lunch with staff

1:30 PM – Back to desk. On phone until 3 pm. Write copy for project until 4 pm.

4:00 PM – Last minute phone call. 5 minute exit meeting with staff.

4:15 PM – Son arrives at office after drum lesson, to be taken to baseball practice.

5:00 PM – Baseball practice. Manager is out of town, I pretend to know what I am doing and run practice.

6:30 PM – Practice ends. Go home and catch up with family.

7:30 PM – Help son install kickstand.

9:00 PM – Time to work on new font release. Parker Funky has been in the works for at least 5 years. Where does the time go?

10:00 PM – Time to sleep. Wash, rinse, repeat.


Saturday, April 15, 2006

reflecting on my paper clip collection

Open your desk drawer, and most likely you have a collection of paper clips – those you bought and the paper clips you pull off of the papers that come into your office every day.

Frank McClung at BLANK has a thoughtful blog about paper clips and the symbolism that has become associated with them, and it reminded me that I have a paper clip collection.

That is, I thought I had a paper clip collection. What I really have is a motley assortment of paper clips folded up in a piece of paper, since I seem to have a peculiar fascination with this twisted piece of wire. My assortment includes an Ezeon Paper Clip (lower left), a Nifty (upper left), and various size classic GEM paper clips.

What fascinates me about paper clips is that they are an innovation our of the industrial revolution – when it became possible to bend wire using machinery in a cost-effective manner:
Why weren't bent-wire paper clips marketed earlier? According to Petroski, "Steel wire was still new in the second half of the nineteenth century....[T]he widespread manufacture and use of the paper clip had to await not only the availability of the right wire but also the existence of machinery capable of tirelessly and reliably bending it in a flash into things that could be bought for pennies a box." (Henry Petroski, "From Pins to Paper Clips," The Evolution of Useful Things, Vintage, New York, 1992, p. 60)
One of may favorite chairs (another peculiar fascination) is the Wassily Chair designed by Marcel Bruer. The tubular metal steel became affordable to manufacture, and the design is symbolic of this period of modernist design in furniture and architecture.

We attach our own symbolism to the simplest of things too: consider how a piece of pink ribbon or a yellow wristband have come to symbolize cancer awareness. This symbolism is most powerful when it has a cultural awareness associated with it – the greater the number of individuals who are familiar with the symbol and its association, the more effective the symbol.

To me, the Wassily chair represents a powerful era in design, but to my friends who see it, it represents a very uncomfortable-looking sitting machine.

To a designer, creating symbols requires that we have a broad view of culture and/or our audience, an understanding of what will communicate with them most effectively. We also need to use visual symbols that are all part of our common visual vocabulary (not a new idea... Paul Rand has much to say on this in Design, Form, and Chaos). Otherwise, we have to impart the implied symbolism to the symbol, and that happens over time (such as with the examples above).

A simplified explanation of how symbols work? Yes, but I have to keep looking for the rest of my paper clip collection.

I know it's here somewhere.

Saturday, April 08, 2006

Tangential thinking from a designer's perspective

It's been two weeks now since my last blog due to a much-needed vacation.

So, here's what's caught my eye in the meantime:

Blogs / web sites:

I've been reading the classic book, Positioning, by Ries and Trout. Next on the list are First, Break All the Rules: What the World's Greatest Managers Do Differently, and The World Is Flat: A Brief History of the Twenty-first Century.