1 November 2010
A color photograph of Little Italy, Manhattan ...
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And by extension, so can your business. At least they can, with the right mindset.

Yes, this requires some explanation.

Cities come in all shapes and sizes

I live in a relatively small city. Boston is 20th in the US. Neither huge nor piddly. But compared to New York, or Toronto, or London or other major players, it’s small. If you want something a bit “niche” in Boston — let’s use vegan restaurants as an example — you can look on Yelp or a specialized directory like Happy Cow and discover that there are very few choices (in this case, 2 for Boston proper, 4 more in nearby to not-so-nearby cities and 1 that’s a tea room in Cambridge). However, in a big city like New York, you’ll be wading through pages of Yelp or Happy Cow with listings for actual vegan restaurants in the actual city (52 on Happy Cow). Same thing with, say, Vietnamese restaurants, or non-chain fabric or art supply or book stores, or places to buy Hello Kitty stuff or high heel shoes in men’s sizes for drag queens.

In Boston, you feel like you can know, have eaten at, and have an opinion about all the vegan restaurants pretty easily. You can become expert on the drag queen shoe stores even more quickly. Then there’s nowhere else to go. In a big city like New York, you feel like you’d never be able to fully explore all the places that could serve you niche because there are so many — you can be very choosy. You can narrow down your micro-niche and become an expert there. You can patronize only the best of the best.

You can have faith that more will always pop up, too.

The blogosphere is just like New York

There is great abundance!

A lot of people are afraid to start a blog (or a business, or both) because they feel that what they have to offer already exists out there. They are wary of the competition, or even feel they pale in comparison to those in their space who’ve already made a name for themselves. That’s why this belief  in abundance is so powerful. There is room out there on the web for many many of us as content providers/bloggers/businesses and as consumers. To all practical extents and purposes, the number of citizens in the internet city is infinite. There’s more room on the internet for whatever your business is than there is for vegan restaurants in New York City. There are more micro-niches. There are more opportunities to be the best of the best.

There’s room for another blog on topic X, even if there are good ones out there. Your take on it is different, your style is different. You will appeal to different readers. Not all readers out there are already saturated with your topic. There are new people coming to it every day, with fresh eyes and eager to learn. Not everyone who’s been around the blog-block is enthralled with the choices they have thusfar — many are happy to check out something new. Especially if it’s better, or specifically better for them.

Don’t be intimidated, jump into the fray!

Prime real estate comes pretty cheap

While finding a space in a good location that you can bring up to code for a restaurant in NYC at a price you can afford can be a daunting prospect, internet space is democratizingly easy to come by. And ideas are free.

Of course, having people know about and come to your space is still an issue — which is where appropriate SEO and good marketing come in. But you can do that.

You still have to have the goods

When you’re limited, day-to-day, by geography, you have to work with what you’ve got available to you. Brick and mortar businesses with local clientele survive, thrive or die within the ecosystem in which they live. If you’re a new vegan restaurant in the Boston area, you’re probably going to do pretty well, even if you’re not the greatest — the ecosystem, with all its college students and liberal thinkers, is terribly under-served. But in New York, you’ll be made or broken by virtue of your merits, as there are a lot of choices in the ecosystem. The same is true in the blogosphere and online business world. You do have to be good to stand out. Your content has to be useful, your voice real and compelling.

Infinite Supply and Demand

Perhaps in the future, the online world will come to mirror today’s brick and mortar world more exactly, and there will be more limits, and less room for certain online endeavors. But these are still early, expanding-frontier days, and not all the gold has been panned out of the Californian rivers. You’re not going to “use up” your supply of potential readers/customers. New kids are moving in every day.

I say all this by way of inspiration, really. If you have an idea for a blog or online business, do it! These are the heady days of possibilities. There are no city limits.

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28 October 2010

Breakfast panel on blogging, inviteHey, at least I’m talking about it… even if I do a less than stellar job actually doing it regularly!

I’m speaking on a panel next week called “Smart Business Blogging: The Medium, The Message, The Method and the Bottom Line” being put on by Seltzer (a Boston-based design and branding firm I work with) and being held at Nexus (an educational and green-building/design exhibit space created by The Green Roundtable). Clare McDermott of SoloPortfolio and Aaron Desatnik of Nexus will round out the panel and Rochelle Seltzer of Seltzer will moderate. The talk is on blogging for business — should you or shouldn’t you? Why? How? What about ROI? What do you write about? How do you get readers? What about SEO? How does it fit into your marketing plan and your brand overall? All that good stuff and more — including a free-ranging Q&A with the panelists and audience.

Lots of networking tends to happen at the events in this series, before and after the panel talk. The audience is usually full of small and medium-sized business owners and marketing folks from a breadth of fields — from non-profits to professional services to arts to brick and mortar retail. The B2B and professional services realms seem to always have good representation.

Get more details and RSVP here.

PS: I know it is very early in the morning. But there will be coffee.

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18 October 2010

OK, I admit it. I kinda hate online video.

Not my streaming Netflix (hello iPhone in bed!) or Lynda.com or Nettuts+ patiently, pausably teaching me stuff with hands-on, screencast tutorials, — but blog posts, product or company information and “about me” stuff. I know it’s a controversial view. I know video is au currant and terribly hip, and colleagues and clients are asking me about “doing video” all the time with a “this is going to be cool!” gleam in their eyes. Furthermore, I can imagine that one feels pretty accomplished getting a digital video camera all hooked up and recording something and actually posting a video blog post. I know I would.

But here’s the thing. If people don’t have time to read on the web, which apparently they don’t, how the hell are they going to have time to sit through a video?

I know I really have trouble interrupting what I’m doing to pay attention to information being disseminated via time-based media in a way that is not an issue for the written word. With a blog post (or about page or product info), I can scan if I want, to the degree I want, or read carefully. I control my time-commitment. With video, I have to wait through it.

We know multitasking is not productive, or even good for your brain. So, ideally, if I’m to watch a video, I should be just watching the video. But, unlike an article, which I can take at my own pace, video egotistically demands that I sit through 1 minute 24 seconds or 5 minutes 3 seconds, or whatever it decides I should,  whether I like it or not.

Lacks bonus features, doesn’t play well with others

With written items online, I can cut and paste bits I want to reference later into Evernote or some other organized digital collecting depot. I can email specific bits to someone. I can click the links and follow up. With video, I have actually write or type notes real-time, perhaps pausing the video, perhaps scribbling furiously. If I want to share the info, I have to send a link to the video and tell someone to watch starting at a certain point in the timecode — knowing, full well, that they’ll have the same barriers to entry that I just experienced and probably won’t bother to play the thing at all.

Oprah sells transcripts for $25. As you’re (probably) not Oprah, think about offering free ones.

The first thing I do, habitually, when confronted with an online video is to check to see if there’s a transcript below it that I can read instead (like with the audio on the NPR website — thank you!). There almost never is. I suspect part of the appeal for people who create videos is not having to type up their thoughts. Though, I suspect they, at least, have some notes. It’s a bit of a pain to transcribe an extemporaneous talk word for word — but would you do it if it meant more people got your content, commented on your blog, liked your product, etc.? Might be worth it.

I believe that Amazon’s Mechanical Turk service can afford one some very cheap transcription services, as well. But I don’t know, for sure, because the “getting started” info was only in a video, and I didn’t want to interrupt my writing long enough to watch it. Might have read a quick blurb if there was one there, though.

I’m not saying give up your video if you really want to have it, just give your visitors some options.

On the horizon

Mozilla is pioneering very cool new technology for subtitling videos in a community-driven way. This has terrific potential — especially for localization and accessibility issues. A side-effect, however, is going to be video with transcripts. In your choice of languages, if someone’s contributed them. I like where this is going!

Not absolutism

Far be it for me, a visual designer, to absolutely decry the use of visuals! Video certainly has its place online — in didactic settings and for exhibiting time-based art (movies, tv, animation, science stuff, commercials that ad agencies think are cool enough to go viral on the web and sell more stuff, crap on YouTube) it’s perfect. It’s those talking-head videos (which offer little additional information by way of imagery) that I think we can usually do without. People are going to skip them. Or at least they’re going to put them in some background window while they start reading something else, or checking their email or Twittering or playing Bejeweled or designing an invitation or otherwise not giving you full attention.

So, think twice about what content you choose to present in video format. If it really does need to be time-based or is imparting extra information in the visuals that video provides, go for it — but consider offering a summary or transcript.

If you’re thinking, “but my business is all about me and my personality and people need to see me on video to know if they’ll like me”, I say, yes, perhaps. But your authentic tone and personality should come through in everything you put out there. Your writing, your marketing, your branding. People can get a good feel for “you” without the audition tape. Sure, go ahead and offer one if you like, but please make it a supplement, not a barrier.

Am I too curmudgeonly on this front?

Beyond the research about reading online and multitasking, this is all a bit anecdotal — from my own experience with, and reaction to, video. But I do think there’s truth to it. What do you think? Are you a rapt watcher of online video, or a skipper, like me? Should I stop complaining, press play and get with Web 2.0/3.0?

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13 October 2010

Kangaroo in the Library, polymer plate etching by Annie SmidtNo, this is not an impassioned plea to stop your consumerist ways and utilize our publicly-funded resources instead. Rather, I thought I’d point out that I added a page to the site here, called “library“.  It will grow as I find more good stuff, but I spewed out a bunch of mini-book-reports to begin.

I’m really grateful for all the ideas, inspirations, ass-kickin’s, confirmations, brain-fist-fights and comfort and joy I get from books, blogs and various other digital goodies — so it seemed apropos to share. (Damn, spellcheck, “à propos” is one English word now, really?!)

And, of course, there’s no time like the crispy days of autumn to curl up with a nice book, or a blog post on Instapaper. So, pull up an inglenook and enjoy.

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2 September 2010

Making Ideas Happen bookcoverLast time, I wrote about the idea of making ideas happen in reference to an art project I was working on — rather, am still working on. I stole the phrase from the title of Scott Belskey’s book that was, at the time, sitting in my bathroom, as yet unread. I’ve since read it, so, let me speak a little more knowledgeably.

Book report time!

This is one of those books that, I think, is going to come as a revelation to those who’ve not yet accepted the impending creative economy into their hearts as their one true saviour. It will come as a revelation to those who haven’t yet figured out that you actually have to be organized and creative to get anything done. (And I’m not saying the latter lesson isn’t a hard-won and life-long battle for many of us.) However, for many of us modern creative entrepreneur types Making Ideas Happen is preaching to the choir to some degree.

It’s got some good ideas, and some good stories, and distills a lot of the important nuggets from productivity gurus while eschewing the fussy details that make their methods too difficult in practice (David Allen, I am looking at you).

The two most memorable and, I think, lastingly useful things I take from this book are:

1 » You need a community to help make your ideas happen. The creative genius in isolation is a rarity or a myth. Community helps you refine your ideas, edit yourself, find partners and collaborators when appropriate and aids in launching your ideas when they’re ready to meet the world.

This is something I need to be reminded of constantly. So many of my ideas die on the vine, or on my whiteboard, because I don’t tell anyone about them. I don’t have any accountability and I don’t have any cheerleaders. Like many people, I avoid critiques for fear of hearing something less than glowing — when, in fact, it’s exactly that kind of “constructive criticism” that could make my ideas better and make me stronger as a creator. It’s a catch-22 in fact. We avoid community involvement with our ideas from lack of confidence, but we could gain so much more confidence by sharing our ideas with the community and reaping the benefits of support and collaboration.

Once Mr. Belsky pointed out this need for community in the ideas > happening process, it became so obvious, but I’d never thought about it in such a simple yet meaningful way before. When you stop and think about the people you know who are successful and productive, those genius people, you start to realize, they’re not working alone! They tend to have charisma, have people around them, have support and enthusiasm. They also have their critics — but they’re confident and supported enough to be ok with that. Ah. People. Networking. Community. It’s all becoming clear. Get out of the house more!

2 » Taking notes of everything said at meetings is stupid. You should just write down your action items, and do it with a sexy pen on sexy paper.

This, well, I was already doing that, and thinking there was something wrong with me. People around me seem to be always scribbling furiously while I just sit and make eye contact and listen carefully. I feel so much better about the whole thing now. (Though, as we all know, and have been taught by Mr. Fried, most meetings are a waste of time anyway.) If I may slip into regional dialect for a moment, the wicked cool thing about idea number two, is that Mr. Belsky’s company/organization Behance sells really designy notebooks for taking notes in his perscribed format, and you order by Pantone color.

So, yes, in summary, I do recommend Making Ideas Happen. A lot of it will seem old hat to a lot of people, but in a reinforcing and perhaps even inspiring way. Yes! Down with reactionary workflow! Yes! Down with worrying about things beyond one’s control! Yes! Down with interruptions! Yes to “just ship”! Yes to “respect-based self-marketing”! Pick it up when you’re feeling at a loss for what to do next, or how to prioritize or why nothing’s getting done. And do try to look past the poor cover design.

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25 June 2010

Making Ideas Happen bookcoverThis isn’t a review of Scott Belsky’s book Making Ideas Happen — because I’ve only read 4 pages of it so far. I’m going to read the other pages, I believe, it’s just that I haven’t yet. A few things have slowed my progress: the book is made out of paper — indeed, it’s a hardcover even. Thus, the book is not on my phone or my Kindle when I’m floating about looking to read a page or two. Also, said physical book has a dust jacket with weird, rough-feeling varnish, which kind of freaks me out and every time I pick it up, I spend some time thinking about this varnish choice. Finally, the cover uses the graphic trope of puzzle pieces in the jacket design, which I find shocking — for its designer to have even suggested something so hackneyed is shocking, but to have had it accepted by the multiple parties no doubt involved and have it go through all the way to production is just downright odd and disturbing. I thought we all had gotten over the puzzle pieces as the best visual metaphor ever thing a long time ago, like in the late 80s. But I digress. Actually, I haven’t even begun anything from which to digress.

In the few pages of the book that I have read, Mr. Belsky posits that lots of people, especially creative ones, have lots of ideas, but the problem is that people don’t follow through on these ideas. (Thus the book is about how to do so.) That sounds very right and true to me. Seth Godin talks about something similar all the time.

Today, this all happened in real life.

So, generally, I sit my office. I do my design stuff. Sometimes I have ideas, such as for art projects, or weird computer applications that have to do with poodles, or infographics or social movements, but usually I just sit in my office and keep doing my design stuff. Sometimes I write the ideas down on my whiteboard or one of many physical and electronic lists that swirl around me in billowing clouds.

Last year, I had this idea, to turn this historic tower in my town into a camera obscura. I don’t know where this idea came from exactly — a combination of wanting to do a community-centric art project, a love of building cameras, an appreciation of Abe Morell‘s and Jo Babcock‘s work, a general spirit of “hey, I should make some art!”.

This time, I actually acted on the idea, at least so far as applying for a grant to do the project from my local arts organization. I got the grant. And guess what! This means I have to Make the Idea Happen.

So, I’m doing this art event tomorrow. All week I’ve been emailing people I love and like but never bother to reach out to (because I’m reclusive-ish). Many have written back!

Today, I left my office and went to do some preparation. First I went to the Arts Council’s office to get a key to the building that will house my camera. In doing so, I went to a neighborhood of my town I’d never been in before, I found out about all these different city offices that are housed over there and I met someone new from the Arts Council. I already felt more civically engaged — and it was only 11 am.

Next, I went to the site where I’ll make the camera and set a few things up. While I was doing so, a bunch of people — from families to tourists to a group of developmentally disabled teens on a field trip — came up to me and asked questions about the historic building and what I was doing. I was able to let them see inside the usually locked structure, which made them really happy. All people I’d never talk to usually, especially if I stayed in my office. Chock up another few points for community engagement.

Then I went and walked around the neighborhood and put up some posters for the event. I talked to a man at the bus stop who was ranting about wanting 50¢ and giving people who wouldn’t give it to him a really hard time (I gave him 50¢ and he didn’t say thank you. Hmf!) I talked to a Haitian mum and her daughter at another bus stop. A sporty young woman walking by smiled at me as I sat on the grass playing with my masking tape. All of this does not happen on usual days. In the office.

And guess what! It was kind of energizing. Yeah, big deal, talking to a few random strangers, but the thing of actually DOING an art project, of engaging with the people in my neighborhood (sing to the tune of the Mr. Rodgers’ song) really, actually was  quite nice. I’m excited about tomorrow. If you’re reading this and in the area, come by! There’s more info about the project here.

OK, this is all very simple, even naïve, but I think I am starting to get it. Think I’ll make a point of making more ideas happen.

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22 June 2010
Heaps of beans
Image via Wikipedia

Don’t expect this post to have some clever point. It doesn’t. I just wanted to share some verbal curiosities.


Word: Leguminous
Citation: “My ideal is to always have the beans ready to pick shortly after the peas are finished, for a continuous leguminous harvest.”
Plentiful in legumes
Source: Farmer Dave in Farmer Dave’s Community Supported Agriculture Newsletter


Word: Understep (variant, Undertrod)
Citation: “Kitty Kitty sure likes to understep you when you give him food he doesn’t like.”
Meaning: To purposely get under foot, as in cats
Source: Me, discussing Kitty Kitty’s dislike of Peas with Salmon flavor food with my gentleman friend


Damn, I forget what #3 was, and it was good too. I’ll let you know if I remember.

Word: Disorienteering
Citation: “There should really be a word in English for when you go walking in the woods and you think you’re going to come out in a certain place, but in fact, you’ve circled back to where you started. Oh, that should be ‘disorienteering’”.
Meaning: See above
Source: Me again, talking to my gentleman friend on the phone, who was engaged in said activity in the wooded portion of an office park


Word: Grossfruit
Citation: “Gross grapefruit.  Grossfruit.”
Meaning: Um, a gross grapefruit.
Source: Elizabeth Gale (@drinkerthinker) on Twitter

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15 June 2010

It all began with Canada

Back when I lived in Canada, which was a really long time ago, in 1992 or 93 or something like that, I found out that at the liquor store, which is provincially run and called the LCBO, at least in Ontario — like in that Sloan song (listen below), where they say something about “on the way to the LC”, (though I never actually otherwise heard that expression the whole time I was in Canada, Sloan, with their earnestness and their pop song on the radio (this is before they became a 70s band with a light show) convinced me that somewhere in Canada, there were youth saying such things) — they had reusable bags for a loonie. And that was really cool. I’d never seen anything like that before. They were these fairly high-quality, reasonably attractive, eminently smooshable cloth bags, and they were only a dollar! I mean, think back to 1992 or 93, or whenever it was. You couldn’t buy a cheap bag. The weren’t on every corner as a readily-available impulse consumer item. You had to go to the bag store, and buy a bag. And it was probably going to say something dumb on it, too.

So, back when I used to go to the liquor store in Canada, which I did quite a bit, being, at that time, a avid consumer of martinis and other cocktails requiring mixing and a store of plentiful ingredients on hand, they had these bags. So, I picked up a few. The designs changed from time to time and I collected them all. Ok, like 3 of them.  And it was really great, because I could put my heavy liquor bottles in them and not have to deal with a breaking paper bag while walking home.

I still have the bags. And they’re still really handy. And I just used one at the grocery store and it was very convenient.

Nowadays, 18-some-odd years later (really?! It’s been that long? How the hell old am I?) even in many countries less progressive than Canada, such as the United States, you can get reusable bags pretty much everywhere. So, there’s really no reason to use plastic or paper bags that they give out at the store. In fact, some states, like California are attempting to make the regulations stricter — in San Francisco, Oakland and Malibu they already use only corn-plastic bags, which is a great step, although there’s some debate as to whether the corn-plastic material really biodegrades properly in typical compost settings. But that may be too serious a topic to discuss right now.

Eventually, and hopefully soon, the practice of giving out free paper and plastic bags at all stores will just go away. It will seem as archaic as, oh I don’t know, well, something really unreasonable. Something where people dig really far into the earth, make a big mess, ruin their surroundings, kill plants and animals, extract oil, make it into a cheap material, create billions of bags out of that material, give them out everywhere, constantly, to be used for about 1/2 an hour and then put into a pile of refuse somewhere to not rot for millions of years while further disturbing the plants and animals and looking awful. And so, you might as well get used to the bagless lifestyle now.

And when I say “bagless”, I don’t’ really mean “bagless” (nor do I mean “bagels” which spellcheck insists I do mean), I mean, bringing your own. I know it can be kind of a hassle to remember and to have bags on hand at all times — for example when you think you’re just going out for a walk but find you desperately need soy-pudding or something along those lines. Here’s how I manage to have bags on hand. And this took me a long to figure out.

How I handle this bag thing

First of all, I have several bags that smoosh up really tiny itty bitty. Most of them I got for free at conferences or trade show type places as schwag. One, that’s really great is is Baggu brand, and although I lost the little pouch thing it came in, though capacious when unfurled, it smooshes up pleasingly compactly and fits nicely into this tiny pocket of my purse-type-bag. (Check out their site… these things come in terrific colors, including stripey!) I almost always have that one with me, except when I forget to stuff it back in the purse-pocket after unloading it.

Then I have a couple other ones that I got recently at An Event Apart as an Aquent giveaway. They’re from Chico Bags and they’re they’re not as capacitous, but do come replete with a small carabener fold back into their own little integral pouch — and such things are always pleasing. Indeed, for a recent trip I purchased a Sea to Summit day bag which folds into its own pouch and is super lightweight and micro-tiny. It’s completely awesome. And, though he has thusfar restrained himself to just zip-off legs, my gentleman friend has talked, rapturously, for years, about the pants from REI (or is it EMS? Somehow, searching for “pants pouch” did not lead me to my expected results!) that fold into their own pouch. But I digress. I was going to say, these bags are great to clip on to one’s backpack or bag and to generally have on hand at all times — especially when traveling about the world by foot and public transport. And Chico Bags make a whole line of other things too… the Sling bag looks especially appealing to me. And they use recycled PET bottles to make their fabrics… that’s very cool.

The car trick

Then there’s the car. If you have a car. The trick here, I’ve discovered by trial and error, is to have a lot of bags. Especially if you have better things to do with your brain than remember to bring bags out to your car (or are flakey, or both). You need to have so many bags that even if you fill up a bunch of your car bags, and bring them in the house, and don’t remember to bring them back out, you still have more. My hatchback trunk area thing (boot, caboose, whatever you want to call it) is quite full with totebags of all shapes and sizes. I don’t even know how many. Zillions. Twenty. Twenty-five. And I cycle them in the house, out to the car. It’s handy to have them in the house too — because you can, you know, carry things places.

So what I do is: when I come into the house, I try to empty any bags that have come with me. Then I hang the empties on the front doorknob. This seriously irritates my gentleman friend, who does not like obstructions in doorways, but it does help me remember to take them back out to the car next time I go. So, that’s the secret. Once you hit this critical mass of bags, you always have one handy. And I’m not advocating buying bags all the time, or spending a lot. But, you get them for free places… people are always giving out totebags for this and that reason these days. Very trendy.

And, despite inflation elsewhere in the economy, you can still pick them up for a dollar at lots of places — when you do forget yours, until you reach that critical mass. That’s how I got a lot of mine, when I was always without a bag and had to punish myself in stores for forgetting them by buying more, rather than getting a free paper or plastic bag.

My campaign

So I was thinking of making some badges that say “bagless” (and by badges I mean buttons, pins, whatever) and starting a bit of campaign and to celebrate the whole not-asking-for-a-bag-at-the-store lifestyle — but I do think it might be kind of confusing. The whole having a bag that says “bagless” on it. Maybe that doesn’t make sense. Maybe I’ll just imagine making these badges for now. Ok, sounds good. That’s all.

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26 May 2010

I was talking to someone at lunch at An Event Apart yesterday. She, like most of the people there, is a web designer (and not a print designer). She was talking about the size of her apartment and how the living room sofa is her office. She said she has one drawer in the living room entertainment unit for her files.

I have an utterly overflowing 12×12-ish room for my office. Even though I’ve been going progressively more paperless over the past few years, storing stuff in the cloud or on my computer with programs like Evernote, Backpack, BidSketch and NeatWorks and scanning everything I possibly can with my Fuji ScanSnap — even forcing it to eat things like napkins with drawings and old passport books which don’t make it very happy at all, but do make me, with my mania for archiving, quite chuffed.

I have 2 monitors, one rather large, (well, not by today’s standards), as I’m often laying out items that are physically big enough that you can’t see them on the screen easily (a spread in an 11×17 book, for example) and that in a program like Adobe InDesign or Illustrator that have palettes upon palettes taking up screen real estate. This just doesn’t happen with web design… I never open any palettes in my code editor. I never design a web page that doesn’t fit on my screen.

But because I’m a print designer as well as a web designer, I have a lot of stuff. I have 6 Pantone chip books and 4 Toyo ones for showing clients different color swatches with various ink systems and methodologies. I have 3 shelves of paper swatch books (and I don’t even keep the printed sample pieces). I have books on technology, typography and books of royalty free art to scan, lots of old Emigre and RayGun magazines. And, taking up scads of room, I have printed samples from jobs I’ve done over the past 15 years. A few each of a zillion business cards and stationery systems and brochures and books and annual reports and this and that and this.

Then, of course, as well as the desk where my computer is, there’s a drafting table, for sketching and for making comps. Although one needs far far fewer mechanical supplies than one used to for print design, there are comp-making tools: black boards for mounting design options, glues, tapes, xact-o knives, and all sorts of different sizes and types of paper for the inkjet. I have drawing pens and pencils, various pads of design vellum for sketching. I have all my filled-up notebooks of work notes and sketches.

More and more often these days, I make electronic comps, and present things to clients with emails and PDFs and Basecamp, but certain presentations still demand the old school formality or exactitude of physical comps and designs pasted up on boards. I wonder if that will eventually fall away completely. I wonder if color management and monitor calibration will ever be simplified to the point of ubiquity.

I’m not even talking about all the art supplies and photography stuff I have because I also do that stuff. Or all the paper samples I’ve kept after not using them for projects because they’ll come in handy for art later. Or all the reference books about things tangential to design and technology.

There isn’t a whole lot of point to this article. I just thought it was interesting that a web designer can operate without a lot of trappings, whist a print designer is a bit beholden to their stuff. Certain things like color and paper texture cannot be experienced through the computer screen with any semblance of critical accuracy (yet)— so you have to have actual, analog samples on hand. My possible tendencies towards pack-ratting notwithstanding, it explains a bit about my non-minimalist office, and why, though I’ll wander off working with my laptop for days at a time, I always end up back here somehow.

Maybe life is simpler if you design only for the web. Certainly the folks at An Event Apart were very focused, and very knowledgeable about their craft. Maybe print is dying, like they say… certainly it’s a lot more dead than it was 15 years ago when I started as a designer (and worked on only print). And I’m not much one for advocating printing via traditional methods these days, with the toxicities and resource-wastefulness (there’s argument about resource usage in print vs. web, but I’ll not go there today). Nonetheless, there is something very pleasing about understanding the art and craft of all that analog printing technology (or its newer digital counterparts) and knowing the ins and outs of making physical things as well as virtual ones.

Every day, every year, I feel my one, cluttered foot in the past slowly pulling away, towards an all-digital world, or at least work world (my film cameras and my piano without a power cord are happily entrenched). I wonder about print, and print design. I’ll still be designing logos next year, for sure, but I wonder about the one-off brochure mock-ups to show clients the way the paper feels in the hand.

But, as I sit here copying 155GB of precious, laboriously scanned and retouched photographs from my backup drive to a new home (“about 8 hours”) on account of yet another traumatically failed hard disk, I’m going to guess it’s going to be a little while before I’m totally ready to let my paper samples hit the recycling bin.

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13 May 2010

I know Polaroid Week is over — it was last week — (and sorry, I’m not going to go ’round calling it “‘roid” week, as it’s apparently officially known, I’m all for neologisms and clever word-mutation, but that just smacks of “hemorrh…” to me),  but I wanted to post a few more bits and pieces.

During the aforementioned special week, I shot a roll of the mysterious TZ Artistic Fade to Black SX70 film (again in my Pronto! B — see the last entry about shooting PX100 Silver Shade in the same camera). Apparently this stuff is an “experimental material”, which may mean it’s an “experimental material” and may mean that it’s totally screwed up. Film stock functionality is in the eye of the beholder though, no? In the instructions for this film, it says that, after it pops out of the camera, you need to watch it carefully, and as soon as looks the way you’d like it to, color/exposure-wise, you need to make a very quick decision and open up the film and get the backing away from the front mylar (and thus stopping the development) or else it will, well, fade to black.

So, I set forth in the world armed with scissors, and proceeded to take shots and then rush my photographic patients into the ER for emergency surgery, covering myself, a café table, a park bench and god-knows-what else with caustic paste. (Much to my gentleman friend’s delight whilst we were eating our lunch.)

The first shot, outside, of a stone lion-type-animal went quite swimmingly (more swimmingly, even, than it appears on the web — thanks color profiles). The colors looked lovely in a weird cross-processy way, a few minutes after exposure, and I carefully removed the backing part way and set the photo standing on its side (with the front and back not touching each other). I left it thus through lunch, and after reassembled it by taping the back back to the front, on the back (yay, confusing sentences!) with some masking tape I also had on hand.

I tried some shots in the café, which was somewhat dim, and managed to get 1 out of 3 to expose in an even quasi-reasonable way. This, I would imagine, was my fault, not the film’s — I was fussing with the light/dark dial and not being very clever. The shot that came out was of another lion, this time a carved wooden one that was part of a chair. Again, I did my emergency surgery. This time, the colors came out dark, but somewhat pleasing. Almost painterly.

Wood Lion

Now, of course, I was determined to photograph more lions with my few remaining shots. So I went on an insanely long drive, looking for lions (eventually managing to go from Boston to Lowell to Portsmouth NH in a quite indirect sort of way). Oddly, I did not find anymore lions (well, one, in felt on a purse in a shop but it was very dark and not a very good setup). So I photographed a buddha and some mural-whales and some other things I’ve now forgotten, because, wait for it, they faded to black! Apparently, you have to be quite careful about leaving too much caustic paste on the mylar surface, and you have to let it all really dry before you put it back together. Oh well. The buddha came out kinda neat… with a bunch of digital processing, it can be neater. But that’s cheating. Or not. Depends on my mood.

dress-shop-buddha (with a little digital contrast tweaking)

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