Reading Stories, Food for the Imagination

I work as a graphic designer. Like many other folks in my profession I find it hard to turn off. I may not be thinking about projects from work all the time, but I’m always thinking about projects I’d like to do or reviewing the things I see all around me. I see every piece of design and mentally critic it, 99% of the time I’m not even aware I’m doing it, but it’s there, almost like a 6th sense wondering what questions the designer faced.

I’ve lost count of the number of times I’ve sat in a restaurant looking at the menu only to realise I’m not looking at what’s on offer but the way it’s been typeset. What font did they use? What does it make me think of the restaurant? Does it make the food I’m reading about sound even tastier or does it make me think I’ll be left wanting more? Does the menu fit the surroundings or does it just feel like a designer somewhere threw it together because he didn’t get a proper brief?

It’s a pretty constant state of affairs. Right now I’m glancing at the empty can of San Miguel thats sitting on the dining table. Does it look like the taste? Does it make me want to lie on a hot beach in Spain? What the heck has a ship got to do with beer? Why did the designer pick gold as the main can colour and break away from the green and white that used to be there?

I can’t turn it off, and many a time I’ve amused good friends as I verbalise my critique.

Unfortunately relaxing is made all the more harder by it. I read to do my relaxing, mostly the blogs of a select few but they’re people who I’ve come to trust. I trust that the links they post are to interesting content, articles that can lead me on a chase around the internet looking at websites, new websites. Websites that start the inner critic on it’s familiar chain of questions. Questions that lead me to find another way of reading.


Mostly made of paper that smell of ink and aren’t displayed on a screen. However, in this age of constant stream of information that feeds a thirst for knowledge, growth and understanding, I find I need a book that doesn’t make me think too much. There’s no point going to bed to read only to lie in bed for hours thinking about the chapter I just read and the challenges or knowledge it imparts. I need a good story. Something that will make me keep turning the pages, compelling me to read. So it is with great joy in the last year or so that I’ve discovered an author I enjoy, one that draws me to read rather than watch inane tv shows.

It’s not the novels that I write this about though, it’s the impact they have on me. As well as helping me relax, they force me to use my imagination. When reading about the unravelling story I’m forced to imagine the scene, what people look like and where they are. I’m forced to stop asking the questions I ask all day long as I review and work on the various projects I have on the go. That time away from questioning and evaluating can only have one impact as far as I’m concerned, that is, to make my work better. Having time to just imagine frees me from the constraints that are so often put in place when working. They may be imposed on me by the projects, or by the presssures I put on my self, but the more I read and use my imagination in a completely unattached manner. The more creative I feel, the more my imagination is fed the more easily I find work.

In a time when the people around me seem to read more than they ever did, I seem to be the only person among my friends who reads novels. I’d like to encourage you to start. Take a short story and read it. Start small and find something that feeds your imagination, a story which gives it new life and see what impact it has on your work.

Hyperakt » Work » Studio 360 » Rebranding Teachers ›

Teachers are currently represented by uninspiring, childish visual imagery. Images like apples, chalkboards, and the ABCs neither revere the profession of teaching nor do justice to the intellectual and creative development teachers help guide in students of all ages.

I love everything about this, from concept to execution, it might be for America in concept but it would work everywhere.

(Via Brand New.)

It’s Just Stuff — Shawn Blanc ›

We live in a world so lost in what it consumes that many people find themselves continually trying to define who they are by the stuff they own. Something so deftly summed up by Shawn in his post:

Instead, look at how he (or she) treats his family. What is his character like? Look at his relationships and his beliefs and how he spends his time. These things — the metaphysical, the intangible — they are the true extension of the soul.


I can’t tell you how much I struggle with the notion of supplying a client with a few options for them to see. They invariably pick the one that’s weakest. Maybe it’s that perceived lack of gumption that stops me doing saying something a long these lines:

I don’t think you understand how this works, Steve.
I don’t do options. I will solve the problem, and you will pay me. It’s up to you whether or not you use my solution, that’s your choice. But I don’t do options.
I will give you my solution, and you will pay me. That’s how it works.”

(Via David Airey.)

Wecloming 2012 and Setting a Few Targets

It’s that time once again when many people are posting reviews of the year just passed. I always enjoy reading these posts, seeing the people I follow who have achieved all that or more than they hoped to whilst hoping those who didn’t are able to in the coming year. I’m always drawn to writing something myself, and whilst my last year contains many highlights – my trip to Israel, a summer in North Wales and a deepening of friendships that have become increasingly valuable – I always feel somewhat hesitant to “review my year”.

I think the heart of that hesitancy lies solely in my feeling of a lack of accomplishment. I never feel I’ve achieved anything worth writing about or highlighting. I call it the curse of the Internet. It’s so easy to spend time looking and comparing what I’ve done to all the people who have achieved a great deal, all the people who’ve had the guts to sit down work hard and put themselves out there. I’m always left reeling at, what feels like, my complete lack of gumption.

I am learning though. Learning to not let that fear of failure or fear of no one noticing be the reason to stop myself from doing the things I want to. Thats why I’m writing this post, to set out three small targets to try and set me on my way this year. I think they are all achievable and am hoping they will set me on my way to accomplish something this year.

In the last year I’ve put weight on. Some people will argue that I needed to, I’ve always been a bit skinny, but in the last year I’ve put on a little too much. I weighed myself over the Christmas holidays and well the number at the start was too high. My first mission is to lose a stone in weight by exercising more regularly and cutting out those little treats which have snuck into my diet.

The past couple of years has seen my blog fall in to decline, significantly. I’ve always enjoyed writing for my blog, but the past couple of years has seen a lot of things change in my life and it didn’t feel right to be writing about them here. Nor did it seem right to continue writing about things which on reflection are quite trivial when compared to the loss of loved ones. But time is moving on, and I feel that it is time to pick up my pen once again and begin writing for my blog with more regularity. I realise I’ve said this before, and it’s gotten past January, February and into March before I’ve really realised I’ve not done anything I’d hoped to, so I’ve given myself a number to aim for. I’m going to try to write four posts a month. Not four link posts, but four article posts, although I hesitate to call them articles. There’ll be no word count, just original content, content I create because I want to and enjoy it.

The third thing I want to do is a little more open ended and probably something that everyone hopes to do. I’d like to use my time to greater effect.

I’ve always been a night owl, I like staying up late, the quiet cosiness of being up late with a small light on and my book, sketch book or Mac for company feels great. The problem is when you have a nine to five job that kind of behaviour is not really helpful. Hitting the sack in the early hours of the morning and then rising only a few hours later to go to work is a recipe for disaster. Burning the candle at both ends only really has one destination for me, running myself in to the ground and an onslaught of mouth ulcers. So in order to combat this tendency to waste my time, I’m resolving to give my self a bed time and get up earlier. My aim is to be up at six each morning in order to do a half hour of exercises, then spend time reading my bible, praying and whatever is left can be spent writing.

Re-reading that last paragraph makes it feel like a pretty big task, but I think knuckling down and doing it will help me to achieve the other two points. More than that though, having a set time to sit and read my bible without distraction will be the biggest benefit of all.

I’ve always admired those who are able to get up early and spend some time each morning to do this. While I’m away in North Wales for two weeks every year, I spend time leading a children’s holiday club. When I’m there, life is so different to my everyday life that I’m able to easily get up early and spend time each morning reading from the word. I’ve become acutely aware in the last few weeks that it’s all down to a matter of attitude. I’m so aware of how important it is in those two weeks to devote my time in such a manner, that it’s time to change my attitude and devote that time every morning rather than in the evenings when I find it harder to concentrate and often run out of time. It’s something that I enjoy, but often feel a need to do out of duty, yet, when I set time aside I’ve seen the benefits in my life and my relationship with Jesus. I want to do it more and so this attempt to change my sleeping patterns is motivated by that desire.

And so with that, please join me in raising my hot blackcurrent to 2012 and all it has in stall!

Culture by Shawn Blanc ›

There is more than one person in Cupertino who cares about quality, craftsmanship, art, and innovation in Apple’s products.

This is exactly why Apple will continue doing what they have been doing for the last few years. I’m sorry to see Steve Jobs resign but I’m glad that he will be spending time with his family has he battles with whatever illness he has.

OS X Lion by Shawn Blanc ›

For me, it is not the headline features of Lion that make it such a compelling and noteworthy release. Rather, it is the thousand little refinements that all add up to what is, in my opinion, the most attractive and usable operating system on the planet.

An interesting read from Shawn about Apple’s new version of OS X. with my limited use of Lion, I agree with Shawn’s statement. Lion is polished. Very polished.

One month with Android ›

Ryan Heise has been using Android over his iPhone for the last month or so. His conclusion:

Google wants to reinvent the wheel that Apple created with iOS, but it’s a wheel that they’re better off to copy all the way, rather than make a facsimile and take out a few big chunks.

There’s a few interesting points in this article that seem to confirm one thing. Apple thinks about how to make something and polish the crap out of it. Google thinks about how to make something quickly and then move on to the next thing.

(Via Shawn Blanc.)

Reading on the iPad — Shawn Blanc ›

Ironically, the worst reading experiences are with the apps designed by the “professionals” that are based on the age-old history of reading in print: Apple’s own iBooks, and the Condé Nast apps. The best reading experiences on the iPad are Instapaper and Reeder. In part because they are easy to keep up-to-date, but also because their designs have the least amount of frilly bits, and therefore make reading of the actual text the easiest.

I would also add the Kindle app to the good experiences of reading on the iPad. Either way Shawn nails it in this piece. The traditionally print media folk need to stop trying to design the same way for the iPad as they do for the printed page. There are different rules in play here, and as a predominantly print based designer it baffles me how these guys can’t see that.

Maniacal Rage ›

Eventually, I realized something was funky with my older core OS X install. Whatever it is, it happened—I would assume slowly—over the past six years. Various configurations, application installs, terminal messes… nearly a decade of computing had created a completely bloated and unnecessarily slow machine.

Interesting comments from Garrett about the affect of effectively using the same Mac OS X system for 10 years without starting again. I’ve been thinking of starting a fresh on Lion, looks like I might just do that after reading this. I may not be on a SSD Mac but the thought of a fresh streamlined Mac is very appealing.

Now where’d I put that external HDD

Maturity And Relaxed Productivity by Randy Murray ›

When you hesitate, feel pressure, that’s an indicator that you don’t yet have the maturity that you need. After you finish the task at hand, step back and see if you can learn more about your task or activity. That’s the first sign of maturity. The next step towards maturity and mastery is the dawning recognition that you don’t really know what you’re doing, you don’t understand the fundamental issues, and the recognition that you can grow, learn, and change.

I love design and am thankful that my job is always pushing me. The pressure that I do feel at work is on the bits that are outside my comfort zone, the bit’s perhaps I don’t like doing but have little choice but to do. This quote from Randy just hit home, when you do something most days but still feel like you’re battling with it, take a step back and try to understand why, then problem solve.

How To Create Motivation For Yourself by Randy Murray ›

And most importantly, these people who want to be writers find that when they sit down, they just can’t get motivated.

This is true of any person trying to do something outside of work. Replace writing with designing and it could apply to a designer. Similarly a painter, or someone who sketches.

I want to be a great designer and constantly have ideas of something to do for my create, but, similarly I sit down to do it and can’t get going. Almost like the last thing I want to do when I get home from a day of designing at work is do more of it. It’s not always tiredness or lethargy that stops me, sometimes it’s pressure.

When you want to do something so strongly, when you do find the time to sit down and do it there can be an undeniable pressure to make sure that you use that time well. It’s a hidden pressure, one that’s created by you, that often goes unnoticed. Finding a way to remove that pressure can mean that the barrier of motivation is removed and you are able to just sit down and do.

I guess it’s about managing your own expectations. Expectations of what you produce in the time that you have. If you have the expectation of producing something awesome straight away it won’t happen. Instead having the expectation that you will produce something in that hour, no matter how good it is, can be the first step on the path towards doing what you want.

In Search Of Flow

Like most of the world, the arrival of an iPad in my life has meant a lot of my established routines and behaviours have changed. I’m no longer setting up camp on my sofa with my MacBook Pro to spend some time reading RSS feeds and going where the links take me, instead this time is being spent using my iPad. I find I’m using my MacBook Pro a lot less than I used too, that’s not necessarily a negative thing though, as the time that I do spend on my MacBook Pro is much more meaningful than it used to be. I’m finding myself going through a shift in mindset as I’m more focused when I sit down with my Mac and don’t find myself drawn to the likes of Twitter and Reeder. My productivity has increased, which can only be a good thing as I gradually pick up more freelancing work. The work that I am doing has become more meaningful, that is with one exception. Here.

The blog. It’s slipped and largely because of my shift in behaviour. Most of my blogging revolved around reading interesting articles and curating them on my site. This then drove me to write longer form content when I wanted and when something attracted me sufficiently. I now find myself both linking less and writing less. Not good.

Reading a Ton More

I follow a lot of very good blogs, most of the things I read are on the internet and since getting my iPad Instapaper has really come in to it’s own. Shawn Blanc nailed it when he wrote

So in short, Instapaper is the best way to read the Internet. And the iPad app … is the best way to read your Instapaper articles.

The trouble is, if a large portion of your reading material comes from the internet, the desire to share increases. It’s so easy in today’s world to share something to Twitter or Facebook, but if you want to add a little commentary to that link and share it on your blog, well it’s a little trickier. On the Mac I can hit Cmd-1 and MarsEdit will fire up with the link pre-populated and any selected text quoted. On the iPad, thats not so easy. Theres no MarsEdit for iPad and well, quite frankly, the iOS WordPress app sucks and copy & pasting back and forth between apps isn’t the easiest or quickest way of doing things. Put quite simply the barrier to entry for posting on the iPad was too high.

So what’s the big deal? Well, like many people I like to write. I don’t consider myself a writer but one of the reasons I started blogging was to give myself another creative outlet; a place to stretch muscles that don’t necessarily get stretched all that much; a place to, should I need, release a little about topics that don’t necessarily interest my friends.

I miss it.

The trouble is I don’t really know where to begin, and so in my usual manner I began to problem solve. The conclusion I reached? I find it easier to write when I have a reasonably steady flow of things going through the blog. Some momentum. The best and easiest way of creating that momentum, or generating flow, is by curating links and pointing people to other well written and interesting content.

For once my thinking on this subject seemed to coincide with some other folk on the internet. Shawn Blanc and Benjamin Brooks touched on this recently in The B&B Podcast. When they visit a site they want to see articles before they will begin to measure if you are worth following. Something I agree with quite strongly, if there is a good article on a site I visit I will take note, if there are a couple in close succession, chances are you’ll end up in my feed reader. But if there are large gaps between articles and nothing else posted it makes a site feel stagnated, a stagnation I feel has begun to develop here. I want my site to feel alive and the best way to do that is to write regularly, and, because I’m out of practice the best way to break a cycle of not posting is to link to others. It’s not and nor should it be the sole purpose, but an active site is a cared for site and a cared for site usually brings good content.

Beginnings of a Redesign

Seeking out an easier way of building that flow led me down the path to the beginnings of a redesign. I needed an easy way to share links on the blog.

So to help me begin to develop this flow I’ve made a few changes to the site. A slight facelift which aligns to a grid but really is a framework for the future and has allowed me to make a couple of adjustments to the behaviour of my links. For those of you who have noticed the titles of the links now point straight to the site I’m linking too, so rather than including the link in the text as I’ve done in the past I’m now free to just include my thoughts. It leads to a more streamlined way of posting from both the iPad and my Mac.

Thanks to Ben Brooks’ adjusted bookmarklet and the plugins that it requires I can now post more easily to the site. The pace isn’t quite what I’d like it to be but it’s developing and my hope is that I can pay more attention in the long run and begin to write my own articles with a little more regularity than the sporadic posting that I seem to have settled into.