Communicate with certainty
and your Voice will be heard.

Category Archives: inspiration


The Wild Hunt

January 16th, 2013  |   Conferences, inspiration

toolbox

Nearly 20 years ago in Monterey, I met David Carson at a HOW design conference. At conferences that followed, I found that he was always up for a conversation over a beer, providing that I picked up the tab. While that seems like a very elitist behavior to leave a young designer with the burden of paying for his beverages, I didn’t mind. I was impressionable, and enjoyed the fact that I could have a yearly chat with someone I considered a design hero.

Now, one of the things I learned from Carson was a list of the two items that every designer should carry at all times. I have eagerly shared this advice with designers whom I’ve had the honor of speaking with over the past 10 or so years as a lecturer at conferences and events. These items are: a camera and a sketchbook. You can add your own elements (a pencil, marker, pen or brush is obviously important and food helps) to the “toolbox”, but the importance of what I learned from that simple and now obvious and likely unintentional “advice” was that as a designer, part of our job is to DOCUMENT. Whether by collecting printed doodads and trinkets from our travels or simply to photograph or sketch the things that we haven’t seen before, we are squirrels collecting nuts of creative nutrition to bury in our books and save them for later, when we’re hungry for inspiration.

…we are squirrels collecting nuts of creative nutrition to bury in our books and save them for later, when we’re hungry for inspiration

Fast forward to 2013. In thinking about those years past, I realized this morning that my recollection of conversations with Carson may be foggy. Sometimes we only remember what we want to remember – the good stuff, the takeaways of past experiences. Regardless, we now live in a world where digital devices allow us to capture – in increasing quality and seemingly unlimited quantity – our surroundings. Maybe it’s easier to only have to carry around one device to photograph, write and capture life’s experiences – or maybe the omnipresence of these devices, lessens the actual experience itself. Rather than simply experiencing life as it happens, perhaps we are now constantly on the wild hunt for stuff. We miss details while searching for things to happen.

Possibly the best experiences happen when we’re not looking for them. In 1996, David Carson was sitting at the bar in Monterey, California, at a design conference holding court with some young impressionables like me. I joined the conversation and stayed until everyone else was too tired or drunk to continue. I never took a picture, sketched a sketch or saved an item to boost my memory of that evening. Maybe he told me to carry a camera and a sketchbook with me, or maybe I made that connection from something else he said. The point is that it doesn’t matter. The tool in the designer’s pack that David didn’t mention was the brain — to contain, process and recall what is important of our precious memories at a later date.

The tool in the designer’s pack that David didn’t mention was the brain — to contain, process and recall what is important of our precious memories at a later date

And if I ever see David at another conference, I’ll once again listen more than speak, casually mention my point about the brain, and in the end, maybe let him buy me a beer.

The Thinking Mechanism is a series of weekly posts, published on Fridays, covering the ideas The Mechanism is thinking and talking about with our peers and clients.

Consider this one the take a break from work edition. It is perhaps a bit New York City centric but the spirit of it applies universally. If you don’t take the time to experience things outside the realm of your day to day work you are severely cutting your ability to be inspired. In addition, as Christopher Chabris and Daniel Simons convey in their book The Invisible Gorilla, if you are hyper-focused you are very likely to begin experiencing a psychological phenomenon that renders you unable to see things that are right in front of you, in a kind of blindness that compromises your intuition.

With that in mind here are a couple of suggestions to clear your mind and perhaps lead you to new experiences:

Viral video kings OK GO have developed a collaborative dance piece with the fantastic Pilobolus dance company. They are in residence at The Joyce Theater until August 6 with the band dancing with the company on July 25 and 27. If it takes OK GO to get you to see dance at The Joyce Theater, the home of dance in NYC, then so be it. Your creative life will be richer for it.

• British company Punchdrunk has developed an extraordinary new work called Sleep No More. They company have taken over three warehouses and transformed them into The McKittrick Hotel. You arrive, meet at the bar, and then a strange character hands you a mask. For the next three hours, in silence and while wearing the mask, you traverse the hotel exploring complexly designed spaces and follow the actors as they re-enact a version of Shakespeare’s Macbeth. Everything, from the sound to the objects in the rooms, is tone perfect. You are free to do as you please and explore. In a recent performance I followed Lady Macbeth and watched her wash her bloody hands. Characters sometimes use the audience to pass notes to other characters.

Sleep No More is wordless Shakespeare, living film noire, the best of contemporary dance, true augmented reality, masterful storytelling, respectful homage, detailed design and that is not even taking in consideration the technical requirements needed to produce and perform such a “play” every night. Punchdrunk have taken the performing arts and remixed them creating something completely new, yet familiar, and absolutely spellbinding.

• And speaking of Shakespeare, you have not experienced New York completely until you have attended Shakespeare In The Park, produced by The Public Theater. It consistently presents some of the best Shakespeare productions with Central Park as the backdrop. This year’s productions are The Merchant of Venice and The Winter’s Tale and they run until July 30th.

• Now until July 24 is restaurant week in NYC, with dozens of restaurants creating prix fixe menus that are affordable and a great way to discover new cuisines. Have a decent meal with friends for a change and for goodness sake, no talk of work.

• Looking for something that you can explore at your own pace? Starting July 24 and running until November 7 The Museum of Modern Art is displaying Talk to Me: Design and the Communication between People and Objects in the special exhibitions gallery. From the exhibition description “Talk to Me explores the communication between people and things. All objects contain information that goes well beyond their immediate use or appearance. In some cases, objects like cell phones and computers exist to provide us with access to complex systems and networks, behaving as gateways and interpreters. Whether openly and actively, or in subtle, subliminal ways, things talk to us, and designers help us develop and improvise the dialogue.”

Alexander McQueen: Savage Beauty, at The Met until August 7, will make you question everything you know about fashion and art and their roles in your life. It is a glorious tribute to an artist gone too soon. A friend recently described it as “the most lavish and gorgeous visual concert ever produced” and I have to agree.

• Can’t attend any of these this weekend. Well, iTunes has Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows – Part 1 available for $.99 rental until next Tuesday. Revisit Part 1 and then head to the theater to catch Part 2 as the Harry Potter movie saga comes to an end.

• For those of you that have not read the Harry Potter books, let me try to entice you to read them with the words of Stephen King “Harry Potter is about confronting fears, finding inner strength and doing what is right in the face of adversity.” J.K. Rowling single-handedly got a generation of children to read and at over 3000 pages total across seven books that’s a lot of reading. She changed the publishing industry. The recently announced Pottermore is set to change publishing once more as she releases the novels in ebook format. But the main point here is not the praise or the business, the point is that a single mother, during tough times in her life, had a singular vision and worked very hard to create a world were hard work, loyalty and persistence pay off. So go right ahead, take a break from work, dive into the series, you may not like it, you may love it, you may be re-reading it, but above all you may learn how to apply that same level of creative detail to your own work.

There you have it, no excuses, walk away from the screens for a few hours and fuel your creativity with something unknown.

The Thinking Mechanism is a series of weekly posts, published on Fridays, covering the ideas The Mechanism is thinking and talking about with our peers and clients.

In the U.S. this weekend is Memorial Day weekend, the official start of summer. Many people travel to visit family and friends or just to take their first trip to the beach. In the spirit of the holiday weekend we are going to do something different. Instead of sharing the items we’ve been talking about we are going to introduce you to two services we love and share items that you could enjoy while commuting to your destination or while taking some deserved time off.

Once you discover Instapaper you wonder how did you manage without it. Created by Marco Arment, co-founder of Tumblr and coffee aficionado, Instapaper is a simple tool to save web pages to read later. The text is stripped out of any web page and becomes available, via apps on most mobile devices, for you to read when you have the time. It is also available online through the Instapaper website. Instapaper is time-shifting for text, TiVo for words.

Longreads is the perfect compliment to Instapaper. Founded by Mark Armstrong, Longreads posts links to new stories every day — they include long-form journalism, magazine stories from your favorite publications (The New Yorker, Esquire, The Atlantic), short stories, interview transcripts, and even historical documents. The site has a brilliant search feature that allows you to filter articles based on length, so you can find the perfect article to read in the amount of time you have available.

In the age of Twitter and Facebook status updates, these two services encourage long-form reading. Here are some of the articles we’ll be reading this weekend, as discovered through Longreads:

Error Message: Google Research Director Peter Norvig on Being Wrong
(Kathryn Schulz, Slate, Aug. 3, 2010)
Time to read: 16 minutes (4,050 words)
Norvig explains what happens when a company (in this case Google) takes an engineering-centric approach to its products and business. First, it means that errors are actually a good thing.

Apple & Design: The Man Who Makes Your iPhone
(Frederik Balfour and Tim Culpan, Businessweek, Sept. 9, 2010)
Time to read: 21 minutes (5,204 words)
Foxconn founder Terry Gou might be regarded as Henry Ford reincarnated if only a dozen of his workers hadn’t killed themselves. An exclusive look inside a postmodern industrial empire.

Later: What Does Procrastination Tell Us About Ourselves?
(James Surowiecki, The New Yorker, Oct. 11, 2010)
Time to read: 14 minutes (3,574 words)
Take comfort in this exploration of the “basic human impulse” of putting work off.

Master of Play: Shigeru Miyamoto, Nintendo’s Man Behind Mario
(Nick Paumgarten, The New Yorker, Dec. 13, 2010)
Time to read: 37 minutes (9366 words)
Jamin Brophy-Warren, who publishes a video-game arts and culture magazine called Kill Screen, told me that there is something in the amplitude and dynamic of Mario’s jumps—just enough supernatural lift yet also just enough gravitational resistance—that makes the act of performing that jump, over and over, deeply satisfying. He also cited the archetypal quality of Mario’s task, that vague feeling of longing and disappointment which undergirds his desperate and recurring quest for the girl. “It’s a story of desire,” Brophy-Warren said.

Twitter Was Act One
(David Kirkpatrick, Vanity Fair, March 3, 2011)
Time to read: 18 minutes (4,543 words)
“The Facebook Effect” author David Kirkpatrick on another Silicon Valley superstar—Twitter and Square founder Jack Dorsey. In submitting to his first in-depth profile, we learn about the events the led to him stepping down as CEO [since then he has returned to Twitter as CEO], his long-term goal (to become mayor of New York City), and his earliest career experiences.

Cranking
(Merlin Mann, 43 Folders, April 22, 2011)
Time to read: 12 minutes (3,068 words)
A disappearing dad with a looming book deadline examines his priorities, and promises changes.

The Thinking Mechanism is a series of weekly posts, published on Fridays, covering the ideas The Mechanism is thinking and talking about with our peers and clients.

• Whenever I hear anyone talking about cloud computing I think the cloud is were turbulent weather happens. This became obvious yesterday when an outage of Amazon Web Services brought down many websites and services for most of the day, disrupting social media and your check-ins.

Is the Amazon outage Skynet’s first attack?

iPads are more widely used than Linux.

• An internal review of a project led to a debate on how many characters can the longest possible email address have. Try to guess before you read the answer.

The web goes green for Earth Day.

• And lastly, colorful, eye-popping photos of Easter eggs splattering.

In the future, you will carry your digital footprint with you wherever you go — and whatever type of device that you have will pick that up if you choose to make it available to somebody

I was interviewed about the future of Web design back in October, 2010 at the PRSA International Conference in Washington D.C.. Below is the video from the interview, which can be visually and aurally consumed at the source right here.

Thanks to the kind folks at PRSA for posting this interview on their Website and interviewer Amy Jacques for digitally capturing my ranting and raving for all of eternity.

A while back, I worked with a delightfully creative fella named David Sherwin (@changeorder) on his newly released book, Creative Workshop: 80 Challenges to Sharpen Your Design Skills. David had the monumental task of presenting a variety of challenges to a gaggle of designers – all meant to be quick and highly creative interpretations of individual challenges – much like a teacher dolling out projects to students at the last minute, curating them, and finally, organizing the copy to support the designs. Well, it turns out that putting a deadline of 90 minutes on a project and taking out the financial rewards that occasionally come with the practice graphic design, actually enables you to develop some fairly exciting stuff, as documented in Mr. Sherwin’s new book from the good folks at HOW Design Press. As far as I can recall, in addition to doing all the heavy lifting involved with writing a book these days, David also was self-tasked with doing some design as well.

I just got a chance to revisit the logo design I created for the Global Magic Society, (one of David’s cheeky challenges for the book), by happening upon a blog post at changeorder.com – part of the marketing for Creative Workshop: 80 Challenges to Sharpen Your Design Skills. As it turns out, it was an otherwise creatively productive use of 90 minutes of my day.

The proof of my contribution to Creative Workshop: 80 Challenges to Sharpen Your Design Skills is documented at this link and on the Print Website for your enjoyment. While you’re reading about my small contribution to this magnificent tome of creative hutzpah, get yourself over to Amazon to order your very own fancy copy, printed on glorious slices of tree.

Years ago, before I moved to New York City, I developed a mantra – that as a designer, it’s your duty to change your style frequently. In the search for transformation, some designers might find solace in the variety of media and side projects (filmmaking, photography, painting, etc.), while others may deliberately change their individual creative patterns and methods of working. This approach helps you to motivate; it helps you to remain excited; and most importantly, allows you to remain valid in an industry that depends on fresh ideas and not just a rehash of yesterday’s stuff. It was this axiom that enabled me to come to New York City…

…as a young designer, I had shown my portfolio to a Cleveland-based agency in a job hunt. They tactfully told me that while they liked my work, without a specific & identifiable style, I would not be a “salable” creative; fitting into their corporate system. In other words, they wanted a singular style to sell instead of substance. I explained to them that my portfolio had creative solutions which were based on what the client’s audience required to identify with a brand, and had very little to do with my own personal visual style. I changed my personal visual styles when I got bored, or needed to feel revitalized. It was this response that empowered me to get in my car, drive from Cleveland to New York City, and take my first New York job at the now defunct (yet highly influential Web design consultancy) methodfive.

At The Police’s final concert last night in Madison Square Garden, I was reminded of the importance of transformation by Sting, who acted out a creative metamorphosis onstage. Arriving and playing most of the show with a shaggy gray beard – he appeared as a grizzled, aging musician instead of the symbol of health and vitality expected from the leader of the pop trio. Just before the encore, he publicly changed his appearance backstage (and onscreen) with a shave. Like a Phoenix rising from the ashes of a long tour and interpersonal battles within the band, he changed his persona during the intermission – emerging revitalized and new; shaved and young – delivering a two act play as an example of how first, the long tour had aged and tested him – and on this final night, revitalized him – as he moves once again past the shadow and drama of The Police, into the next phase of his career.

Was this overplayed and dramatic? Of course, but rock n’ roll should always have an unpredictable element of bombast. And possibly, so should you.

Dave Fletcher is the Founder / Creative Director at theMechanism, a multi-disciplinary design agency with offices in New York, London and Durban, South Africa. He is also a fan of music and believes that a sign of old age is going to see the “final concerts” played by bands that formed after his birth.

I used to live near Pratt Institute, on Vanderbilt Avenue in Brooklyn. One of the many great graphic artists and designers that attended Pratt was Paul Rand (back in 1929). For those of you that don’t know the name (shame on you), Paul Rand (August 15, 1914 – November 26, 1996) was an American graphic designer, best known for his corporate logo designs, helping to originate the Swiss Style of graphic design, and keen thinking and curmudgeonly attitude about our profession.

I stumbled on a 1991 interview with Rand conducted by Miggs B, producer/host of “Miggs B On TV,” a public access TV show in Fairfield County, Connecticut.

Part 1

Part 2

Part 3 of the interview features an idiot known as “Art Mann,” – a bit of a ghoul – and obviously a bi-product of early 90’s baboonery. Rand doesn’t fully grasp the intended humor of a segment where Art claims that Westinghouse came to him to simplify their logo (one of Rand’s logo designs), which added uncomfortability to the hearty porridge of nonsense that was being served up to Rand in heaping spoonfuls.

Part 3

However out of date the interview segment is, it is full of great nuggets from one of the “design greats.” One of Rand’s quotes that particularly impressed me was, “A good logo is meaningless until it is used.” Good food for thought, indeed.

Dave Fletcher is a Founder and Creative Director at theMechanism, a multi-disciplinary design agency with offices in New York, London and Durban, South Africa.