I Heart Timesheets. #@$%! Timesheets.

I’ve worked in the design industry for nearly a decade—during that time I’ve heard countless complaints from designers about corporate, but one in particular is persistent: timesheets. Designers hate them. I hate them too; luckily being on the business side of design (that would be the non-billable side) remembering to fill out my timesheet is harder than actually doing it. But maybe that’s the problem; business people can’t truly relate to the tedious task of time entry that creatives are forced to endure each and every week.

At 8:00 AM an email is sent out reminding half of our staff that they neglected to complete their timesheets. A wave of grumbling follows. Typical Monday. At 9:00 AM, a creative encounters a technical difficulty when attempting to define a resource in the time tracking software, and the complaints kick off as billable time ticks on. Complaints about timesheets are generally expected, but the response this morning was a bit of a surprise, “La, la, la, la, la, la, la.” Yes, that is the sound of a creative’s complaint being verbally block out by corporate, eyes open, ears closed. Not interested.

In an industry often responsible for solving some of the world’s hairiest problems, how is it possible we can’t solve our own? I know! I know! Because problems like these, timesheets and the like, are business problems, not design problems. And the people responsible for solving these particular problems are business people, most of which aren’t creative. Unfortunately (only in this scenario), creativity is the key element in problem solving, and that my good friends is a hard fact.

So, as surprising as the “La, la, la, la, la, la, la” response may seem coming from corporate, it really shouldn’t be surprising at all. I wrote a blog awhile back about how marketing loves to do what obviously works, not what might work. That logic applies to corporate as well. Unlike design, which challenges creatives to suggest new ways of seeing reality, to work in the grey zone 24/7 under extreme conditions of ambiguity, corporate lives in the black and white world of 9 AM—5 PM, counting on what works to keep the doors open, not what might work. Because what if it didn’t?

Accepting that time tracking in a creative agency is a business problem that business people cannot solve, I’d like to ask the design community to lend a helping hand and suggest new ways of looking at time and time tracking—say different tools and methods e.g. tracking days vs. hours. Otherwise we’re stuck with, “La, la, la, la, la, la, la.” And the cycle continues…each and every week…


Rebels with a Cause.

A long time ago I fell in love with Rollo May; he is a genius, and he loves design. Unfortunately, he’s dead.

He did however leave us a small gift, his book, The Courage to Create. It isn’t especially well known, certainly not in the design industry, but it is especially relevant to our creative community. In it, Rollo speaks about a little something (the whole premise of the book really) he calls ‘creative courage,’ or “the discovery of new forms, new symbols, new patterns on which a new society can be built.” He also implies that designers are the most dangerous rebels on the face of the earth. Fact.

These days when we read about design, when we attend conferences etc., the topics often center on process and approach, on new methods, efficiencies, and sustainable materials…what we rarely come across are topics that speak to the more brazen side of design; designers are rebels with a cause, why isn’t anyone talking about that? That fact that we’re responsible for shaping the structure of our new world is just as interesting, if not more so, than how we’re actually going to do it, or how we might do it, or with what materials for that matter. Somewhere down the line, the bits and pieces became more important than the whole. I get it, it’s kind of a big burden to shoulder, and depending on what you do in design, you might not feel like you’re changing the world, say one mobile phone at a time, but you are, and thanks by the way.

Design isn’t often linked to bravery, but it is, above all things, brave. It takes an incredible amount of courage to suggest new ways of seeing reality, to challenge the status quo. I, like Rollo, appreciate and admire creative courage. I also hope to hear more about it from our industry leaders and critics.

Wanna learn more about creative courage? Wanna get inspired? Got nothing better to do? Try reading The Courage to Create.


360 Degrees of Boring.

Recently I read an article in Frame magazine (Issue 85), Hybrid Happenings, about design manufacturers teaming up with fashion labels for fresh ideas. Not exactly new, we’ve seen it with high fashion for quite sometime, but one thing I found somewhat interesting—Foscarini and Moroso’s collaboration with Diesel, and what Diesel had to say about it: “Diesel wants to offer its customers the possibility to experience the Diesel Planet in everyday life, 360 degrees. Diesel fans can now have the opportunity to dress both their bodies and their homes in the style they like best.” I thought the world these days was about options and individuality?

This reminds me of a book I read awhile back, Chuck Klosterman’s “Sex, Drugs, and Cocoa Puffs.” In one very memorable chapter, Chuck talks about the impact of MTV’s The Real World on contemporary culture. Forget the multi-dimensional personalities of the past; society today only identifies with one-dimensional archetypes. Who are you? I’m usually the b*tch. Throw that into the now more popular competition reality formula and I’m the “character” that usually ends up screaming, “I didn’t come here to make friends.” I thought I was so much deeper than that…I am actually.

But deep takes time, and for whatever reason, these days we’ve got everything but time. The world generally opts for quick and easy; enter Hybrid Happenings.  Forget crafting a style all your own.  Find one you like, and just buy the hell out of it. I picture Anthropologie as opposed to Diesel, but the idea is the same. It’s a look. It’s a lifestyle. And it’s a damn shame. Your clothing, hobbies, home, pet, books—your individual choices make up the fabric of who you are. Put all these things in a pile, and it represents you. Put a bunch of things from Anthropologie in a pile, and it represents Anthropologie. Lesson here, opt out of quick and easy. Get a life. And don’t settle for just being the b*tch. It’s boring.


Generalist or Specialist?

In my line of work I read a lot of magazines, 18 per month give or take. I don’t necessarily  “read” every single issue, but I get pretty damn close.

There are some magazines I love, like Intersection and Wired. Some I like, such as Juxtapose and Frame. And there are of course those I don’t care for quite as much, like Nylon and now, Surface.

A couple months back I was reading Surface and I thought, “I don’t like this magazine anymore.” And then I wondered, “Why not?” I’ve read Surface for 10 years give or take. Maybe in all my reading I’ve become a bit more discerning. Or, maybe like design, magazines have evolved beyond generalists, and Surface simply hasn’t kept up.

On first flip, Surface has everything a girl like me wants: Fashion, Design, Architecture, Technology…you name it, it’s got it, what “cool kids” want. Or cool 30+ year olds with money anyway. But that’s kinda the problem.

For context: I buy my groceries at Whole Foods, get my prescriptions filled at Bartell Drugs, and shop for clothing at Barney’s (Co-op mind you). I also go to the farmer’s market on Thursday evenings in the summer, and buy at local specialty shops when I can, like Fainting Goat for gelato, and A & J Meats for “proteins”.  All in all, I spend a lot of time shopping. Why not just go to Wal-Mart or Costco, give in to the one-stop-shop model and be done with it? Because you just can’t get the really good stuff at big box stores (there are few exceptions of course!) Something exceptional requires the coming together of specialists, or specialization in general.

Just like I don’t want to buy clothes at Wal-Mart, I don’t want to find out what’s happening in Fashion from Surface; I get that covered in Vogue, WWD, etc. at a deeper level. If you care about something, you want depth. I have a relationship with my interests, and there’s nothing casual about it.

In short, Surface is surface. It needs to develop some type of core, and then dive deep. Relationships based on lust only last so long; I think this one might be over. At least for now…


Design Awards: Awesome or Not?

Is it award season again already? I don’t know that climate change has the power to affect the award season the way it undoubtedly affects the weather, but there’s definitely a change afoot in design awards. These days there’s a submission deadline around every corner, and it’s starting to feel a bit like that time of the month…

In the past, just as summer came to a close in the great Pacific Northwest, the award season kicked off in Europe, followed directly by the U.S. There’s not much to love about the submission process, but I do love winning. And after three intense months of dotting I’s, crossing T’s, and cropping images for awards, it was back to business as usual—media relations, communications and marketing, just a few of my favorite things. Not so bad really.

Those were the good ole days, circa 2010, when award season came on slow, a bit like a cold, with an itch at the back of your throat that lets you know trouble’s brewing. As much as I didn’t look forward to it, I didn’t mind it either. I could plan for it. Kinda like a vacation…to a place you don’t really want to go, but a good break from the daily grind nonetheless.

But something changed last year. New awards started creeping up, and what seemed like worthwhile awards at that. I didn’t really want to enter them, but at the same time, part of me really did.  So I womaned up, started dotting I’s, crossing T’s, and cropping images for awards. And before I knew it, design awards weren’t seasonal anymore. They were all the time. They are all the time. Which begs the question, what’s the real value? If there are a million design awards, they can’t all be worth winning. Which of course means, they can’t all be worth entering.

So my question to the design community is this: of all the design awards out there, which award trumps all others? Which award is the crème de la crème of design awards? And what makes it worth the work required to win?


Design Celebrities. Who Cares?

After watching a couple hours of Bravo this past weekend and cruising by the glossy rags at Barnes & Nobles I thought, “Who cares?” Seriously, who cares? I admit, like most people, I don’t mind seeing half naked pictures of Kim Kardashian online or on film, but other than that…why is our society so engrossed by celebrity culture?

Later that same weekend I was cruising through Walter Dorwin Teague’s book, Design This Day, and started thinking about celebrity in the context of design. You know who I’m talking about, “rock stars” like Karim Rashid, Marcel Wanders, Marc Newson…there are many, but I’ll stick to the obvious as a courtesy; and I thought, “Who cares?” The work aside, (because I do loves me a little Marcel Wanders now and again), does anyone actually care about them? Like really care?  It’s okay if you do, or your dad does, I’m just curious.

Sure, in their time Walter Dowrin Teague, Henry Dreyfus, etc., were essentially stars on the rise, but without access to the various platforms we have today. That said, I’m fairly certain we wouldn’t see the type of self-adulation from them that we see from others today; maybe a bit of shameless self-promotion, but hey that’s the world wide web of brand. Perhaps that’s one of the reasons so many of us long for ‘the good ole days.’

In Design This Day Teague wrote: “If these works should survive a thousand years, certainly the interest in the personalities which produced them will not.” Amen.

If you find yourself sitting on a fake horse with a strand of pearls, or becoming a gross characterization of yourself, you got a problem. Calm down. Get off your product, literally, and spend some time in front of the mirror. And while you’re at it, resist the urge to admire your reflection, it’s time for a lil soul searching.


Is Connectivity Pushing Us Apart?

A couple weeks ago I was out with a friend for dinner. To the right of us was a couple pecking away on their smartphones while they waited for their meals. To the left of us was a man working on his laptop while enjoying what looked like a niçoise salad. Noticing, my pal said with a laugh, “Maybe I should go sit at the bar and we could just text each other, sharing our meal remotely.” The scene was funny and sad at the same time. I get the allure, a world without boundaries, etc. A little weaving of global social fabric is great for the common good. But in this context I wondered, do we really want to be more connected, or just less connected to the people we’re physically with?

Awhile back I read an article about Tiffany Shlain’s film ‘Connected’. Not surprisingly, the film explores our increasing dependence on gadgets and blah. Shlain explains:

“These phones extend our desire for emotional connection. So these are all expanding human capacity because it’s us evolving. We continue to want to have more ways to exchange ideas and connect.”

From a professional perspective I get it. But, on a personal level, I really don’t. When’s the last time you said to a pal, “Hey remember that one time I emailed you about that amazing pot roast I made?” or “God, that text you sent me a couple months ago about Joe’s shirt was hilarious.” I can tell you, with some degree of certainty, that you never said that, and probably never will. You need to share the meal and see Joe’s shirt together to create a true connection—which I believe is most often based on shared experiences. There are always exceptions of course, but generally speaking…

Shlain might feel these devices extend our desire for emotional connection, and maybe they do, but they don’t deliver the on goods. Just like handling a peach in the store isn’t the same as ordering a peach from Amazon Fresh, being with someone face-to-face is nothing like “being” with them screen-to-screen.

Don’t get me wrong, devices are great in a way because they close certain gaps—but when there aren’t gaps, I’d argue they tend to create them. True these devices are an intermediary power, no doubt, but purveyors of the emotional connection we so deeply  “desire,” I just don’t see it.

good humor and great advice on public relations, design management, business strategy and leadership from the front lines of creative consulting.


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