This is a cross post of a comment I made on “whitespace”:

Trying to find balance between work, play, kids, hobby, wife, friends, family, raking the leaves, cleaning the windows, etc is akin to jugging 14 roaring chain saws. Can’t… stop… paying… attention… or… YEOWWWWWCHHHHH!

I have a tattoo of DaVinci’s Vitruvian Man (you know, the guy with four arms and four legs) on my shoulder. I got it a couple of years ago, after my older daughter was born to remind me of the potential I hold. All that business about proportions, beauty, and balance; it seemed like the perfect symbol. I really like it.

I find though, that I’m so busy with, well, life, that I often go weeks without even noticing its there. All of which is to say that getting a tattoo is no assurance of balance!


Stop this diatribe right here. Older daughter (3) just came up and gave me a kiss. I was just about to get in to the difficulty of maintaining balance while working from home.

See, the balance point just moved again.

New Map of North America

You know, it’s times like these that I’m particularly glad I’m Canadian. Not just because my politics lean more to the left, but because I feel I can speak my mind without fear of reprisals.

I’m not talking about out and out blacklisting or fear of personal violence, but rather a more subtle kind of avoidance.

To say this recent American election has been fractitious (is that a word? If not, it should be) would be a gentle understatement. I’ve noticed that very few of my US colleagues have ventured into the squared circle of political commentary. I assume this is for fear of losing business.

After all, these personal design blogs tend to be come-ons to potential employers. “Look how smart I am” is an underlying tone to most. Sure, if asked point blank, my brethren and I would heartily disagree. We’d argue that our blogs are nothing more than an attempt to share and bond with our peers. Yet in the darkest corners of our egos, we all feel a bit smug, don’t we?

There’s also a wariness to go on the record when it comes to controversial topics. Blogs have a life unto themselves. Unlike a conversation, a blog sticks around, and can be quoted verbatim.

The point in all of this is that as a Canadian, I don’t think I’d risk my business by publicly aligning myself with a political party (unless I wanted to do government work). I suspect though, that my American friends might think otherwise.

What do you think? I’d love to hear…

PS: for those who like the idea in the “map”: above, click “here”: to read what one of our preeminent thinkers has to say about it. Thanks to “Mark”: for the links

The Joy of Renovating

Forgive me, dear reader, for my prolonged absence. I’ve been busy, you see. Busy renovating. Or, as I’ve come to call it, busy watching my small pile of money vanish.

Back in early August, my wife and two little girls moved into our new place. It’s a tall, narrow, old brick house in Toronto’s beaches neighbourhood. The contractor we hired told us at the time that he’d need “three or four weeks” to finish the sizeable task we’d set out for him.

“No big whoop,” we thought. We’d just moved to Toronto after 15 years out west, and my folks were offering to share their place with us while our love nest was prepped. “It’ll be fun living with grandma and grandpa”. We get along extremely well, and have a blast together.

Today is November 2nd. We’re still at my parents. The fun factor has dropped somewhat.

Knowing me as you do, you know I have a soft spot for how-to’s, tutorials, and generally sharing my mistakes with others. In that spirit, I thought I’d share with you a few of the bits of wisdom I’ve picked up while undergoing this torture. Whoops, freudian slip. What I meant to say was “undergoing this reno”.

Here then, in no particluar order, is the list:

# When a contractor or tradesperson says “one week”, replace it with “one month”, ie “that’ll take two weeks” actually means “that’ll take two *months*”.
# Leaving alcohol of any sort in your home is an open invitation to 1) drink all your bloody expensive wine, and 2) work drunk.
# Arguing with your spouse over paint colour is akin to repeatedly slamming your fingers in the car door. You just don’t want to go there. Remember, you can paint it what you like later.
# Living with your parents for a few days is fun.
# Living with your parents for a few months? Not so much.
# When friends offer to help you move/paint/sand/etc, what they really mean is “I’m pretty sure I’ll have something come up at the last minute.”
# small kids and construction sites don’t mix
# When a contractor or tradesperson says “once you’re doing A, it seems silly not to do B”, ask him or her to cover half the cost, then see how silly it is.
# When everyone advises you to add a 15% contingency to your budget, listen to them, politely laugh, then add a 25% contingency.
# As soon as you’ve made a payment, the tradespeople will disappear with the work 1/2 done for a week.
# Breathe. Breath again. Beat the crap out of someone deserving.

That’s all for now. I’ve got to get back to work! I don’t know how much longer I’ve got before mom and dad throw us out on the street!


Yargh! Me thinks I looks mighty stupid with this hair on me lip. Avast ye razor! Yargh!

Pirate ‘Stache, RIP, 10/22/04 (and soooo close to Halloween)

Redesign of my work site part 3 (aka cool…)

I’ve decided to go with this design:

The photo will rotate through a number of nature-inspired shots, using a php rotator. This script gets uploaded to the server as image.php. In my code, instead of writing

I write

The script will randomly select an image from within the directory it resides in. You can find a sample of the script “here”:

I’m also going to use the

background: fixed

rule in the css to keep the gradient fixed in place. That way, I can get by with a short bg file, and not have to worry about it repeating if the page grew really long (which it shouldn’t in this case).

Step 5 is _look into scripts/software_. I’ve found a remarkable photo blogging type of script “pixelpost”: I had offered to put together a photo blog for a cousin who’s just had a baby, and stumbled across this site. The script has just been launched, so I imagine many people haven’t heard of it. It rocks. In additions to helping my cousin share his baby pics with the world, I’ll be using pixelpost to manage the portfolio section on the new site. It is incredibly easy to setup, and extremely flexible. Can I gush any more?

I’ve also decided to use “textpattern”: to manage the rest of the site. The front page will be static to start. I’ll switch the sidebar over to a textpattern list once I have some news to post. The articles section will be dynamic right from the get-go.

I’m very excited to get pixelpost up and running. It should be fairly easy, yet will allow me update and manage the portfolio with great ease.

I’ll let you know how it goes.

Redesign of my work site part 2 (aka phew…)

I’m taking my own advice for once. And guess what? I might actually know what I’m talking about!

Let’s review. In part 1 of this article, I made up the following to do list:

# Write all the content first.
# Create a mood board based on the content. A mood board is simply a collection of inspiring images, words, colour chips, etc related to the project at hand.
# Sketch sketch sketch
# Create a comp or two. I’ll post them here for feedback.
# Evaluate software/scripts (for the dynamic part)
# Build.
# Test.
# Tear out hair trying to figure out why it doesn’t work with IE.
# Decide to become a bus driver.
# Find the answer on positioniseverything
# Party like its 1999.

I’m up to step 4, and in a moment we’ll get to the actual comps. First though, I want to take a moment to sing the praises of two of my favorite pieces of software: “OmniOutliner”: and “TextEdit”: Both of these are mac only, but I’m sure there are pc equivalents.

I use OmniOutliner for just about every project I do. It’s perfect brainstorm tool. I just write my notes, stream of consciousness style (much like this blog). I can then go back and re-arrange the ideas into any order I like. I can also add new columns of information (ie categories, priorities, etc). The list can also be output as a text file or html file. Very flexible, and very useful.

TextEdit is the mac’s built-in word processor. It is incredibly light and small. No surfeit of formatting. No floating toolbars. Just a simple little box for me to type my words into. Mis-spelled words are highlighted, with the now-standard spelling suggestions just a right click away. Pure word processing love.

Ok, back to the good stuff. Here, as promised, are the comps (click for a full size view):

Let’s call this *the narrow one*.

This is *nav right*

And this is *nav left*

Before I move on to step 5 (_evaluate software/scripts_), I’d love to hear your feedback. It need not be as detailed as “Paul Scrivens”: requires. Just a “hate it because…” or “love it because…” would be swell.

I have about a hundred other things to talk about, so I’m gonna cut this short here. Be on the lookout for part 3, coming soon to a screen near you!

Redesign of my work site (aka ARGGGGHHHHH)

Given the option of designing something for myself, or designing something for a client, I’ll chose the client work everytime. It’s not just that I like to be paid for my work, it’s that I am a horrible client. I can’t make up my mind, I won’t follow proper procedures, I won’t commit… If I could, I think I’d fire myself.

In an attempt to force myself to listen to my own advice (sounding kind of schizophrenic here), I’ve decided to write up this redesign as a tutorial. In keeping with my earlier tutorial, it’s not going to be a do this, then do that kind of thing. Rather I’ll collect my thoughts and processes, in the hopes that my mis-starts and minor victories might be of some use to someone else out there in design-land.

Like many designers, when it comes working for myself I tend to focus too much on the prize, as a result ending up with a steaming pile of you know what.

*Ahhh, I feel better already.*

I’m going to start by quickly reviewing what’s in place, then briefly describe why I feel a redesign is necessary and finally move on to the steps I’ll be taking over the next couple of days.
So without further ado, allow me to present the current version of “Flashlight Design”:

!/images/26.gif (screen shot of flashlight design)!

If you squint really really well, you might just make out that the page states this is ver 0.003. *That is a bold face lie.* In fact, that page is ver 7. Seven! _Since April of this year!_ Ok, admittedly it’s been a testing ground for various styles and techniques. It’s been table-based, flash-based, flash-enabled, and now an amalgam of tables and css. That’s gonna change.

*Reason for redesign #1*: Kill all tables and build scalable site.

Far more importantly though, my target audience has changed. When I built this site, I was aiming squarely at potential employers, ie design studios, ad agencies, etc. I’ve been receiving a fair bit of freelance work over the past couple of months though, and have decided that despite my intentions not to, I’ll be pursuing more freelance projects. Given my background in marketing and business, it kind of makes sense. So, the site has to talk to a different audience and deliver a different message.

*Reason for redesign #2*: Talk to different audience.

!/images/28.jpg (flashlight Design redesign portfolio screen shot)!

Take a look at the “portfolio”: section, and you’ll find a couple of things I’m not happy with. There is too much work showing for a general audience. The work isn’t arranged into categories, ie logos, magazines, web, etc. There isn’t any web work listed. Each image gets its own static html page, making it stupidly difficult for me to update the work. This site was thrown together quickly, and this is where it shows.

*Reason for redesign #3*: Develop flexible, dynamic portfolio.

The rest of the content on the site, _my resume_ and _skills_ don’t really belong on a client oriented site. I’d like to get rid of these sections all together and streamline the message. In fact, the message as a whole needs to be re-defined. I’m inventing a new company, and need to both develop and communicate the principles of that company; the “why you should hire us” stuff.

*Reason for redesign #4*: Write and deliver a new message.

Looking at the reasons above, I’ve come up with the following next steps:

# Write all the content first.
# Create a mood board *based on the content*. A mood board is simply a collection of inspiring images, words, colour chips, etc related to the project at hand.
# Sketch sketch sketch
# Create a comp or two. I’ll post them here for feedback.
# Evaluate software/scripts (for the dynamic part)
# Build.
# Test.
# Tear out hair trying to figure out why it doesn’t work with IE.
# Decide to become a bus driver.
# Find the answer on “positioniseverything”:
# Party like its 1999.

This list looks startlingly familiar. Gasp! It’s the same process I use for every job I do! Imagine that.

Well, wish me luck dear reader. I’ve already broken down and designed a couple of comps. Because I don’t know what I’m doing with them though, I just keep pushing pixels from one side to the other, squinting, and trying to decide which looks better. For posterity’s sake, you can view the two recently deceased comps “here”:

I’ll report back faithfully.

Using Patterns in Design


If you know me, or if you follow one of the links at the top of this page, you’ll see that I’ve got a thing for patterns. My eyes were naturally drawn to a link offering “An Introduction to Using Patterns in Web Design”: link on the “Mike Industries”:http://www.mikeindustries/ site. Figuring it was a guide to developing patterns like “these”:, I enthusiastically clicked on the link.

It was one of those *the stars must be aligned* kind of moments. What I found was not an article about _patterns_ as in the patterns on a rug, but rather an article about patterns of information. It’s actually a how-to. It offers step by step instruction on breaking down the elements of your design, and re-assembling them in a way that maximizes the value of one thing to another. It sounds complicated, but its beauty is that it is not.

The author, Ryan Singer of “37signals”:http//, directs his article towards the web designer, but his principals apply to all forms of design. One aspect of the article that I don’t get however, is its insistance in dressing up the subject matter with a big work like _pattern_.

In essense, what’s being discussed is the core of any design project:

  1. Understand your client’s message (described in the article by brainstorming and listing the elements).
  2. Interpret that message (prioritize those elements).
  3. Communicate it to the intended audience in the most effective way.

The article is a helpful reminder not to jump to the design stage, but to let the content inform the design. But I’m failing to see what’s so revolutionary here. Creating the hierarchy of messages, be it branding vs copy vs feature A vs feature B, etc is the root of good design. Is it just that this is a systemized approach?

So what’s going on? Am I missing something, or is this a case of putting an important name on something more elemental?

Actually, I just answered my own question. What Ryan discusses is a *method* of communicating the message in the most effective way.

I've decided to grow a pirate moustache.

!/images/24.gif (pirate moustache)!:

I think it’s time to move on from the scruff-on-the-chin to a full blown pirate ‘stache. Just thought you should know…