White Noise

I sleep with white noise at night. I have an app on my phone that I ritually turn on every evening before I go to sleep. I can say with a decent amount of certainty that I would struggle to fall asleep without it, especially if I was not in my own bed.

White noise works like this; it provides a steady stream of sound across all frequencies that occupies your brain, thus helping to drown out other unfamiliar, and sometimes jarring, sounds that otherwise would have center stage on a silent night. When you’re woken up by a sound, it’s the sudden change in sound level or frequency that wakes you up, not just the sound itself. White noise helps to dull those impacts.

The world around you is producing a constant, steady stream of noise, and that noise is getting louder and louder as the world gets smaller and smaller. The incredible amount of information that streams through our social world is almost unbelievable. There is so much of it that most people just ignore it all, it’s too overwhelming to look at everything. Getting people's attention with your piece of information is hard enough, making an impact with what you say is even harder.

So the question is, what’s it going to take for you to break through? (If you think you have an answer to this, let me know. A follow up post maybe to come.)

Will most of what you say contribute to the never ending stream of white noise? Or will you produce something that will wake people up?

100

This is my 100th post.

This blog has been up and active for 5 months and 2 weeks, and I've hit publish 100 times. You can now see a complete list of all the posts over on the archive page, and seeing them all listed like that is pretty incredible. 

Whatever anyone says, that's something I'm proud of.

Onto the next.

Success Hides Problems

One concept that has stuck with me in the weeks since reading Ed Catmull's Creativity Inc. is the idea that success hides problems. Ed Catmull, the president of PIXAR and Disney Animation, explains why he thinks all great companies fail, and it's this idea that the great success that these companies enjoy mask the many small, internal problems that cripple the organization over time.

John Madden put it more simply: 

"Winning is a great deodorant”

Both people and organizations hide behind their success. We've all witnessed these giants fall to their knees because they thought their success excused their attitude of complacency. We judge internal character and culture based on external results. Results are not always king and it's never just about one thing. The downfall of any person or organization is due to the sum of many small, seemingly inconsequential choices, that compound over time and lead to companies like Microsoft and people like Tiger Woods.

The fact is this; There is no cruise control. Everyday you have to decide between deliberate action or apathy. The weeds will grow, and its up to you to be intentional about pulling them out. Take the time today to evaluate areas in your life that need the deodorant of success, and make the change before it's too late.

It's all about the small things.

Public Accountability

Accountability. Many are aware of one form. The traditional form where you elect yourself to be accountable to one, or a few, individuals where you share your struggles, fears, goals and dreams in hopes that having these people around you will help you overcome adversity, reach goals, and become a better person. Let's call this private accountability. It's really great and strongly advised.

I know of another form of accountability, and just like the former, I believe it has significantly changed the course of my life.

I made a choice over three years ago to launch a website, and for various reasons, name it Folklore Design. With the launch I announced that I would post a second of animation everyday for the entire month of March, 2011. It was really the sole reason I was launching the site, to help myself achieve something I had seen someone else do with great success, I had no plans for the site after that. Before this point I had only dipped my toe into the world of motion graphics, but I knew it was something I wanted to get really good at really fast, but I needed something to kickstart the process. I set up a form of public accountability. I told the (small) world that I was going to be shipping something everyday, in this case it was a second of animation, and you could find the result on the site. The very notion that people were expecting this, whether they actually were or not, forced me to crank out work every day, no matter the circumstance. At the end of 30 days I had created something that I was really proud of, and it led to many other opportunities as I was learning, ultimately landing me where I am today. I am convinced that if I did not do this one project, if I did not subject myself to the public accountability, I wouldn’t have learned as much as I did, and I wouldn’t be where I am today.

Nothing accelerates growth like iterating in public. Forcing yourself to put yourself out there on a regular schedule will focus your efforts and gain you a platform and attention that will launch you on to other things.

I know that this may not work for everyone or everything (I certainly haven’t thought through how you could use public accountability for more serious efforts, like addiction), but setting a goal, making that goal very public, and putting your reputation on the line, will force you do things you couldn’t imagine were possible. For a 1-2 punch, pair private and public accountability to ensure that you’ll stay on course on whatever journey you chose to endeavor. 

Start something, and tell the world you're doing it.

Print is not Dead

I'm sure we're all aware that the print industry has being burning in front of our eyes for the past ten years or so, but recently the phoenix is rising from the ashes.

You can witness this occurring in multiple industries, most notably with coffee shops, artisanal crafts and products that are made in the USA. It all starts with an uprising of a dominant, cannibalising force that wipes out competition faster than you can spell the word cannibalising. With print, it was the internet, with coffee, it was Starbucks, with goods made in America, it was imported goods made in China. Then, usually after a period of apparent calm, the people look for something different, and a resurgence for the once obsolete medium has its rebirth.

In the print world, you see this in magazines like The Great Discontent, Cereal, Kinfolk and others. These high quality, niche market magazines have seen great results in recent years because there's a great desire for printed goods that exceed everyday expectations. While traditional magazines are hemorrhaging money, even as they clamor to become "more digital", small start-up magazines like The Great Discontent are finding great luck with their loyal fanbase. 

There is undoubtably something romantic about print. When I pick up one of these magazines, I feel like I’m holding a piece of art. The smell of the paper, the thick stock, the beautiful design and typography. Even things like the packaging and the buying experience all contributes to this experience that delights when I pick one up and browse through.

While rekindling the art of print, these magazines have made sure to stay fully engaged in the online world like any company running in 2014 should be. In fact, numerous magazines had their start in online publishing, which helped fuel and further their printing business. Kinfolk has a large online following and has created some incredible videosThe Great Discontent have amassed an enormous online catalog of interviews with creators from all walks. All the magazines are active and fully engaged in everything web and social media related that you’d be surprised they would ever even consider selling non-digital goods. It all adds to the experience.

The Sunday newspaper, the Tabloid, the Washington Post, People, Time, US Weekly... all of these publications are about the race to the bottom. They all are trying to deliver the same content, at a cheaper price, faster and with better headlines then the one sitting next to them. They fill hundreds of pages with useless content, ads and, in some cases, fear-mongering content, all in efforts to sell more issues and meet the bottom line. Conversely, these smaller, more refined, higher quality niche magazines are about the race to the top. They charge a premium for highly vetted, carefully produced content and a well thought out experience. In this market, you don’t need 10 million readers from ads to make it work, you may just need 10,000, or even 1,000 loyal fans to make an honest living. There’s always more room at the top, there’s never room at the bottom. 

Here are links to magazines that I've picked up in the past few weeks. I would love to hear about more if you know of any.

Avenir
Cereal
Kinfolk
Offscreen
The Great Discontent

On Focus and Saying No

Sometimes a good thing can distract you from doing a great thing.

We seem to lack the focus it takes to fully realize the things we want to do. We’re all trying to do everything, all the time, all the while getting nowhere.

A key to the laser-like focus needed to excel at one thing is the courage to say no to the other things. Saying no isn’t popular, it isn’t nice, and it’s counter cultural to the “I want everything now” mentality that the world lives in today. There’s always so much to do with so little time. But your no today will lead to a better yes tomorrow and it will lead to a yes that you can overdeliver on.

Another thought on focus. Focus gets you through the valleys. It’s easy to become uninterested in areas of life when things get difficult if you can simply shift your focus onto the next big thing. When interest fades, when new things come, and when everything is urgent, staying and remaining focused becomes increasingly harder, and increasingly more rewarding. 

4 Essential Mac Utilities

Here are 4 little apps that I use everyday, and if they did not exist, it would be a problem.

Text Expander

I’m starting out with Text Expander because this app will save you hours of time. It's sole purpose is to make typing faster. Similar to the keyboard shortcuts on iOS, you can set up any abbreviation to expand to a desired output. For instance, I have a shortcut that expands “wweb” to “www.folkloredesign.com”, and I have "hhome" expand to my home address (the double letter upfront is the abbreviation structure I most use). I have shortcuts for my emails, phone numbers, URLs, logins and even emojis. Its a great tool for quickly replying to emails with canned responses or information too. It's not cheap ($35), but once you set it up and start using it, you won’t understand how you’ve gone without it. 

1Password

This is a thougher one to explain. 1Password place to store all your passwords, logins, and payment information in a highly secure and hard to access vault. All you have to do is remember one password. Needless to say, that password has to be very long and secure (mine is 20+ characters long), but there’s only one to remember. Comes with browser extensions that making dropping in credit card info and passwords really easy, and has many security features to keep your vital information locked up and inaccessible to the world. The beauty of it all; I no longer have to remember all my passwords, and even better, I no longer need to keep the same password for every site that needs one. This is the most expensive app on the list ($40), but I got it at 50% off and that was well worth it. It comes with an iOS app, and it looks like the iOS 8 update is going to be great.

Dropbox

Everyone knows what dropbox is. One thing I do, ever since I paid the $100/yr for the now 1TB of storage, is keep all active projects, all my photos, and all my regularly accessed documents in dropbox. That way I can access them anywhere, anytime. and it works as another active backup to your files. Totally worth $100/yr if you ask me. It’s saved me a handful of times. You can also opt for the free account and refer people to maximize your space.

Cloudapp

A quick, low profile file-sharing app. Cloudapp allows you to drag documents, screenshots, and small projects onto this toolbar icon and it automatically uploads it to the cloud and copies the link to your clipboard to paste anywhere. One of my favorite things about it is that you can track how many times the link has been clicked, great for knowing if someone has opened a file, or how many people are clicking the link you just tweeted. It's free for starters, most people won't need anything more than.

People don't get Careers, they start Projects

It used to be that you graduated college and got a career. You spent years of your adolescence preparing for one line of work, and you got in and stayed in. You paid your dues, earned tenure and retired with a pension. It made sense, it moved linearly.

Now you graduate college (if you went to college) and you start a project. You get a job at a bookstore, but on the side you start a photography business. You focus your efforts on photography, and earn some income along the way. Then you decide that you want to start another project, and you become a blogger. You pair up what you know about photography and start sharing it with the world.

Now you have two projects, and it makes enough money to quit your job at the bookstore a focus your energy on those projects. Then, a year or so later, you decide to move on from photography and you become a freelance consultant because you can, and because your interests change. You start another project. It doesn’t always make sense, it moves organically and haphazardly, but more importantly, it’s what this current economical and cultural climate is prime for. 

Only in today’s climate can you be in a UX designer in a tech startup, while painting on the side, and operating a food truck on the weekends.

People don’t get careers, they start projects.

P.S. I got this entire idea from Seth Godin. I’m sure he wrote a blog post or a book about it once and it stuck.

Face Down

Today, attention is one of the most valuable resources, and we’re giving it away too freely. At any time when life around us starts to settle down, the first thing we do is reach for our phone and swipe endlessly, unconsciously denying ourselves the time to be present in what's happening right then and there, in favor of knowing what someone else was doing 30 minutes ago.

As attention becomes increasingly valuable, I believe that people who have requested my time should get my undivided attention too. That means blocking out all other distractions that would impede me in fully engaging and being fully present. That, of course, starts with my phone. I've started making a conscious effort to not look at my phone when I’m with someone who has requested both my time and attention. Whether thats in a meeting, at lunch, or just one-on-one with a friend. 

A simple tip to achieve this; if your phone is out on the table, turn the audible sound off, and put the phone face down. I know for me, if the screen is facing up, I'll constantly be looking if it lights up. If it vibrates, ignore it. If it rings, reach over and hit one of the volume buttons to mute it, but don’t miss a beat. Even better, just keep the phone in your pocket. Nothing's too important to wait 5 minutes, or even 30 minutes. Another option is to use the Do Not Disturb feature on the iPhone, which allows you to mute all incoming notification unless its from someone you’ve explicitly allowed access, which would hopefully denote an emergency and nothing else.

Don’t make the people you’re with seem less important than the people you’re not with. Focused attention is quality attention.

Creator’s Block

The creative process, more than anything, is about showing up and doing hard work.

When you don’t have anything to write about, write anyway. That’s the only way to push through. You create more by creating more. Don’t sit around thinking its going to hit you out of nowhere. Creativity isn’t as mysterious as it appears, there’s a direct correlation between creativity and hard work.

Find ways to inspire yourself in a new way. Figure out a better way to capture ideas when they come to you at unassuming times. Get a blank sheet of paper and start writing, or drawing. Open up a new window and start exploring.

Show up everyday and get to work, be disciplined enough to be creative, and scratch when you don’t itch. Creativity is born out of perspiration, not inspiration.

The Three Legs of Design

Frank Chimero, an incredibly talented designer, describes the three different legs of design; How it looks, how it responds, and how it behaves.

Looks - This is the skin of it, the shiny coat of paint that brings visual attention to the product. This is normally what “designers” think of the most when designing a product, they think about how it looks and stop here.

Responds - This, essentially, is the responsiveness of the product. If it's a website, its how it scrolls and how fast it loads. If it's a Mac, its how quick it starts up, how quite it is and how it responds very naturally to your touch. If it's a printed book, how does it feel when you open it for the first time? If this is an event, this is the direct interaction with the environment around you.

Behaves - This the experience of a product. Does everything make sense? Is there a theme that joins everything together? Are there consistent behaviors throughout the site, or product, or brand? Are things intuitive or are they designed thinking of the end user in mind?

So many times designers, and creators alike, stop at the first leg and let the rest haphazardly fall into place. What a shallow view of design. Dig deeper, put yourself in the consumers shoes and wrestle with the harder questions. Of course, here I'm reminded of this famous quote from Steve Job's:

Design isn't just how it looks, it's how it works.

Looks are one thing, experience is everything.

On Connection

Today, you have a chance to connect with someone. Through conversation, through engagement. Through your art, through your story, and through your work. Everyday is an opportunity to show empathy, to be generous, and to build trust. Too many people go throughout their day connecting with no one. Don’t let that be you. Every action you take is a step towards vulnerability or a step towards security. 

Don’t design your life around protecting yourself from letting people in. The most human ability is the ability to connect.