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Creating REWORK Slides on the Road

It was Friday, and I'd just arrived in Austin, Texas for SXSW 2010 Interactive festival.

I was enjoying the vibe, warm spring weather and seeing old friends, when I received an email from David Heinemeier Hansson of 37signals.

David was preparing a deck of slides for his talk 'Why You're Not Done Yet' set for Sunday at 11am, when he realized he could really use several new pieces of art for the presentation.

He asked if I'd be willing to knock out 3 illustrations and I said yes. Of course, I'd decided to leave my Canon flatbed scanner at home.

How in the world would I get 3 new illustrations into the 37signals Photoshop slide document?

Solving the Drawings First

First things first. I had to solve the drawing challenge before I could focus any energy on making them into slides.

David provided good descriptions of what he needed for the slides, so I started there.

Here are the 3 slides I needed to create artwork for:

1. Giving up is good
2. Restate the problem
3. You can always do less

I grabbed my Moleskine and started thinking on paper. Here are my solutions:

1. Giving up is good

On this slide, my first thought was to use typography. While sketching out the type for GIVE UP! a white flag popped in my head as a perfect, universal metaphor for giving up on something. I added it above the words:

One down.

2. Restate the problem

For this one, I thought of simple ways to get this idea across. What about (A) the words RE-STATE and PROBLEM stacked with arrows pointing to each other?

Too complex. Then I flipped the word PROBLEM backward and stacked another PROBLEM word going the right direction below (B) — simple and effective:

Two down.

3. You can always do less

The last slide graphic took a little more pondering. After letting it brew a while, an idea came to me related to resizing objects in design software.

What about the word LESS in the lower left corner of a rectangle with an arrow pointing from the upper right corner back at LESS? Yep, perfect:

The third and final piece down and out.

I sent iPhone photos of the sketches to David and he loved all 3 ideas.

Solving the Scanner Problem

But how would I get these 3 ideas from my Moleskine onto my MacBook and into the master Photoshop slide document?

That's when I thought — why not use my iPhone's camera?

I found good natural lighting and shot photos of the 3 sketches as close-up and straight-on as possible. Photos were synced to my MacBook and into iPhoto.

The iPhone's camera quality was just fine.

In Photoshop, I played with levels, contrast, brightness and sharpening to get the art to the same quality as the rest of David's presentation images, to match the scanned REWORK illustrations he was already using.

Slides Done. Ready to Rock

When the slides were done, I sent David a set of PNGs for his presentation:

David was pleased with the new art and the Saturday afternoon delivery.

Mission Accomplished

On stage Sunday morning, David's slides looked great. I loved solving the challenge creatively and technically with the limited tools I had on the road.

Next time you find yourself faced with a challenge and what seem like limited tools, revise your assumptions. Think creatively about how you can embrace limitations and use what you have to solve the problem.

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