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Entries in Creativity (23)


SEED Conference Thoughts & Sketchnotes

SEED Conference: Sketchnotes 17Whew! I'm back from Monday's excellent SEED Conference in Chicago.

What a great event! The Illinois Institute of Technology and Rem Koolhaas' Tribune Student Center building, was an incredibly cool venue. Funky lines and the architectural space provided a unique backdrop for the sessions of the day.

Carlos Segura
All of the sessions were very good, though the most interesting for me as a designer was hearing Carlos Segura speak. He talked about taking risks and thinking deeper for clients and going beyond only what they ask to figuring out what they really need.

I was especially inspired by the Corbis Stock Photo case study, where Carlos' team changed the stock agency's overall approach to consider their clients (designers) and in doing so, changed an entire industry.

Segura also stressed keeping small, working on projects and with clients you really want to work with. Good work comes from these situations, and by staying small you aren't constantly taking jobs you dislike just to keep everyone busy. In fact, this turned into a thread that connected all of the talks of the day.

Jason Fried
Jason spoke very briefly, so he could open the floor for lots of Q&A time. He recommended these 5 items:

  • Watch out for red flags
  • Keep your team small
  • Make sure your staff has alone time
  • Keep meetings short and focused
  • Make tiny decisions instead of massive ones

Jason also recommended a small team size, though his perspective focused a little more on communication issues with small vs. large teams and scaling projects to fit your team size rather than scaling your team to fit scope.

I resonated most with Jason's call for alone time. I work remotely, but even though I work alone, there is always a temptation towards IM, email or phone calls, and I find that blocking out chunks of alone time makes a difference. I know this may be a tough one for the multi-tasking generation, but I think it really can help your focus.

Jim Coudal
I loved Jim Coudal's candor and relaxed approach, and especially his openness in sharing his firm's successes and failures. He shared several stories and films, and drew ideas from them. My take away:

  • Be curious
  • Choose people on their taste
  • Don't be afraid to fail

Jim talked about his curiosity and how many of the things he's been curious about have turned into business ideas. Curiosity helps with client work, since you can get to speed quickly and often see a problem from a different perspective than the client.

He also talked about identifying people and hiring them on taste over technical talent. Not untalented people with taste, but rather if you had to choose between two people and one had good taste, go with taste over talent.

Coudal suggested that failures are OK. They're learning experiences which often create opportunities that might never have happened otherwise. You have to learn to identify and capitalize on unexpected opportunities that often grow out of failures.

Discussion Session: Segura, Fried & Coudal
The most interesting of the sessions was the final hour or so of open discussion time with Carlos, Jason and Jim at the front of the room. They fielded all sorts of questions from attendees about their ideas. Questions about small teams, marketing, simplicity, community, building products while still managing client work, questions about creating apps that rely solely on other platorms (Facebook), and more.

Of all the sessions, this was the one I and the 4 other guys I met, thought was the best of all. Why? Because they had a chance to respond immediately and candidly to random questions. I also enjoyed hearing them discuss and explore ideas in depth that hadn't come out in their talks. Finally, it was interesting to hear their similarity of thought and subtle differences of approach and opinion on the same questions.

As mentioned last week, I took my pocket Moleskine sketchbook along and captured 17 pages of sketchnotes, from the entire day's talks and discussions, including Carlos Segura, Jason Fried, Edward Lifson and Jim Coudal.

I didn't try to capture everything said during yeterday's event, since others were probably doing that.

Instead, I took time to listen and analyze the talks, distilling and capturing the main ideas I was hearing. By doing a bit of on-the-fly processing, it forced me to boil down what was being said, then express it in ink on the page in a way that would be meaningful to me and to others who might read my sketchnotes later.

To make the notes interesting, I played with typography and images with the sketchnotes, to provide a little texture and depth beyond pages of gray text.

SEED Sketchnotes on Coudal Partners
Seems my notes have struck a chord. Jim Coudal of Coudal Partners emailed about my sketchnotes on Flickr and made mention in their Fresh Signals feed. Thanks Jim!

SEED Sketchnotes on Signal vs. Noise
Awesome! 37signals noticed them too: Mike Rohde's SEED Conference 2007 sketchbook notes. Thanks Matt!

Pretty cool to have speakers and sponsors mention notes taken during the event. :-)

Overall, SEED Conference was well worth the time and price to attend.

Created with Admarket's flickrSLiDR.


Give a Kid a Camera...

Nathan Self Portrait: SmileThis is what happens when a 4 year old boy gets hold of your camera.

My wife and I were cracking up as we imported some of the images he made of himself and surrounding objects while we attended a Milwaukee Brewer's baseball game last Friday night.

I've been impressed with Nathan's eye with a camera. He's very serious when shooting, and often seems to deliberately frame shots, though many times his shows seem less than intentional.

Sky Blue TextureI quite liked his set of blurred and gradated background images, which I might come in handy for future design projects. I especially like the blue gradation background shown on the left. Those make me want to set him loose with a digital camera and a 2GB card just to see what he comes up with! :-)

I'm planning to work with Nathan on his camera skills, so he can better understand what he's doing. Whatever the case, I find a deep, unexplainable enjoyment as I watch him explore his world and express himself through a camera lens.


My Podcast Interview on The Micro ISV Show

ch9bot.gifA few weeks ago, I was invited by author, micro-business owner and new MakaluMedia logo design client Bob Walsh, to be interviewed on Microsoft's The MicroISV Show (a podcast for software developers) with co-host Michael Lehman:

It's a brave new world for MicroISVs in which it's no longer enough to drag some controls onto a form and simply make sure they're lined up and the tab order is right. The mantra "form follows function" is becoming more and more important for developers as advent of Windows Vista, WPF and Silverlight once again change the expectations of how customers perceive software. You've got to "put your best face forward" and think about design of the user experience right from the beginning.

In this episode, Michael Lehman and Bob Walsh talk to Mike Rohde, designer and art director for MakaluMedia, about the changing role of design in software development and how and why MicroISVs must incorporate design thinking into their development process.

Listen to The Micro ISV Show #22 podcast:

• Putting your best face forward - The growing importance of design for MicroISVs
• Direct Podcast MP3 Link (Size: 36MB, Runtime: 40:13)

We had a great time! I had an opportunity to talk a bit about my views on design being more than window-dressing on applications, the importance of starting early with a designer, how to choose a designer, vector-based development tools and how they may effect developers and designers, and more.

Bob worked in questions about my creative process, asked how I generate so many sketch ideas, and even slipped in a mention of my Moleskine Planner Hack project.

Have a listen and let me know what you think.


Weekend Sketches

This weekend I made a conscious effort to bring my Moleskine sketchbook with me everywhere, having been challenged by Tommy Kane's Push Yourself post last week.

Below are two pieces I sketched this weekend:

Sketch 1: My son Nathan and I went to his preschool on Saturday for an Easter egg hunt. Part of the afternoon included giving the kids helium-filled balloons to bounce and chase around the church fellowship hall. The kids had such a blast — I had to try and capture Nathan's joy at play. This one was pretty quick and loose, with my focus on capturing the feeling I had, rather than being perfectly proportional.

Sketch 2: The right page was done Saturday night, after seeing the the film Peaceful Warrior. The film was a little cheesy and full of platitudes for dialogue. Still, the phrase "There are no ordinary moments" seemed to bubble up in my mind just before bed. I grabbed my sketchbook and let the idea direct my sketch, trying not to think too much about the technical details. My approach was to look at this phrase as a challenge to sketch those "un-ordinary moments" rather than lose them.

As I prepared the scan today, I realized Nathan's balloon-jumping sketch was one of those "un-ordinary moments" I'd captured Saturday morning, before the words themselves were spoken in the film, later the same evening.

Thanks Tommy for the challenge to sketch, especially when it's hard. If you're reading this post and are thinking about sketching again, or for the first time — do it! :-)



Yesterday my good friend Armand from Moleskinerie and I launched a new weblog for lovers of analog pens, fine papers, journals and sketchbooks. It's called Journalisimo.

Our manifesto is short and sweet:

This weblog is an attempt to invite a return to analog. Many of us live very digital lives. We push pixels around screens. Our lives are stored as bits on shiny hard drives. Our words and images can be published online, available moments later, all around the world. But this digital life can often seem very shallow.

While we recognize the power of our digital existence, we long for the tactile feel of ink on paper. We celebrate the freedom from power supplies,  batteries, wireless networks and fragile electronics. We seek to elevate the written word and the freehand sketch on fine paper. We celebrate the  journal as the optimal analog device for expression and enjoyment.


The Journalisimo blog idea has brewing for many months, prior to our launch this week. It was the combination of my WSJ appearance, along with Marc Orchant and Merlin Mann, which set us both off, though we could both sense a trend toward Moleskines and other paper journals being adopted by bloggers and the digerati. It made sense to provide a resource for those people and focus it on journals generically, rather than one specific brand.

We've been in on the analog journaling and sketching trend in the tech/blog community for a bit over a year now and we only see it increasing. We both see digitally oriented folks getting frustrated with their computer tools, or just seeking a respite from their immersive digital lives. Analog journals and pens seem to fit the bill.

So, it only made sense to begin Journalisimo as our way to connect people searching for analog solutions to people generating analog solutions. Armand and I like to think of Journalisimo as the analog doppelganger to Engadget. :-)

I'm the design and creative director for the new blog, while Armand is the one posting the bulk of the daily posts. I intend to write up longer articles and reviews to post from time to time, while Armand hunts down daily doses of unique, unusual and interesting tidbits on the analog lifestyle.

We welcome your suggestions and notifications on analog blog posts and articles. if you have suggestions or links to share, please visit our little Blog, drop a line or leave a comment. :-)