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Entries in Observations (73)


Milwaukee Beer & Brat Bash: We Made it Happen

Mbbb 2011 Patio

TWO YEARS AGO, I was at Austin airport, waiting for a plane with my friends Brian Artka and Derek Dysart when the idea for the Milwaukee Beer & Brat Bash was born.

We were hanging out in the departure lounge, coming off a great week at SXSW Interactive in Austin, TX. We ate our last breakfast tacos while recalling our experiences when Brian suggested we throw our own Milwaukee party for everyone at SXSW.

It would be an opportunity to share a little Milwaukee culture with the variety of people at SXSW and create a fun atmosphere for them to meet each other and us. Most of all, our party idea would be different than every other party at SXSW.

We loved the idea, but as ideas often do, it hibernated for several months.

The Re-awakening

In December 2009, the idea re-awakened in Brian's head, as he prepared for SXSW 2010. He asked me if I was interested in taking the Milwaukee party idea seriously.

I was game, and so were several other Milwaukee SXSW attendees and a friend from Austin. So, in January, we researched venues, food and sponsors. We were going to make it happen.

A contract for a venue was signed and money put down, even though we didn't know how many (if any) people would attend the event, or without having all of the needed sponsors lined up. If this idea went bad it could have been costly, though bearable.

Milwaukee Beer & Brat Bash 2010

For the first event in 2010, we arrived in Austin excited about the event, inviting everyone we saw to the Bash. Eventually our little Bash was mentioned in a variety of online newspapers and on Twitter accounts — a pleasant surprise!

When the day came it was rainy, so using the Cedar Door patio was out. The staff invited us to use the restaurant to serve our 200 guests beer brats, potato salad, cookies, and Milwaukee beer, all while enjoying the company of other attendees.

My favorite story of the day was from a guest who said his bratwurst brought back fond memories of Oakland A's games. As a kid, he would spend his summer days watching baseball and eating his fill of brats.

With a belief in ourselves and lots of hard work, our first Bash was a success.

Milwaukee Beer & Brat Bash 2011

Happy guestsIn late 2010, with experience and a successful Bash already under our belts, we worked out the details, convinced sponsors to join the fun and put on another great Bash.

For the 2nd annual Bash, we finally had the Cedar Door's sunny patio as well as the interior of the restaurant. This helped us serve 360 guests delicious Milwaukee beer-soaked bratwurst, regular and Pretzel buns and Tofurky brats for our vegetarian guests. Of course we had potato salad, cookies and Milwaukee beer to round out the Bash menu for 2011.

For 2011, we raffled bags of coffee from Milwaukee's Stone Creek Coffee and 18 Milwaukee Beer & Brat Bash t-shirts printed in Superbowl Champion Green Bay Packer green & gold.

The Bash was a hit. SXSW attendees had something fun and different to enjoy during the day. We were able to share a little Milwaukee culture and love with our friends and colleagues in Austin.

I was sick and couldn't make it to Austin for the event, but the team stepped up and did a great job of making the Bash a huge success. I was able to invite many of my friends to the Bash remotely and watch the event over a UStream channel, set up by the team.

Make it Happen

The key lesson learned from the Bash?

Take initiative and make something happen.

Nobody in Milwaukee or Austin gave us permission. We decided to do it for ourselves.

We had no experience organizing an event, but we had experience in other areas of life and business, which we used to make the Bash happen.

You can do more than you think you can.

Notes and Tips

For others considering an event, I want to share a few things we learned through the process of planning and running the Milwaukee Beer & Brat Bash, two years in a row:

1. Use a collaboration tool for your team. One of the best things we did was to create a Basecamp project for the Bash. It became a central hub where discussions happened. Basecamp worked well via email, freeing the team to reply on the web app or on a mobile device. Basecamp threads from '10 were very helpful in planning the '11 Bash.

2. Keep the team small and delegate. Because our team was small and everyone pitched in, the load was never overbearing for any one person. This year when I had to recover from a sickness, having others there to take up the organization was critical to making the event happen even with me out of commission.

3. Don't be afraid to ask for sponsorships. If you decide to seek sponsorships, ask everyone you can think of. We asked many more companies and individuals to help than accepted the opportunity. We also were open to small donations from individuals and small businesses, because every dollar helps.

4. Designate one person to handle the funds. It might be tempting to have all sorts of team members accept money, but we found having one person handle funds worked best and kept the process simple for our team and sponsors.

5. Say thank you. After the event we made it a point to contact every sponsor and say thank you for their help, with a report about the event and links to event photos and new coverage from local radio and news outlets.

Thank You!

Thanks go to the teams for the 2010 and 2011 Bashes: Brian Artka, Derek Dysart, Tracy Apps, Hung Nguyen, Andy Wright, Cindi Thomas and Kevin Ciesielski.

Thanks also to our sponsors who made the Milwaukee Beer & Brat Bashes happen. We appreciate you all.


Here are articles and audio about the Bash in the media

Milwaukee BizTimes: Milwaukee beer and brats: a smash at national festival
88Nine Radio: Perceptions of Milwaukee (Audio)
88Nine Radio: Other Cities "Beer & Brats" (Audio)

Photos by Tracy Apps


Becoming Fully Who You Are

Art show extravaganzaHAD A GREAT DISCUSSION my friend Kyle Steed today. I told him how impressed I've been watching him grow into himself through his work, becoming more fully Kyle every single day.

I was reminded how important it is to focus on becoming fully who we are in a world where it's the default state to compare ourselves to others who are not us.

Seven years ago I wrote In The Valley of the Shadow of Creativity after seeing amazing design work and being bummed rather than inspired by it.

I described the temptation to measure myself unfairly against others and the work they do, judging my own work harshly when I fell short.

Since then I've shifted my mindset in two ways:

1. To celebrate the great work others do, letting it inspire and not deflate me
2. To focus on the unique work I'm able to do, striving to be the best me I can be

That shift in mindset has made all the difference.

Rather than feeling I'm competing with others, I can appreciate, enjoy, celebrate and encourage the work I see them doing. When I take this approach, it encourages me in the process, inspiring me to be my best while enjoying others' success. It's also a net positive, because those who are celebrated are encouraged to do the same for others.

Celebration of others reminds me how unique they are and I am. I then focus on ways to become more true to myself in the work I'm doing. How can I bring my unique experiences into my work? In what ways can I express my personality, thinking and sense of humor in the projects I do for myself and others?

My challenges to you:

1. Let go of your comparisons with others who are not you.
2. Ponder what unique qualities you have and how they can impact your work.
3. Focus on becoming fully who you are.
4. Become the best you possible.


Stop apologizing for who you are - Jeffrey Platts


Green Bay Packers: Superbowl XLV Champions


I'm so proud of the Green Bay Packers, as they've won the Superbowl XLV against the Pittsburgh Steelers, 31-25.

What a great way to end the season after after earning the 2010 NFC Championship title with a wins over the Chicago Bears, Atlanta Falcons and Philadelphia Eagles — all on the road.

It's been a tough couple of years as a Packer fan, with the Favre circus and this year's team dealing with so many injuries.

What a wonderful experience to watch the Packers come together and unify, beat the top 3 seeds in the NFC on the road, and then win Superbowl XLV in Dallas.

I've been most impressed with how this team sticks together and just keeps fighting and believing in each other, despite circumstances. I've been personally encouraged with their example of never giving up, even when things get tough. Coach Mike McCarthy said it best:

“Really, with the way our season went, the trials and tribulations that we encountered, to me, that was how we were shaped,” McCarthy said. “I think it's made us a better football team. It's challenged our character. I think we’re really grown through it. Our players truly believe that we will be successful in Dallas, just like they truly believed that we were going to be successful here today.”

Character is where it's really at - in football and in life.

Congratulations Green Bay Packers!

Related Links

I've just found these excellent videos capturing the sound and imagery of the game: - Sound FX: Super Bowl XLV part 1 - Sound FX: Super Bowl XLV part 2 - Sound FX: Super Bowl XLV part 3 - Ultimate Audio: Superbowl XLV

Photo: Rick Wood


How I Survived My Crazy Good Year

2010 has been busy, hectic, crazy good year for me.

As January draws to a close, I'm in the mood this early Sunday morning to capture my thoughts and finish a post which started as a ramble back in December 2010.

Some 2010 Highlights

Rohdesign Studios LLC launched in January 2010, to handle side projects I'd been doing as a sole proprietor for a few years. It was better from a tax perspective, helped me think about my business and focused my thoughts on the work I'm most passionate about.

88 REWORK Illustrations created for the 37signals business book REWORK were released in March and have been a huge success. REWORK was a Wall Street Journal and New York Times bestseller and winner of 800 CEO READ's Business Book of 2010.

Illustration and Sketchnoting projects increased. I worked with 37signals, JESS3, Tribal DDB, Associations Now Magazine, PeepCode, and many others doing the sketchnote illustration work I'm known for and am passionate about creating.

SXSW Interactive 2010 featured Visual Note-Taking 101, a standing room only panel that was fun to present and encouraging to the large crowd on hand. 2010 marked the first Milwaukee Beer & Brat Bash at the Cedar Door in Austin. I and a group of friends planned and pulled off a party with over 200 attendees on the last rainy day of SXSW Interactive 2010. Sketchnotes were a big part of SXSW too.

A new job with Gomoll Research + Design in Milwaukee, made GRD my professional home in June. As a user experience designer, I began working on challenging, user-centered UI and visual design projects. GRD's flexibility made it easy to work on the most interesting identity and sketchnote projects through Rohdesign Studios.

Speaking opportunities opened up in 2010, including a panel at SXSW Interactive 2010, a Pecha Kucha presentation, talks at DrawCamp, BarCampMilwaukee5, LikeMind and MKEUX. I also enjoyed presenting visual thinking and sketchnoting workshops with James Carlson at Marquette University and Milwaukee Institute of Art and Design.

It was a great year and I'm excited about what's coming in 2011.

The Downside of Being Crazy Busy

Being crazy busy is great — for a while. There are plenty of opportunities to do interesting work and earn money. But crazy busy-ness eventually caught up with me.

In October of 2009 we welcomed baby Linnea to our family. She's amazing. But babies have an ability to turn your life upside down.

Mix in lots of work opportunities, a job change, a flooded basement from a failed sump-pump and a year's worth of everyday life challenges: I had a recipe for burnout brewing.

Near the end of last year I felt pretty wiped out. I wasn't quite burned out, but was overloaded and was really feeling it. Burnout is a funny thing, because it sneaks up on you slowly, until one day you just don't feel the drive to crank work out any more.

Fortunately, read my friend Scott Bom's excellent article in ALA 284 titled Burnout and recalled it as I saw my own burnout flags on the horizon:

When you’re burned out, you know it. You can feel it and taste it, but in order to get past, it you have to acknowledge it and fight to restore your internal equilibrium. Stop, decompress, communicate, and focus. That process often begins with a look inward to learn what gives your life balance, such as family, friends, personal interests, and hobbies—the things that counterbalance your life on the web.

Scott, my friend, thank you.

Changing Gears

I slowed things down as much as I could and declined many new projects. I always spend evenings with my wife and kids until the kids go to bed, but the late nights were having too much impact, so I cut them back.

Instead of finding ways to fit more projects in, I reversed my approach. I picked the days and hours I wanted to work in a week (no weekends, no Friday nights) and settled on a reasonable number of hours I could work per week on Rohdesign Studios projects. Those are my hours and with them, I choose projects and clients.

I've become picky about projects I will work on and clients I will work for. Sketchnote illustration work and interesting identity challenges are my passion. Working with great people, while receiving what I'm worth for those projects is key. It's too easy to trade time for money, but time is priceless and money can't be converted back into time.

This new approach is a work in progress, but I feel good about these changes.

I hope my story and Scott's article will offer some encouragement, if you see and feeling burnout coming and aren't sure what to do about it.

Your life is short — live it well.


Burnout by Scott Boms, A List Apart 248.

Tim Shuman's Unstringing the Bow - Blog by Tim, who has experience with burnout in his own life and shares thoughts on the topic and sketching as therapy.


Encouragement for Late Bloomers

Charles Babbage

As a late bloomer, I found this post: Babbage's heart-warming message for the middle-aged from John Graham-Cumming very encouraging.

Charles Babbage started late in life and yet managed to achieve amazing technological feats.

He invented the Difference Engine (a completely mechanical calculator) and the Analytical Engine (a completely mechanical computer) starting in 1833 at 42, right through 1871 when he died at 79.

From Graham-Cumming's post:

"You might think that designing the first computer would be a young man's game. Far from it. Charles Babbage started work on the Analytical Engine in 1833. He was 42 years old.

He kept working on designs for the Analytical Engine until 1846 when he was 55. He then stopped working on it and spent time on the Difference Engine No. 2 which was constructed by the Science Museum in the late 1980s.

Babbage returned to the Analytical Engine in the mid-1850s when he was 65 and kept working on it until his death in 1871 (aged 79)."

It's a refreshing reminder that both youth and age have pros and cons.

The young have energy, drive and can burn the candle at both ends a bit longer. Older, more experienced late-bloomers have a lifetime of successes and failures to draw on.

The Late Blooming Advantage

I used to view my late blooming as a disadvantage. I thought I was slower than everyone else because maybe there was something wrong with me. What I've come to understand is, my late blooming life is a gift to be appreciated and enjoyed.

The ability to see and understand patterns has come only with age and experience. I still make mistakes, but more often than not, I've found myself able to see what's coming and adapt to situations in a way I wouldn't have when I was younger.

I've grown to appreciate the chance I have to do work I love — every single day.

I know I'm fortunate, because not everyone is so lucky. However, I've also learned that loving what you do is up to you, whatever your work happens to be.

My most important realization? An appreciation of the process.

In the process of creating — deeply in the flow of moment — that's where the joy is for me. Even if the task is incredibly challenging, being in the middle of solving it is joyful.

Are you a late-bloomer like me?

What have you learned? What can you share?