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Entries in Observations (73)


Year in Review: 2007

Happy New Year!

Mike Rohde Portrait: Cream BricksI know it's a week into 2008 as I write these words. It's taken a week to process my thoughts on 2007.

Here are a few thoughts on what happened and what I've learned, in no particular order.

Lessons from Belize
In July, Gail and I and 30 others from our church headed to Belize, Central America for a service trip. What an amazing experience. We spent the week visiting nursing homes, running a Vacation Bible School, playing sports and hanging out with the people of St. Margaret's Village. The people were friendly, the food was delicious, and the landscapes were incredibly beautiful. I sketched.

Initially, I found the poverty of Belize, especially in the village, a bit shocking. However, as I lived among the people for a short time, I came to see how content and free Belizeans were with their lack of stuff. It's had an impact, causing me think much more critically about all of the stuff I have, much of it gathering dust or in boxes. This is something that will be dealt with in 2008.

The openness of the villagers was wonderful. On several occasions, small teams walked through the village, stopping to meet people. We'd talk, with no regard for time. In one case we were given fresh pineapple juice and 3 pineapples to go, after a visit with a hospitable Mennonite family. We said thanks with a sketchtoon.

I now realize how truly precious clean water is, after drinking so much of it daily. I'll never look at water the same way again.

Selling & Buying Homes
This year sold our house, buying a little bit larger place. We worked hard to prepare our home, cleaning, storing stuff off-site and staging it for an open house Memorial Day weekend. The hard work paid off in a quick sale (5 days).

Searching for houses tough work too. After staging our home, we were amazed at the condition a few sellers showed their houses in. After hours of visits and showings, we found a place we really love, in beautiful area. I'm just glad it's done.

My advice: locate the best real estate agent you can find to guide you. Be picky. Our agent, Donna Best, spent time educating us, searching house and making everything about the process so much easier. With a trip to Belize in the mix of selling and buying, having Donna on our team was literally a Godsend.

Moving is a Pain
Moving took its toll on my productivity. The new office features a window, which is a great improvement, though I came to see how much work I'd invested in setting up the original office these past 6 years. After 5 months in the new office, I'm just starting to feel settled and on the road to full productivity.

We still have boxes to unpack, and areas to finalize in the house, which is also a bit painful. Fortunately, the opportunity to remake the house into our own space counterbalances the pain somewhat. A remodeled kitchen is on the top of the list.

I Love Blogging
Its amazing to have celebrated 4 years of blogging at Rohdesign in 2007. Back in February 2003, I never would have guessed I'd still be here four years later. I'm pleased that the Rohdesign Weblog has maintained its general nature, while gaining a focus on design in the past couple of years.

I've especially enjoyed sharing my logo and icon design processes, and those post seemed quite popular. In 2007 I've had several readers hire me to help with corporate identities, websites and icon design work. This year especially, I've found my blog is an excellent reference to my design work and thinking, 24/7/365.

Declining Apple
Back in October, I made a decision to decline a job opportunity to apply for the Apple iPhone/OS X team. Since writing that post, I've received many replies from readers, clients, friends and family, thanking me for sharing my story. The more I talk with friends and ponder the choice, the clearer I am about choosing my current path.

Sharing caused a few friends to share their own stories of turning down lucrative or prestigious opportunities. They've all encouraged my decision to choose my family, my work with MakaluMedia and Milwaukee over the glitter of Silicon Valley.

Business was Great
In 2007, business was great. After 3 years starting from scratch in offering my design services, I feel I've stepped to a new level. I'm working with great clients, doing very interesting and challenging work and making a profit.

I've been focusing on several key areas: logo design and branding, web design and icon design. Of these I most enjoy logo design which I can then apply to multiple other mediums like websites, business cards, stationery, manuals, ads — branding. I thoroughly enjoy building consistent packages from an identity, because I know the extra effort provides my clients a competitive advantage. It pays to notice the details.

Working with MicroISVs has been a wonderful, as I have access to the decision maker. Not only does this reduce excess communications with a group, it speeds the decision making process considerably. Plus it's fun being a MicroISV's secret weapon.

A Great Year
Overall, 2007 was a great year for me. Yes, selling houses and moving was a pain, but long-term is was a good move for our family. Belize was life-changing, work was satisfying and fun, and being approached by Apple was a huge highlight.

Thank you for reading my words, leaving comments, sending emails and sharing 2007 with me. I'm looking forward to new opportunities in 2008.


Goodbye Marc Orchant


I heard the news last night that my friend Marc Orchant passed away.

The world has lost a truly great man.

Marc suffered after a massive heart attack last week Sunday morning at his home in New Mexico and never recovered from it.

I met Marc when Jeremy Wagstaff contacted us both about a Loose Wire article for on the Moleskine. We started an email conversation from our shared appearance in that article, and had kept in touch ever since.

In my dealings with Marc, I found him an incredibly optimistic, encouraging and passionate guy. His optimism rubbed off on me every time we talked, and his encouragement of my work and me as a person will not be forgotten.

Even though we never met in person, Marc had a way of immediately treating me as an old friend. I was always encouraged by talks with him, and his high opinion of my work and thoughts. Marc bought the coffee items I created and sold, and constantly supported me with his encouraging words.

Marc, I'm really going to miss you buddy.

Photo: Brian Solis


Brett Favre: Sportsman of the Year 2007

favre.jpgHave you ever wondered why Packer fans in Wisconsin and around the country are so nuts for quarterback, Brett Favre?

Now you can find out: read Sports Illustrated's Sportsman of the Year 2007 Award article.

In this in-depth piece, Sports Illustrated's Alan Shipnuck covers Favre's on-field excellence, leadership role with the Packers, and his efforts off the field with sick and disabled kids in Wisconsin and Mississippi.

I love watching Brett play, but I'm even more impressed and inspired by his off field persona.

The Favre family have been to hell and back the last few years, yet they keep on fighting. Cancer, death, addictions, injury, just about anything a family could experience, the Favres have come through it.

"People here treat us like family, and I think they care for us like family," says Deanna. "Because of everything we've been through, they don't see Brett as untouchable or as some kind of superhero. And they've been through it with us. The fans here feel close to Brett because they've all had their own similar struggles. Nothing against Tom Brady or Peyton Manning, but I'm not sure their fans relate to them in the same way."

It's how they've come through adversity that inspires me. Never complaining about the hand they were dealt, they kept positive and kept fighting, showing their real mettle in how they handled the worst life had to offer.

"The funny thing is, it's not only about the touchdowns and the big victories. If I were to make a list, I would include the interceptions, the sacks, the really painful losses. Those times when I've been down, when I've been kicked around, I hold on to those. In a way those are the best times I've ever had, because that's when I've found out who I am. And what I want to be." — Brett Favre

I love John Biever's photo (above), because it so perfectly captures Brett's attitude.

Congratulations Brett! You deserve it!


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.


10 Years of

Rohdesign LogoThis morning iCal beeped at me, as it sometimes does, though today's message kinda surprised me: 10 is years old!

Wow, 10 years! Time has passed qucikly since registering in 1997.

So much has changed. When I first registered the domain, I was using Adobe PageMill to build my sites, fighting with layout quirks and strange code that seemed to appear when layouts got a bit too complex. What painful days they were.

I had a "Home Page" back then, and I was migrating from a tiny bit of space on AOL's servers, provided as a subscriber. I'd run into limitations with the space, was struggling with PageMill and it was time to take the next step.

I was playing with BBEdit by then, learning how HTML code worked, how to create fast-loading images, exploring FTP posting to my new space with Anarchie.

1997 was also the year I seriously considered joining Matt Henderson in his new company ExpoNet, which later became MakaluMedia, and visited Germany for the 3rd time, to attend the wedding of my friends Martin and Thea.

It's wild to see how far the web has come since 1997, and how I and my friends have changed in 10 years. In some ways I could never have imagined how different 2007 would look, while in other ways, how many things have remained the same.

Happy birthday! :-)

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