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Mike Rohde (Color - Square)

ROHDESIGN is the website of designer Mike Rohde, who writes on design, sketching, drawing, sketchnotes, technology, travel, cycling, books & coffee.
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Entries from February 1, 2005 - February 28, 2005


Zire 72 Found!

busted-te.jpgWow, quite a response! Within minutes I had my first reply and by this morning, 5 people with various devices to offer to us. Amazing!

In the end we've decided on a Zire 72 being offered by reader Fazal Majid. Gail is very excited about having a camera-enabled device for capturing photos of our Son.

Many thanks to all of those offering devices to us so quickly, including Chris, Fazal, Tyler, Melanie and Mark. You guys all rock — I feel bad that I could only choose one offer. :-)

(If someone out there is looking for a Zire 71, Tungsten E or Tungsten T3 offered by one of the folks above, drop me a line and I'll help connect you.)

In the end, I'm very encouraged about web-citizens. I deal with comment spam, trackback spam, email spam and everything else bad web-citizens do — it's refreshing to see the positive side of web folks so personally.

Thanks everyone.

February 26, 2005

Ugh. Tonight I discovered my Tungsten E's LCD screen must have been squished earlier today, and is now broken, and leaking.

Dead Tungsten E.

After about an hour of scouring eBay and other sites for deals on a new, used and refurbished Tungsten E, I've decided to try using my blog for finding a potential Palm OS PDA. I figured, why not ask readers if they, or someone they know is moving up to a new PDA, and needs to sell an old device to a good home.

I really like my Tungsten E (well besides the busted screen), though of late I'm using for only a few main reasons: reading news and blogs in iSilo, reading e-books and the Bible, listening to music and podcast MP3s, checking my contacts and schedule, and a few more small tasks.

My wife has always wanted a Zire 71 or 72, for the camera. Me, I'm just fine with a Tungsten E right now, but either of these would be interesting to us. If we ended up choosing a Zire 71/72, I'd just take Gail's Tungsten E for myself.


Just Good Business

While talking with my good friend Michael Ashby during lunch today, we came upon the topic of being a good business person. What was interesting about our chat was, how basic and simple those activities and habits seem to be.

What brought this to mind?

Well, I've entered a logo design contest recently, being voted upon by registered members of a community. As it turns out, the leading logo candidate may have been done with the use of a cookie-cutter logo from a logo-off-the-shelf website. I was amazed that someone would copy a logomark, verbatim, and try to pass it off as a unique submission!

This of course bodes well for my own, original submission (currently in 2nd position). But more importantly, it reminded me what some seem willing to do to win contests or projects — and conversely, what being a good, decent business person means.

From the chat Mike and I had, here are some of the things we see as just basic common sense ideas for good business:

Be human. I think this is really at the heart of the Cluetrain Manifesto. People are social creatures and want to connect to others, personally and professionally. Not everything need be about business 24/7. Besides, opening yourself as a human being provides a window into yourself that can encourage clients to relate to you and remain loyal.

Communicate. Do it often. Do it when things are going well and especially when things not going well. I follow the rule "contact the client before they contact you" in daily business life. That means being the first one to share good news or problems — especially problems. I'm the first to admit I fail sometimes, but I try to improve each day. It's a process that takes effort.

Be honest. Rather than trying to make yourself look good, be honest with those you are dealing with. I've found that telling things as they are has a credibility that can't be matched in any other way. It's also good for your soul and conscience. :-)

Share. If you see something your client might be interested in, let them know about it and why. If you think background on a decision you've made will give insight to the decision, share it. I like to offer detailed notes about every design I offer, because I can share the 'whys' with clients. I've found my notes not only defend my ideas, but often will resolve questions and issues which would have arisen had I not clarified my thinking. Sharing details also shows you are thinking and reasoning through your client's problem toward a solution.

Be generous. If you can give a little more than you've promised, it generates good vibes right from the start. It's been described as 'under-promise and over-deliver', but I like the term generosity better. Being generous might mean a little less short-term profit, but in the long term, it shows you have the client's interests at heart as well as your own, and breeds loyalty and appreciation. I love the story at Diva Marketing about Corner Grocery Store Relationships, which describes this as adding something special.

Deliver. If you say you'll do something, do it. If delivery is impossible, notify the client before the delivery date with an explanation and a new delivery date. I have a tendency to want to please clients, and tend to leave less time than I ought to. So I've been trying to set more realistic goals with a little margin allowing life to intervene. I'm still working on this aspect of my professional life — I suspect it will be another area I'll need to constantly strive to improve.

Be Nice. In this high-tech world of electronic communications, it's very easy to leave niceness out of our discussions. Why not be that person who adds a level of niceness to your communications? It could be the only sunshine in someone's lousy day. Be creative too! There's nothing like a thank you phone call or hand-written thank you to improve someone's attitude.

Listen to your gut. I've been much more aware of what my gut says in situations and have found it to be right more often than not. In fact, when I've made a mistake, I'll look back to key decisions and it often was the opposite or slightly off what my gut said I should do. Part of this approach is putting yourself in your client's place, to help determine what you'd like to have happen. The hard part is getting in the habit of asking yourself, "what does my gut say", then acting on it.

Be thankful. I can tell you that kind words really do make my day. I love receiving comments form people thankful for something I've done, because they remind me of the reasons why I do what I do. Therefore, by being the thankful one who shares thanks with a client, colleagues or even a competitor, I'm becoming the encourager. More than scoring points with someone, this is just the way I want to act, whether it gains me business leads or not. Thankfulness breeds thankfulness.

Now, I will claim no authority as a business guru. I'm just a regular guy who's trying to constantly learn from my experiences, to the benefit of my clients and my business sense. I'm certainly not perfect — I make mistakes all the time. But I think the real key is learning from mistakes, with a focus on improvement.

If you have ideas on what makes good business practice, please take a moment to add your voice in the comments. I'd truly love to learn more good ideas from others on this topic. If I like them, I'll add them to the list with a link to your site.


2 Years Blogging

Two Years.

It's hard to believe I've been hammering away at my blog for two years.

I had been reading several blogs for over a year. I admired the writing of blogs I read and I began to look forward to the thoughts being shared at those favorite places every day.

I thought, "Why couldn't I write a blog? Why not just try it?"

So I did. I got a free account and began writing. At the same time, I was letting go of the Palm Tipsheet, mainly because I felt it had run its course, and I longed to write about so much more than just Palm handhelds.

My next concern was, would I lose interest in writing? Would my blog end up another ghost town of ancient, rotting posts?

Here I am, two years later. Now I can't imagine not having a blog.

My blog has become a public place to share thoughts, float ideas, share stories, sketches and design work — a place to experiment and receive feedback from interesting people. It allows friends, family and new readers to explore my stream of consciousness. It's like a vapor trail of thoughts.

It's funny, because last week I met my first fellow blogger from Milwaukee, Todd Sattersten. In our lunch conversation, he told me how much he appreciates meeting bloggers, because he can read their archives beforehand to get a much deeper, clearer picture of them.

I think blogging is hitting mainstream now, for that very reason. Regular people are finding other regular people freely sharing of themselves. It may be the sharing of wisdom, or stories, or opinions. Whatever the "it" might be, the act of sharing reveals that we are all human beings, who think and laugh — and screw up.

Blogs provide a way for people on a digital network to connect. Blogs are great, because people make them so. It's not the features, or the platform, or the design — it's in the stories people are sharing with each other. It's the conversation, just like the Cluetrain said.

For me, blogging has challenged me to think, to write, to sketch and to share. I've met many new people through this space, and have most importantly, learned more about myself and others through the experience.

So, if you aren't blogging now, why not give it a shot? :-)


Rohdesign Version 2.0 Goes Live

Well, I did it. As of this writing (11:46 PM Saturday evening) the main page of the new weblog design is live. I hope you all like the new design as much as I do.

You may be asking, why the sudden change of design? Well actually, I've already stepped through most of the redesign process in the summer of 2004, stopping with a final design I liked at the time. A vacation interrupted the process for a week, but when I came back, the design I'd settled on just didn't feel quite right yet. So, rather than push it through, I decided to let the design percolate in my subconscious for a while.

During the course of percolation, I began to have other ideas about how the site should look, and what should be present. I knew for sure the site should be simple, clean, direct and readable, yet also attractive (I am a designer after all).

I began to feel strongly about adding a photo of myself on the site, which had been removed in the earlier redesign process. The more time I spend in web design and blogging, the more I feel that sites which portray a person (or persons) behind them have an edge over sites which do not. To me, they feel cold and impersonal.

An About page became a requirement (which is not yet fully expanded) to provide some background on myself for new visitors and for long-time readers alike.

I kept the Reading block from the most recent redesigns, and will probably add a Listening block (with a fave CD) very soon. I always find other bloggers' reading and music choices quite interesting, so it only made sense to include my own selections. These will be linked to my Amazon Associates account, so if you end up liking a book or CD I'm checking out, using those links is always appreciated. :-)

Part of the key for me was to start with stock Movable Type templates rather than from scratch on the project. Even though I've done a fair amount of editing, it really helped to have a starting point — I'm sure they will continue to be tweaked and adjusted.

Overall, I'm very pleased with the redesign results. I'm certain there will be changes coming, but I've at least stepped through the door now. Now that I'm through, it seems less of a challenge to adapt the remaining templates to the new look.

Finally, if you see issues, errors or freaky reactions in your favorite browser, please leave a comment or contact me with the details.

Update 2005-02-21
Reader Fazal Majid sent along a nice email today, pointing out some of the missing styling on the site. I replied to Fazal, and thought it might be interesting to post some bits of my reply and a few other thoughts related to the redesign.

Unstyled Pages
So, you may have noticed some ugly supporting pages on the blog (permalinks, archives, etc.). Reason: rather than trying to get a perfect design ready and launch all at once, I made a decision to make it a process — the main page first, followed by secondary and supporting pages.

"Life is not a dress rehearsal. Quit practicing what you're going to do, and just do it. In one bold stroke you can transform today." — Marilyn Grey

The unstyled pages for permalinks, comments and archives for a little while, until I'm free to get in and apply the new templates and stylesheets. I've intentionally allowed the un-styling to exist, rather than waiting for every page to be perfect.

By keeping this a process, I can improve the design and function as I go, rather than taking months to build something only to go through the same process later. Besides, I was curious to see what kind of feedback my readers would provide.

"We'd much rather see entrepreneurs build something quickly, get it out there, and let the customers bang on it and evolve it. The entrepreneurs who insist on over engineering their solutions inevitably end up with nothing to show for it." — Fred Wilson

It's been an interesting experience to let go. As long as the site is functional and ugly, I'm Ok with that. Instead of modifying the entire site in an all-nighter, I can make smaller changes when time allows.

Stark Design
Fazal also commented on the starkness of the design. I had a few reasons for such a clean, simple design. Since the primary focus on this site is writing, I wanted the text to receive the focus. I plan to keep the design simple and elegant — maybe a little more stark than I might normally allow.

At lunch today, I resolved most of the issues with the main page — mainly Internet Explorer 6 problems (surprise, surprise!). I've added a new color bar up top, to replace a gradation that was a bit too light.

There are still more changes coming. If you see any weirdness or have suggestions, I'm quite open to your thoughts. Rather than assuming I know what readers want, I'd love to hear it from you directly.

Thanks again for all of the excellent comments and encouragement!


Tuesday @ The Office Sketchtoon

Tuesday @ The OfficeIt's been a very busy stretch here in rohdesign-land, which has meant much less focus on the blog than I'd have liked. But hey, such is life. I still love my blog and think of ideas for posts all the time — finding the time to write out posts is much more of a challenge. :-)

This week I came across a I'd forgotten in my pocket Moleskine sketchbook. It was scribbled over a month ago (prior to the proj: exhibition project), when I'd first started formalizing sketchtoon formatting. Early one morning, I had a blank Moleskine page in front of me while running the Mac OS X 10.3.6 updater. I grabbed my G2 pen and began to scribble. Whatever caught my eye on the desk found a space on the page, including some old grade school scissors I keep in my pen holder.

This sketch was actually quite loose compared to most of the proj: exhibition sketches, which I like quite a bit. The looseness adds a little something. It also reminds me of the loose sketching exercises in drawing class we used to do as a design students.

We were given an object to draw, then a timer was set (with an alarm) to limit our drawing. Gradually, the time was reduced — 3 minutes, 2 minutes, 1 minute, 30 seconds, 15, 5 and finally 1 second. This exercise always amazed me because not only did it loosen my mind and hand, but it helped me produce wonderful sketches.

Maybe I ought to try those speed-sketch exercises again? Hmmm....