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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 May 1, 2004 - May 31, 2004

May282004 visits a McCafé

As some of you may know, I'm a big fan of coffee. One site I enjoy visiting from time to time is, for interesting and informative articles I find there. Even though I'm not quite as fanatical about technical details as many of the CoffeeGeek writers, I do enjoy learning about coffee.

Thursday, I came across a very intriguing article called McEspresso Comes to Town, about McDonald's exploring the coffee chain arena with a McCafé in Raleigh, North Carolina. Just the idea of McDonald's going after Starbucks' was curious to me, as I often think of Starbucks as the McDonald's of coffee joints.

Peter Giuliano's entire article is quite good, but there were a few tongue-in-cheeks portions I got a chuckle from:

As I approached the counter, Bonnie, the register keeper, hollered “Welcome To McCafe! Can I help you?” with a big smile. I don’t mean to review Bonnie’s personality here, but it occurred to me a couple of times that she was almost aggressively friendly. She had a take-no-prisoners kind of cheerfulness that clearly was a big big part of what she wanted to communicate to the world.

Maybe Bonnie had a few too many McEspressos that day? ;-)

Here's the other favorite bit from that article:

The big moment during the Cappuccino preparation was when she produced a special customized tool designed to shield certain parts of the drink from the shower of cinnamon she poured from a shaker. This operation resulted in a cute little “M” on the top of the cappuccino, reminding me that I was, indeed, in a McDonalds. Cool! The coffee was for some reason given to me in a paper cup, and I got the whole thing on the same kind of brown plastic tray McDonalds had when I was a little kid.

If you're a coffee fan, I suggest reading the whole article.

So, what was Peter's verdict? Weak, thin and less than hot specialty coffees, but he found the drip selection pretty decent. I imagine that for those who dislike the strong, burnt coffee at Starbucks, weak but smooth McCafé coffee might actually be attractive.

Not for me. I much prefer an expert cranking out a fresh shot of espresso at a local coffee house like Alterra Coffee. But of course I'd give a McCafé a whirl out of curiosity, if that opportunity ever presents itself.

Have a great and long weekend everyone! :-)


In the Shadow of the Valley of Creativity

Yesterday at the end of a pretty good work day, I came across several websites with superb design, that made good use of the latest web standards. It was a positive experience seeing these sites, because they truly inspired me.

However, as sometimes happens, I began to feel a bit bummed out after the initial inspiration wore off. Actually, very bummed out. Suddenly the design and advanced technical state of those sites made me feel my own design work was old, crusty, and behind the curve.

Over the years as a designer, I've found this roller coaster ride a somewhat regular pattern. Sometimes good creative work inspires me, then causes me to evaluate the status of my own design work in comparison. I call the second phase of this cycle the valley of creativity, because it literally feels like I'm down in a dark valley. It's not a pleasant place to be.

Last night, I shared my feelings about being the valley of creativity with my wife. How it can make me ponder selling hot dogs from a three wheeled pushcart or running a jackhammer in a construction crew, rather than continuing as a designer. But even as these thoughts popped into my head, I could see that they were crazy. I love being a designer.

Fortunately, the valley stage gives way, sometimes in minutes, other times in hours, to the third phase of getting energized. This is where I rise to the challenge of inspiring design, by doing great design of my own. It's a good place to be. Even though I'm in the same state as in the valley, my positive outlook has returned. I'm excited about design again.

As I pondered my state of creativity last night, I began to see how important the valley of creativity is. In fact, it seems almost critical — the valley is the humbling process which allows me to honestly evaluate where I am and then strive for the next level.

Today, while I know there is still much to learn, my state is better than a year, or even 6 months ago. I'm advancing with web standards, CSS, HTML and with all of the sketching, journaling and thinking I've been doing, I feel much more creative.

Yes, there are opportunities to do better work and improve. That's what I love most about design — there is always another project on which I can practice my craft in a new way. And to me, design is as much about the process and the journey as the result.

Is this cycle is common for other designers or other creative people? I suspect it is. It would seem so, since we're always encountering something more creative than what we generate ourselves — there is always a challenge.

I choose my path. I can resign and give up, and stay at my same level, or I can rise to the challenge of even higher creative work. I choose to rise.


The Joy of Magazines

There's something special about the arrival of my monthly Wired magazine that still beats any e-zine or website or weblog. A magazine tactile and local in a way an electronic thing cannot be. Even on my Tungsten E, an iSilo'ed version of a weblog is still digital bits, held virtually inside of an electronic thing.

That's not to say electronic or digitally delivered items are not wonderful, they indeed can be. I thoroughly enjoy many websites, ezines and weblogs for the ideas and writers who generate them. Still, they can never quite match the feeling of a fresh magazine arriving in the mailbox.

I bought my first Wired magazine at the grocery store, because it looked a bit funky and right up my alley as a designer interested in the tech culture. Shortly after my first newsstand copy, I became a subscriber. For nearly 8 years (I think that's right) I've enjoyed each issue of Wired, arriving the snail-mail way to my mailbox. I've even archived each issue for future reference.

Normally I'd hide myself away somewhere and scan the new issue, mentally marking articles I had to read, noting others that seemed interesting. Either at that moment or not long after, I would read the new arrival from cover to cover.

Funny thing is, I'm currently thinking of terminating my Wired magazine subscription. For me, it seems to have lost the original vision and feel it had just a few years ago. It could be changes in the magazine and its leadership, changes in our times or even changes in me.

Whatever the reason, I don't have the same level of interest in Wired as I once did. It feels like a shadow of its former self. I will still visit the website, read the news and interesting articles, but I no longer feel compelled to stay a subscriber.

I've already been considering other magazines, such as Communication Arts (a design magazine), as a replacement. I truly love the feeling of a new magazine in the mail — pulling off the wrapper and reading cover to cover. I want that feeling back.

Any other suggestions?


Cold Riding

The first ride of the season was a cold one, but a good one. I spent a little time Sunday afternoon, prepping my old steel framed bike. I added a new cyclometer and checked over the mechanics. During lunch today, I tuned my new road shoes to the bike's clipless pedals, then bought new cycling tights a local bike shop. This evening, I loaded the car and headed West for my first ride of the season.

It was a crisp evening to say the least — about 52 degrees as we prepared our bikes in a church parking lot. Sporting my new cycling pants, I was ready for the chill, yet was amazed to see three of the seven riders in our crew wearing only biking shorts. I felt cold just looking at them.

We departed at 6:10pm, aiming East for hills, which was probably good for warming up our bodies. Some of the leaders stayed back with one mountain bike rider, as he couldn't keep pace. Two faster riders headed off the front and out of sight, while we middle riders chugged along in the cool evening air.

Besides a bit of a misadjusted left pedal, I did decently, especially considering I've not been training for 3 weeks. On a few of the hills I was in my lowest granny gear, churning those pedals, making slow progress. But, it was progress nonetheless. I never stopped on a hill even if my speed was turtle-slow.

For a first time out, and a cold outing at that, I felt good about my performance. I rode 19.88 miles in 1:38 minutes (an 11-point-something MPH average). That time even includes stopping for left pedal adjustments and other group members. Not great, but not terrible, all things considered.

Sometimes it's just starting that's the hardest thing to do. :-)


Fashion Observations

On Thursday morning at the cafe, I spent time sketching, reading, writing and observing customers stopping for their morning cup-o-joe.

As I sat drinking my own coffee, I observed two gentlemen on the extreme opposite ends of the fashion spectrum — one straight out of GQ magazine and the other a candidate for What Not to Wear magazine, if such a magazine exists.

Mr. GQ
Here was a youngish guy, probably late 20s or early 30s. His hair had been carefully styled to appear as though it was a little greasy and pillow-matted. Sprouts of hair shot out from all directions, like lawn weeds. He wore Buddy Holly black-rimmed glasses, freshly pressed (or chemically saturated) wrinkle-free shirt, un-tucked from a pair of stylin' gray leisure slacks. Heavy, rubber-soled black oxfords completed Mr. GQ's look.

What I found amusing about this high-fashion look was the effort and energy spent on looking as though he'd rolled out of bed, and in his haste to get coffee and off to work, forgot to take a shower and tuck in his shirt tails. There was something about the idea of working hard to look messy that seemed very ironic.

Mr. Blue Shoes
Now, at the other end of of the fashion scale was Mr. Blue Shoes, an older gentleman with nicely combed and clean gray hair, an olive and white-striped, tucked-in polo shirt, light tan slacks, white socks and blue leatherette loafers! I couldn't quite work out the blue shoes. Maybe they're his favorite, most comfortable shoes, which he wears with everything (probably to the groans of his fashion conscious wife).

I respected Mr. Blue Shoes for at least dressing comfortably — without too much thought for fashion. Nothing he wore matched, for which the Fashion Police would have gladly ticketed him. At least he was at least true to himself and his favorite blue shoes. I could respect that, since I too have a pair of well-loved and beat up leather oxfords with gum-soled soles cracked to the point of separation.

Maybe I'm getting old and crusty. After all, isn't that what happens? Old men are the ones who chuckle at fashion that causes other, much hipper grown men to spend hours in front of mirrors to appear as though they've just rolled out of bed the third morning in a row? :-)

Have a great weekend!