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December 28, 2011

The Wrong Message //

Back in 2009, I wrote a little piece on Burnout for A List Apart, which, while cathartic for me personally, also it turns out, meant a lot to many others. So it pains me to come across opinion pieces such as the one published a couple months ago by Applied Arts, which suggest that in order to succeed in the advertising/design world you have to be prepared to essentially sell your soul.

I saw and read the article the day it was posted and although I didn’t intend on commenting on it, instead just hoping it might disappear into the ether, it’s bothered me ever since, so here we are.

I’ll give the author, Stuart, a bit of a break insomuch as I’m sure he’s well-meaning and a perfectly fine fellow (we met briefly after I spoke during Typecon in New Orleans earlier this year), but it’s sending the wrong message. Frankly, I call bullshit.

And I quote:

You don’t get into advertising in order to stroll in at 9:26 and stroll out at 4:48. You don’t get into it for the balanced diets or eight-hour sleeps.

No, perhaps not. But it doesn’t mean the expectation is wrong, that it’s not possible to remain excited, to love what you do, and even thrive in the industry without sacrificing a balanced life outside that world.

Sure there are times when an early morning, late night, or spat of weekend work might be required (too often the product of someone’s poor planning or project management), but as soon as that door is opened, it’s almost impossible to close. Such behaviour should be a rare exception, not the norm. As soon as it’s a regular occurrence, you’re in trouble.

Unfortunately, those new to the industry, such as Stuart, quickly fall victim to this so-called reality which perpetuates the problem. It’s a slippery slope and a one-way ticket to burnout.

The worst part is that he knew going in. He was explicitly told to expect it. That it’s normal — be ready to give up your life so someone else can reap the real rewards.

Before I accepted the offer, I called a couple friends who were familiar with the agency, who uniformly said one thing: So long as you’re ready to work late and on weekends (if needed), Prox is a great place to work with a killer atmosphere.

A “killer atmosphere” is nice, but it’s hardly everything. It’s not enough to make up for what you’ll sacrifice in the process — something typically not apparent until it’s already too late. It’s not enough when you’re automatically nominated to be a punching bag for the agency (or their clients), or subject to someone else’s misguided sense of normalcy.

The only way to truly put an end to the problem is to say “no” to this reality. For yourself. For everyone that will follow after. Unfortunately for Stuart, he went in anyway, which meant he was already screwed.

March 3, 2011

Carbonated //

Ads are not something I would normally gravitate to. They’re usually ugly, irritating or simply get in the way of the content I’m actually going to a website to locate or explore. So until recently, any serious thoughts of putting them on my own site was extremely foreign.

To date I haven’t put any measureable amount of consideration into somehow financing the ongoing costs of hosting, domains and server management, but a recent invitation by the lovely folks at Carbon Ads to join their ad network piqued my interest.

I knew who they were — I’d seen their ads on sites I frequent and so immediately knew there was an opportunity for a good fit. I also knew enough about their angle — one single small, non-animated ad per page, allowing more than a sufficient degree of flexibility with regards to layout and integration. So I said “yes” and have been happily running these ads on the site for a few days now.

The beauty is that the ads are largely for products and services I would likely, or already use and endorse, meaning there’s no guilt. It’s an experiment on one hand, but one with no real downside. And there’s an oppotunity to learn — from the ads themselves, but also by clicking through to see where they take you.

My expectation at this point is minimal, though (obvously) the long-term goal is to increase traffic and impressions by writing more — to share ideas and opinions that I’ve largely kept to myself or saved for a more private dialogue with my close peers and colleagues. To that end, the queue of half-finished ideas, articles that have been building up should start to creep out a little more frequently.

Aside from any potential monetary benefit, however small, this opportunity with Carbon Ads has also lit a small fire under plans that have been smouldering for a while now — to finally leave Movable Type behind and move to a new publishing platform (no, not Tumblr or Wordpress) with a refreshed design that better reflects where I am professionaly across the board.

There really isn’t just one true source for personal publishing anymore, be it on Twitter, Flickr, or Delicious (yes, still) and to that end, the initial work on aggregating these and other sources into a unified whole has been started though likely won’t come to the light until I finish up one last major undertaking.

January 26, 2011

Why Work Doesn’t Happen at Work //

2010 was a year that included more meetings than I ever could have imagined. Many lacked clear agendas, required far too many participants to be productive or were simply directionless and resulted in countless hours of lost productivity and much head scratching, and so Jason Fried’s TED Talk on interruptions and productivity is timely and echos most of my feelings about being at the office.










A significant issue Fried doesn’t address directly is the problem of context shifting. For example — you’re interrupted at work while head down on a tough problem by a co-worker who has a question about another unrelated project. Like opening a computer program, it requires you to clear the first project information from memory (or push it aside) and load everything you know about the second one, even if it’s only for a minute. Try doing that a few times a day and your head will be spinning. It may already be. But it happens all the time and ties directly into why people are often mentally exhausted at the end of the day, don’t feel like they accomplished much, or worse yet, might be on the road to burning out.

September 23, 2009

Reconnected //

It seems for many friends, 2009 has been a year of change. Some expected, some perhaps not, but in the end — all good. I certainly didn’t expect the year to play out as it has so far.

It’s been several months now since I shook things up and, to a large extent, I’ve stayed quiet since. But it’s time to drop the cone of silence. If nothing else, a chance to write a bit wouldn’t hurt me since I haven’t done much of that lately. Even my Twittering has (mostly) been kept to a minimum.

Like Brand New

Although the decision I made back in March was difficult (hello, understatement!), my state of mind and attitude since solidifies that it was the right decision for me. My stress levels are manageable and daily routines are starting to feel “routine” again.

A break along with taking some of my own medicine has allowed me to assess and reconnect with the things I love to do, find out what’s truly important to me, and identify how to balance my working life with my “real” life based on those findings. In effect — a second chance; a clean slate.

The summer — what I’ve been affectionately referring to as my own Summer of George has found me reading, thinking, exploring, planning, and trying harder to live more in the moment. The things outside of “work” are fun again and the parts that have been largely absent are starting to trickle back in. I’ve also been cautiously getting back into the rhythm of project work.

The last two months have found me contributing design work to a few projects (none of which have gone live yet) and I’m beginning to schedule and prioritize others — with a clearer focus on “design”, not development. I’ve said before that I’m not a developer despite appearances to the contrary and now I really mean it.

Looking Sideways

One of the things taking a break has allowed me the flexibility to do is examine how I was doing things in the past from a new angle. What was working? Where was I making mistakes? What could I do better? Hindsight is 20/20 after all.

What I unearthed, aside from the need to spend more time evaluating projects for suitability and more strictly enforcing my own rules of engagement with clients, has been the opportunity to adapt or aport methodologies that have since proven to keep me focused, avoid falling into old traps and prioritize the work so that it contributes to a stable work-life balance instead of running ramshackle. The frustrating part being why I wasn’t able to crack that particular nut sooner…

It’s (almost) annoying how smoothly the latest projects have gone (compared to how prior projects on occasion went off the rails in their own ways) but I hope it continues — I’ll certainly do my part to ensure it does.

What’s Next?

The next obvious question of course is — what’s next?

For starters I’m taking on new design projects in a freelance capacity again. Specifically, I’m interested in projects where there’s the opportunity to develop mutually beneficial relationships and take a more strategic approach to design and producing great user experiences; not “cake decorating” projects as I like to call them. Please don’t waste my time with those.

The internet is nothing without people (users, visitors, customers — they’re all still “people”). The job of a designer focused on the web is more than just making something “pretty”. It’s about “doing the right thing” for people; to somehow bring a degree of humanity to something that’s inherently inhumane. To make things usable universally; to surprise and delight. To pay attention to the parts that most people will never notice. That’s where I fit in.

Of course I’m also still interested in front-end code — HTML, CSS and Javascript (primarily jQuery) which I consider part of wearing my designer hat and to ensure the best possible experiences are delivered. If past project work has taught me anything it’s that far too often when I’m not involved in the markup and styling of something I designed, the end result suffers. That might just be the perfectionist in me talking though.

Aside from being back in the design saddle, I’ll be in Chicago in October for An Event Apart and am bringing the family along for the ride. We’re taking the opportunity for a mini-vacation and will be arriving the Saturday before the conference starts to explore and enjoy some deep-dish pizza and Cheezborgers.

Lastly, there’s the cache of long-ignored pet projects that I finally feel ready to tackle and which I expect will start to trickle out before the end of the year along with maybe a surprise or two along the way.

Summer’s over and it’s time to get back to business.

August 4, 2009

Aldo //

Over the last while it’s become apparent through recent marketing campaigns that long-time telecommunications giants Rogers and Bell are at a stalemate. Their products are the same. The customers they’re going after are the same. Their generally lousy customer service is the same.

Quality is remembered long after the price is forgotten.

The reality is that there’s nothing inherently more compelling about Bell over Rogers. The reverse is also true (aside from Rogers being the only carrier in Canada to support the iPhonefor now). All this is also true of Telus, the third big competitor in Canada.

The world of design often feels like that too. It’s a crowded market — designers (“real” or otherwise) are a dime a dozen. The unfortunate side effect of this is that in many respects, design has become a commodity where too many projects simply go to the lowest bidder or to the person who will sacrifice the most. It shows in the end results.

Perhaps I’m being an idealist but I firmly believe the above quote from the late Aldo Gucci (d. 1990) holds true. I know my life as designer would immediately be improved by being able to worry less about being nickel and dime’d to death and instead on effectively solving problems and producing great, memorable work.

June 24, 2009

Designful //

This week I started reading the latest book by Marty Neumeier called The Designful Company which, simply put, should probably be required reading for all business executives or anyone who owns their own company today.

d x d = :D

Early on in the book the above equation is referenced. For me it summarizes a key problem I have with most companies and their products but also one of the problems I have with the vast myriad of “design” companies out there. I’ll elaborate on this specifically in another piece (soon).

As with his other books, all of which I also highly recommend, there’s loads of keen, thoughtful advice that could help turn around companies that might be struggling in the current economy, but also help those who are thriving be even better, stronger and more mindful of their global impact.

May 26, 2009

Looking Glass //

In Through the Looking Glass, Lewis Caroll wrote:

It takes all the running you can do to keep in the same place. If you want to get somewhere else, you must run at least twice as fast as that.

In a roundabout way I think that passage perfectly sums up the state of the web industry for me in 2009 and is a perfect lead-in to mention issue number 284 of A List Apart which features an article on the topic of Burnout by yours truly.

It was a challenging article to write simply because it was so deeply rooted in my own personal experiences and I hope readers take note and are interested in continuing the discussion further because, obvious or not, the web and design industries are intrinsically ripe for extreme cases of burnout.

My thanks to Carolyn Wood, Krista Stevens, Erin Kissane, Zeldman et al.

May 1, 2009

Choose Your Corner //

I’ve been thinking a lot about this quote from Charles Eames for the last four or five days now because it speaks volumes about my current situation.

Choose your corner, pick away at it carefully, intensely and to the best of your ability and that way you might change the world.

Slate //

After a few weeks of soul searching I’ve made the decision to permanently close Wishingline. I hinted at this being a real possibility in a couple previous entries, though my original intenion was to simply put the company on ice in the short term because I needed some distance and clarity to make an informed decision about what to do.

I’ve had a bit of time now and simply, for me, the right thing to do is completely wipe the slate clean.

Illustration by Hugh MacLeod at gapingvoid
Illustration by Hugh MacLeod (gapingvoid)

Over the years Wishingline’s become more than just me and as I hinted at, I don’t entirely recognize it anymore. Simply — circumstances change and people change. As a result companies change and adapt too.

As I suspect is true of most companies who’ve got a few years under their belt, they’ve had their fair share of great successes, a few crushing defeats and a handful of fits and starts, but looking back, and dispite some mistakes made along the way, I feel proud of what I’ve accomplished and for taking some big risks. I don’t feel like I’ve failed by any means — or I at least need to keep reminding myself of that.

It was a risk when I left a stable job and struck out on my own. It was a risk when I decided it was time to grow the company and move into the office space the company occupied until last week. It was a risk when I brought in not just one new fulltime employee, but two, especially over a fairly short time period. And of course (for various reasons) it’s a risk I’m taking now closing the door on Wishingline.

When all’s said and done though, it’s the right thing for me to do.

Uncertain Weather

What the future holds for me is still very much uncertain. I have a good idea what I don’t want to do, it’s now a question of what I do want to do. I haven’t eliminated the possibility of freelancing or something similar, but if so, the circumstances under which that happens will be very different based on everything I’ve experienced and learned. And if so, it’d be under a different banner; but who knows. I might not return to the freelance/small agency world at all.

If I haven’t been particularly active here, on Twitter or Flickr of late, it’s because I’ve been working on tying up loose ends and exploring possibilities, including what exactly to do with this site. Honestly I’ve been feeling like a bit like a lost puppy and still have some important questions to answer before I make the next big decision.

As much as I’m still pretty emotional about everything that’s happened this year, and though I’m closing one door, I’m opening another. This is an opportunity. I don’t think it’s too pie in the sky to say, but life is just too short to spend stuck in a rut, doing something that doesn’t make you truly happy or leaves you feeling like you’re not living up to your full potential. Carpe diem, as they say.

Change, Change, Change

Over the next little while I’ll be starting to dismantle the business side of the Wishingline site. I’m debating what to do about this notebook though and whether I should keep it up as-is, do some fancy redirects to move it up to the top of the domain, move it to an entirely new domain or… I don’t know. I haven’t sorted out what all the possible implications are of doing any of the above but whatever I end up deciding, I’ll do what I can to not break the internets.

April 12, 2009

Spring //

It’s spring or at least that’s what the calendar says and that means it’s time for some spring cleaning. As a result of the changes ‘round these parts I now have a handful of software licenses that are no longer being used along with one shiny, good as new 24” iMac computer that’s for sale (the other ones are already accounted for).

Software

Hardware

At this point I don’t have much need to keep a second iMac around in the office since there’s already two other Macs and a PC at my disposal. The iMac is one of the current aluminum models (though prior to the last hardware minor update a few weeks back), approximately 6 months old and includes the obligatory AppleCare extended warranty.

Detailed Hardware Specifications
  • 24” glossy TFT widescreen active-matrix LCD display
  • 2.8GHz Intel Core2 Duo processor
  • 4MB shared L2 cache at full processor speed
  • 800MHz frontside bus
  • 4GB (two 2GB SO-DIMMs) of 166MHz DDR SDRAM
  • 500GB 7200 RPM internal Serial ATA hard drive
  • Apple slot-loading SuperDrive (DVD±R DL/DVD±RW/CD-RW)
  • AirPort Extreme Wi-Fi wireless networking (802.11n)
  • Bluetooth 2.1+EDR
  • Built-in 10/100/1000BASE-T Gigabit networking
  • Built-in stereo speakers, microphone and iSight video camera
  • Apple Keyboard and Mighty Mouse
  • Mac OS X 10.5 Leopard + iLife 08 software bundles

$1,800SOLD

If you’re interested or have a question about any of the above items, get in touch by sending an email to springcleaning {at} wishingline.com. Everything is first-come first-serve and once something is gone it’s gone. Shipping is not included and will be determined on a per-item basis as required.

April 3, 2009

Truth //

I’d say this is true for just about anyone — designers, developers, musicians, architects, business executives, etc., but it’s up to you whether this turns out to be a positive or a negative.

If you do what you have always done, you’ll get what you have always got.

March 26, 2009

More //

Never far from my thoughts since making the big announcement official last week and after reading through Snook’s announcement from a couple days ago, I realized I still have a bit more to say about why I made the decision to shake things up. If nothing else, to clarify how this all came about.

Identity Crisis

A while back we received a RFP for a project that would have lasted six months to a year if not longer. It was complicated and well beyond my comfort zone. Ultimately we declined to respond but while reviewing the project specs I realized something that I felt had been staring me in the face for some time, something I just hadn’t seen until then — Wishingline had a major identity problem.

Although recognized primarily as designers by other designers (and developers), to the outside world, Wishingline (and me by extension) were developers or some sort of hybrid. Not what I had in mind. That project RFP and the resulting conversation with the client confirmed it.

Insert panic attack here.

After walking home that night and mulling over the situation I had a pretty good idea where that perception problem came from. It turned out to be partially, if not entirely my own doing. Looking back through some of the more technically minded entries in the notebook and our previous enterprise application work made it abundantly clear.

I’m a designer first and foremost but I like to tinker. I’m innately curious and have always liked to know how things work but I’m not a developer. Building or fixing things comes naturally and I’ve always found that characteristic allowed me to be sympathetic to developers, resulting in better decisions and ultimately better sites or applications.

Development experience also meant I could bring more to the table when working with clients. What I didn’t realize at the time though was the cost of that knowledge and what it ultimately meant in relation to the type of work that showed up on our doorstep.

My involvement in the development side of the web increased out of interest and necessity but also from the type of work that Wishingline was already involved in — a considerable amount of application design (Rails, Sproutcore, iPhone, embedded web widgets, etc), rarely from the commercial website part of the business.

At this point I have about zero interest in doing any more web app design work. Those are problems I’m just not interested in trying to solve now. It’s too easy to get caught up in the minutia and technical details which can quickly suck the life and momentum out a project.

For now I’m only interested in focusing my time and effort into things I can get behind 100%. To some extent that means getting back to my roots and focusing much more on design rather than mucking about in code or someone else’s app framework.

The Intangible Web

The intangibleness and the seeming repetitiveness of the web is something I’ve struggled with for some time, leaving me feeling like the web is just too much of the “same old, same old” to be really interesting. I know that’s not really true but constantly being handed the same basic problems to solve over and over or being pigeonholed into one design aesthetic hasn’t helped bend my opinion to the other side.

Anna, Ned and I talked about this quite a bit in the office — how we could make the web more interesting (for us at least) by introducing more tangible visual elements and interaction into our work without resorting to Flash. We looked at potentially building actual “set pieces” and working more with real objects that we’d photograph and use as building blocks for site designs. Unfortunately we didn’t get the opportunity to put this into practice, but I’m not done with that idea yet.

I come from a largely traditional design background: paste-up by hand, processing my own film, print (litho, screenprinting, letterpress, flexo) and the like. I’ve used more than my fair share of Letraset and Rubylith.

I’ve always been passionate about typography but being as focused on the web for as long as I have left many of my typographic senses dulled. I’ve been chipping away at that problem for a little while now but I need to step that up, if only for myself. It’s not that I’m sick of Lucida Grande, Verdana or Georgia… Ok, maybe a little.

I also miss working with my hands instead of being glued to a desk and computer screen — whether this means sketching or working with real materials (paper, ink, film, traditional photography, etc) instead of doing everything digitally in Photoshop. Analog is where it’s at. I made a record for crying out loud.

Personal Projects

Like Jon, internal projects at Wishingline have been constantly sidelined. It’s a problem when the client vs internal/personal work division is almost always 100/0, and one which has weighed heavily on my mind for a long, long time.

A perfect example is the main Wishingline site which hasn’t been significantly updated in nearly 5 years and in desperate need of attention. There’s also a big sketchbook of creative project ideas that’s been sitting on my desk untouched for nearly as long. Paying the bills is all well and good but without a striking proper balance between client work and personal projects it can be difficult to stay engaged.

Simply put, a big part of why I started Wishingline in the first place, aside from the flexibility of being choosey about the for-hire projects I would work on, was to be free to work on these “fun” projects; to dedicate a portion of my day to reading, writing and doing whatever would allow me to stay creative, motivated and engaged so that the “work” projects don’t somehow become a burden. That hasn’t worked out quite the way it should have and in the end I’m the only one who can do something about it — and so I am.

Taking Back The Reins

Time is one of the few (only?) finite variables in life and the reality for me was that I didn’t want to look back and feel like I wasted an opportunity by trying to “tough it out” in a situation that wasn’t working. I have a wife and a young daughter and need to consider how what I do for a living affects those relationships too.

I’ve had the opportunity to work on a wide variety of projects with some smart people — many I’ve enjoyed for one reason or another, but there’s also been some real duds. There’s been times where I found myself severely overbooked and overwhelmed too. Sometimes it was my fault but other times it was entirely out of my control. Stress is ok in small doses but long-term, relentless stress is really, really bad even if you’re getting paid for the overtime. Trust me.

Perhaps naively, I almost always put client work first. That proved to be wrong. It’s important but only if it’s the right work or if it doesn’t occupy every waking moment of your life, in the office or out. Maybe that sounds selfish but personally I don’t think so. I’m honestly too close to really be objective anyway.

Let’s be totally clear — I’m not saying I’m done with the web or design in general. Far from it, but I need to redefine my place in it by better understanding what I want from it and by hopefully contributing something back to it that I (and others) think is truly interesting, engaging and worthwhile.

More on exactly what that means soon.

March 12, 2009

Watershed //

Somewhere along the way I remember reading something along the lines of “the best strategy is an exit strategy”. Today, more than any day before that holds a lot of meaning for me because I can finally let the cat out of the proverbial bag and announce that not so long ago I had a watershed moment and made a decision that’s ultimately led to the next big change for me personally and Wishingline which is officially on hiatus at least in the sense of accepting new client work for the foreseeable future.

The exact wording I used in trying to explain this to the few people who were told prior to now was “closed”, but more and more in mulling that over I thought “hiatus” would ultimately to be a better choice. “Crazy talk” some have told me so I’ll give you a moment…

Uh, what?

Let’s not have any illusions, it’s hard work running a business and Wishingline for the last 4+ years has been exactly that. It’s hard doing it by yourself as a freelancer and just as hard if not more when employees and other management responsibilities are thrown into the mix. The provincial and national government bodies here in Canada don’t make that any easier either. These things can constantly weigh on your shoulders (they certainly have mine) and deserve as much attention as the clients paying the bills.

Owning and managing a small but successful design agency (I can’t stand that term but it’ll do) can mean wearing a lot of different hats and juggling conflicting responsibilities. That balancing act can be exhausting, especially if many of those frequently conflict with your individual needs.

When it comes to “work”, I’m a designer first and foremost but also happen to have some background in a lot of other areas thanks to a solid and varied university education, previous jobs and generally being exposed to nearly every possible side of “the biz” at one time or another.

Even though I’ve had the opportunity to work on some interesting projects, particularly some of the more recent projects, I haven’t been feeling particularly creatively satisfied or engaged. Unfocused. Remember all those hats I mentioned a moment ago? Yeah, exactly.

Ultimately I think there’s little point in doing something where your passion is wavering, doesn’t provide sufficient purpose or from which you’re not deriving the right level of personal satisfaction. Some people might be able to get away with that but I’m not one of them. It’s not in my DNA.

For the last few months I’ve hummed and hawed over what to do, in part because of the implications to the business, clients, family, and the two talented and exceptionally smart people working with me in the office, but the reality was that, for beter or worse, change was inevitable. Thankfully there’s been no crying and no staplers, chairs or computers thrown in my general direction. At least not yet.

…Next

What that change ends up being is entirely up in the air right now. It might be a small change or it might be something more significant. For now it means that Wishingline is back to being just me while I tie up loose ends on a few projects and sort out what to do with the office, furniture, computers and such. Beyond that I have a few ideas and opportunities to explore though I’m in no hurry to rush into anything. I need to regroup and recalibrate first.

The one thing that’s for sure is that SXSW officially starts tomorrow and I’ll be down in Austin, TX for the next week, celebrating my birthday (today), shaking hands and kissing babies, uh, I mean hanging out with friends and undoubtedly letting off steam. I’ll have some nifty hotdog squiggle buttons with me along with a handful of copies of the new release from George, so please do say “hello”.

Shout outs

Wishingline’s clients deserve a very special thank you for their extreme patience and understanding through the current transition period. Ensuring they are taken care of and projects either wrapped up or in a state where they can be passed on has been, understandably, a huge concern. Thank you also to friends, dotcomrades and family for their unconditional support and encouragement.

January 7, 2009

Bulb //

Tonight during my daily 2.5km uphill walk home from HQ, someone turned on the proverbial light and a critically important question was answered.

This particular business matter has been giving me the evil eye for nearly six months but because everyone here has all been so heads-down in getting things done for other people, no one noticed it standing there until today when I apparently had a moment to pull myself away from the screen and put down my mouse.

This lightbulb moment will ultimately play a crucial role in one of our not-insignificant internal projects which is tentatively scheduled to be put into the blast tubes sometime around SXSW Interactive. We’ll have a lot to say about it at that time or whenever someone hands me the launch codes.

December 31, 2008

Booked //

One of the things I hoped would dominate a significant portion of my free time outside of the office in 2008 was reading. I’ve always had a real love of books, despite what anyone says about the decline of reading. Considering the sheer number of books purchased over the course of the year, I did ok, but not great. The pile of books never seemed to shrink — in fact, quite the opposite was true, though not for a lack of trying.

My 2009 reading list
A few of the titles on my 2009 reading list

In order to get off on the right foot in ‘09 though, I’m going to attempt to be a bit more methodical about my reading habits. This means blocking off a specific portion of every day to get through an already growing list of books. 30 minutes to an hour a day is all I really need to make a serious dent. The books shown above, while entirely design or business focused are just a sample of those on “the list”. I’ve got a few trashy novels and the like to break things up such as The Road and the last book by High Fidelity author, Nick Hornby.

What’s on your reading list? Are there any good (design or business) books I should pick up? I’d love to hear your recommendations — just drop a note in the comments. Oh, and happy new year!

June 20, 2008

An Anniversary //

It almost slipped past without us noticing, but we were reminded this morning by our accountant that yesterday, June 19th, marked the official one year anniversary of Wishingline moving from being a sole proprietorship to its current incorporated form (four years all around), now with employees, a proper office, and a wider outlook on where we are and where we’re headed.

Our sincere thanks to our clients, friends, peers and families for getting us this far. We look forward to many more exciting years ahead!

December 31, 2007

Looking Back at 2007 //

Although I’ve not really done a lot of “looking back” over the last couple of years, 2007 has been notable enough that it seems foolish not to turn the mirror around to see how I got where I am now.

While 2007 has generally been a good year, it’s also been one of the toughest I can remember. The specifics of this will be explained in due time but not necessarily here and now.

Looking back, I can see how the previous few years led me here and how I’ve learned and used many valuable lessons that continue to drive me forward both in my work, at home, and in the rest of my personal life. I can see where I made mistakes or the wrong choices too. Now, currently about three weeks into my month-long sabbatical, I’m starting to revisit those lessons - take stock of what’s working, what’s not, and getting things in order to start 2008 off on the right foot.

So what happened in 2007?

Around the World

While my travel exploits don’t compare to [certain][dkr] [others][haney], and although it’s still tough to be away from my family, I definitely did more travelling than I think I ever have before in a single year.

A few of the places I visited in 2007:

  • Austin, Texas (3 times)
  • London, England
  • Chicago, Illinois
  • Portland, Oregon
  • Reston, Virginia

As much as I might not enjoy living out of a suitcase, I got to put faces to names and feel like I made some great new friends, many of whom I expect to see again in January at WDN08 or in March for SXSWi and hopefully later in the year as well. I’ve also got a handful of new people who I’m looking forward to meeting in person in 2008. Social networking sites like Facebook, Virb, and Twitter are one thing, but cannot complete with actually connecting face to face with people.

Unfortunately I’ve not done the same kind of networking in the local Toronto web and technology communities; something which is high on my list of things to remedy in 2008. I’ve already got a good start and have a few opportunities already lined up to help move this along.

Business is Good

This year was one of growth and change for Wishingline. As a business entity, the company changed from a sole proprietorship to a full-fledged corporation with all the extra paperwork, meeting minutes and common shares that involves.

The employee roster also grew (officially) to two with the addition of Shawn Frair, who came on board at the beginning of December to take over the books, because, frankly, I’m not an accountant. Emily did a great job in helping get me through until now, but we’re both relieved to have this in Shawn’s hands now.

Aside from being a great friend, music lover, occasional blogger, and expert balloon animal maker, Shawn is filling an important need and taking charge of a core piece of the business that I really shouldn’t be too actively involved in. It’s a great relief to have the books in such capable hands, especially since it frees me to focus on both the creative and technical sides of the business along with simply growing the company.

Bringing one new person into the mix also meant that I started to put more serious thought into growth - beefing up the client roster, adding new talent, and moving the office. Although running the office out of the house has never been an issue with clients, it feels like the right time to start the search for proper office space especially if I plan on increasing the number of people actually doing the work beyond myself.

In the short term, the office has been reconfigured to add a second desk in preparation for adding employee number three. So, yes, that means officially I’m in hiring mode. This is the first of several self-induced kicks in the pants. More on this soon.

In terms of actual work - this year was a doozy. A couple of weeks ago, prior to starting my sabbatical I took a look back and assembled a near complete list of projects from the last year. It was so long that I nearly fell out of my seat. I had no idea how much I really accomplished; and as much as it kind of frightened me, it was also impressive.

Although my focus has been primarily web projects, I’ve had opportunities to work on print projects, ads, identity design and just about everything in between. Unfortunately, due to being so busy with client work meant that a few more personal projects fell by the wayside and got little, if any attention. Again, something that will be remedied in 2008 based on the planning I’ve been doing during my time off.

Musical Side Projects

In my musical world, 2007 also brought some changes. The Darns unfortunately disolved, but not without a new group rising out of the ashes. We moved out of our permanent rehearsal room in the west-end of the city and still haven’t bothered to come up with a name, but we’ve made great progress in writing new songs and are starting to put together a plan to do some recording in early 2008 with the possibility for an EP release. Might need to get that name thing worked out before that though…

At Home

The biggest adjustment in 2007 continued to be adapting to having a new baby in the house. Thankfully Gillian couldn’t be a better baby. She sleeps well, eats well and is incredibly good natured virtually all the time. We really couldn’t ask for more.

It’s been so much fun to watch her grow (she turned one in October), babble, crawl, laugh, splash around in the tub, chase the cats - it reminds me that even if I have a lousy day at the office, there’ll always be a smiling face waiting at the end of the day. To top her first year off right, we’re really looking forward to Gillian’s debut modelling appearance in the February 2008 issue of Style at Home magazine (page 24 I’m told).

Aside from all the changes revolving around Gillian, this year brought an opportunity to finally come to terms with many other life changes such as moving (twice), two summers of major home renovations and the psychological changes involved with going from being an employee to the boss. It was a nice break this summer not to have to also play the role of construction site foreman at the same time as attempting to work through it.

On Deck for 08

I’ve got what I think are notable goals and changes lined up for 2008 and we’ll see how I end up doing by the end of the year but I’m optimistic that the time off I’ve given myself has allowed me the chance to slow down, reflect and really think about the last year and what I want and need to accomplish in 2008. I think it’s only by looking back at our successes, and perhaps more importantly, our mistakes, that we truly learn.

So, cheers to 2007 and hello 2008.

October 4, 2007

Refreshed //

It’s amazing what a break can do for you. Emily, Gillian and I recently got back from a long-overdue and much needed vacation in the United Kingdom to visit friends and family and to just get away from it all for a couple weeks. It was just what the doctor ordered.

Crossing Abbey Road
Crossing Abbey Road in London

The last few months have been very challenging — transitioning the business from a sole proprietorship to a corporation, ongoing projects, new ones starting up — the process of simply finding the motivation and inspiration to get the job done has been a constant struggle; the pressure building up more and more each day.

Although I was able to get away for a couple days here and there, it never left me with a real opportunity to disconnect, so being away never felt like truly being away.

Two weeks in the UK, much of the time without e-mail or internet access was refreshing. I didn’t have to worry about a predictable daily routine or the near-constant beeping of Twitter, e-mail or news feeds which all helped drop my stress level which I could feel building up the last while. I woke up each morning relaxed.

Coming home, despite knowing what was waiting for me, I felt ready to tackle things again. Motivated. Refreshed. Inspired. Hopefully this also means I’ll find the energy to frequently blog again and even start tackling a number of personal projects that have been sitting idle for some time now.

It’s good to be back.

July 17, 2007

Inc. //

While perhaps a few weeks late in making an official announcement, as of June 18th, 2007 Wishingline Design Studios (also commonly referred to as Wishingline) is no longer a going concern, at least in the eyes of the Canadian government.

This doesn’t mean we’re going anywhere though — oh no!, quite the opposite. In its place is the newly formed Wishingline Design Studio, Incorporated — now with all new super-seriousness, renewed vigor and more paperwork than you can shake a stick at.

Wishingline Design Studio Inc

For our clients, this doesn’t mean much aside from us having to make a few minor wording changes to our general business terms and conditions, and updating our stationery, estimates and invoices to reflect the name change. Everything else is business as usual. Same design insight and problem solving. Same creative drive. Same bad jokes. More paperwork.

Taking the leap to go from a sole proprietorship to incorporating the company (still operating as a private enterprise) was a big step and one which will be bringing other changes later this year including bringing on employee no. 2, a clearer, more focused direction and tuning the design services we offer to better differentiate Wishingline among the highly competitive design marketplace.

Incorporating is perhaps just the preface to chapter two of our story.

March 12, 2006

Words Of Business Wisdom //

A home renovations company flyer came through the mail slot the other day. In and of itself, this is not unusual. But the statement included near the end of the flyer stood out and is a good general business statement that I can’t say I’ve seen anyone really talk about, at least in terms of web design.

The quote is simply:

If we don’t take care of our customers, someone else will

In the web design/programming world this is very true. Designers and programmers are a dime-a-dozen. Face it, it’s true. Whether the majority of these people are true schooled or accredited designers/programmers is another matter, but there is always someone else waiting in the wings to pick-up a new client the moment you falter.

With this in mind, take a bit of time and think about how you can serve your client better; at least say thank you — keep them happy and keep them coming back.

January 25, 2006

Communication/Collaboration //

While it may be obvious, communication and collaboration are key to working with clients on design-related projects whether they be for the web or print. I think people forget that though; and for anyone handling the project management aspects of a job — especially if you’re a freelancer, this can be very frustrating and really drag down productivity.

Without client communication, who exactly are you designing for? How do you know if something is working, or right for the client’s target audience(s)? How do you get them to approve anything so that you can wrap up parts of a project and move on to the next component?

There’s nothing quite like the frustration of a project, especially one with a very short timeframe, coming to a screeching halt because the necessary communication just isn’t happening.

The thing with collaboration is that it’s a two-way street — it’s not one person sitting in a room talking to him or herself. It’s no fun having to chase after a client (or the other way around) to get an answer to a question or to get feedback to maintain a project’s momentum.

The thing is that everyone involved needs to understand is, well — the importance of being involved. If they don’t, they need to understand that projects will not finish on-time, on-budget and sometimes not at all without their support.

Collaboration tools, such as Basecamp can help ease the burden by enabling more frequent and timely collaboration and communications while improving your responsiveness as a designer. It lets clients be more involved in the process, makes you more accessible and better able to keep track of everything.

Design can happen in a vacuum but only to a point. The client must get involved — whether it’s simply to bounce ideas off, to point out problems or suggest improvements. There’s few clients who will sign-off on a project without reviewing your work and being happy with the end result.

August 26, 2005

Keep Your Eyes On The Road //

It’s hard to reflect on where you’re going and how you got there when you can’t take your eyes off the road and your foot off the gas.

April 15, 2005

Moving The Plan Forward //

To try to keep things relatively sane around here I decided to keep this somewhat under wraps, but now’s a suitable time to spill the beans publicly. I promised something about this about two weeks ago and it’s time to make good on that.

The Scoop

First, the Wishingline Design Studio, Inc. site is on track to launch as part of the May 1st CSS Reboot. This is big since I’ve been struggling for the better part of two years to find the time and energy to do something about it. Still, it’s not just a random occurrence that this is happening now… which leads me to points two and three.

In recent months I’ve been gathering contacts and sourcing out opportunities to strike out on my own in a much larger way than the bits of freelance work I’ve been doing for a number of years now. What this means is that Wishingline Design Studio, Inc. is a full-time gig now(!), and as such the site needs to be done. For real. And it will be.

Stacks of business cards
Stacks of new Wishingline business cards and stationary

…But what about Masterfile you ask? Well, timing is everything really. As I was contemplating this and discussing the ramifications with Emily given that we were about to move to a new house; things were starting to wind down on a few active projects and it just happened to be a good time. There are some fantastically smart people who work at Masterfile and I feel I did good work and helped contribute to what is now a better site than where it was when I started.

From a front-end code perspective, the site is certainly more standards-compliant and (hopefully) leaner than before considering the big features such as SimSearch, weighted search and floating thumbs which were all added in the last year along with a major re-branding (and one colour change with another on the way). For me it’s been a good opportunity to work in a different kind of team environment and to learn things along the way that I can now use to good advantage, and make my own. All the best to the new media department in the massively big upcoming project. I’m sure it will turn out great.

Our Operators Are Standing By

And now for the big plug… If you know of companies in need of web or print design, Mac-focused technical consulting or training services, please drop me a line.

In general, I will be looking for projects in the local Toronto area though I can, and have worked with international clients (big and small). I will be starting to accept new work at the beginning of June 2005.

February 16, 2005

Putting Up The Scaffolding //

After nearly two very long years, I’m finally done and satisfied with the identity work for Wishingline Design Studio, Inc. and although you won’t see it in place here for a while now, it is coming. My big realization out of all of this has been that it’s amazing how so much time can pass before you really have the time, energy and inspiration to buckle-down and get to work when so many other things are beating at your door.

Wishingline Design Studio, Inc. identity mark
Wishingline Design Studio, Inc. identity mark

During the nearly two years I’ve tinkered with this, I hummed and hawed over whether or not to retain a bonsai tree as part of the identity. That was my original intention at least but instead I went in the opposite direction and ended up with something abstract.

While the triple “w” visually resembles a sine wave — indicating movement or “flow”, it also permits a direct connection to the blog title “On A Long Piece Of String” just as it could easily be a piece of string. It’s simple and, at least in my eyes, vastly different from a lot of what else is out there in the general web design world. It’s also kind of fun just to stare at — you’ll go a bit cross-eyed staring at it too long though.

My intention with slipping this out is to begin the process of documenting the design and development of the actual, honest-to-goodness Wishingline Design Studio, Inc. site — design concepts all the way through to the final site launch. I’m not entirely sure to what extent this will happen as it depends on, at least in part, on general interest.

So what do you think of the logo? Smash? Trash?

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