Permission to use


I’ve had a few requests from folks who would like to use some of the graphics that have been posted here. Please feel free to use them however you wish. Best regards, take care.

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The Quest for the Silver Bullet

This is a commentary about Jon Kolko’s article at Design Mind, “The Maturity of a Discipline”, linked below:

As Jon Kolko pointed out several times, certain concepts are being treated as “silver bullets” to address complex problems. I feel that the quest for “silver bullets” is symptomatic of an approach to problems that has not changed for decades, namely, adhering to trends and fads instead of thinking about the nature of the problem. Any given use of a corporate buzzword will serve as an example. “Design thinking” is becoming a corporate buzzword. To me, it sounds like a rewording of the old standby, “think outside the box,” which in practice is a challenge that says essentially nothing, an expression of someone else’s frustration with real or perceived failure. At worst, it is used as an excuse to enforce their own narrow vision.

People tend to talk about a “design thinking” approach without really understanding what design is. Likewise, people tend to demand “creativity” without really understanding what that is, and what they really want is something that strikes their fancy. In reality, what strikes their fancy are shopworn ideas that appeal to an expectation of how things should look, and that kills innovation.

Understanding the fundamentals of design is necessary for “design thinking.” One should at least understand what design is before claiming to be a “design thinker.” It is not merely pushing elements around in a given space; form should complement function without becoming more important than the function itself.

Designers may hope that the current emphasis on “design thinking” and creativity may result in elevation of the design discipline. Sadly, what is happening is that design is considered too important to be left to designers, and people who do not understand design think they can do it without the designer. Managers often cannot or will not see or accept their own limitations. Task forces and committees tend to add complexity to problems that could otherwise be simplified. As the old saying goes, “too many cooks spoil the broth.” Yet, in the name of “design thinking,” groups and committees will become more involved in the design process, under the mistaken belief that many can make better decisions than a few. For an example from reality, I recently assisted in a situation in which multiple opinions on colors and graphic treatments from people other than the designers resulted in an 11th-hour halt to project so that a multitude of branding violations and grammatical errors could be corrected. There were plenty of unusual and different graphic treatments, most of them off brand, many of them inappropriate for the content. A few of us fixed an avoidable problem that would not have occurred had the many not made decisions and choices without consulting the few.

I doubt we’ll escape “metrics” and statistical analyses. Quantitative measurement of success will always be part of business. The fallacy lies in the belief that “if only” we would just create something unique, unusual, different, imaginative, outstanding, amazing, and so on, we will be successful. Reality does not always follow our expectations. Basically, the old adage rings true: adapt or perish. So, all we can really do is to continue to try new things and new approaches, while continually avoiding the stifling trap of the trend, the fad, the buzzword, and the status quo.

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Every so often as I drive to work, I see a stocky-looking guy holding a large cup of coffee, rocking back and forth, listening to his radio, wearing a sandwich board advertising a local plumber.

I’ve seen him in the summer. I’ve seen him in the fall. I’ve seen him in the rain as well as the sunshine, and I think, “I’m lucky. I could be that guy.”

But how bad is his life? Is it bad at all? I really don’t know. He seems blissful enough. But what is bliss? Does it really matter? Do I even have the right to pity the man?

I could, of course, park my car and talk to him, and find out who he is and what he does, and why does he wear that sandwich board? How does he like his coffee? What does he listen to on his radio? What songs does he sing when he does a little dance there on the corner?

But that would mean stepping out of the safe and predictable pattern of my existence…

…which is at least worth a try.


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Tutorial: How to make a nice design using two sticks and a rock

In today’s tutorial I’ll show you how to make a nice design using two sticks and a rock.

If you want to use the shortcut, go out and find two sticks that suit your fancy and a nice heavy rock. Lay the sticks on the ground and bash them with the rock. You will have designed…something…

Or, you can take the two sticks and smack the rock with them. You will have made music.

This tutorial is slightly more sophisticated, although you may be able to market your smashed stick work, and I encourage you to record your rock music and send it to record companies.

If you want to do the digital thing, download the images you’ll need for this tutorial.

Here are your two sticks.

During the development of this tutorial, the design team got involved in a long argument about whether or not it’s a picture of two twigs, and whether or not twigs qualified as sticks. There was an impassioned plea for using drum sticks, then the discussion degraded into philosophical differences over chicken legs versus turkey drumsticks. An attempt to bring hockey sticks into the mix was shouted down before body checks could happen. Someone mentioned glue sticks, and there was dead silence.

Ultimately the creative director insisted that we follow the intended spirit of the creative brief, and that we use images of real sticks as found lying on the ground in nature. So we were back to square one.

Nobody really cared about the rock.

I’m not quite sure when a twig qualifies as a stick, but I’m a designer, not a botanist, and these are good enough sticks for anybody, unless maybe you’re a jazz drummer and you need some real sticks. I suppose you could use those kind of sticks for your own designs. Don’t let me stop you. Substitute your own sticks or rocks if you wish. It’s not as if I’m watching you.

This looked like a good enough rock for anybody.

Purists may argue that it is a boulder, not a rock. In this case I might agree, so here’s a group of genuine rocks. You might want prettier rocks. I wanted rocks that would be easy to clip out in Photoshop.

Open your sticks and rocks in Photoshop or whatever other image editing software you own. I have Photoshop so that’s what I’ll use. If you’re using Microsoft Paint you may find things a trifle more time consuming, but persevere. If you’re using PowerPoint…well, you must be the heroic sort.

First we need to isolate the sticks on separate layers. I assume you already know how to do this. If you don’t, please go find a tutorial that will teach you how to make clipping masks. Here we are dealing with sticks and rocks.

sticks with clipping path

Sticks with clipping path

Now we need to pick a rock from the pile. Make a clipping path around one of the rocks and copy that to its own layer.

rocks with clipping path

I'm not sure if these are rocks or coal clinkers.

Then, copy and paste or drag your rock layer to your sticks image. By now you should have a layered image with the sticks on one layer and the rock on another. This, too, is a basic skill I assume you already have.

Rock with sticks

Two sticks and a rock. We have a blog post title!

At this point a lot of you might say, “Hey, that’s pretty good, we’re done!” No, we are designers. It is never good enough. We are never done. We work on lots of projects to keep ourselves from picking at the ones we just finished.

Ok, we need to do something more interesting than laying a rock between two sticks.

First stop: divide the background between light and darkness in order to force a strong contrast. I used basic black; it matches everything.

rock and sticks with background

Divide the background between black and white for strong contrast.

It’s a start, but as I said, not good enough. Now that we have a color contrast, let’s exaggerate the contrast between rock and wood by moving the rock to the left side and both sticks to the right side. I could have done the opposite, but I think the rock looks better on the black field and that the sticks look better on the white field. If you think differently, so much the better.

rock on left side

Rock on the left, sticks on the right. Subtle rhyme with "white", er, um..

The rock hangs nicely in the black field. The sticks don’t look so good. Maybe flipping one of them will improve the way the negative space appears.

sticks rotated

The right-hand stick is rotated to generate better negative space

At this point I thought there was too much symmetry, so I moved the rock to the bottom of the black field. Rocks tend to sink, anyway, and this one isn’t pumice.

Rock moved to bottom

Rock moved to the bottom. Rock...bottom...must not make pun.

Time to try some text.

layout with text block

It isn't much better with the text, is it?

I wasn’t quite satisfied. Still too much symmetry, and the text block seemed a bit static. The negative space seems unbalanced.

I tried rotating the rock slightly and minimizing the amount of text.

Option b

Minimal text.

Maybe we could try this…not much better. The idea was to let the rock be self evident while hitting the viewer over the head with the two sticks.

option c

The 2 is elegant, but this is a bit silly.

Making the rock bigger helped the negative space. The text placement is mildly more interesting but only mildly.

Very small text

Bigger rock, smaller text.

Violating the edges of the layout resulted in better negative space and better balance between the left and right sides.

option e

Violate the edges, nurture the negative space

At this point, we could continue to move text around with or without a plan. Ordinarily I would sketch this all out before starting work.

We could probably have used a prettier rock, and there are many ways to colorize or otherwise adorn images in your favorite image manipulation program…which you already know, of course.

This concludes today’s tutorial. Thanks for reading.

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Shopping with Mom

I stopped over at mom and dad’s house this morning to see if they needed anything. Dad was asleep. Mom was in the kitchen.

“Are you going to be here for a while? I want to go to Giant Eagle. Your dad needs some yogurt.”

“Do you want me to stay here or do you want me to go with you.”

“It doesn’t make any difference. I can’t find my car keys. I left them in my blue pants and I put those in the laundry chute. I should get my grabber and pull them out.”

“We’ll take my car, then.”

“I need to get some yogurt, some milk, some water…have you had breakfast?”

“I ate at home.”

“Give me my cane, it’s by my chair.”

We get to the front door. “I’ll back up the car to the driveway for you.” While she’s getting down the stairs, I back up the car and open the passenger door.

Mom gets in. “You car’s lower than mine. I have to sit on cushions in my car.”

“So, which way do we go?”

“We can go to the Giant Eagle over here, or the one on Ridge Road.”

“Which one do you usually go to?”

“The one over here. Just go down to 130th street and turn left, it’s on the right hand side.”

So we drive along. We get to an intersection. “Straight ahead?”

“Yes, turn left.”

Left it is. “Your father goes up to 140th but I go this way.”

Over to 13oth. “Turn right.”

Down 130th. “Just turn left. It’s on the right.”

Left on Lorain, along we go until Giant Eagle appears. Into the parking lot. “Find a handicapped space.”

“I can’t park in a handicapped space.”

“You can if I’m in the car. I have that hanger for the mirror. There’s a spot there, take that one.”

“This other one is closer.”

Park the car. Mom hangs the handicapped hanger on the mirror. We’re technically legal.

Into Giant Eagle we go. She grabs a cart which becomes her walker for the duration. We take a slow stroll among the racks of foodstuffs. The produce section is right near the doors. She regards a display of peaches. “They don’t look so good.”

I worked in a produce stand for several years, so I cast my professional fruit peddler’s eye upon the peaches. Indeed, they are large, firm, smooth, peach-colored fruit. I’ve had peaches like this; they are all appearance–juiceless, with no flavor, a product of careful breeding. I remember peaches that were small by comparison, covered with irritating fuzz, easily bruised, but with distinct aroma and pungent flavor. These are mass market peaches.

“I need some of those small Reese’s cups. I have a recipe I want to try.”

We find candy right next to the produce, close to the entry. Halloween season is upon us. There are bags of “snack size” Reese’s cups. She’s looking for the tiny ones wrapped in foil. “We’ll look at the other candy racks.”

Down the hot food aisle. It’s 10 am and the Fresh Hot Chicken is cooking. Cooks and clerks look at us expectantly. Someone stops to order something. I pull the nose of the cart so mom doesn’t run into him.

Mom winks at me. “Didn’t you want me to run over that man?”

“If I let you hit him, I’d have to fight him.”

She smiles. We’re in the bakery section. She regards the racks of donuts and bagels, lined up on sterile plastic racks with clear plastic covers that have little plastic doors you can open and reach through to get your bagel or donut. The bagels appear mildly embarrassed to be seen in public with their sugary cousins. A couple of quasi-bakers are working in the white room behind the racks of cakes and pastries.  The old man baker is slicing something. The middle-aged woman baker is decorating a birthday cake, turning the cake on a rotating plate while she applies chocolate frosting with a plastic-gloved hand. Everything in the modern store is wrapped or packaged in the clear sterility of plastic.

“69 cents for a bagel!” says mom. “They’re cheaper at Marc’s.”

We round the corner into the meat department. A couple of quasi-butchers are sawing something back in the white room behind the racks. We pass by the remnants of slaughter.

“Is there anything here you need for home?” says mom.

“No, we’re good.”

“These pork chops look good. Do you guys eat pork chops?”

“Not usually…”

“There’s the milk.”

We find the milk. Yogurt is 20 for $10.

“You father likes peach yogurt. Get some of those. Don’t get any lime flavor, he doesn’t like lime.”

There’s a wide variety of flavors. Peach, lime, pineapple, raspberry, strawberry, cherry…

“Oh look, there’s cinnamon roll. He’d like that.”

Yes, there is cinnamon roll flavored yogurt. There’s also lemon meringue and apple turnover flavored yogurt, each with a little picture of the item from which the yogurt makers extracted the flavoring to put in their yogurt. We get some cinnamon roll, some lemon meringue, and definitely some apple turnover yogurt.

“He likes that apple turnover. We’re almost done. Now I need some canned peaches, some denture cleaner and some dish soap. Is there anything here you want?”

“No, I’m fine.”

Canned peaches are back near the bakery aisle. On our way we stop at the beverage aisle and pick up a 24-bottle package of bottled water. Dish soap is nearby. “Give me the lemon soap, I don’t want that bleachy stuff.”

Down the canned fruit aisle, conveniently shared with the canned vegetable aisle. We find the canned peaches. “He likes those. Get me some of those pear halves. He likes those. Get me some of those asparagus spears. He likes those. Ok, we’re done.”

Off we go to the checkout line. While there, she picks up three dark chocolate candy bars. “He likes dark chocolate. Do you want a soda or anything?”

We get through checkout, then to the car. I load the groceries into the trunk and we’re back on the road.

“Let’s stop at George’s, I want to get some carry out.”

We stop at George’s Kitchen. George’s is always busy; it’s one of those local short order places everybody goes. I find a parking spot as close as I can to the door–the two handicapped parking spots are taken.

We work our way to the door, then into George’s we go.

“Hi, welcome to George’s!” As busy as they are, whoever is at the register sings out the greeting whenever a customer comes in. George himself, in a chef’s white shirt, is in the booth by the register. People who sit on the stool to the right are there for carry out. People who step to the left will be dining in, and George escorts them to their seats. “Two? This way please.”

One of the ladies addresses mom, “How can I help you, dear?”

“I’d like some carry out.”

“Would you like to see a menu?”

“Yes, please.”

She brings the menus. Each menu has a picture of George on it. Mom looks at me. “You can order anything you want.”

“Hi, welcome to George’s!”

It’s one of those short order menus.  You know the kind–breakfast all day long, dinner all day long, lunch all day long–eggs, omelets, chicken tenders, breaded fish, baked fish, ham, steak, potatoes, hash browns, pancakes, cole slaw, onion rings, fries, soup, salad, coffee, iced tea, soft drinks.

Mom orders baked fish for dad with baked potato and beef barley soup. She orders chicken tenders with mashed potatoes and salad and chicken noodle soup for herself. “What you do you want?”

“Hi, welcome to George’s!”

“Three? This way please.”

“How about the turkey club sandwich with an order of fries.”

Mom looks at me. “Is that all you want?”

“Ok, how about the breaded walleye, mashed potatoes, beef barley soup.”

The waitress took the order and yelled it to the cook (I suppose there were more than one cook; I could only see one). The waitresses have to stand in line to yell orders to the cook. There’s a NO TALKING AT THE WINDOW sign above the narrow, stainless-steel-clad aperture into the realm of the kitchen. Below that are cauldrons of chicken noodle, beef barley, and vegetable soup, next to the toasters. The ebb and flow of waitresses and cashiers is a marvel of cooperative choreography. “WESTERN OMELET HOLD THE BACON SIDE OF HASH BROWNS EGGS OVER EASY SIDE OF HASH BROWNS DO I NEED TO REPEAT?”

They get the finished orders from somewhere behind us and around to the back. “HOT TRAY COMING THROUGH!” You learn very quickly to sit on a stool if you’re waiting for carry out and not to stand in the aisle.

Mom orders an iced tea and sips it while we wait. “Can I get change for this twenty?”

“Sure, dear.”

The waitress brings the change. Mom leaves two dollars on the counter for the waitress, who politely ignores it while she puts thick slices of bread into wax paper bags, twists the tops, and puts into paper bags which she shoves into plastic shopping bags with bright red script Thank you! on the sides. Little plastic containers of cole slaw, tartar sauce, slices of lemon; plastic bags with plastic forks and knives and spoons; little paper packets of salt and pepper; and finally the styrofoam boxes of baked fish, breaded walleye, chicken tenders, potatoes mashed and otherwise, and the soup, all go into the paper bags and the tops of the plastic shopping bags tied in little granny knots. Mom slides over her debit card, signs the little receipt, and we’re good to go.

Thank you for coming to George’s! Have a nice day!

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Lunch with Dad

He put me to work doing odd jobs and cooking lunch. Lunch was Nathan’s hot dogs.

“You gotta chop an onion.”

So I find an onion. Then I get a paring knife.

“What that you got?”

“A knife.”

“That ain’t a knife. Go in the other drawer and get a knife.” Then proceeds to get the knife himself, one of several extremely sharp heavy weight full tang balanced German steel knives he keeps in the “other drawer.” It’s big enough to carve a side of beef and sharp enough for shaving. Wasn’t quite sharp enough, so he gets the steel and sharpens the knife a bit more. I start to chop the onion.

“Here, use this one.” He hands me a different knife–this one is much sharper than the other, slightly smaller, straighter blade. I take that one and finish chopping the onion.

By that time the hot dogs were ready. Into the buns, on with the chopped onions, the brown mustard, the ketchup (or was it catsup?) and down the hatch.

We also chopped up some rhubarb, which went well once we got the right knife.

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6 Critical Questions

Here’s the “6 Critical Questions” for screen presentations in PPTx format and as a PDF. The words at the bottom of each page are hyperlinked.

6 Critical Questions (PDF)

6 Critical Questions (PPTX)

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