Frayed Knot (#001) by Jon Winebrenner

Design Business, Contracts, and Mike Monteiro…AKA F*ck You, Pay Me

I have the pleasure of being in charge of my company’s business development efforts. There are several things that come with this role that aren’t always particularly fun:

  • Dealing with clients who don’t want to pay their bills.
  • Negotiating over the value of your skills.
  • Writing and negotiating contracts.
There’s also some fun stuff. But it is the unfun stuff that – as a business owner – has the ability to take years off your life. The number one item on the list above that is controllable, and can mitigate the pain of other items on the list, is having a solid contract in place. In the case of a service based industry (e.g. Product Development) the document you need to make sure you get your lawyer to draft up for you is called a Master Service Agreement (MSA). If you don’t have one, don’t do another job without one.
I have been spending my Friday working through the issues of contract negotiation.  It isn’t fun work, but it must be done.  We went through an onerous situation earlier this year where a client decided to no pay their bills and having our MSA in place saved us in many ways.  Working through these contractual issues and reflecting on how this boring work is something mandatory for the long term success of my business reminded me of an fantastic video about this very subject. Mike Monteiro, of Mule Design, gave a talk titled, “Fuck You, Pay Me”. In it, he talks about several of the key issues that a service industry business owner must address when dealing with a client.  There are too many sound bites to be found in this video for me to do it justice by providing you a few quotes.  Watch the video, take some notes, then call your lawyer.

2011/03 Mike Monteiro | F*ck You. Pay Me. from San Francisco Creative Mornings on Vimeo.

Three Design Lessons from Star Wars

If you know me, this next statement will not come as any shock:

I’m geek and I love Star Wars.

This isn’t profound by any stretch of the imagination.  I am a small voice in a cacophony of Star Wars Geeks.  In fact, I am probably not particularly far along the spectrum when it comes to Star Wars geekery.  I love that a movie that I saw when I was 5 is still alive in my imagination and I have passed that love on to my kids.  My daughter likes Star Wars.  But where the torch of geekiness is being passed, is to my son.  He is now 5 years old, and I have had my Mom send out all of the Star Wars toys my brother and I played with as kids. There’s the plastic Darth Vader action figure case (with the original Darth Vader action figure and his vinyl cape, et al), the Millennium Falcon, the AT/AT Walker, the Cloud City Pod Car, and the Rebel Snowspeeder. Yes, I love playing with my son by running around the house yelling “peww, peww, peww”, and “Han shot Greedo first”! I might possibly have even maybe played with some of the toys myself once or twice after he’s gone to bed.  But nobody was around to see it so you can’t prove it…and I’ll deny it if you try and say I did.

This past weekend, Spike TV had a Star Wars marathon.  My son and I, even though we own all the DVDs, got caught up in watching the commercial laden version of Episode 2. While I was sitting there, my mind did start to wonder how Star Wars applies to Design. I tend to think that there are several design lessons to learn from Star Wars.

1. Create the Vision then Let Go 

I’m going to say this, more to publicly get it off my chest than anything else.  George Lucas sucks as a Director.  Seriously, he’s horrible. What he’s good at is being a visionary. When he comes up with the story, guides it, shapes and molds it but let’s it go, he allows for magic to happen.  If you don’t believe me, go back and watch Episodes I, II, III, and IV. All directed by Lucas, and all of them are horrible from a cinematic perpspective. With the same set of actors and same visionary at the helm, Irving Kirschner created the epic Empire Strikes Back which is pure genius.

Steve Jobs did this…or so his archetype goes. He created the vision and acted as the final say on all products. But he let his team do the work.  He let the Designers design, Programmers program…etc.  He held everyone to a very high standard, but he knew he wasn’t a designer.  He, in his words, knew it when he saw it but was unable to do it himself.  I wish, after the original Star Wars (Episode IV), Lucas would have done the same. Don’t fall into this trap with your product.  If you are coming up with a new product or company, you are probably an amazing visionary.  Create the vision, guide, shape, and mold, and hire a Design Team. Then get out of the way.

2. Remember Your Archetypes

Every product has a personality.  As does every company.  Star Wars, and every other Lucas epic, is wrought with the simple idea that archetypes are king.  Sometimes the archetypes are instilled from the beginning, other times they’re forged by time.  Here are a few examples:

Han Solo/Apple/Steve Jobs – The Outlaw archetype is the guy that shoots from the hip (maybe even first). He does things different(ly) from everyone else and rules are merely ideas to consider.  He tends to have a chip on his shoulder.  Everybody loves the Outlaw, but there’s always an element that keeps you on edge for feeling that love.

Luke Skywalker/Google/Sergey Brin and Larry Page – The Hero archetype saves the day by choosing the path of good over evil. The temptation of doing evil is constantly pulling at The Hero, and while he may be tempted by the Dark Side he always stays true to his feelings that good prevails over evil.

Darth Vader/Microsoft/Bill Gates – Ruling the Galaxy is a taxing job and nobody is better suited for the job than the Villain archetype.  As the villain, you are going to make a lot of people unhappy along the way, especially when you use the force to choke your opponents into submission. Deep down, you may be good but you have embraced the dark side and have no problem leaving a path of destruction behind you as long as you get to the top.

This is all a very fun way to say, give your product or company a personality. Choose your archetype, even if you don’t overtly announce it to the world.  If you don’t at least consider what archetype your product is to be, you increase your risk of ending up with a product that has a severe identity crisis. I believe it was Yoda who said it best, “If confused you are, confused your customers will be”.

3. “Use the Force, Luke”

At the end of the day, Design is something that requires a good gut. It either feels right, or it doesn’t.  If you’re a Designer, you get it.  You feel The Force all around you.  It comes from years of observing product trends and learning how people interact with products.  Color theory is second nature and the knowledge that changing something by a fraction of a millimeter can make or break the success of a product doesn’t shock you.

If you’re not a Designer, you need to hire a team to design – and I am going to sound like a broken record – then get out of their way.  Being a visionary is one thing.  But having a vision but being unable to share your vision is another causes a lot of grief.  You need to have what you want spelled out very clearly.  If you don’t, you are going to run into exorbitant cost overruns, you’re going to frustrate your designers, and be sitting at the end wondering where it all went wrong.  If you don’t have that vision, be prepared to pay for it.  In either an organized way by allowing your Designers to interview you and then create a visionary document for you which you will sign-off on, or in the painful way of playing the game of “I know it when I see it”.  I suggest staying away from the latter unless you have a very deep pocketbook.

Even with these little tongue-in-cheek metaphors, the bottom line is that developing a product is difficult, expensive endeavor. You can save yourself time, money and headache if you just sit down with a bag of popcorn and watch a few hours worth of Star Wars. Even if you don’t gain any insight into how you can develop your next product, you will at least have a little bit of fun along the way.

Walking Through Doorways Makes You Forget Important Things

I came across an article today titled, “Walking Through Doorways Makes You Forget Important Things”. Well, if you read my previous post (ADD :: Stupid Brain) you’d probably understand that my primary reaction to this epiphanal psychology study was, “Well, duh!”. This is the kind of thing I live with on a daily basis.  Hell, I don’t think I even need to walk through a doorway.

The thing that really caught my eye on this was the metaphor it brings.  It really is an appropriate way to describe how ADD affects you.  I can have my wife ask me to pick up some butter at the store. That’s the only thing I need to get. Like the happy puppy I am, I walk out of the kitchen, through the dining room, into the hall, tuck my head into the closet to get my shoes, walk out the front door, get in the car, get out of the car, and go into the store.  Now, think about that. That’s now, by my count, 8 doors I’ve passed through (I count the closet as 1 as I only stuck my head in) on the way to getting butter at the store.  The fact that I come back home with bread, ice cream, and a cool Darth Vader spatula…should it surprise anyone that I forgot butter if I passed through 8 doors?

The confusing part of the whole thing is it does bring us back to the idea that ADD is part of the Human Condition. Is it something that really is a problem, or am I just allowing that part of my brain control the rest of it.

No matter how you slice it, the metaphor of your memory being linked the translation from one room to another is food for thought.

Oh, and seriously, you have to check out the Star Wars spatulas from Williams and Sonoma:

Darth Vader Spatula

ADD :: Stupid Brain

Some days I want to scream.  I can’t begin to tell you how stupid it it makes you feel to be a complete and utter moron.  Seriously, how else do you define making your lunch, putting it in your lunchbag, turning around and walking to the front door to put on your coat and shoes and then walk out the door without your lunch?  This is exactly what happened to me yesterday.  I was, literally, 5 minutes from zipping up my lunchbag to the front door and I FORGOT MY DAMN LUNCH!

Here’s the thing. I’ve thought for a LONG time that I’ve had ADD.  It goes back to as far as I can remember.  Sitting in classes were simply not my gig.  My senior year of High School, I got an F in Physics my first Semester, and 99% in the 2nd Semester.  I’m not a dumb ass.  I know that and believe it.  My diagnosis of having ADD came as basically no surprise to me.

The tipping point for me was about 2 years ago.  My wife was out of the house, the kids had been put to bed and I was exhausted.  So, I plopped on the couch and did the mindless channel flip until I came across a show called “ADD and Loving It”. For anyone living in Canada, you’ve likely heard of a television show called “The Red Green Show”.  It’s kind of a Canadian thing, so if you’re living outside Canada, this likely doesn’t hold much water.  “The Red Green Show” stars a fellow named Patrick McKenna.  Patrick has ADD and helped create “ADD and Loving It”.  It’s a witty, insightful documentary that spoke directly to me.

For a good chunk of my life, I’ve thought what happens in my head is “just part of the human condition”.  Everyone forgets their lunch.  Everyone locks their keys in the car while it’s still running.  Everyone packs everything in their sports bag but forgets their shoes.  Well, while it is true that everyone does do that.  They tend to learn from it and not do it over, and over, and over and….

This is what resonated with me.  “ADD and Loving It” puts it in perspective that while ADD is easily confused with the human condition.  Those of us that are burdened with a mind that is out of tune, it takes the negative side of the human condition and turns it up to 11 (Nigel Tuffnel style).

I don’t know how to explain it other than to say that while everyone forgets things, and everyone has moment where they feel like a complete idiot for what they did, or didn’t do – you have to realize that there are some of us out there that this is a daily occurrence. It eats at you.  It does make you feel stupid, and you have to work that little bit harder to keep up with the Joneses. But now that I know. Now that I understand that I actually DO have a wire or two crossed….it helps.  It allows me to stop, and think about stuff and consider little things every day to help me get past the fact that forgetting my lunch doesn’t have to be the catalyst that spirals the rest of my day out of control. It allows me to try and learn and actively reprogram myself.

Oh, and yes.  I remembered my lunch today.


ADD :: Beauty is Worth 3 Minutes of Your Day

While I am an industrial designer I also studied Photography while I attended Purdue University.  I actually always considered myself a better photographer than a designer.  I tend to know beauty more when I see it as opposed to extracting the beauty from my mind and portraying it to the world.  Photography always seemed to tap into that part of me.

Now, if you add moving pictures to that…that’s something that taps into my soul.  An example would be trying to explain the feeling of inspiration I get walking out of a good movie.  Especially something that is visually creative (e.g. Anything Pixar and/or animated).

Where, as a designer I don’t get “moved” by good design to the same degree.  I am impressed by it.  Even amazed.  But it doesn’t reach through my chest and squeeze some part of me I didn’t know existed before.  I know that the lines of a well designed vehicle does that for some people. Or maybe it’s the harmony that comes from a well balanced illustration (actually, that does it for me more than an object tends to).

I believe that my affinity for photography is tied to A.D.D. With design – Industrial Design in particular – you need to put in the time to create beauty.  Rarely does beauty fall out of your head onto paper.  And most definitely it doesn’t fall out of your head into a tangible, 3D object. But, especially with the advent of digital photography, the results are essentially instantaneous. It is also why I believe I went into Industrial Design as opposed to photography.  Photography was pure, it was real, it was easy.  It was something that I could do my whole life and not turn it into “a job”.

Then, I come across a blog post that reminds me about my love for photography.  And to take it a step further.  I come across a blog post that takes landscape photography and merges it with time lapse video.  The result is beautiful.  It is a simple reminder that beauty is all around us.  Sometimes we have to slow down and realize that to achieve beauty, you have to put in the time and effort.  It is more than the right shutter settings and pressing a button.

I highly recommend you have a look at Dustin Farrell’s video.  It is about three minutes long…and beauty is always worth 3 minutes of your day!


Steve Jobs :: The Other Side of the Coin

I recently posted about Steve Jobs and his proficiency at being a complete asshole.  As with many things in my life, I put something “out there” then I take a while to digest what I’ve done.  After lamenting about how I see Jobs’ personality as something that prevents me from propping him up on some kind of internal iconic pedestal, I also see a side to him that simply makes sense.

Malcolm Gladwell just published an article in The New Yorker about Jobs’ role in history as “A Tinkerer”.  Someone that riffs on previous inventions/ideas and makes them better.  Apple didn’t invent the mouse, they made it better.  They didn’t invent portable music devices, they made them better.  You can see the pattern already.  He had a vision for what he wanted from products and he imposed his will upon that vision to make it real.

His personality aside, what he did that I believe was at the core of his success was to be the final say in every aspect of the product.  The archetype that is Steve Jobs is a man who did not allow anything to be designed by committee. If the product, in its final form, did not meet his stamp of approval it didn’t go out the door.

Now, this is a pretty ballsy approach to business that I don’t think most people have the…well….balls to take on. The flip side to taking the credit for the success of the product, you’re also the goat when it doesn’t succeed. So if you’re in position to be where the buck stops on all decisions, you have to be prepared to get kicked in the teeth when your decisions fail.

I look at products that I admire most, I venture to guess that most of them had some kind of visionary at the helm.  Design by committee is the number one way for your product to become mediocre.  A group of people who approach their product development as a joint effort are going to take twice as long, have more complexity, and be more watered down than if it follows a single vision. I believe there’s a place in the world for both options.  The Microsoft and Apple paradigm will carry on in every industry well after I’m pushing daisies.

So, where does this leave me?  It leaves me wondering if there is a way to create a strong vision, take the lead on the vision, inspire those around you to follow that vision, take the pounding from everyone around you telling you that your vision is wrong, and doing it all without being an asshole along the way.

If you have thoughts, or comments…I’d love to hear them.

Steve Jobs :: The Asshole Factor

I, like most people these days, am fascinated by Steve Jobs. He has been the lead on countless products/projects that have changed the world for the good. I am far from a fanboy.  I do own an iPhone and an older generation iPod Nano.  I have never owned a Mac computer, but I appreciate what they represent. I still remember sitting in a friend’s house back in the 80s gawking over the Apple IIe and similarly gawking over the original Macintosh when it came out.

But I am a PC.  Well, I was.  Now I believe that the world is condensing and I see the concept of a PC disappearing into the cloud. I love what is happening in the Tablet space and I can’t wait to see how it plays out between Android and Apple (the new Microsoft vs. Apple).

But this post is about Steve Jobs and how he’s a colossal asshole.

Last night I was watching the PBS documentary on Jobs, called Steve Jobs: One Last Thing. And the thing that strikes me every time you hear someone speak of Jobs, you get the standard sound bites: “Genius”, “Visionary”, “Master Marketeer”. The second thing that strikes me is that I have yet to come across anyone who doesn’t follow the standard sound bite with a “but”. And the “but” is always some variation on the theme that Steve Jobs is an asshole. I struggle with this. A lot.

I, like virtually every other person on the planet, have had to deal with assholes in the workplace. Each time I witness a tirade by someone pitching a fit like a 3 year old, why people tolerate it. We don’t tolerate it from 3 year olds, why do we tolerate it from 43 year olds? I know I am not alone in this. I can even go as far as saying that I’ve witnessed first hand collegues of mine getting stripped down in such a way, that there is no way that it didn’t affect them on a very deep, personal, and emotional level.

In the PBS show, there are first hand accounts of face to face shouting matches that were classified as being “like a playground bully”. There was an interview of Richard Branson where he wore kid gloves with everything he said, but you could read between the lines that there was no love lost between the two. He used words to describe Jobs that came across as backhanded compliments.

In order to ensure I am clear in this, I don’t have a problem with being “tough to deal with”. The idea of being perfectionistic in your approach to business is not something I shun. In fact, with my ADD tendencies, I respect it because it is a very difficult thing for me to achieve. It is the sociopathic approach to business that is far more common than anyone seems to admit that I have a problem with.  It is almost as though the higher you climb on a corporate ladder, the more people think you need to act like an asshole.

So, the point of this little diatribe is that while I appreciate all of the great feats Jobs has accomplished during the course of his life.  I don’t think I can respect him as a person. In a way that catches me off guard, that leaves me feeling a bit empty inside.

Industrial Design in Taiwan

I just finished a week long stint in Taipei, Taiwan attending the International Design Alliance World Congress and the Icsid General Assembly.  I am not being flippant by saying that the experience was life changing.  I was able to meet and interact with many of the world’s best minds in the world of Design. Taipei is an interesting city with some amazing culture that proved to be a fantastic backdrop for a conference that was discussing the topic of Design.

There were a few things that hit me in a big way.  The main one being the investment that I saw from the Chinese/Taiwanese Government into Design.  The scale of this conference was staggering. It was bordering on overdone.  But, in retrospect, a conference that is – at its core – about trying to make the world a better place can’t be overdone.

Another take away was the level of exposure to Design that the Taiwanese Youth gained from the IDA Congress taking place in Taipei.  I was walking around the Design Expo which was being housed in an old tobacco factory (that was a designer’s fantasy in and of itself). It was a collection of about 12 or so studios with exhibits displaying all sorts of design pieces from Industrial Design to Graphic Design to Woodworking. It was an impressive, if not typical, display of items from a multitude of Design disciplines. The part that struck me most was the amount of kids in the expo.  We’re talking bus loads of them. Kids ranging from elementary to high school aged were being brought to these exhibits and exposed to Design.  If you had this same exhibit in North America not only would you be devoid of the children in the exhibit, but I would go all-in on the idea that you could shoot a cannon through the exhibit and you would be hard pressed to hit a single person.

I’ve often said that Design is a canary in a coalmine.  You can use layoffs from Design-oriented companies as a barometer for the economy.  If company’s are laying off designers, that means that fewer products will be produced 9 – 16 months from now. Fewer items being produced, means less export, etc.

Using this same thought process, you can see the rising trends as well. With the unprecedented exposure to the field of Design the Taiwanese children were receiving, I look to the likely world dominance of the Asian Design Community in the next 10 – 20 years. There is no questioning the expertise, and level of quality that Asia has mastered in the realm of manufacturing.  If you begin go tie that in with the innovative nature of Design, there is no way you can ignore the potential of what you saw happening there.

If you’re a designer, I highly recommend getting involved in the International Design Community.  After spending some time there, I tend to believe that it is as important, if not more important than involvement in your local design community.  We’re living in an ever shrinking planet where the mixing of cultures and ideas is easier than ever before.  I saw enough in one week to convince me that Design can help bring about change for the good, and it is more than just a passing fad.  The International Design Community is where it’s at.


The Blessing and the Curse

Yesterday, I got the wonderful roller coaster ride that is Attention Deficit Disorder (ADD). It is, without question, something that I both love and hate about myself.  I live in this world of constant mental chaos.  But, at the same time incredible clarity.

I wake up in the morning and all is well.  In fact, it is a day that feels as though I have it by the tail.  A cup of coffee over a chapter of Game of Thrones, a quick shower and I’m off.  Meetings all day, prospective clients to meet and woo. Just what I want and need.  A day that keeps me moving forward.  Not much down time to think….or so I thought.

The blessing side of it all is triggered by a prospective client.  A job that has the potential to tap into my soul.  The prospect of working on “the perfect job for me” elicits a tidal wave of creative vision.  My mind is running at a mile a minute saying things like, “How will I do this? Can we do that? OH! What about THAT?!?”

In the space of 15 minutes while driving to my first meeting at 8 AM the curse sneaks up on me and says, “Boo!”.  The clarity and focus that is brought together by the dreams of dreaming big are shattered as a flash of red hits my eyes coming from about 20 feet over the street. A split-second later it registers that I am entering the intersection with the light having just turned red. Another split second later, the flash of the red light camera capturing my moment of clarity that had my mind in a completely different world. Luckily I coasted through the intersection and nobody is hurt.  The elation that was my day shatters in a quick flash of light.

It sent my day spinning into infinity. A day full of potential is now dictated by the ups and downs of frustration of how I let myself do something so stupid. The rest of the day, it was like I had a little Homer Simpson sitting on my shoulder saying, “Stupid Brain”.