On Inspiration

What inspires you? I’ve been asked that question many times. Either by fellow creatives, in job interviews and here. I’ve never been able to give an answer I’m content with. However, I feel like this might be the perfect place to explore what my answer should be.

I’m not the type of person to spend hours on Dribbble, or any other gallery in an effort to “gather inspiration.” That’s not what you’re doing there. You’re subconsciously copying the work of other designers. Not to mention, you’re reducing the craft that we practice to aesthetics.1

I feel that inspiration is so much more than that. Inspiration is not only the way you think; it’s why you think that way. It’s a feeling. It’s the feeling you get before you work on something for hours. For me, it’s the moment I know I’ll need a fresh cup of coffee.

Yet, I’ve found that if you feel that inspiration is the key to getting work done, it can be very limiting. The truth is, design is not magic and inspiration is not the secret potion. Design is calculated and the result of an in-depth understanding of goals.2

What really inspires me, what makes me analyze my own work and strive to do better, is how fellow designers think about design. It’s interesting to hear their process and experiences, and how they execute on that process. The challenging of patterns and theories is what I find inspiring. The web is an ever evolving place. Shouldn’t the way we design for it evolve as well?

Completely changing direction, have you ever heard a disco song with a funky beat? What about the smell of freshly ground coffee? The way the lights reflect on a busy city street? The warmness you feel in your heart being surrounded by family and friends?

After considering all things, living life should be inspiration enough.

Originally published on The Branch in 2013.

  1. I don’t agree with this anymore. Yes, our craft is so much more than aesthetics, but everyone copies other people’s work. You see a magazine you like, or well-designed packaging, and without even noticing it, there are details that creep into what you’re working on. That’s not necessarily a bad thing. 

  2. This I still agree with. If you’re waiting for inspiration to strike, you might be waiting for a long time. Yes, if you’re feeling blocked, take a break, go for a walk, work on something else for an hour. But sometimes, you’ve just gotta sit down and do some work. 

T-Mobile’s ‘Binge On’ violates Net Neutrality principles

Greg Sandoval reporting for GeekWire:

T-Mobile, one of the country’s largest providers of mobile internet access, launched Binge On in November. The service features video from Netflix, Amazon, HBO and others. Binge On customers can watch this content without it counting against their data allotments.

I’m surprised this didn’t come up sooner. Not as direct as throttling a site, like Comcast tried to do with Netflix, but instead giving you these select sites essentially for free. Supposedly it’s a program you can opt-out of, but the average user won’t do it. In fact, they might not even understand what’s so wrong about it. People will choose to watch something on these platforms instead of others, giving T-Mobile control it shouldn’t have.

‘On Standing’

Chris Bowler:

After these past three years, I can attest to the fact that standing vs. sitting is not the discussion we should be having. It’s inactivity, period. If you’re standing in front of a computer for 8 hours a day, you’re not moving enough. Your heart rate is too slow. While your brain is working away, your body is wasting away.

Being healthy in this profession is very difficult, but not impossible. I’m trying a new thing where I do a brisk activity for ninety seconds every hour.

Super Bowl 50

My thoughts on this year’s Super Bowl.

Friends and family who came over for our Super Bowl party.

I’ll keep this brief:

  • We had a fun time watching. We invited friends over, ate a lot of food, and argued about some of the calls. Some just came to watch the commercials.
  • Very happy for the winning team. Their offense left something to be desired, but my goodness, their defense was great.1
  • Coldplay played well, but Beyonce made the show for me. After Beyonce’s performance in Super Bowl 47, this is my favorite halftime show in a while.
  • Commercials weren’t all that great. The only two I remember are Puppy Monkey Baby which was nothing short of creepy, and the sheep singing “Somebody to Love”.
  1. Purposely trying not to spoil anything, just in case you haven’t watched. 

Make the Web Better by Helping the Beginners

Brad Colbow:

I know that I can do some killer animations without Javascript. I know I can build a blog without a css framework. I know I should be able to make changes to a CSS file without spending half a day setting up an environment. These tools exist to make expert’s lives easier, but they create a huge barrier for the less experienced.

If you’re looking to carve out a niche on the web, look towards teaching the beginners. The best part is you don’t have to be an expert, just share what you’ve learned. Write, tweet, blog or stick your shiny forehead in front of a camera and talk. No matter how basic you think it is, I guarantee there are hundreds of people searching for your advice.

I completely agree. Ignore that voice telling you, “Don’t write/podcast/screencast about that! Everyone knows that already!”

Drew Wilson on Design Titles

Drew Wilson:

Currently in the software industry any title that has “Design” somewhere in it refers to someone that arranges pixels on a screen. I propose that any title with “Design” in it should be applicable to anyone working on any aspect of software.

He’s got a good point. But regarding the central theme of his post, I wonder if it actually matters. Does it matter what we call ourselves? To me, the more important question is: who are the titles for? For us, or for other people? If I told someone I met at a friend’s barbecue that I was a “Visual Designer,” they’d have no idea what the hell that is.

All that being said, I know titles have their importance, and the post reminds me not to fall into the trap of title inflation. At the end of the day, I just make websites. That’s it.

On Managing Links

The title perfectly encapsulates my year. 2015 came and went, and as usual, here’s my annual year in review.

First off, let’s just acknowledge how #firstworldproblem-sy this is. They’re just links right? But I come across a lot of stuff on the web, and there’s some of it that I need to categorize. Links usually fall into one of two categories:

  1. Link’s I want to write about and/or archive
    A lot of the content here on The Bold Report are link posts. The link posts are always ones that I find interesting, and in many respects I use it as an archival system.

  2. Link’s I need to come back to on my Mac
    Most of my reading is done on my iPad, so I needed a better way than flooding my email with a ton of links.

So what’s my system? I use Pocket and IFTTT. Let me explain.

When I’ve read something interesting and want to write about it, I save the link to Pocket and tag it link. IFTTT watches Pocket for items marked link, and creates a text file in Dropbox with all the YAML front matter it needs. Here’s what the recipe looks like:

Pocket to Dropbox IFTTT Recipe

The beauty of this system is that these links are accessible from any device. If all I have is my iPad, I can write. If all I have is my phone, I can still write. The setup leaves me no excuse not to write… unless I haven’t seen anything interesting of course. And recently, when I figured out how to publish from iOS, I’ve ended up writing more and publishing sooner.

It also saves a lot of time. In the past, I’d email the link to myself. This cluttered my inbox, and sometimes I’d forget about the link. This new workflow drops a file with all the info I need into my writing folder, so at anytime, I can check the folder and see what links to write about. At any given time, I usually have about five to seven links in there. I have a solid writing pipeline, and it usually doesn’t run out.

Again, Pocket and IFTTT do the heavy lifting here. I save the link to Pocket and tag it mac. IFTTT then watches for that tag, and adds the item to an email digest that’s emailed daily at 7am. If there are no new links, no email is sent. Here’s what the recipe looks like:

Pocket to Email Digest Recipe.

Sure, someone might not want yet another email, but I honestly don’t get much. Instead of just having a barrage of emails with links to myself, I have one email with all the links from the night before.

That’s All Folks

That’s my workflow. It saves me time, keeps my links organized, and gives me no excuse not to write. If you have questions about the setup, you know where to find me.

Being the Boss Is Tough

Claire Lew on being the boss:

How are you coming across? What’s your body language? Do you ask questions? Do you listen? Do you go out of the way to help one of your employees? How accessible are you?

I’ve had some bad bosses in my career, and I’ve had great ones who have bad moments. The reality is that we’re all imperfect, and being the boss is tough. What makes a great boss isn’t one who doesn’t make mistakes, it’s the one who reads a post like this and tries to do better next time. If you happen to be someone in charge, this piece is great for some self-examining.

Twitter Implies Their Ads Suck

Matt Gemmell on what he’s calling “tiered social media”:

There are problems with that approach, the main one being the tacit admission that their ads are detrimental. If you’re rewarding people by reducing the hostility of their experience, maybe just fix the experience for everyone, and find something positive to charge for instead.

Twitter has no idea what the heck they’re doing. The ads they’ve introduced to make them money are being devalued by none other than themselves. Like Matt, I never see Twitter ads, and I bet many others don’t either. Which also takes away from any value these ads could have. Twitter could do some type of “patronage” model, but it has made enemies with some of their third-party developers and most of their long-time users.

2016 is a pivotal year for Twitter, which could begin their decline, or (hopefully) a second rise in popularity.