Designer at Morningstar, Inc. / Programming Director for AIGA Chicago. Feminist, queer who likes dinos, stars, cats, and finances. Views are my own.

Posts tagged with ‘graphic design’

Pattern Study vs Design Canon


The books people suggested were you typical design canon:

  • Elements of Typographical Style
  • Don’t Make Me Think
  • Typographic Systems
  • Grid Something Or Another
  • Grids Are Really Important So This Book
  • This Book About Grids, Too
  • Typographic Basics Important Also
  • A List Apart This
  • A List Apart That
  • A List Apart Something

Rather than push books, I’ve gotten into the habit of pushing my juniors, students, and people I mentor to immerse themselves in the study of patterns — good or bad. Books can’t physically keep pace with pattern libraries.

My reasoning is that the design canon revolves around guiding principles, but pattern libraries revolve around persistent change. If you don’t account for a behavior pattern that’s changed in the past year, then the guiding principle breaks.

If you study pattern libraries, you can study what’s working, what’s being adopted, and what are the next steps you can take in your design. Guiding principles are the end result of pattern study.

Thanks to the internet, you don’t have to be an Edward Tufte or Steven Heller to be exposed to the same amount of media to figure out patterns for yourself.

As more and more people question the need for traditional degrees or college education to be successful in design, I think it’s important to question whether the design canon is still working, too.

Squarespace + Design For All

As expected, the design community has responded pretty negatively to Squarespace’s decision to offer up automated and assisted logo design for their customers. There’s some intelligent back and forth on Twitter and of course ironic Tumblrs abounding. 

  • Of course, the negative responses are rooted in the most classic of human anxieties: will this harm my livelihood?
  • Others have intellectual questions like: will this dilute the appreciation of well-crafted design?

The truth is that this is inherent to creative advancement. From Giotto to crowdSPRING, the technological advancements within creative work actually advances the quality and progress of creative fields. I know, this is a very counter-intuitive position.


Giotto was an Italian painter from 1337 (h4x0r for elite amirite) who was known for pioneering the concept of perspective in art (foreground, middleground, background). Legend has it that he was commissioned for many a Roman Catholic job because, simply, he illustrated a perfect circle. To this day, the horror of drawing perfect circles lives on as the Donut Project at Kent State in Ohio. Just ask Ricky Salsberry about the traumatic effects of drawing a perfect circle.

It’s important to realize that this simple exercise lives on within the art world because in spite of a tool as simple as a compass, the artists’ ability to execute, think, and thus create is irreplaceable — whatever the task.

crowdSPRING launched in 2007 offering a variety of creative services for people through crowdsourcing. People were terrifically angry. Designers from overseas could replace us! Worse yet, it was spec work because you could spend weeks working on a design and receive no payment.

Funny thing is that Ross Kimbarovsky loves design. In fact, the design of crowdSPRING was crowdsourced. He just happens to have a very strong affinity for the idea of democratized design; make good design available to anyone who desires it. He’s also whip-smart and founded the business based on that idea.

Wired ran a contest back in 2007, and my client Greenlines (a surf company reliant on recycled plastics) lost to crowdSPRING for most positive innovation/start-up.

Being the egomaniac that I was, I had to investigate and have been tracking crowdSPRING since including my own personal experiments with participating and competing. I even had some dipshit accuse me of plagiarism because I followed the client’s art direction. Please focus on those last three words.

After working on dozens of projects, a very unexpected result came to light: none of these people used the logos they paid for through crowdSPRING.

Many, in fact, spent much more on individual designers and began researching good design to find something better. More of these customers just kept their old logos. I followed up with a few. I yelled at a few for being dicks (I was 25 years old!).

My favorite was a woman running a blog in Brooklyn who paid $100 for a logo that came from the Phillipines. I like her blog a lot and you probably do, too if you live in Brooklyn. It’s quite popular and it’s very visible with its new logo. The new logo was a redesign by Heads of State for $1500. Her reasoning was, "I thought design was easy, but if hundreds of people couldn’t nail it, it had to be worth paying someone who obviously could, right?"

Beautiful. I couldn’t make this shit up. I’d love to be able to write fiction with heavy morals like Aesop and tell you that everything will right itself in this world, but the truth is that money and value exist independently of our own morals.

Whatever your opinion about Squarespace’s logo creation feature, remember that it has nothing to do with you. In 2013, they had $17,000,000 in revenue. I suspect that will continue to grow through 2014 whether or not designers are offended. I suspect more and more jobs will open up to designers. As Futura and Gotham become ubiquitous and replace Helvetica as the mainstream world’s go-to “look, I kind of know design” badge, our craft will just have to be better.

You can still tell me that Squarespace is a bunch of dicks for creating something that’s an insult to the very people who have given that $17,000,000 in revenue, but I’m much more interested in how this plays out.

Remember the Motorola Rzr? It was $500. Phones were terrible. The iPhone came around and set the stage. Now we have more smartphones than computers and soon it’ll be the dominant traffic to our websites.

This, my friend, isn’t a terrific and frightful innovation. This is what is called trendsetting.

You won’t be replaced. You just have to do something new.

Financial Real Talk Series

Today, I offered up to answer any financial question big or small as it might apply to designers or anyone who, for some reason or another, hasn’t had answered. 

While I’m no financial expert, I do work for an independent financial research company. My views are my own and don’t represent them (so don’t sue them and get me fired). I did enlist the help of Jason Stipp, the senior site editor to make sure that I wasn’t misleading and answering your questions even though these are my personal viewpoints.

I want to be very explicit that these are simply strategies and personal opinions and I’m merely a graphic designer.

While we received a variety of questions, they do fall into certain categories and they all require more attention that a listicle article can cover. 

I’ll be breaking out the answers into separate posts over the next couple of weeks. Here’s the overview:

    I have $XXX,XXX in student loans, have $X,XXX in credit card debt, and make $XX,XXX a year. How can I save or invest? Should I pay down my debt first?
    How do I get started in investing? How do I invest when I only make $XX,XXX or my expenses are high?
    I’m XX years old. What’s a healthy financial outlook for me? How do I know my finances are on track for me?
    What’s the deal with credit scores? How do I build and maintain a healthy credit history? How is credit history used?
    How do I get better perks through my job? How can I convince my job to expense education? How do I negotiate a better salary?

As I finish up writing these segments, I’ll announce them on Twitter. I’ll be linking each bulleted item to each segment, so you can also just bookmark this post as an easy reference.

Depending on the response, this might become a regular thing for me. 

Want to know more about money?

Yup. I went there. It’s a scary topic. My friend Margot just wrote a nice post about financial habits as it applies to her concerns and life. If you’re reading my blog, then you can probably relate to her, too.

I’m not a financial expert, but I do work at Morningstar, Inc. which is a company specializing in independent financial research.** The big brokerages hire us for information that helps in their investment decisions. Think about that for a minute.

My specific job is to help redesign our main site, used by individual investors. Quite a bit of my user research and my daily tasks involve trying to solve for the very problems you face from paying down student loans, saving for retirement, and how to fix things when they’re bad.

We have a big whiteboard in our group room called the “Board of Doom” and it lists a seemingly endless script of how our economy and financial climate will play out—sadly.

Here’s the thing: it’s not that bleak. It’s definitely not out of your reach to reign in some control. We’re young enough that we can do something about it. 

Let’s help each other and talk about it frankly. No gimmicks to get money from you. No bamboozling rants about how nobody should go to college. Just real talk and trying to help you in your specific situation.

So write me your story by 4PM CST 10/29/13, and ask me a question. You can do so anonymously here and I’ll give you the best advice I can:

Topics can be:

  • I have $XXX,XXX in loans, should I still save for retirement?
  • I have kids now. Should I prioritize their college savings?
  • What the fuck is an index fund and what do you mean PIMCO!?
  • How does investing for retirement work? Can’t I do that later?
  • Will social security exist?

*Edit - One of the senior writers here will be going over my answers to make sure I’m not making stuff up. My viewpoints and opinions don’t represent Morningstar, but we’ll be answering to the best of our abilities.

**The reason for emphasizing that these are my personal viewpoints is that Morningstar, Inc. employs financial and legal professionals who vet their content for integrity. They’re prepared to stand behind what they publish and that exists separately from what I publish.

The 4 Dangers of Hiring Freemium Web Design Services like Webstarts →

The link will take you to a sponsored-article that Venture Beat recently posted from Webstarts.

As a sponsored-article, it’s clear they want to engage the reader in why their services would be valuable, and hopefully in an educational way. In various industries, companies provide whitepaper research offering up findings to further and improve their industries. I don’t have a beef with sponsored-articles or private research.

I do have a problem with inaccurate fear-mongering. It’s a predatory practice in technical industries whether it’s the car mechanic who rips you off or a “freemium” web-service provider like Webstarts. The practice is called FUD if you’d like learn more about it. 

Here are 4 reasons to avoid Webstarts:

  1. Clearly, they have trouble getting great reviews from within the industry. Wordpress, Tumblr, Google Sites, and a plethora of other free sitehosts that can double-time as content management systems (CMSes), have no problem accumulating users without having to pay for sponsored-articles. While it’s normal for people to pay for advertising and often a business necessity, it’s a red flag when it has to be thinly-veiled as a third-party review.
  2. The reviews online are pretty bad. With 2.6 million users (their words, not mine), I couldn’t find many positive reviews that sounded genuine. The negative reviews echo the negatives people often have with freemium services: lagging or non-existent customer service, poor quality, shoddy consistency, etc.
  3. They’re freemium. You get what you pay for, and websites aren’t any different. Not only are they an ad for your company, but often they’re a transactional hub and a heavy representation of your company. A website that looks and works badly makes your company look bad. As Webstarts pointed out, it’ll cost your business immeasurably. If web strategy isn’t your strength, hire someone who is good at it. Plumbing isn’t my strength, so I don’t mess with my toilet. A lot goes into a successful website, and there’s plenty of reading material that supports this idea. Freemium is a euphemism for shortcutting the methods, strategy, and actions that go into a good website.
  4. They’re open to lying. Their article is riff with lies, actual and by omission. They fail to mention that a person can pause their Google Ad Campaign (thus stifling the 5-figure loss in ads), they imply that web security is the designer’s responsibility instead of yours, and omit the important detail of working with a designer who is legally liable for their failings (as a registered business or by contact). Their Twitter account is riff with the tell-tale fake accounts following them. 

I would strongly encourage anyone who needs a good website to spend the time researching what goes into it from reputable sources (Mashable, Technorati, WebTuts, A List Apart, etc.) or hire someone who is proven to be good at what they do.

Google search web designer, developer, or web agency and there’s sure to be someone local. Ask for client references. The easiest thing to research for getting your website up is the current quality of a designer, developer, or agency’s craftsmanship because you can view it from your own computer.

No designer, developer, or agency involved in web is unheard of online. Between Twitter, Facebook, and independent consumer review sites, you should be wary of anyone without a positive presence. Webstarts clearly lacks a standing in the community.

I’m not advocating that you always hire someone, but I’m urging anyone who wants a great website to avoid Webstarts.

PS. Can you really trust a company that paid for a sponsored-article without spellcheck or proofreading for grammatical errors? That’s just weird.

4 Photographers on Steve Knerem, no pressure. There were so many wrist bands! Happy Dog offers Fruit Loops as a viable hot dog topping. Not bad. A bunch of people were drawing butts in the beer garden like professionals. Jessica Paoli got a ladder for Ink Wars. I make the most fucking adorable astronaut all thanks to the Great Lakes Science Center in Cleveland. Bands are rad! Aaron Sechrist showing us that his pants are OK. Braid taking 30 minutes to sound check just like it was 1990-something.

Do these photos look like a vacation? I hope they do.

One of the remarkable things that makes Weapons of Mass Creation (WMC) different from other conferences is that it isn’t some hollow gesture to give fanfare to the already successful so we can hear the redundant diatribes about being passionate, quitting our jobs, or making more “stuff”.

No, WMC is something immeasurably more important because it’s filled with flaws, compassion, chances to share your darkest professional vulnerabilities with someone you admire, and then later ask them to visit you from across the country.

As designers, so much of ourselves overlap with each other in spite of our differences. What we have in common far outnumbers the differences that separate us. Those differences have a chance to be a catalyst for what will ultimately be a better world—a better industry.

We can leave this world slightly better than we found it, and that comes from overcoming our flaws with confidence and communion. It is only self-serving when our individual concerns are limited to status, whether it’s fame or popularity, and fueling a system of conference after conference of the same over-priced messages.

You’re a designer: you know to be passionate, prolific, and to do what makes you happy.

But you’re also human: you should learn that we have to help each other advance our craft because we are each flawed and we must do this with limitless generosity.

I won’t remark on the individual talks. The organizers are posting videos, and the single most important takeaway isn’t actually the talks but the culmination of the event: I left Cleveland not a better designer, but a better person because the speakers were honest.

Not to be mistaken with the delusion of grandeur that we’re curing cancer or saving babies from fires, but the ideas and stories shared by the speakers is about their lives, and not just the successes that come from creativity. I can’t think of another conference where there was a standing ovation for a couple of designers who talked about moving back in with their parents because they couldn’t afford to live their dreams in Brooklyn in spite of their tremendous talent and dedication to the craft of good design.

The friends I made this year were generous in talking about their failings, fears, hopes, and what they want to do with their work. You know, I’m not sure how to be a designer without any of those things.

I only know that being a designer is my deliberate effort to change the world and I need you for that.

Thank you WMC for this, because this attitude and generosity is sorely needed in the design community.

Thank you new friends I met at WMC for this, because your kindness and generosity is always welcome and wanted in this funny path of life I call a career.

Oh, here’s a few quotes so this could be more useful than just my soapbox pep-talk:

"At the end of the day, you’ll always have ideas, but they won’t love you back," Valerie Mayen

"There’s always someone who has it tougher than you, but does it anyway. Just ask yourself ‘Is it weirder than throwing a show in the parking lot of a Taco Bell?’," Caroline Moore

I can’t replicate all the words Jon Contino used, but this should suffice:
Jon “I’ll make a billion dollars, destroy your house, make you live under a bridge” Contino at / in response to Stupid Mark’s mom.

PS. Some of these photos are mine, but quite a few are from Caroline Moore. Check out her awesome work!