Categories
Business Design

My aesthetic is solving problems

From Medium

I’m a designer. That means I have strong views on how something can be communicated effectively. It does not mean that I have an “aesthetic” that applies to all of my work.

Can you imagine your doctor applying the same solution to your broken finger as another patient’s critical heart condition? That doctor most likely has a strong view on patient care, but treats individual medical challenges in vastly different ways.

The “aesthetic” of a design solution must change with each client or project. As the good Mike Monteiro puts it, “design is a solution to a problem with a set of constraints.” Designers are problem solvers who use visual communications as their connection to the outside world. Designers are not practitioners who use their own visual styles to solve all problems.

Here are my broad views on what typically works best in design — you’ll often find these strategies used in my designs because they work well, not because they are “mine.”

  • Generous white space around elements
  • Clear differentiation between types of text (headlines, body copy, etc.)
  • Strong use of contrast to separate elements and create depth
  • Removing extraneous information to more clearly communicate a thought, feeling, or piece of content
  • Most important: get out of the way — no one is coming to a web site for the design

The aforementioned Monteiro does a much better job communicate this idea (and many, many more) in his two fantastic books: Design is a Job and You’re My Favorite Client. Regardless of where you read it — or if you’re a designer or client — know that hiring a designer based on their so-called “aesthetic” is the wrong move.

Hire a designer (or an agency) for their ability to ask important questions, understand the problem, research effectively, and explain their choices.

Categories
Books Self

Book ’em

Favorite books of 2014

Having converted to a public transportation commuter in September, I’ve had the immense pleasure of reading a lot more than I typically would. Since Labor Day, I’ve read 11 novels, 9 non-fiction books, and 18 graphic novels. Here are my top recommendations:

The Giver by Lois Lowry
Seemingly everyone except me read this in high school. It’s a straightforward, succinct science fiction novel about a teenager given an incredible responsibility for his community. Lowry paints the family dynamic beautifully and provides a unique setting for Jonas, the main character. This was a quick, satisfying read. Great stuff!

Unbroken by Laura Hillenbrand
A former colleague begged me to read this for years… and for good reason. The story of Louis Zamperini is uplifting, disturbing, and often unbelievable. His amazing story of survival and commitment to serving America made for an amazing book. A must-read.

The Last Policeman trilogy by Ben Winters
A detective novel set in a sci-fi world? Yes please. Winters’s straightforward writing places the reader in a world where a giant meteor is scheduled to destroy earth in only a few months. How does Detective Henry Palace operate in a world that’s changing everyday? All three books are stellar and recommended for any sci-fi enthusiast.

The Imperfectionists by Tom Rachman
A surprisingly enjoyable read – the setting is an international newspaper and each chapter explores a different employee. We learn about how writers, editors, and everyone in between came to work in Rome and what goes on outside their job. Worth the read for the chapter on the obituary writer alone – the words on death are heartbreaking and beautiful.

The Dog Stars by Peter Heller
A gripping post-apocalyptic-ish book in a similar vein to Cormac McCarthy’s fantastic The Road. Main character Hig lives his days guarding his home with his partner – but also finds time to fly and escape in nature. McCarthy fans will appreciate Heller’s lack of punctuation. A scary look at human behavior when the chips are down.

Categories
Media Self

Measuring Fatherhood

“Hey Dad… you wanna have a catch?”

The penultimate line in “Field of Dreams” makes grown men weep – and that’s exactly what I did when I recently watched the movie for the first time since I became a father. The father/son storyline reminds me of my own father, a man I love. I’ve often wondered, is my father proud of me?

Now that I’m a father, I realize that pride is the wrong way to measure a successful relationship between father and child. Traditionally, one might measure fatherhood through their child’s achievements or status: good grades, marital status, financial security, professional accolades, or bearing children.

In my short experience as a father – and what I imagine I will experience over the next 20-25 years – it’s more about the soft metrics that provides an accurate sense of my “job performance” as a dad. Have I created an environment where my daughter can:

  • Grow into a mature human being,
  • Behave in an admirable way,
  • Contribute to society,
  • Laugh and find joy,
  • Confidently chase their wants and desires, and
  • Enjoy time shared with parents, family, and friends?

Through the development of this environment, parents also develop their own sense of self. By creating a world where others can succeed, we, too, have succeeded. A child’s upbringing is partially created through the sacricifies of parents. Later in life, children repay those sacrifices by excelling in the environment their parents helped mold.

I shouldn’t concern myself on whether my father is proud of me; rather, I can say with confidence that he’s created amazing opportunities for me through the environment in which I was raised. It makes the time invested with my father all the more valuable.

Categories
Business Culture Self

The Itch

I took several interviews in July and August, most of them in Boston. I hadn’t traveled into the city as much as I did when I was young and fun… but there it was again. The Itch.

There’s something about a city – be it Boston or any other major metropolis – that exudes an energy wholly different from that of the suburbs. It’s the hustle-and-bustle, sounds, and sights that make life in the city move at a different pace.

I didn’t travel into the city often when I was very young. Anytime we did, it was an event and came with a sense of nervous excitement. What was going to happen? Where were we going? How would we get there?

Over time, the city pulls you back. I used to joke with a friend of mine – someone who has lived in the Boston area for over 13 years – that when I made a trek into the city for business that I would get The Itch, that unexplainable feeling in the pit of my stomach whenever I walked though crowded streets or found a local watering hole for a drink or two.

The Itch is persuasive. It’s almost sensual, slowly pulling you into its orbit. And I scratched it.

I’m now working in the city of Boston for the first time in my life, despite living close by for much of my life. And it’s an exciting experience. The commute into town – I take the commuter rail, the state’s train system – provides an opportunity to share the experience of city life with others. I read to and from my home and feel I’m doing the “right thing” by using public transportation. That dang Itch… it’s got a great public relations team.

I’ve joined the flock of folks who use the city as their place of work, and I have The Itch to thank. Will The Itch wear away over time?

Categories
Self

Pearl

My maternal grandmother, Pearl, passed away unexpectedly last week. Although the news was difficult to hear – and will take me a long time to fully grasp – the outpouring of support for Pearl at her services earlier this week was brilliant. Grandma touched a lot of lives and many of them paid their respects this week. I’m incredibly grateful for this.

Additionally, I was lucky enough to speak at her services. Here’s a glimpse:

GramPearl Arlene Ridder. She was born in 1929 and her 84-some-odd years on this Earth, she was a daughter, sister, mother, aunt… but for me and my cousins, she was our grandmother (and more recently, a great grandmother). It was only right that when she married into the Ridder family – where golf was so important – her initials became “PAR.”

She was defined by many things, but here are just a few:

  • Patience – God bless her for listening to the golfers in the family recap EVERY SINGLE SHOT of our rounds when we visited her after a day on the course.
  • Cuisine – I challenge you to find a better lemon chiffon pie, blueberry cake, or homemade applesauce.
  • Presence – simply put, Grandma showed up – for the big events and small – and took immense pleasure in watching her grandchildren grow and succeed.
  • Optimism – nearly every meal, day, or event was “lovely” or “wonderful.”
  • And of course, cribbage. The card game has existed since the 1600s but you would think Grandma invented it. She had an amazing skill for the game… and perhaps even more impresssive than her skill was her ability to talk trash. Nothing beats your grandmother telling you after you scored poorly that “no, no, that’s good for you, honey.”

Note that all of these things by which Grandma was defined are traits and things that will continue. There will be plenty of golf, good food, smiles, and cribbage in the near future… especially at this year’s Christmas cribbage tournament that’s been known in recent years as the Pearl Ridder Invitational. I think we’ll stick with that name.

So to continue Gram’s legacy, we all have homework. With every swing of a golf club, or bite of lemon chiffon pie, or miscounted cribbage hand, Gram will be there. And it’s our responsibility to savor those moments and share stories of Gram with future generations. No, many of her great grand kids won’t remember Grandma “the person,” but they’ll know her.

Finally, if there were a grandmother hall of fame, she would be an immediate inductee… and her plaque might read “She showed up, she smiled, and she whooped your butt in cribbage.” We love you Grams.