Category Archives: thoughts

Off-brand? I think not.


In her article for VentureBeat, Apple’s press conference showed a brand unraveling, Jolie O’Dell claims that Apple’s March 7th iPad announcement “revealed a certain sloppiness that was absent from former, Steve Jobs-led launches.” In addition to Tim Cook’s shirt, she aimed her criticism at Apple’s branding.

I think today’s Apple event shows that perfectionism fraying a bit around the edges. The bad pun, the goofy logo, the weird product name — all of it pointed to a leadership that either didn’t understand or didn’t care about consistency in iconography.

Perhaps “Resolutionary” is a bad pun. That’s arguable. Off-brand? Maybe. I don’t see a lot of puns on this list of Apple Inc. slogans. But it is simple and relevant. As for the product name, I think “The New iPad” is completely in line with their drive for simplicity (and lack of reliance on specs and numbering) in product positioning. And the colorful logo is all about the new, higher-resolution and higher-saturation iPad display. Most of all, it harkens back to — and represents complete evolutionary consistency with — the colorful introduction of the original iPad. If I hadn’t already rambled on so long, I might say “let the images speak for themselves”.

Update: Automattic’s Matt Thomas provided a great example of Apple using a silly pun in marketing a product as recent as the MacBook Air, in his post Something’s Unraveling, Alright.

Ignite Charlotte!

This is my presentation from Ignite Charlotte v2. I had to cut down the script a lot, to fit the 5 minute format. So, included below is the full story (even though this version is a bit less polished), including links to sources and some really interesting further reading on several topics.

Amateur Advantage

1- A bit of background: this started as a set of slides I began accumulating a couple years ago, exploring the idea of how knowing less about something can be advantageous, and the effect this has on creativity.

2- Knowledge is Power! (…or something along those lines) said Francis Bacon. He’s all about empirical knowledge, the scientific method, learning via observable facts… That’s all well and good, but… kinda boring. I’m more interested in creative breakthroughs, innovation, and invention.

further reading:

3- In his TED talk, J.J. Abrams talks about his “Mystery Box” – a box of magic tricks that he was given as a child, which he hasn’t opened to this day. Not knowing what’s inside helps to inspire him in his work. “Mystery is the catalyst for imagination.” … “Mystery is more important than knowledge”. You can certainly see this theory at work in storytelling – take LOST for example… where mysteries were abundant, and every answer came with 3 new questions… “Withholding information is more engaging”

further reading:

4- Ever been disappointed when you finally saw the movie version of a favorite book, or when a shadowy monster is finally revealed? Seeing it onscreen steals away the multitude of possibilities that your imagination has created.

“Imagination is more important than knowledge. For knowledge is limited to all we now know and understand, while imagination embraces the entire world, and all there ever will be to know and understand.” — Albert Einstein

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5- If you have kids, you might know the joy of discovery through their eyes… seeing them experience the things in the world – new to them – which you now take for granted. Children are extraordinarily creative… but as they go through school, creativity declines…

Picasso said: “All children are born artists. The problem is how to remain an artist as we grow up.”

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6- “In the beginner’s mind there are many possibilities, in the expert’s mind there are few.” (What is this big yellow thing? It covers my head nicely.)

That’s a saying from Zen Buddhist teachings. “Shoshin” – Beginner’s mind.

A similar point is raised in Marshall MacLuhan’s The Medium is the Massage. “The amateur can afford to lose. … The “expert” is the man who stays put.”

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7- In their book Made to Stick, Chip & Dan Heath talk about “the curse of knowledge”. They say: “When we know something, it becomes hard for us to imagine not knowing it. As a result, we become lousy communicators”. Think of a doctor giving a patient a diagnosis, and using lots of medical terms. Or an IT geek explaining something to a novice user. If they assume too much knowledge on the part of the recipient, they can become unintelligible.

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8- Here’s an interesting exercise:

Write a set of explicit step-by-step instructions for a relatively simple task, like making a PB&J sandwich

Follow the instructions – better yet have someone else follow them – assuming no prior knowledge of anything (“what is a sandwich?”) Notice how many opportunities there are to make mistakes. This can reveal a lot of assumptions we have about our audience.

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9- So, knowledge can be a double edged sword. But, that doesn’t mean we should opposed to learning. Kids, don’t go dropping out of school. Without knowledge, you’re not even in the game.

The point is: how do we train ourselves to get around the roadblocks that expertise can put up?

10- Empathy is a good place to start.

Empathy is a skill that designers have to use a lot. We create something for a client, which is intended to reach an audience… we’re not a direct stakeholder in this transaction. We have to get into the head of the client, to understand their motivations and goals, and we have to get to know the audience, as well, to try and figure out how to connect with them.

Shifting your point of view – or frame of reference – is an important way to leave behind some of your own prejudices.

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11- But empathy will only get us so far. We can design something we think will be perfect, then put it in front of users to find that it baffles them. Ultimately, you have too much knowledge of your project – whether it’s a client’s website or a new business idea – to objectively judge it. You have to get it in front of someone else, who has no prior knowledge of it, to get some fresh feedback.

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12- And do it early enough in the process that you can get feedback you can act on. Paper prototypes, mockups, sketches. In fact, the less finished it looks the better. People will be more likely to offer criticisms if it does not look like a finished product.

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13- “yes, and” is a mantra for improv performers. It’s about accepting all suggestions. You take what the other actors present you, and go with it. If you don’t, the scene is losing momentum. You have to say yes, and… add to it… move it forward to advance the story.

14- like in improv, “yes, and” is a great mantra for brainstorming. Don’t shoot down any ideas at this stage. Welcome all points of view. Explore all avenues.

15- A team of T-shaped people, who have deep skills in one discipline and empathy and understanding of others, make powerful project teams. An expert in one discipline is an amateur in another. Start collaborating early in the project and run your ideas by one another.

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16- Ask “What if…?” Ask “Why?” Be childlike. Don’t be afraid to question everything. Propose alternatives, question assumptions. And welcome this questioning from your peers.

17- Think outside the box while you can. Soon enough, you’ll have to answer to the box. The box represents the realities of project schedules, budgets, technology constraints. These things are crucial to know. You have to know where the box is. But don’t let it inhibit your early conceptual work.

18- To avoid getting too caught up in details, artists will stand back, squint their eyes and look at their work. Obscuring their vision, to just get a sense of the thing, the overall composition, and flow. Do other things to freshen the eyes. Put the work away overnight and revisit it fresh in the morning.

“I am trying to check my habits of seeing, to counter them for the sake of greater freshness. I am trying to be unfamiliar with what I am doing.” — Robert Rauschenberg

further reading:

19- “If you want to keep your brain alive, you have to do things your brain doesn’t expect.

The cortex forms new patterns… new synaptic connections in response to novel activity, and PET scans show that far fewer pathways are activated when the brain processes a routine task… even a complex one.”

further reading:

20- “The creative life requires a steady progression of experimentation and discovery. While acquired wisdom is useful, your knowledge must work in tandem with the daily exercise of your curiosity.” — Robert Genn

further reading:

Amateur Advantage

Barcamp Charlotte 2: the unconference strikes back

Another great Barcamp was held in Charlotte this weekend, and like the first, it was a fun, creative, and inspiring day full of user-generated sessions on a variety of topics, from balloon twisting to iPhone app development. Area 15 hosted the event again, and the diverse space was great for hosting the variety of topics and conversations that took place.

My day consisted of How to Ruin Your Small Business on Twitter with Lyell Peterson (@93octane), Twittercasting with Nathan Richie (@NathanRichie), going down the creativity rabbithole with Jared Nicolson, HTML5 Preview with Adam Hunter, and The Future of Journalism with Andria Krewson, Desiree Kane, and Austin Light.

I hope to write some followups, as I continue to process all the great info that was shared, but in the mean time, here is a roundup of BarcampCLT-related media I’ve seen so far:

Search “BarcampCLT” on Twitter


BarCamp Charlotte 2 Pre-party by James Willamor/CLT Blog
A Moment by Summer Plum

Session materials

Manage Your Social Networks – session slides (plus links) by dizzySEO
HTML 5 Examples by Adam Hunter
How To Get The Other 9 Listings on Google video of Robert Enriquez by David Wells


Barcamp 2 is in the bag and you made it great! by Barcamp Charlotte
First photos of BarCamp Charlotte 2 by James Willamor/CLT Blog
BarCampCLT 2 photos by Cara Couture
Alphatracks Visits Bar Camp Charlotte 2 photos by Tom Bonner
BarCampCLT2 photos by Tom Bonner
Lyell Talks Serious Twitter Business photo by Summer Plum
Get a little weirder, Charlotte by Jeff Elder
A Smarter Charlotte by Eric Orozco
Charlotte BarCamp – What did you think? by Corey Creed
Barcamp Charlotte SEO Session with NC_SEO by David Wells
barcampCLT 2 by Mr. R
Overheard in Charlotte: BarCamp Edition by Meck
Technology, Media “Unconference” Draws More Than 100 To Area 15 by Andria Krewson

If you know of anything I’m missing, please let us know in the comments!


For a second there, I thought I saw a bunch of bots at Barcamp, but then I realized I was mistaken. But, I must say there were some people that looked really similar to:

@39octane, @annoyabrah, @bemnarvin, @brahdesigns, @cristaldempsey, @Itsnotem, @JaredWwwOs, @JedFelder, @onanything, @s1paulds, @smallfleet, and @twinkhanson.

Torgny claims to have spotted the only real bot to show up at Barcamp: #NSFW #SHD

Taking social stock (pt 2)


As we bid farewell to 2008, I’m looking again at the places I’ve been spending my time online. Last time, I attempted to chart all the places where I actively create content. I decided this time to catalog just the sites I use the most, and try to classify the activities that take place on each. I came up with these categories:

Some of these sites span multiple categories (e.g. – most sites have features that support conversation), and I do show some crossing over between two, but I’ve just tried to show the categories they fit in best, based on my most typical uses. I’ve also started drawing the connections that track the flow of info from one site to another. I’m mostly interested in how publishing can be automated, so in future explorations I want to try to focus on individual flows (e.g. – a photo on Flickr is used in a blog post, which gets automatically published to the Twitter feed, and aggregated in FriendFeed).

Seven things you may or may not have known about me

I was tagged by Rosie and Vinnie in this seven-things meme. (That doesn’t count as one of the things.) Here’s the deal:

  • Link to your original tagger(s) and list these rules in your post.
  • Share seven facts about yourself in the post.
  • Tag seven people at the end of your post by leaving their names and the links to their blogs.
  • Let them know they’ve been tagged

So, here are my things:

  1. My last named used to be Brubaker. My mom was single when she had me. (Call me bastard if you want. I prefer lovechild.) She married the guy I call Dad when I was one. We took his last name and he adopted me.
  2. I’ve been working as a graphic designer long enough to have done “paste up” with a hot waxer. (But it was at a newspaper, so you really never know how recent that could have been… for the record, I think it was 1997)
  3. While in college, I worked as a bicycle courier in Washington, DC. On a BMX bike at first, until I saved up for a mountain bike. Saw the insides of a lot of cool buildings. Best job ever (except when it rained).
  4. I was a graffiti artist during the college years as well. The courier gig was very handy for scoping routes and finding new spots (spots for legal painting, of course…). Being a courier really made you want to be a graff writer, as evidenced by all the pen & marker tags you’d find on the walls in the freight elevators…
  5. My best friend in college died sophomore year. We dropped him off at the fraternity house early one morning after being out all night. We got a call later that day, and learned that he’d died after apparently falling from the roof. We never learned exactly what happened, but there was no shortage of speculation, or feelings (and accusations) of responsibility. I remember him fondly, and am reminded of him almost every day by something I see or hear that I know he would’ve enjoyed.
  6. I raced in the 1997 BMX world championships in Saskatoon, Saskatchewan, CN. I had no hopes for a top finish, but a top 10 national rank qualified me to go, so I did. (Bonus observation: Saskatoon is hella boring.)
  7. I was a casualty of the dotcom bust, when my company let go about 75% of its employees, and all but one of its lines of business in December 2000 (happy holidays!). I think they spent way too much dough on marketing, and too little on, uh, actual work-ish stuff. I still have the mugs to prove it. And the mousepad, and the t-shirt, and the personalized jellybeans that look like pills… okay, now that’s kinda strange. Anyway, I quickly got a new job at a software company, but come December 2001, once again I was laid off. Flash forward to December 2009. Bank of America, my current employer, announced yesterday that it will lay off about 35,000 employees over the next 3 years, as a result of the Merrill Lynch merger and the general in-the-toiletness condition of the economy. I’m hoping I’m one of the keepers this time around…

And, I’ll pass this on to: