R.I.P. Steve Jobs

I’m very sad to hear that Steve Jobs, who revolutionized the way we live and work with computers–is gone. Very few of us knew him. But we all shared his message of smarter design, better communications, and clear ideas–and these changed the world.

This is the way he should be remembered. Brilliant, funny, future-oriented, passionate, and strangely humble.

Thank you, Steve Jobs, for being bold and for challenging us to be a better and more communicative species.


Now that the new Manoverboard website is launched, I’m going to take some time this summer to fully update and revise this here site.
Deckchairs has been around for ten, short years. During that time, I’ve published nearly 1,140 entries. My plan for this blog is as follows:

  1. Repurpose a few relevant, design-related blog posts by rewriting and publishing them on the new Manoverboard blog.
  2. Fully revitalize Deckchairs with a new design and new install of Movable Type.
  3. Find a way to make Deckhairs relatively relevant to myself again, focusing on ideas unrelated to design and the business of good design.

Catching Up.

There’s a lot to do so let’s just get started. I’ve been sitting on the sidelines of the American political story that’s unfolding. I did vote in Kings County, New York, but there are a few thoughts I need to get off my chest:
Sharron Angle is an idiot. Plus, a media coward. It’s almost as if the Republicans can’t find a woman to represent their ideals so pretty much anyone will do.
Barack Obama, despite all of his presidential communication flaws and his inability to defend his administration, has done everything he could to make the country work. Nicholas Kristof’s piece today says it all, best. If the Republicans win on Tuesday, it will mean that Obama has a new license to fight for the average American (and not just his policy).
The Stewart/Colbert rally for and against sanity in Washington was a reflection of Obama’s politics – kind, open, and semi-ironic but earnest and rational with a focus on the possible. I really liked the cars in the tunnels metaphor. Oh, the signs were great.
The greening of America during the past two years is being entirely driven by multi-nationals and the small actions by individuals and nonprofits. It’s time that Obama took a few lessons from Clinton and Gore to put together a political strategy (with the former) and an economic one (with the latter).
There’s nothing more interesting to the media than the media. If we could all turn off the networks for the next 48 hours, the silence would deafen us into supporting our best interests.
In sum, this would be the sign I would carry, had I been in DC.

Design Week Vancouver Blew.

Last week, I was at Design Week Vancouver, sponsored by Icograda and the GDC. It was a fantastic event—two days of alternating inspiration and provocation on design’s value in our current culture.
There were a lot of personal gleanings—and sometimes the event’s speakers blew my fragile mind—but mostly I’m left with a glittering bag of silver gems that I’d like to share. These mostly derive from five different speakers, all of whom connected me to a deeply personal drive to do better work for better clients in better ways.

  • If you can’t do surprising, delightful work, it’s probably not going to be very good.
  • Allow a client to be the best that they can. Don’t second guess them, especially at the start of a relationship. Enter new client relationships as if you were right out of school.
  • Listen—and then listen some more.
  • Don’t be afraid to piss people off. At the very least, surprise them.
  • Find a way to think about and talk about and then help the billions of people who are simply without.
  • Mark-making is a critical component of graphic design that has been lost amongst pixels, grids, and the strategy sessions of the mundane and mendacious.
  • Not drawing is like not showering; it’s where the best ideas happen.
  • Related, stop using stock unless you absolutely need to. Get clients to pay for the way your eye connects to you hand not just the way your mouse connects to your software.
  • Skip market strategy and the concomitant silliness. Get the audience and you’ll have the client.
  • Open source your ideas, designs, and plans. In some cases, such as architecture, not doing so is tantamount to withholding expertise that can change lives.
  • Hold complexity but aim for simplicity.
  • Sustainability in design is more than about not printing an email or using FSC paper. The entire lifecycle of design should be infected with sustainability—approaching a client, thinking about their work, defining a message, and finding the medium.
  • Do what you can to reduce the human burden on the planet. At the same time, recognize that not all ideas around sustainability are fundamentally sustainable.
  • @FChimero “As designers, we are gift givers. We’re asking people for their time and should reward them for it.” via @Rethinknow
  • Slow down. And don’t let markets and marketing stop you from asking the hard questions of yourself and your clients.

Oh, those five speakers: Cameron Sinclair of Architecture for Humanity, artist and designer Marian Bantjes, illustrator and designer Frank Chimero, Ali Gardner of the Vancouver 2010 Olympics, and strategist Brian Collins. Thank you one and all. And thanks to the GDC organizing committee that made it real and great.

iPad Thoughts.

Okay, so I get my hands on an iPad tonight, owned by avant-technologist Toby B. And what’s the first thing I do? Check out the calendar. And then the New York Times app. And then Mail. Bored already? Here is my sixty second review, covering aspects of the machine that I haven’t seen others touch on (pardon the pun):
The form factor is strange. I’m so used to my iPhone at this point, which is more rectangular than square, that I found the iPad’s 4:3 format strange and unwieldy. For reading books or magazines, this is wonderful. For making phone calls, it’s not so great.
The applications on it stink. I mean, yes, Notes has a full notepad and Mail has a lovely new three-panel interface and the Calendar looks like a real calendar with dates and stuff. But Safari looks plain weird (as others have, indeed, noted), YouTube looks fugly with its low resolution images displaying on a large screen, and talking on it really stinks.
I can’t get over how much the Books application looks like the Classics application, which looks (admittedly) much like Delicious Library. I mean, is there really only one color of wood for a bookshelf and do books always sit exactly the same way on a shelf? Plus, it’s hard to read a book when you want to talk on the iPad.
Finally, the keyboard on the iPad leaves much to be desired. Until we all develop E.T.-like appendages, I don’t think many novels will be written within the interface. My fingers slipped all over the surface, despite my best attempts to control those ten digits. And dialing on the thing is just plain hard.

Tolle and Kempis.

It’s been a while. It’s not that I don’t think about Deckchairs. Rather, I think about it every day, at least for a few minutes to an hour. And my interests in writing and blogs haven’t changed. But my ability to write, to produce something of interest, to craft something unique when so much is said and being said and written and argued and consumed is difficult.
No doubt, Twitter has made it more difficult. Putting a face on 140 characters is pretty easy, especially when others say it better, faster, and clearer. But I keep coming back to the greats – Zeldman writes brilliantly to this day as does Moll. So, I’m inspired to keep writing, at least preliminarily here until something else comes up to provide a good excuse. And, I promise that I’ll continue to use Deckchairs to write experimentally and armchairily.
Anyway, and more importantly, last night I finished Eckhart Tolle’s A New Earth. It was a slow but good read, full of sentimental logic but mostly powerful imagery. Tolle has been well reviewed and well received. His argument that humanity is forging an entirely new evolutionary construct today makes good sense to me. We’ve fully outgrown the devastating effects of long life, the overuse of natural resources, the exploitation of people and animals, and the denial of the multiple realities of our cultures (the latter part is my interpretation).
Tolle writes that humans have become so enmeshed in content, in our emotions and ego, that we find it hard to see the stillness and perfection of the universe and its gift to us. We are all made of stars, the eternal continuity of space and matter and our lives and our deaths are part of that continuity. Toole writes: “The sapling doesn’t want anything because it is at one with the totality, and the totality acts through it. ‘Look at the lilies of the field, how they grow’ said Jesus, ‘they toil not neither do they spin …’ Life wants the sapling to become a tree, but the sampling doesn’t see itself as separate from life and so wants nothing for itself. It is one with what Life wants. That’s why it isn’t worried or stressed.”
He argues, simply and accessibly, that “Every thought, every desire or fear, every action or reaction, is then infused with a false sense of self that is incapable of sensing the simple joy of Being and so seeks pleasure, and sometimes even pain, as substitutes for it. This is living in forgetfulness of Being.” By living your life with inner purpose, you gain access to what you want to achieve on Earth, in Life.
Based in almost every religion and spiritual order, Tolle calls for us to rejoice in eternity and cast aside our interests in material comfort and objects. Seek the inner and lose the outer; give up the need for possessions and possessing.
But, in all of this, one key thing bothers me. Throughout The New Earth, Tolle quotes Christ again and again as the exemplar of all things good: “Give and it will be given to you.” He even writes “Christ can be seen as the archetypal human, embodying both the pain and the possibility of transcendence.” Sure, he mentions Buddhists and Zen Masters and Descartes and Jung and he calls to task the Christian history, in particular, for pushing the doctrine over human life. But his singular focus on Christ reminds me of Thomas a Kemplis’ The Imitation of Christ, which states clearly: “Learn to despise outward things and to give thyself to things inward, and thou shalt see the Kingdom of G-d come within thee.” Kemplis even titles one of his chapters “That it is Sweet to Despise the World and to Serve God.” I worry that Tolle, like many more fundamentalist Christians, seeks to deny the world in favor of the afterlife (or the eternal, in his words). By focusing on the inner, he regrettably disparages the outer, which is what most of us have, at least for now.
While I understand that Tolle is using a bit of hyperbole to push us into recognizing the “source of abundance” because our cultural interests are so dedicated to external gratification, I wonder if he, in turn, is validating reality deniers, anti-Darwinians, and those who cannot afford to be internally abundant, yet.

Ten Best of 2009.

Okay, everyone has a list and here’s mine. I’m sticking to it. Here are the ten (10) best things to come out of 2009, from the exclusive Deckchairs deck:

  1. Cool writing tools for the Mac. Between the brand-new and beautifully crafted Ommwriter to The Soulmen’s Ulysses 2.0, these applications are serious tools with different flavors, functions, and features.
  2. The development of Twitter from a small-time, cute messaging tool to a massive, multi-user global communication tool that helps support grass roots social change.
  3. The potential, though seemingly remote as of this writing, that a new and binding agreement on climate change will come about in Copenhagen.
  4. A general recognition that spending money that one doesn’t actually have is not so great.
  5. In Winnipeg, the production of Strike! The Musical at Portage and Main and the construction of the new Human Rights Museum nearby.
  6. New blogs about design and designing, ranging from the excellent and beautifully crafted idsgn to the busy but helpful Web Design Ledger.
  7. Unusual musical collaborations like those between Vic Chesnutt, Guy Picciotto, and Silver Mt. Zion Orchestra and Jim James, Conor Oberst, and M. Ward.
  8. The advancement of non-digital, non-preachy kids movies, like Fantastic Mr. Fox (along with good music and subtle wit).
  9. The election of Barack Hussein Obama to President of the United States of America. ‘Nuff said.
  10. The probability of possibility. And the fact that CERN’s Large Hadron Collider didn’t create a black hole yet.


I’ve been mulling the future of design for the past few days, as I’ve had a few brief but turbulent encounters with clients around cost and deliverables. Most of my worries have been around this incredible rapid race to the bottom. Every day I receive emails from (semi-legitimate or real) companies in India, Russian, or Romania that, in essence, are offering web design and/or development services for $8.00 per hour or less. I fully understand that, in this race, everyone is hungry, everyone need to make money and that developed countries (e.g. Canada) has an inordinate leg up on against developing countries.
Where it gets incredibly messy and grotesque, in my opinion, is on sites like 99designs.com. There, clients don’t need to argue with designers to provide a lower price for high quality service. That’s simply the modus operandi. Clients go to 99 because they only want to pay that amount and, from my observations, it looks like they’re all getting a good deal. The designs are competent, the quality is quite high, and the timing may be on. But what’s missing is that inexplicable construct which comes with truly great design – a personality, a spirit of assurance or a logic that escapes the traditional. Does this mean that only well-heeled and monetarily blessed individuals and organizations can afford enlightened or unique design? It does. And the reality is that this is how design (and aesthetic production more generally) has always worked. Because nearly anyone with a computer today can be a knowledge or culture worker (or both), the playing field is level. The same goes with video editors, journalists, and programmers. But, because this has happened so quickly, we still don’t have mechanisms to rule out what is merely good from what is great.
Sites like Haystack, recently launched by 37signals, make an attempt at helping people choose a design firm that matches their requirements. But their model, where some agencies and designers can pay for an elevated position on the site, belie and undermine their intention. Taking money from companies that may or may not be better at communicating prospective client needs and showcasing those companies is not a useful proposition. Instead, Haystack takes the 99designs.com model and turns it around; the wealthiest and most marketing-focused design firms are provided leverage in the competition. In this way (and in this way only), I believe that the latter is, ethically, on more solid ground; 99designs.com, at least, honestly allows multiple entities to compete for a given (albeit low) amount of business.
What is missing here, in this novel short-sighted design context, is the relationship. I’ve always said that, for my little company, the relationship is everything. The auctioning or advertising of services (two sides of the same ugly coin) won’t buy long-term design, unique imagery, or usable and accessible production. In this supposedly “democratic” connectedness, it’s not connection that buys good design, as nearly everyone has that. Rather, and simply, the best design today stems from relationships and the unfolding of solutions through dialogue and time.

Four Months.

It’s been four short months since I last wrote on Deckchairs. I want to apologize to my (few) but dedicated followers who have, during that time, consistently urged me to get my writing act together and to pay more attention to the damn thing. I don’t have much to hold up in defense of my absence. I didn’t get run through the washing machine. I didn’t win the scratch-and-win at the 7-11. I didn’t forget how to put sentences together (well, maybe a little). I simply lost the feeling for writing anything other than business proposals. That, and Twitter. Stupid Twitter, which I quite adore. According to the Twitter statosphere, I’ve tweeted 755 times, all of them brilliantly, of course.
I’ve been compelled to write because I just came back from a wonderful evening event sponsored by New Media Manitoba, where they featured a 45-minute film showcasing industry folks in the province. I was one of them and I’m so completely humbled by the whole thing. I, nervous Nelly, sat two-stories high at the IMAX theatre (note the new spelling) expounding on my travels North and my satisfaction at doing so. I’m extremely thankful for the incredible production work that Blink Works did on my segment – taking bits and pieces of visual logic, portfolio items, photographs, and their video production and making it into a stunning little vignette. It’s truly genius work and I promise to post all or part of the production here as soon as it’s available.
Thank you NMM for this and more.