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.