Survey Says

I get endless surveys. I get one each time I stop at CVS. I get one each time I go to the doctor’s office. Any doctor. We go to a restaurant near our house several times a week. I get one on every receipt. I’m a heavy user of Adobe products, and I get a 15-minute survey from them virtually every month. Is all this feedback necessary? Am I not voting with my presence, with my dollars?

As a designer, my work is very visible. Large projects are especially so, and I do have an internal team of critics. There are a handful of people that find fault with virtually any effort, and they tell me so. I always read the comments, but I rarely respond.

Their feedback does rattle around in my brain at the next juncture, and it has made me better. Better at parsing those small slights that I clearly miss. “Why did you list this department first in the agenda.?” Only because they came through first in the paperwork. Nothing nefarious, but we’ll switch that up next time. I’ve noticed that entire divisions feel left out because they are physically more remote from the corporate office. As a result, I’ve made them first by design the next time a job comes around. I make notes to physically visit on a regular basis. Do they notice? I’m never sure, but the effort is what matters.

Does it make me feel bad? Full disclosure – it used to, but it doesn’t anymore. I think it speaks to the power of design. These projects project the company culture, and that’s not nothing. I should be careful, and I am. My critics just point to the holes.

The thing about complaints is that most people are more apt to say when they’re unhappy than to recognize a move in their direction.

The small kindness is always worth it. Always. It improves your work and breeds inclusion. Just don’t expect it to be noted on the comment cards.

Gift Horses

I just finished a Content Marketing class at the Pennsylvania College of Art and Design.  This was just one of a series of Continuing Education classes they offer in the evenings and on weekends every semester. It’s a great way to increase arts education, serve the community, build a base of supporters and potential donors, and better use the building. Continuing education students might not turn into full-time students, but they learn their craft and come to love the school. Like I did.

One of the things I love about the school is the instructors. They’re working professionals. Like Ken Mueller, my instructor for Content Marketing. Ken does marketing for Occupational Development Center, a facility that helps gives jobs and purpose to adults with intellectual disabilities.

Ken also teaches the Intro to Social Media class and most of the classes in this certificate series. He also taught the full semester course for PCAD’s full time students. 

During the last class, he mentioned that the full-time students have to take social media, and they often aren’t into it. He joked that an 18-year old Ken might not have been into it either.

I get that, but they’re missing an opportunity.

I have two degrees in English. When I left graduate school, I landed in an insurance brokerage firm with a copy of Adobe PageMaker 6.5. I wasn’t a designer, but designing the internal newsletter was part of my job. 

Being open to that experience allowed me to build a career in design. I’m a very good designer now and a competent photographer. Both skills support my writing. You know – the thing I went to school for? 

The advantage of being a student for life

I began my graduate work a few weeks after receiving my undergraduate degree. I knew I didn’t want to leave school, and I kind of never have. You shouldn’t either.

Here’s why.

I work in technology. Everything changes all the time. Being ok with being a student turned out to be a huge advantage, and it will continue to be as the world of work changes in nearly every field.

Those who learn will flourish

Tom Peters recently noted on Kara Swisher’s Recode: Decode podcast that the ability to be dedicated to reeducation will allow you to flourish in a time of change:  

I believe that the 40-year-old who is totally dedicated to reeducation every single day of the year is gonna make it and is gonna flourish. I think that they are going to flourish by being a value to some customer set, for God’s sakes.

It’s not new. It is not new. My wife and I have a sub-zero refrigerator and the compressor went out. The guy came to fix it. I chat with everybody. Here’s a guy who I would guess is 40, 45 years old. He has a little utility company that helps do appliances, six people. He had just gotten back from a two-week training course that he had paid for out of his own pocket on the Internet of Things. You know, when refrigerators start ordering your stuff for you.

I think he’s gonna survive, and I think he’s gonna thrive. I think there’s a good chance that his six-person company will be a 16-person company. I am incredibly optimistic about people like that.

This is an era of rapid change, and Swisher’s podcasts have focused heavily on the world of work. Peters contends that being dedicated to reeducation means survival. It sounds drastic, but is it? 

How many things have changed in your job since you started 5 years ago, 10? If you just started, what do you think your occupation will look like in 5 years, 10?

Different? Yes. Radically different. Very possible.

Online or in class

My degrees are in English, but a good chunk of my work is in print and web design. To bolster my career, I earned a design certificate from The Pennsylvania College of Art and Design about a decade ago. I’ve taken classes there ever since for both professional development and for personal growth.

I also use Lynda.com, Skillshare.com, and Coursera.org for access to specialty courses, world class instructors, and general training.  They’re great resources and very affordable. Lynda and Skillshare have low introductory offers. Some Coursera courses are available to audit for free. 

Classes can also bring about interesting changes in perspective that enrich your life outside work. I’ve written about a Buddhism and Psychology Class that helped me think differently about the world of stuff. 

In some ways, it’s never been a better time to need a constant education because the resources are available and plentiful. Choose carefully. Get recommendations from others, and fire up that web browser or get thee to a classroom. You’ll be glad you did.

My completed courses at Coursera.org. I’ve used this site for both professional and personal development. 

Anniversary Photo

My parents will celebrate their 45th Wedding Anniversary later this month. I took some photos for them, so they would replace their photos of me at 18. 

Photo Shoot Day
Tools used: A Canon 5D Mark II, 16-35mm f2.8 Canon lens, two Canon speedlites, Pocket Wizards, a tripod, a light stand, an umbrella.

Eye of the Beholder

Here is something that happened to me just recently but has reoccurred throughout my design career. The things I care about. The things I think are cool or good or difficult or clever are not always what others think are cool, good, difficult, or clever.

Most people walk around in their own bubble of interests. Most people are not designers. If you work with a team, what matters to any particular member of the team is what that person is interested in.  It may take you 15 minutes to put together that flyer, but if that flyer is promoting this team member’s project, then that is all that matters.

My advice to you is to treat everyone’s project like it’s important. Don’t down play any work you do. Don’t sell yourself short because you thought it was easy. Put your best work forward always even if it isn’t what you consider challenging or especially interested. You’re helping to interpret and sell their dream, and that’s important. Always. That’s challenging. Always. Even if you did it before.

For the hard and interesting stuff, keep a side hustle. Find a way to fit in the work that you really want to do, the work that challenges you, the work you find interesting or cool, the work that makes you feel like a pro. You also need to please yourself, and the tough stuff will do that. Make sure you fit it in even if it doesn’t pay the bills because it will feed your soul.

Society of Illustrators Fall 2017 Shows

In November 2017, my husband and I went to New York City for a Jets Thursday Night game. We spent three days total and filled the first one with, among other things, a trip to the Society of Illustrators (128 E 63rd St, New York, NY 10065) for their fall show. The show, which featured children’s book illustrations, was due to officially open that night, so the two floors of framed illustrations didn’t all contain information about the author or the book involved. The majority of the placards were in a tiny pile on the lower level waiting to be installed. This actually added to the show because you really viewed the work disconnected from the book.

I asked a curator how book authors and illustrators are connected. She said that the illustrator was the author’s choice and that authors frequently had long standing relationships with artists. This made sense when you looked at the variety of styles evident in the illustrations. Some were hand drawn and others were digital. There was even some photography combined with illustration and some mixed media.

Society of Illustrators Fall Show - Children's book illustrations
How amazing is this? The placard wasn’t installed yet, so I have no idea who did it or why. It’s just fantastic by itself.

The second floor was a George Booth show. Booth was an illustrator best known for New Yorker cartoons and covers, and this show was small but lovely. The hand drawn comps were on display with no explanation. Again, art to be enjoyed for it’s own sake.

Waiting by George Booth
Waiting, a lovely New Yorker Cover by George Booth.

George Booth
This one made me laugh out loud.

What? George Booth
Wait for it…

The third floor was a restaurant and bar, the 128 Bar and Bistro, decorated with the society’s annual member show. The theme this year was “Food Fight”, and each artist interpreted it very differently. This was art created just for consideration for the show, not necessarily a commission.

This gallery was a reminder that there are places for talented artists that you might not expect. It also probably pays to network and build relationships with unlikely allies, like children’s book authors. Always keep your eyes open for potential projects.

128 Bar and Bistro
The 128 Bar and Bistro would be a lovely place to visit regardless of the shows available at the Society of Illustrators.

Project Runway: Mind Your Own Business Edition

Project Runway is one of the few shows I wait to watch. I know when the next season is being released, and I’ve seen all 16. It inspired me to take a sewing and pattern making class and buy a sewing machine. However, more than fashion, I think it is a show about leadership and conduct. It’s about doing the right thing and acting with courage and sometimes, minding your own store.

On the October 5, 2017 show, a talented contestant named Margarita becomes fixated with the thought that another contestant, Claire, is cheating by copying designs and measuring her own clothes in order to make patterns. Consulting a pattern book is verboten, but copying is in the eye of the beholder. Regardless, the situation so unnerves Margarita that she ruins some fabric and ends up making a sub-par design. She also shares her suspicions with another contestant, Michael, who is also furious.

In this particular show, Margarita has immunity, so she is not eliminated. However, the object of her fixation wins the prize. In this case, the win comes with $25k. Whether the money prize created an additional level of tension for the cash-starved design crew is probably unknowable, but at one point another contestant reveals that 25k would be almost more than his annual salary.

The entire show was filled with the tension of envy and anger. Of someone building expectations for Claire that she is unaware of and can’t meet.

A few weeks ago, I had the pleasure of seeing entrepreneur Jen Groover speak. One of the take-home messages was the importance of letting go of expectations for others. Most often, you can’t or don’t communicate those expectations and other people can’t meet them regardless. They’re your expectations, not someone else’s. Expectations are what you’ve built up for others that become a source of frustration for you. Let go of them and focus on yourself and what is within your control.

That lesson was evident on this episode. Those who copy and cheat are most likely living on borrowed time. (In this case, when the cheating is revealed, Claire is eliminated and the prize is revoked.) Margarita would be better served to focus on her own work and what she can control than worry about another person.

Let your work speak for itself.

Tim Gunn pets Mood’s resident dog, Swatch.

Evol rules my world

Since I previously posted about food, let me spend a few minutes talking about a food I really like, evol.

I work 30 minutes from my home, and the distance makes it impossible to go home for lunch. I don’t want to spend too much on food, and the options near my workplace are limited. I also am sometimes limited on time for lunch, and I rarely cook dinner so have few leftovers. What to do? Frozen dinners.

evol frozen dinners
evol has a lot of vegetarian options include two versions of ravioli.

evol frozen dinners have points
Save the points on the box for cool tshirts and goodies. What a great branding idea.

Hey, I know it sounds awful, but they’ve come a long way. When I first started eating frozen food, the pre-made dinner options were pretty awful – high in calories and fat. Since that time, they’ve come a long way. The brand I especially like is evol. They have a variety of vegetarian options that I dress up with low calorie goodies like hot sauce, fresh tomatoes, and green peppers. They are relatively low in calories with each dinner clocking in under 400 calories. The lasagna and mac and cheese are higher, so consult the box.

Finally, they have an evol community option. Each box contains points printed on the box. Collect the points, and you can send your points in for cool t-shirts and other neat stuff. It’s great branding, and the community gear options are very nice.

#recommended

evol hoodie
I traded in 200 box points for this awesome hoodie. Even more great branding. Now I’m wearing their brand.

Some Brands Own Colors

Unlike some women in her generation, my maternal grandmother worked outside the home. Always. There was never a moment when she was a stay at home mother largely because my grandfather died before my father was born. Not a terribly independent person my nature, she didn’t have a choice, and she rose to what was a formidable challenge of single parenthood in the 50s. She’d work her entire life for a John Deere dealership. This meant many of our holiday gifts came from that storied American company with this green and yellow logo.

Enter Subway, who recently rebranded their stores in John Deere green and yellow. “Stores” is a stretch because the remodeled stores are really quite lovely. They kept the subway motif wall coverings that defined their earliest branding when they played on the concept of a literal subway.  However, they added more comfortable seating and earthen tones on the walls and tables. Some stores even have a purring fireplace and plush sofa if you have more than 30 minutes to spare at lunch.

The logo, however, is pure John Deere. Is it me? Take a look.

Subway's New Branding

I can’t say I dislike it entirely. The “S” is encased in arrows, which references both the moving subway cars of the original brand and the speed the stores want to be known for. The yellow references the previous logo, which is usually a sound idea in a rebrand. The green is a natural fit for a store that bills itself as healthy eating and offers largely healthy fare, but did it have to be *that* green?

Some brands just own colors, and I think John Deere is one of them. I can eat in Subway without thinking of lawn mowers, but I do get a whiff of nostalgia every time I pick up their cup. The straw, I will admit, is just lovely.

July 30 Update: More on Subway’s stores via GD USA.

Dos Mujeres

I recently made my second trip to the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston, and I enjoyed their recent acquisition, Dos Mujeres by Frida Kahlo. This was the first painting Kahlo ever sold, and it was mounted with the back exposed to reveal a lovely inscription by the artist and various friends including Kahlo’s soon-to-be husband Diego Rivera (the two married a month later): “En recuerdo de una noche muy agradable con la autora del cuadro” (“In memory of a very pleasant evening with the author of the picture”). Pro tip: Always ensure that a museum allows photographs. Most do provided you do not use a flash.

Frida Kahlo's Dos Mujeres
Frida Kahlo’s Dos Mujeres acquired in 2016 by the Museum of Fine Arts Boston

The back includes a lovely inscription, and the museum helpfully displayed it to include this detail.