Top 10 Albums of 2014

10. Run The Jewels 2 - Run The Jewels

9. Cavity - Hundred Waters

8. The Night God Slept - Silent Planet

7. Cilvia Demo - Isaiah Rashad

6. Lost Forever // Lost Together - Architects

5. Singles - Future Islands

4. I Forget Where We Were - Ben Howard

3. LP1 - FKA twigs

2. "What is this Heart?" - How To Dress Well

1. Ixora - Copeland

Top Books of 2014

In no particular order, these are the best books I've read that have been published this year:

  • Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel
  • What We See When We Read by Peter Mendelsund
  • Annihilation by Jeff Vandermeer
  • Red Rising by Pierce Brown
  • A Girl is a Half-Formed Thing by Eimear McBride
  • Silence Once Begun by Jesse Ball

Yes You Can… But Should You?

There’s an undeniable satisfaction that comes from doing something yourself—fixing that leaky faucet or building a new bookshelf. And with the Internet, figuring out how to do it yourself has never been easier. There’s an unlimited resource of information constantly at our fingertips, making this “DIY mentality” as prevalent as ever. But when does “doing it yourself” stop being a cheap time-saver and start hurting industries?

It’s not hard to make your own website. With services like WordPress and Squarespace you can be up and running with just a few clicks and a full wallet. And while this could be seen as a threat to our industry, it’s also an opportunity to change people’s minds about design. Because it’s not only this DIY mentality that’s so prevalent, but also the general public’s awareness of design. This is making it easier to get discussions started and let people know that this is a service we provide, not just a one-time “off the shelf” solution.

The big brands have already figured this out. Apple, Google—all the big players in the digital game—have placed a huge emphasis on design. It’s become such an integral part of their business. People are noticing the “clean”, “simple” and “modern” looks of these names and wanting that for themselves. Smaller brands have always wanted to look like the bigger ones and now that’s even closer within their reach.

And that’s just the diving board into the pool. The conversation has already started. People know what design is and the value it can bring—they just need to know that they can’t do it themselves. So this is our chance as designers to jump in and back that up. We need them to know that what they see is just the shiny surface, the final solution—not the process behind it. It’s our job to make a splash and bring value to the process. Because it’s more than just the outcome. It’s the problem solving and creative thinking it took to get there. You don’t get to any destination without first planning the journey. And the process will often have just as much value as the outcome itself. That’s where businesses learn who they are and what they want to say—and only then can they figure out how they want to say it.

But like any other industry, there are ways to sneak around the process. Just as you can easily learn how to fix your leaking faucet and build your new shelf, you can find a template for your company’s website. And sure, that will save you money in the short term, but what about the long-term investment you’re missing out on? What happens when your shelf breaks and topples over? You’re left alone to clean up the mess and make the repairs.

WordPress templates, Squarespace and the endless list of other web services aren’t going anywhere. They’re out there and they can be great tools. But that’s all they are: tools. They’re a means to an end, not the end itself. They’ll give you the pretty face you’re after but not the brains behind it. And without the brains, how does it think? How can it communicate? Sell your product? Without the brains, it’s just a facade. It’s a rickety shelf barely balancing its own weight.

Unfortunately, you won’t notice the shelf breaking until it starts to bend. And by then it’s already too late. But right now we have a unique opportunity to jump in before the damage is done. The big brands touting design have started the conversation and the Internet’s kept the ball rolling. And whether good or bad, people are doing things themselves—design included. As designers, we can either leave them treading water or dive in and keep them afloat. And at the end of the day, coming to their rescue helps not just our business, but theirs as well.

The Art of Character

Some notes taken from David Corbett's The Art of Character:

  • Desire is what prompts action, and action defines character.
  • Writing requires a constant pursuit, if not embrace, or the unfamiliar, the foreign, the uncomfortable—and creativity often begins only once we leave our comfort zones.
  • Characters are the human beings to whom the story happens, not cogs in the machine of your narrative.
  • Readers do not need everything explained to them. (This was a huge revelation for me.)
  • Characterization requires creating an initial impression of the character that feels coherent or whole, then shoving her through a doorway toward the unknown, into a gauntlet of trials and reversals, revelations and confusions, that will shred her familiar, coherent sense of self and transform her utterly.
  • Show your character wrestling with ideas and emotions instead of simply having them (show, don't tell).
  • Consider the outer goal, the inner conflict and how they relate to one another (ideally linked but not one in the same)
Imagine a woman in a grocery store at 10 am dressed in evening wear: a cocktail dress, bolero jacket, opera gloves, a string of pearls on top of a shelf, straining, unable to get a grip. Glancing around, she sees no one available to offer assistance, stares once more at the unnerving peaces, then suddenly hikes up her skirt, notches the toe of her pump on a lower shelf and starts climbing as though up a rock face. Tongue between her teeth, reaching as far as she can, she wiggles her fingers, finally nudges one of the cans—it totters. Then falls. Several others tumble down with it. She jumps back down, shields her head from the avalanche—she may be hurt, but before anyone can get to her she very slowly drops to her knees, picks up two of the cans, clutches them to her chest, and begins to sob quietly.

There is no description of what this woman looks like beyond what she's wearing. The most important things that make that depiction compelling are:

  • The character needs or wants something.
  • She is having difficulty getting what she needs or wants, and comes up with a plan for overcoming that difficulty.
  • She exhibits a seeming contradiction: She's dressed in evening wear at the grocery store at midmorning.
  • Something unexpected happens (she makes a mistake), which renders her vulnerable.
  • Her sobbing suggests there is more to her predicament than meets the eye—a secret.