Hi, I’m Noah Read

I’m a designer, husband and father living and working in Western Michigan. I created Mind Vault and host a podcast called The Way Station. I use this site to post my work and write. If you want to talk feel free to contact me on Twitter or ADN. You can also find me on Dribbble.

Justifying the Means

On the November 21 episode of Exponent Ben Thompson and James Allworth discussed the recent bad press that Uber has been getting. Ben makes an excellent point. When Uber flaunted laws1 to establish their business in resistant geographies the tech world cheered. However, now that their “flexible” ethics lead them to take actions that the tech community disagrees with everyone is up in arms. Uber’s initial disregard for the law was lauded because they were seen as Robin Hood figures, upending the current system for the benefit of the consumer. It seemed clear that the ends justified the means. Now it is apparent that their initial legal flaunting was indicative of an underlying moral failing within the company’s leadership.2

The question of whether the ends justify the means is apparent in many current events. Does the flagrant abuse of the Constitution by this nation’s security state justify Edward Snowden’s leaking of classified information?3 Does the desirable and necessary end of more humane treatment of immigrants justify Obama’s contemplated executive actions, which effectively ignore current law? Does the understandable anger in Ferguson justify looting and vandalism? These are the questions we constantly deal with in civil society. Working within an established system of laws is so much less convenient than blowing it all up and starting from scratch, but the costs can be large and are almost always unknown.4

  1. Protectionist, stupid, and arbitrary laws that serve entrenched taxi companies. 

  2. Ben Thompson’s question of what moral framework we are even appealing to when criticizing Uber’s actions was probably the most interesting part of the podcast, and most damning of modern society as a whole. 

  3. In my opinion, yes, the leak was certainly justified. That said, I am not sure what legal repercussions should or should not exist for somebody in Edward Snowden’s position. 

  4. The cost I am most concerned about is the potential for tyranny in societies where we appoint leaders (of any party or political persuasion) to plow through checks and balances because the right way of doing things is slow. See this post for more of my thoughts about efficiency and government. 

The Secret Government

The Boston globe highlights a new book, National Security and Double Government, with a short interview with the author.

Though it’s a bedrock American principle that citizens can steer their own government by electing new officials, Glennon suggests that in practice, much of our government no longer works that way. In a new book, “National Security and Double Government,” he catalogs the ways that the defense and national security apparatus is effectively self-governing, with virtually no accountability, transparency, or checks and balances of any kind. He uses the term “double government”: There’s the one we elect, and then there’s the one behind it, steering huge swaths of policy almost unchecked. Elected officials end up serving as mere cover for the real decisions made by the bureaucracy.

It’s a fascinating, though disturbing, idea that I confess I’ve held for a while. Imagining that the massive bureaucracy necessary to run the various agencies of our government would really function at the whims and requests of temporary political winds seems more naive all the time. Interests become entrenched, budgets become permanent, and even self-styled reformers seem to be able to do little to change course. Perhaps this is why politicians appeal to divisive “wedge” issues that have little to do with actual governing? The real governing is done by technocrats, middle managers, and former industry insiders.

As pessimistic as that sounds there are solutions, but they depend on citizens paying attention to the government, not campaign slogans. My suggestion when you hear comments like “binders full of women” or “you didn’t build that” highlighted during election season is to:

  1. Ignore it
  2. Watch President Eisenhower’s farewell speech1
  3. Pay attention to the people really guiding the decisions, the agencies of Washington

If enough people do this, spur of the moment pledges from those running for office to reign in the NSA or reduce funding of one thing or another might start to carry some weight. An informed electorate is powerful. An uninformed electorate is… well, look around.

  1. In my opinion this speech should be required viewing for 20th/21st century Civics classes. A good 4th of July tradition would be a review of some of the founding documents of our country and a viewing of this speech. 

Designers Who Code

I recently spoke at a conference for the first time. I made a presentation at Midwest UX in Indianapolis encouraging designers to learn to code and become familiar with the implementation of their work. You can watch a video of the presentation here, or in the embed below.1

  1. The photo was taken by the Midwest UX team and you can find more shots from the event here


Yesterday was the first major election in my adult life where I did not vote. I could say it was because I don’t have confidence it would matter (I’m not sure it does for national offices), or because there’s nobody I’d like to vote for (probably true), or out of protest because it’s shameful that nobody running for Congress has talked seriously about curtailing state surveillance (it is shameful and they haven’t talked about it), but the truth is I didn’t vote because I got spoiled in Washington and voting in Michigan is relatively inconvenient.

In the state of Washington mail-in ballots are the norm. When you get a driver’s license you are registered to vote, then in the weeks preceding an election you receive a voter’s packet that details all the candidates and ballot measures and your ballot. You fill it out, drop it in your mailbox, postage free, and you’ve voted. It’s as easy as can be reasonably expected, at least until governments start to understand the web a little better, puts the election and its issues front of mind for citizens, and, I have to assume, increases voter turnout.

Contrast the convenience of mail-in ballots with the regular voting process. You have to register, plan a time to go to the polls (on a Tuesday! weekday voting is nuts),1 and attempt to educate yourself about the candidates and ballot measures. The difference may seem slight (and obviously this is the exact process most Americans follow every election), but coming from the world of mail-in elections it seemed laborious and was very easy to procrastinate until it was too late. In order to avoid this issue next time I will attempt to get an absentee ballot, but it could be so much simpler if more states embraced mail-in voting as the default. I’ve been to the mountain top, so to speak, and have seen a better way.

  1. When living in Peru I was surprised by their voting. Voting is mandatory and those who do not vote face fines. Voting takes place on a Sunday and many people have the work day off. One effect of this process that I noticed as an outside observer (I am no expert on Peruvian politics) is the variety of political parties and elected officials that resulted from a higher percentage voting body. Increasing voter turnout through mail-in ballots across our nation might have a similar effect. 

How I Post Snippets

I recorded a little screencast showing how my snippets feed works.

Blood & Thunder

Every year when I was a child my family would drive from Salt Lake City 10–12 hours south to Belen, New Mexico to visit my grandmother. I remember watching the landscape transform from wide mountainous valleys to stark desert. The terrain was fascinating and forbidding at the same time. We passed through the Navajo Nation reservation without any idea how they came to be there. Recently I read a wonderful book, Blood and Thunder by Hampton Sides, that answers this question by detailing the American conquest of the southwest and the Navajo in particular. Here are a few thoughts on the book.

The Navajo

One of the things I love about Blood and Thunder is that it treats the Navajo as a real actor in their own story, not as hapless victims of westward expansion. They were certainly on the losing end of Manifest Destiny but the author treats them with dignity, as a people with their own animosities and frustrations, as well as virtues. It’s a more complete picture than what I remember learning in school, which is not much, and seems like real life.1

Kit Carson

Blood and Thunder’s main protagonist is Kit Carson, a larger than life figure, with a storied life. It was greatly embellished in dime novels, but what he actually did was still astonishing. He:

  1. Ran west from his Missouri home
  2. Became a fur trapper who scouted for Fremont’s exploration of the Oregon trail
  3. Fought in the war with Mexico in California
  4. Acted as courier between Washington DC and western armies
  5. Fought Indians
  6. Fought for the Union in the Civil War in the war’s westernmost battles
  7. Led the final, and first successful, campaign against the Navajo
  8. Managed the first reservation where the Navajo were relocated before finally retiring and enjoying his growing family for a short time before passing away from an aortic aneurism.

As the borders of the United States were being finalized it’s pretty amazing how many important events Kit Carson personally saw.

Culture of the Southwest

One of the things that’s amazing about the southwest is its rich cultural heritage. Blood and Thunder gives some fascinating background to explain the different historical forces that combine to create this unique region of the United States.

Blood and Thunder is my kind of book, and I would recommend it to anyone intested in the tumultous history of America’s conquest and colonization of the west. It’s a great read.

  1. I had a similar reaction to The Last Days of the Incas, by Kim MacQuarrie. This is another favorite I highly recommend. 

Design Production Process

I have been slowly building a process for the visual design phase of digital projects. It helps me keep things straight in my own head and is fairly self explanatory for any teammates who might be involved.

I work with 3 files and one folder named Review.

[PROJECT NAME] Concepts.sketch

This file is what I use for the initial concepts for a project. Basically I do all the variations for a design with art boards on a single page. It’s very important to name each art board descriptively—something you and the client will understand—and I like to make sure each art board is prefixed with a double digit number.1 Here are some suggestions:

Every time I’m going to present a design to a teammate or client I output every art board on the page to a dated folder in the Review folder. After the presentation/critique I will rename the current page with the date of the presentation/critique, duplicate it, and rename the new copy Current. This way I am able to see a snapshot of the design concept each time other people have had input. This is invaluable for reference as the project progresses, because you can refer back to the same file to see where decisions were made, revive ideas that had been abandoned. By the time a design concept is approved I have a timeline of the whole process.

[PROJECT NAME] Approved Direction.sketch

Once a design direction has been chosen I then duplicate the file [PROJECT NAME] Concepts.sketch and rename it [PROJECT NAME] Approved Direction.sketch to the name. Then I open the file and delete everything but the current page, I have my concept file to refer back to if that should be needed. Then I create pages for all the pages/screens that the project calls for and move any art boards from my approved concept to the appropriate page. This is where I flesh out the design to its final2 form. The pages in the Sketch file might be named something like this:

Each art board is numbered with double digits for the same reason as the Concept file. There is a difference though. In the Approved Direction file I continue the numbering from one page to another. This can become cumbersome with large projects as you will need to renumber art board titles throughout the entire file before you output, but it also makes you slow down and know what you’re presenting. These forced pauses are a good chance for reflection as the project progresses.

On each page I usually have a handful of art boards to design all the interactions and any variations for the pages within the overall approved design direction. The art boards I output may look something like this.

With all the art boards numbered and named logically I output them to a dated folder within the Review folder.3 As the design progresses and variations/options are abandoned, I delete any appropriate art boards without deleting their objects. This way I can always refer to them but they aren’t being accidentally output in the next set of mockups.

[PROJECT NAME] Design.sketch

Once the design is approved and development is set to begin I duplicate the [PROJECT NAME] Approved Direction.sketch and rename it [PROJECT NAME] Design.sketch. In this new file I delete extraneous objects from abandoned ideas, clean up the art board arrangement, and double check my layer names and organization4 in preparation for hand off to a developer (or myself in many cases). This a clean file for getting measurements and exporting assets. I tend not to work any future edits to this file since most design tweaks from this point on will happen in code. If a new section needs designing I will typically duplicate this file and so I have something to work from and move it to a new file/folder structure in the same format and treat it as a new project.

Review Folder

This folder is where all the mockups I output live. The folders are dated and, if needed, numbered. Browsing through these folders you can see a project progress from beginning to end and refer back to different stages of a project at will. It is great for working with clients and understanding the points where decisions were made in a project.

A Caveat

One of my favorite things about Sketch files is that I can have large files that contain many different variations without doing the usual Photoshop thing where you have the same design file 40 times with different dates and an increasing number of Finals appended to the end of the filename.

However, there is a downside to large Sketch files. It’s not the size of the file itself, but OS X’s autosave. Every time the file autosaves, which is a lot, a whole new copy of the file is created. They all sit in a folder hidden from view and eat your space up. So at the end of each project, and sometimes before if I get hard drive space warnings, I follow a byzantine method to delete all the old versions. You can find instructions how to do it online, but with each version of OS X Apple makes it more difficult to do. Small hard drives and Sketch autosaves do not mix well.

A Process Made for Presentations

This is how I bring a little order to the chaotic world of design production. It is not the only way and may not be the most elegant or automated way, but it is pragmatic and built around the way designs are actually used, in critiques and presentations. The numbering and output system help create a straightforward presentation, that can be easily referred to in the future. As you are numbering art boards you are starting a plan for what you will show and how you will do it. Try it out and let me know if there’s anything you think could be improved or, better yet, write a blog post responding and sharing your own process.

  1. The numbering is very important. This allows the JPG mockups you output to always fall in the correct order for presentation. It also makes it easier to see if you’ve missed something you meant to output. 

  2. In interactive work idea that any design file, no matter how fully rendered, is actually final is silly of course. All designs will see alteration as they enter development and run into the real world. 

  3. If I am outputting more than one set of designs per day I just start numbering the folders so each set of mockups has its own folder. 2014-10-02 1, 2014-10-02 2 for example. 

  4. Everyone knows you should do this as you go. However, I’m not going to lie, messing around with naming Sketch layers, (previously Illustrator and Photoshop) is often at the bottom of my to-do list. I know I should be better at this the same way I know I shouldn’t eat a cheesesteak, tacos, cookies, and an omelette on the same day. 


This week Ello launched with some buzz and strongly worded marketing. They reject ads and privacy-invading business models. I was intrigued, received an invite, and signed up. I quickly became disappointed, because I’ve been here before.

App.net launched a couple years ago, with similar attitudes regarding privacy, ads, and a much clearer funding model. People paid $50 to sign up, largely to avoid the compromised situation we find on Twitter and Facebook. However, despite a revenue stream, the business couldn’t afford to continue in the same form and has been put in maintenance mode.1 Ello’s revenue model is less clear to their end users. They don’t currently ask for money because they are venture backed. They do say they plan on charging their users for premium features at some point in the future. This sounds a lot like “we’ll figure out how to make money once we’re big”, which has been the philosophy of every ad-backed startup we’ve seen. Maybe they’re sincere right now, but at some point investments have to be repaid and they will have to make choices that their users may not like. Andy Baio wrote a great post, on Ello, detailing some of these issues.

So what’s the way forward for those who like microblogging and the social web? Decentralization. I created my Snippets feed, partly as a response to these exact concerns. The reason I write on my own blog instead of Medium is the same reason my social posts originate from my snippets feed and do not begin on Twitter, ADN, or Facebook. I control my own site and it will remain in my power after all these properties have died or changed their focus, chasing whatever they need to please their investors. Owning a URL is awesome, and is not restricted to people with VC funding. I can change the technology I use, the server that URL points to, or what I want the site to be. This is what’s cool about the open web, not being subject to balkanized companies who build their own enclaves.

Decentralization is hard, and may never have the mass embrace that Twitter and Facebook have gained. The learning curve to self-host is orders of magnitude more difficult than downloading an app and signing up with a username and password. However, it’s always been that way on the web, and tools for making this kind of thing easier will come. People who want to control their own destiny have always had to get in the weeds a bit, but that’s where the most vibrant, interesting things are happening. It’s where I want to be.

  1. Despite this, ADN is not dead. It’s just slowed down. I still enjoy syndicating my snippets there and find the resulting conversations much better than Twitter. 

Microblog Links

Manton is working on something I’m eager to see. Some sort of project involving microblogs, RSS feeds, and timelines. He’s taken a shot at defining a microblog and I see it as an opportunity to address what I consider one of the “bugs” in microblogs as we’ve seen them thus far, links.

It has consistently annoyed me that Twitter and App.net’s links count against my character count. It seems to run counter to what I love about microblogging, carefully chosen words communicating a succinct idea. I often have a pretty good tweet composed and then I paste in the link to a site or image and have to rework the whole thing. Here’s the thing about links, there’s nothing careful or succinct about them. Lengthwise, they are effectively random. Link shortening services, such as bit.ly, have arisen as a hacky workaround to this issue.

In my own Snippets posts I write my links in HTML anchor tags, in order to not clutter a good reading experience. Then to syndicate them to other services I end up editing them down, using link shorteners and feeling disappointed by the end result. So my vote for defining a microblog post is that links not count against the character count. Whether that means they should be written in HTML or simply listed somewhere else in the XML I’m not sure, but we should be succinct with our words, without lettings somebody else’s URL scheme cut us short.

En Español

Almost 11 years ago I began a two year mission for my church in Lima and southern coastal Peru. It was a wonderful experience and shaped who I am and how I try to live my life. One of the most practical skills I gained is fluency in Spanish. Unfortunately fluency is subjective and can fade with time and lack of practice. Fluency, in my estimation, is the ability to communicate comfortably and includes:

  1. Having and maintaining conversations
  2. Reading
  3. Writing
  4. Familiarity with the rules and common usage of the language

I practice Spanish as much as I am able, speaking with my wife (she also served a Spanish speaking mission), always trying to speak Spanish with native speakers when I encounter them, reading Peruvian news occasionally, and fighting to teach my children some vocabulary. When at home in the United States my Spanish often feels labored, but within a couple days of returning to Peru,1 I feel like I could speak all day long.

There is one part of my life where I have not been able to integrate my second tongue, my career. My wife, a doctor, faced a similar realization when she worked with Spanish speaking physicians on our trip to Lima and Huancayo last spring. Even though they are saying similar things and doing many of the same procedures Spanish Medical terminology is not an obvious translation of English Medical terminology. Even though my wife is comfortable speaking Spanish and is an excellent conversationalist on a variety of topics, she had to learn medical Spanish the same way she had to learn medical English in medical school. I think the same thing is probably true in my field.

So, I’m going to try an experiment. Starting now, I will write Spanish versions of some of my blog posts.2 I’m hoping this will help me become more fluent in my profession when I communicate with Spanish speakers. There are growing design and web communities in many countries in Latin America and I would love to be able to speak with them. So if you are a Spanish speaker and would like to read what I have to say, hit the Español button and check it out. Please let me know if you notice errors, everything I’ve learned to this point was because people pointed out better, more correct ways to say things.3 Gracias.

  1. I’ve been lucky enough to return a few times since my mission 

  2. I’d like to commit to translating all future blog posts, but I have learned that adding too many impediments to publishing just means I won’t do it as often. Good intentions sink ships, or something like that. 

  3. When I was in the Missionary Training Center I was told to ask children to correct your Spanish. Adults will, generally, try spare your feelings and let mistakes go uncorrected, while children have no such compunction.