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.
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.
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
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:
Ran west from his Missouri home
Became a fur trapper who scouted for Fremont’s exploration of the Oregon trail
Fought in the war with Mexico in California
Acted as courier between Washington DC and western armies
Fought for the Union in the Civil War in the war’s westernmost battles
Led the final, and first successful, campaign against the Navajo
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.
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
[PROJECT NAME] Approved Direction.sketch
[PROJECT NAME] Design.sketch
[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:
01 Concept 1 | Homepage
02 Concept 1 | Blog Entry
03 Concept 2 | Homepage
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 _final_2 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.
02 Homepage | Open Nav Dropdown | Variation 1
03 Homepage | Open Nav Dropdown | Variation 2
04 Blog Landing | Grid Layout
05 Blog Landing | List Layout | Variation 1
06 Blog Landing | List Layout | Variation 2
07 Blog Entry | Image Header Layout
08 Blog Entry | Pure Type Layout
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.
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.
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.
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. ↩
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. ↩
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. ↩
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.
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. ↩
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.
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:
Having and maintaining conversations
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.
I’ve been lucky enough to return a few times since my mission ↩
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. ↩
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. ↩
As the initial shock of Edward Snowden’s leaks has begun to wear off and the media has moved on to new scandals I have heard a fallacious argument about government intelligence gathering. People perceive a false equivalence between the personal data technology companies gather/exploit and the efforts of government agencies. “The world has changed,” the argument goes, “and if Google has access to the personal information of its users, certainly the public servants tasked with protecting us shouldn’t have their hands tied.” The naiveté of this argument is frankly mind boggling to me. A corporation and the government are not the same thing and should not be conflated in discussions of our constitutional rights to privacy and due process particularly.
Facebook and Google are companies that face frequent criticism for their exploitation of user data in order to empower advertisers. Google’s executives have made several tone deaf statements that seem to demonstrate a lack of sensitivity to those concerned about the brave new, transparent world they wish to create. Facebook faces bad press regularly because of shifting privacy policies that have exposed people to embarrassment and potential harm as their personal information becomes public. Several other tech companies face similar problems as they gather vast quantities of personal data and try to use it to their own advantage in providing services to their customers and users. Abuse of their position can lead to real problems, but nowhere near as much as the same information collected, secretly and relying on dubious legal authority, by government agencies.
This same type of personal information has been used historically by some governments to intimidate, embarrass political opposition, target dissidents, and even imprison, torture, and kill citizens. This is the greatest difference between any corporation and the government. Governments can enact their dictates by force and will only be remade through drastic internal reform or revolution. Corporations, on the other hand, can be brought into submission to the law or will of the people through legal force and the power of the market. The difference between information gathering by companies and the government is a difference of kind, not degree.
Even if you disagree and see information gathering by business and government as similar pursuits consider the ability of a user of Google or Facebook to opt out or cease use of their services (in fact, you opted in to their information gathering, unlike any of the NSA programs). It may be inconvenient or difficult to find alternatives to their services, but it is certainly possible and legal. An American citizen has no effective right to guard their information from the NSA and other intelligence agencies. In fact, efforts to do so through increased encryption and choosing secure/anonymous services seems suspicious to the government and makes you a target.
When a user of a business’ services feels a breach of trust they have recourse; ceasing commerce with/use of their services, free speech (unlike holders of National Security Letters), and lawsuits, to name a few. When a citizen feels a breach of trust with the NSA their only recourse is to literally change the government through electing officials that place importance on due process, privacy, and upholding the constitution (all qualities that seem to be in short supply). With a company you can always walk away, you cannot walk away from those who feel they have a legal right to spy on you.
Tech companies should respect their user’s privacy and be made to keep the law when they don’t. However, despite all the damage they can do, they are nothing compared to the threat of government agencies with the same information. Facebook may regularly annoy and embarrass you, but a government, today or in the future, can take all that you hold dear.
Recently I released a major update for Mind Vault, which is funny to say, considering there are only 2 things that users will notice. The first is an updated design, reflecting the current state of iOS 7, and the second is options for sharing what you are memorizing via email, messages or social networks.
It was a major update because of all the work that went into the new design. iOS 7 arrived last summer and threw the whole iOS development community into redesign mode, myself included. The design of Mind Vault has been greatly simplified to focus around what a user is actually working on, the passage they are trying to memorize. The design was actually fairly quick, but implementing it with the latest frameworks and technology took more time.
Apple really opened up the floodgates with iOS 8 this year. The new developer tools create a lot of opportunities that did not exist before and I do have plans to implement some new features that take advantage of them. It’s going to be a busy few months.
A year and a half ago I sat down with my father and started recording an oral history. We spoke for over an hour and covered topics from his childhood through High School. It was a great conversation and I hope to be able to continue these interviews with family members in order to have an extensive resource of our heritage.
Why oral history?
I really enjoy writing a journal, which I keep in Day One. As I have become more proficient and persistent in doing so, I have come to think of it as one of the most important things I can do in life. What remains for our descendants are memories we make together, momentos, and, occasionally, personal records. The benefits are not simply for my children, but for myself as well. I love to read old entries and reflect on how I felt at important, and not so important, events in my life. Journaling has helped me grow as a person as I have seen how far I’ve come in certain ways, or how, on the other hand, I want to get back to things I may have abandoned. Records of our lives are important, but they take time, effort, and patience to build.
Many of the people close to us have experiences and insights that are simply not shared. They go unsaid because people are busy, or don’t see their own life as very unique or compelling, or a myriad of other reasons. If you can get a cherished family member or friend to sit down and talk about their life, they will love the experience, and you for caring enough about them to ask. You will learn things about them you never knew and they will have a chance to reflect on their lives in ways they probably haven’t in a long time. The topics will wander and vary, from profound to mundane, but you will find yourself caring tremendously about what kind of food they ate when they grew up, how much time they spent with their relatives, and what their first jobs were. The foundations of character you respect will come into sharp relief. Recording an oral history with someone you care about will bring you closer and cast your own life in a richer context.
How to do it
If this sounds like a worthwhile pursuit to you, let me share some tips:
Create a relaxed setting. Regardless of the logistical things discussed below, make sure you do not detract from a relaxed, natural conversation.
Write a handful of things you want to ask about, but keep it limited. The conversation should flow on its own, but a couple notes will help you feel confident that you didn’t miss anything too important.
Choose your medium. I think video is fantastic, but because of technical issues it may not be practicle for every situation. You can record audio easily with a smart phone or inexpensive audio recorder.
Choose a presentation and storage strategy. Finding a private way to share the oral history with family members will spread the rewarding experience to them as well. Be sure to also save digital files consciously, and back them up redundantly. Don’t let your hard work get erased or lost!
If you’re choosing to use video here are my recommendations:
Use a camcorder. Digital SLRs shoot great video and are wonderful for beautiful, “cinematic” videography, but they typically have a clip limit of 8–10 minutes. This means you have to stop the conversation frequently to start another video. Camcorders on the other hand go as long as there’s space on the SD card. You can find camcorders for $200–500 at places like Costco and Best Buy that are better than the one I paid 2–3 times that for a few years ago.
Use a tripod. This should go without saying, but handholding these types of videos is crazy. Plus, you can frame the subject much better from a tripod than setting a camera on makeshift surfaces.
Use a lot of light, but avoid backlight. Having a well lit subject will make your video pleasant to watch, just don’t put them right in front of a window in daylight, because they will look like they’re talking to you right from heaven.
You might want to record audio separately. Mics on video cameras are typically terrible. When you know what software you will be using to output the video look up how to do audio syncing with it on YouTube. If that process doesn’t seem too overwhelming, try recording audio separately with a decent mic and then syncing it with the video in post-production. You will always have the video camera mic to fall back on.
Do a couple test takes with someone else sitting in for the subject. This way you can make sure everything is working before you begin.
Output the video in the best quality/resolution possible with your equipment. It will take a long time and bog down most computers for hours, but the advance of visual fidelity is relentless in the video world and you’ll be happy you didn’t skimp a couple years from now.
Backup, backup, backup. This is so important, but almost nobody does it. Professional videographers have insane backup systems that are impractical for most people; so I will point you to a series of articles by The Sweet Setup about backing up a Mac that should get you started. Be sure to read all the links from this article, as they are very descriptive, helpful, and persuasive.
Share with family members. I do this using Vimeo. You can set videos to private, allowing people to access them via password. I upload the video and then share the link and password with my family. You can also do this on YouTube, but I prefer Vimeo because you can offer the video file for download.
Hopefully these recommendations will help you realize how worthwhile and doable oral histories are. I encourage you to try it out, you will be surprised at what you learn and how much you enjoy the process.
When I was at West High School in Salt Lake City in 2002 I had a unique opportunity, to work for the Winter Olympics. My school was less than two blocks from where most award ceremonies and official non-athletic events were to take place, so rather than figure out how to get us all to class in the crowds and post 9/11 influenced security boom, we got a couple weeks of vacation. A month ahead of time some recruiters from the Games came to West High to get people to work. I signed up.
I worked at the figure skating/short track speed skating practice rink managing traffic. I helped direct vans from the tightly secured Olympic Village to the back entrance without delay while sending everyone else to the front where the metal detectors were. It was a lot of fun, we made new friends, ate lots of free food, got to see the athletes practice during our frequent breaks and even got to see the bomb squad robot blow up something suspicious looking (it was probably just trash). It was a lot of fun, but exhausting because I had to wake up between 3-4 every morning to arrive for work on time. There wasn’t much time or energy to see the attractions or events that were happening all over the city. In the end I had fun and made enough money to buy my first Mac, a G4 Tower, and didn’t feel cheated that while working I had missed all the fun.
A couple weeks later I got tickets to go see the Paralympic downhill skiing. I don’t know what I was expecting but what I saw was amazing and still one of the most inspiring memories I have. These athletes were flying down the course at speeds that I will likely never approach (I was a regular snowboarder at the time), seemingly without regard for the danger or difficulty. There were many skiers without limbs, but to me the most amazing ones were the blind skiers. They were led by a spotter a few yards ahead at breakneck speed. Trusting someone else and your own abilities that much is a singular thing to behold. If you are ever in a position to see a comparable event I hope you take it. In the meantime check out all the wonderful photos over at The Big Picture.