Priorities + Constraints = Clarity


I don’t know who designed this poster template, but I love it. By looking at it you can see that the designer has prioritized the information in order of importance, then employed a set of constraints to convey the message in the simplest way possible. The set of constraints are made up of three elements: color, size, arrangement.

PRIORITIES. You know a that a designer has their priorities in order if  their work passes “the squint test.” That is, if their reader squints at it, they know what it’s about. Readers don’t need to know all of the information at once. They need to know the most important thing. Then, if the most important thing is interesting to them, they will move closer to the poster to get the details.

CONSTRAINTS. Designing something that is clear takes discipline. Effective designers use constraints to get their point across. Sure, they could use every color in the rainbow, but in most cases, that just confuses things. Sure, they could make all of the type close in size, but then how would your reader know what information is most important? Sure you could arrange elements all over the page equally, but then how would your reader know what to read first?

The most common pushback I hear from junior designers on constraints is that they limit creativity. I don’t know where this idea comes from but it’s false. The best artists and inventors use constraints. And you should too.

The Role of Data in Product Design

In this new age of invention, devices are smart. They either collect data or are driven by it. Artists and Inventors can no longer get away with thinking only about the object they are building. They need to think about how data is a part of the object and the user’s experience (UX) with it.

Important questions about the data UX must be asked: Is this data needed in real time or is it needed in a daily digest or a monthly statement? What is the best way to display this data and where is the best place to display it – on or near the object or in another location? Does this data need to be glanceable or in depth?

If you are an artist and inventor who wants your ideas to stand out, show us that you have considered these questions. Not so much in words, but as part of your prototypes. Pencil sketches are ok. Just be sure to work out a strategy for the data piece of your project. Don’t leave to chance or treat it as something that gets figured out at the end. Give big data the design attention that it deserves.


Make Things that Matter to People

In this new invention age, we have the tools and technologies to make just about anything. So how do artists and inventors decide what to make? Sometimes they gravitate toward a material or process they want to explore. Sometimes they go for the craziest idea they can think of. And sometimes they are driven by empathy. They make things that solve a meaningful problem for another person.

This problem doesn’t have to be world hunger, though we sure could use your problem-solving energy there. This can be something that helps teenagers deal with anxiety or helps parents keep their loved ones safe. It can be something that helps children learn about art and invention or something that helps teachers share their students’ best work.

Making things can be so powerful. But only if we channel it toward helping people live more meaningful lives.

On Curating Diverse Events

This past week an unfortunate poster went around the internet. The poster was promoting a talk called “Women in Math” at BYU and it featured headshots of 4 male speakers. Honestly, I see posters and speaker rosters that look like this all of the time. It’s not a good look.

That said, I know from experience how challenging it can be to recruit diverse speakers or panelists. There are a lot of complex reasons for this that I won’t get into here. I’ll just fast forward to solutions.

Game Developer Tanya X. Short wrote an awesome twitter thread this week on tips for recruiting diverse speakers. I’ve transcribed that thread below and I’ve bolded the points that resonate most with me. Use in good health!

Tanya X. Short‏ on Curating Diverse Events

transcription of a twitter thread from Feb 2018

As an event-runner, I understand it can be frustrating when people say diverse speaker lineups are ‘easy’, given how it fails to happen so often. So here [are] some tips.

First take a breath even if you messed up, you’re not a “bad person”, we’re only as bad as the actions we take. so after a mistake, ok, let’s learn and take some good actions. 🙂

1 – plan to spend extra time finding diverse people to include. this is why people are called “marginalized” — they are pushed to the margin and their work [is] undervalued, not shouted from the rooftops

2 – plan to spend extra money +/or effort persuading them to speak. they put themselves at more risk by appearing in public, and may have fewer resources to spend on you, incl time

3 – when atypical people speak at your event, prepare for their talks to be underrated and their expertise questioned. be ready to defend them.

4 – invite as many marginalized speakers as possible FIRST, to get a feel for how many holes you’ll need to plug with more typical developers. since it will take more time, get these sorted before you find the rest.

5 – be flexible in defining success, to avoid perpetuating problems of capitalist oppression. promote artistry, thought-leading, community leadership, and other kinds of success to help auto-diversify your pool

6 – Looking for diverse game devs? Here’s a good place to start, google for more? … even if it’s in the trash hmm

7 – Surely you know a FEW marginalized speakers on twitter — c’mon — but if they’re not available, wait! Don’t ask for their help yet! Their time is valuable. Crawl their timeline, see who THEY signalboost.

8 – Still can’t find enough? look for groups of marginalized orgs — Game Devs of Color Expo, Dames Making Games, Pixelles, etc. See who THEY signalboost. Join their groups if allowed.

9 – (Ongoing) every week or two, invest a few minutes looking for, following & signal-boosting diverse voices yourself. this will help familiarize you w/ more and better work in yr field. future you will be happy you did this.

10 – Maybe you’re not pleading with enough flattery. Consider how you would write an invitation to ask YOUR ALL-TIME HERO IN GAME DEV to speak — now title it to this developer instead. they deserve your admiration.

11 – Okay after you’ve done all this and you’re STILL coming up short, now you can beg the more typical devs on your timeline if they have time to rec a few diverse speakers.

12 – If THEY ALSO can’t rec anyone, okay now you can ask your existing diverse speakers for more recs, very politely, but it’s possible your event has a deeper problem…

13 – Honestly if you’ve done all this and you still can’t find 50% people willing to speak… are you holding it at an inaccessible time or place? is there something alienating about the theme? do you or your staff have a bad reputation?

13.5 If you’re not sure what’s going wrong, and struggling, bust out $200 and spend a few hours with a professional diversity/inclusion consultant. DM me and I can hook you up w/ someone. let’s fix this! 🙂

Gotta get back to game dev work myself but anyone, feel free to chime in and recommend more!



related to point #13

Note to VCs, hot tub meetings aren’t inclusive 


Artists and Inventors Give Gifts 

white oak copy

I’m introducing a new kind of post today: printables. It’ll be a weekly post with a little gift for you to print and keep or give to someone else.

I love sending cards in the mail and I love taking pictures. So I’m combining these two things and laying out some of my pictures onto cards.

I’ll share these files with you as I make them. The first one is here: 1feb2018 xanthm.pdf

A few production tips

  • PRINTING. Use cardstock to print these out and make sure the print settings are set to “actual size.”
  • CUTTING. I included a little mark halfway down the page so that you know where to cut. The best way to cut this in half is with a metal straight edge and an x-acto knife.
  • FOLDING. The best way to fold these is to line up the corners, then use a long flat edge, like the side of a marker, to make the crease.
  • MAILING. You’ll need some envelopes. Something like this should do the trick.

Happy snail mailing. Enjoy!


Transforming the Mundane

Artists and Inventors observe the world around them and make things that aim to improve it. Sometimes that means adding something, sometimes it means taking something away, and other times it means picking out one or two details within a situation and transforming them.

I love this 2009 Kid Cudi video by French designer, So Me. In the video So Me draws flat, colorful animations on top of footage of mundane scenes. Two pizza makers turn into DJs spinning records. An aisle in a bodega turns into the yellow brick road from The Wizard of Oz.

With some imagination and the right box of crayons, what might you transform?


On Trust

Trust is hard.

I’m tempted to end it at that. That’s how hard it is.

But I’ve read some advice that I know is true. “The only way to trust someone is to trust them.” The other choice is to live in fear and self-protection mode. But that choice has its own set of damaging outcomes. Yet, those outcomes are more appealing than trusting other people. At least they are familiar and in your control. That’s why we chose them. The devil we know.

But trust we must. Assume best intentions. Give people the benefit of the doubt. Repeat, repeat, repeat.

Strategy Affects Decision Making and Clarity Matters

I just reread Michael Porter’s classic essay, “What is Strategy?” It’s chock full of insights with the overarching one being that more often than not, strategy gets confused with operational effectiveness and this causes problems.

An undesirable outcome of confusing operational effectiveness with strategy is that a lack of real strategy causes inconsistent decision making. While a clear strategy leads to clear decision-making criteria and processes, an ill-defined one leads to inconsistent criteria and decision-making processes.

An undesirable outcome of ill-defined decision-making is a tendency to not make decisions at all. I love this short quote from the essay about avoiding trade-offs: Tradeoffs are frightening, and making no choice is sometimes preferred to risking blame forbad choice. I fall into this trap every now and then.  It’s completely understandable.

But for strategy, trade-offs are necessary and we must weave them into our daily vocabulary. ‘We’ve decided to become the best in the world at doing A at the risk of missing out on B.’

If a clear strategy is in place, then taking a risk to make a decision is less of a risk. A clear strategy will have your back. It’ll take most of the fear out of the equation. In a way, it serves a similar function as religion. It allows people in an organization to practice faith in the context of uncertainty.



Strategy as a Menu

When an organization starts out, it has a simple strategy. It has some goals and a set of activities to use to achieve them. Then, if that organization is successful, it’ll grow. It starts taking on more and more activities and before you know it, the simple strategy is lost or is morphed beyond recognition. In some ways this is ok–a strategy should evolve over time. But not passively. It needs to evolve with intention.

At some point, the people in the organization need to sit down and assess that list of activities with well thought out criteria, then name the set of activities that they are really good at and say no to the rest. Saying no is hard because some of the activities that you say no to are ones that you enjoy. But they kill focus. So put them away for now.

If strategy were a menu, we could think of it like this: Don’t keep adding things to the menu ’til you have an eight-page laminated nightmare that’s “fun for the entire family!” Instead, design and write out a simple one-pager, print it out on nice lightly textured paper with an elegant font. It should tell the story of exactly who you are and what you can deliver. Then target the folks who want to dine at your table.