Category: about rat

My secret recipe

Over the years I’ve heard many thought leaders shouting from the highest mountaintops that you should share everything you know. What you give out comes back to you tenfold.

So, in full disclosure, here is the one simple phrase that I learned back in design school to solve almost every problem you can face in life:


The solution to every problem is inherent to the problem itself.


There. Now you know my secret to positioning, branding, ad creative, design problems, UX, CX and passing college algebra.

Growing Older in a Creative Industry

Steven Heller wrote a fun article on Design Observer this week entitled “How You Can Tell If You Are An Old Fogey Designer”. Being of a certain age, there is much I can identify with in his essay. But, despite his jabs at us old folks, there are a few other thoughts about growing older as a creative that are not quite so fun, and unfortunately are quite real.

Getting older in the creative fields is both a blessing and a curse.

On the plus side, there are so many problems that used to stump me as a junior designer that are instantly clear to me. I have the tools and capacity to tackle much more complicated tasks, offering solutions to problems that are thoughtful and multidimensional, the kid of answers I would not have been able to even comprehend a decade or two ago. With the radical  changes in the media landscape over the past 30 years, I’ve yet to get bored with the business or not found something wildly interesting, whereas my younger self rarely saw that something amazing was right in front of my face. I suppose some of that is maturity, or maybe wisdom.

The downside to being older is that I don’t have the strength I was once had. Recently I pulled an all-nighter, and it left me wrecked for a couple of days. Although no one wants to admit it, there is certain amount of ageism and discrimination. I can be viewed as being out of touch because I don’t use Snapchat or am not up on the latest and greatest. In my defense, that has nothing to do with age —  I’ll use a new technology or platform once I find a good use for it.

And the pay can be lousy, comparatively speaking. Most of my contemporaries are engineers, accountants or members of more respected professions, not designers or creative marketing types. Few are Art Majors and all make considerably more than me. They always have, and odds are good they always will. That is a thought that never occurred to the younger version of me who pursued the things he loved rather than chasing down a bigger paycheck. I sometimes question if this was a good route to take as I help put my daughter through college.

It’s hard getting older and working in a creative industry. I thought by the time I was 50 I’d be set. I figured I would have all the answers. Instead, every day is a new day, with new challenges. I’ve worked harder and put in longer hours over the past couple of years than I ever have. Never saw that coming. I thought my working life would get easier. Instead, it has gotten stickier.

In a way, that is a good thing. Creativity thrives on adversity. And the last thing I want to have happen in my later years is to find myself coasting. As a cyclist, I’ve always enjoyed the struggle of going uphill more than the ease of freewheeling downhill. Perhaps the same can be said of my creative life. And yours, too, as you grow older.

Origin Story, Part 1

As a child of the 70s, there were many outside influences that had a tremendous impact on me that only until recently have I comet to realize to what depth.

When I was a kid I was quite sickly, suffering from allergies and asthma like no one’s business. Living in Houston, Texas did not help matters, as year-round pretty something from every season triggered problems. Needless to say, I missed a fair amount of school. I don’t remember much of first grade, or 2nd for that matter.

What I do remember most from that time is television and comic books, things that kept my mind busy and entertained since there was little else I could do. Laying on the sofa with big stacks of comics I would read and reread. Most of those books are permanently committed to memory, as demonstrated when I watch an Avengers or X-Men movie with my family and know the plot line before anyone else.



But television was the other constant companion. Captain Kangaroo when I was younger. Also Watergate, Viet Nam and Apollo missions. I dreamt about living in SkyLab, until it fell out of orbit and crashed in Australia.

But one of the shows I am convinced had a huge impact on my life was The Price is Right. I religiously watched it when I was home convalescing, and over summer breaks before heading out to the neighborhood pool for a swim. I know that part of the attraction was pretty girls parading around in bikinis while Bob Barker led contestants through ridiculous games.



Looking back the show, what amazes me is at its core, The Price is Right is some of the most brilliant advertising ever conceived. Consumer bloodsport. The contestants would come to blows if necessary to win a can of Turtle Wax. All their hopes and dreams were wrapped up in that new blender or matching set of luggage. Life or death hinged on the careful analysis of the price of an AMC Pacer.

I can remember more of The Price is Right than I can kindergarten. This explains a lot.

The Tower

I had to lay my Moleskine Tower on the floor so that it would not tump over. 55 books, with another one in the works at the moment. When Moleskine notebooks and sketchbooks became widely available in 2006, I bought one and found I liked it, not because it was the cool or hip thing to do, but the size felt right. As did the paper. I’ve tried to go totally digital a few of times over the past 10 years, but I keep coming back to these little black books.

I have another large stack of sketchbooks, maybe an additional 100, in my bedroom, that I filled prior to 2006. Most I bought at the art supply store or Barnes & Noble, but many I made myself as I used to have the time and enjoyed bookbinding.

Back in college, many of my professors extolled the virtues of keep diaries and sketchbooks. Over the years, I have found that keeping writings and drawings is extraordinarily beneficial to creativity. Also for memory. As the years go by, I forget so much, but have found that I can open a book, read a passage or see the rough sketch of an idea and instantly be transported back to that moment in time. I find that a very simple joy in life.

Now, where to store all these book?

2016 favorites

I’m usually not one to make lists of things I like and such, but there were a few outstanding TV shows, books and music that came out in 2016 that are not only worth mentioning but also had an impact on me.

Favorite book: Shoe Dog by Phil Knight
I wore those blue nylon Nikes with the gold swoosh back when I was in 3rd or 4th grade, and have bought dozens of pairs since then. Although I get away from Nike every once in awhile, I always seem to find my way back. So I was very interested in Knight’s account of founding the company, warts and all. I’ve about given up on most books in the business section of the bookstore because I’ve found that I learn a lot more from entrepreneurs and founders of companies telling their stories versus ghostwriters and editors cobbling together quips and tricks that worked for them. This is a great read that not only fired my imagination and has given me the courage to step out on my own, but it has also kept me knocking out my daily miles in Nike Zoom Elites.

Favorite record in 2016: Car Seat Headrest “Teens Of Denial”
Very primal and powerful. In a world of overproduced records, this one made me love rock music even more.

Favorite documentary: SoundBreaking
Every episode of this miniseries got better and better. Even the show about disco was fantastic. I intentionally did not watch back to back, so that I could savor each show. I’m mad at myself for erasing them from the DVR, because I’d love to go back and watch the whole thing over again. Having zero musical ability, one of the things I love is watching how music is made. An endless source of wonder.

Best thing on TV this year: The Night Manager
The first episode of this AMC miniseries was a little slow, but so worth getting through to get to the rest of the story. I have not been that riveted by anything on TV since Mad Men ended. The story was phenomenal, and much more fun to watch than read, which says a lot since I love John le Carré.

Best documentary of 2016: The Patriots Day Bombing
This was an extraordinarily important documentary that every American should watch. Rather than focusing on the hunt for the Tsarnaev brothers, it tells the stories of the survivors of the bombings, and is one of the most gut wrenching programs you can witness. The program made me proud to be an American, and if you watch it without shedding a tear, you obviously have no heart.

Album I listened to most on Amazon Prime: “Let it Bleed” by The Rolling Stones
I cannot get enough of this record. Every song on it is not just good, but great. The Stones at the height of their powers.

Most used app: Pocket from Google or Evernote
Evernote is the handiest, and I have found all kinds of crazy things to do with it to help keep me on track and moving forward with my life. But Pocket is just the best. The premise of it is exactly like a piece of software The ForeFront Group, a company I used to work for, released back in 1996. It lets you download articles from the web to read later. I have found that I can troll the Twitterverse, find new things to read and download them to read later when I have the time. I could not even begin to tell you how much stuff I have squirrelled away in my Pocket.