Author: ratcliff

Worth noting

The greatest page on the internet might just be How to design an enduring logo: Lessons from IBM and Paul Rand from Quartz.

Lately I’ve been digging in with designers who really knocked my socks off over the years. Woody Pirtle is a mutha-f-ing god.

Creative Bloq compiled a fantastic list of must-have graphic design books for the bookshelf.

Why Amos Kennedy Jr. left a comfortable middle-class life to become a “humble negro printer” and pursue a different kind of American dream working with his hands and using his art to challenge racial injustices.


Worth Reading & Watching


Typically artists and business people operate in different worlds, where never the twain shall meet. MacLeod however is an artist obsessed with the business environment.


A beginner’s guide to copywriting: 6 essential reads to get you started

Why Science Fiction Is the Most Important Genre
“Today science fiction is the most important artistic genre,” Harari says in Episode 325 of the Geek’s Guide to the Galaxy podcast. “It shapes the understanding of the public on things like artificial intelligence and biotechnology, which are likely to change our lives and society more than anything else in the coming decades.”

Scott Belsky: How to Navigate the Messy Middle of a Creative Venture
The starts and finishes of a project seem to get all the headlines and press, but they don’t adequately reflect the extreme swings that occur during the middle section of a journey. In his new book, The Messy Middle, 99U Founder Scott Belsky shares lessons in entrepreneurship around the crucial, but overlooked part of a creative endeavor.

Creativity’s bottom line: How winning companies turn creativity into business value and growth
Most of us can remember a couple of favorite ads. They’re funny, clever, thoughtful. Creativity can delight, even inspire. But does it generate business value?


Faking It

So I stumbled on to a really terrific podcast: 2Bobs. It hits my sweet spot for creative yet practical business advice and thinking. This morning on the way to the office, I was listening to the August 23rd show about the X-Factor, the qualities that set exceptional people apart from the pack. The discussion was quite good. The “Bobs” made good points made about what they believe qualifies as being/having an X-Factor, but that is not the point of this post. You can listen to the podcast to get their thoughts.

They discussed the idea of confidence being one of the predominant characteristics of a person’s X-Factor, and unfortunately you either have it or you don’t. That is not to say that you cannot develop confidence or have it become a bigger part of your character. But one comment during the discussion on confidence really hit me.

In a good way.

There is a common misconception that you can, or should, “fake it til you feel it.” Or the other variation, “fake it til you make it”. This got me to thinking about my own lack of confidence growing up, and how I have always attributed any successes in life to my ability to just keep on faking it. In retrospect, that is the farthest thing from the truth. In fact, this revelation has now given me a new mantra, an important one to share with students and young creative professionals:

As a creative person, the best way to become more confident in your abilities to produce good work is to push yourself. Plain and simple – work at it. Put in the time. Put in the extra effort when necessary. Do whatever you must, but continue to create. Make lots of stuff. All the time, in all aspects of your life.

I firmly believe that the more you make, the better you will get, Period. But if you don’t improve, you should consider a different line of work. Not to be mean here, just being practical.

Make it til you make it is about getting to the place where you will know you can solve the problem. You might not have the answers, but you know what questions to ask and what it takes to find the solution. You’ll have confidence in yourself and your abilities.

I suppose this is a reinterpretation of Malcolm Gladwell’s 10,000 hour rule, which says it takes about 10,000 hours of doing something to get good at it. I have been a believer. My only knock on that rule is it is time based, and no creative activity should ever be bound by such rigid structure. It should be more about the quality of time spent. I know plenty of designers who have put in well over 10,000 hours and their work is not much to speak of. (Maybe they should reconsider what they’re doing…)

I always thought the 10,000 hours rule was true because I noticed that after about 5 years in the business, you finally get it. You can competently maneuver through your work day and actually be productive. You might even do something really great by then. But until you have 10,000 hours under your belt, you’re still an apprentice in my eyes.

But I suppose the difference with the Make it til you Make it philosophy, you’re not bound by time. You’re only constraint is yourself. Are you getting better at your craft? Are you becoming thoughtful about your work? Are you becoming confident in your abilities to link disparate ideas?

There are lots of fancy ways to articulate this idea, and I like this one that popped into my head this morning while sitting in traffic. I am confident that this is a great idea.

I think it might make a good t-shirt.

Design in Texas

Quite possibly, AIGA-Texas’ 1986 tome Design in Texas had more influence on me than any other book. More than Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance, Alan Fletcher, or any of the numerous books I’ve previously cited here.

I stumbled onto this book during Christmas break after I had finished Intro to Design Comm as a sophomore at Tech. By this time, I had drunk the Kool-Aid and been fully indoctrinated into the Cult of Good Design.

Being a good young designer, I trolled the bookstores, and grocery stores for that matter, seeking out finely designed ephemera. At the now defunct Bookstop, I found Design in Texas, and life would never be the same.

Not sure why it hit me, but I pulled the book down off the bookcase last night and thumbed through it. My heroes still live in here, with their work coming to life on every page. You know there’s work from Fred Woodward in there, long before he reinvented magazine design at Rolling Stone. I thought Woody Pirtle was a genius. Still do.

The book is also evidence that some of the premiere photographers on the planet are here in Texas. In Houston, in particular.

And of course, brilliant design work from all over the state, but primarily from Dallas.

Dallas was exploding back then, and where I figured I’d end up after graduation. Being a Creative Giant, Stan Richards would bring me on as a power forward for the company basketball team and then we would make history. Didn’t really work out that way. He did hire a girl from my class, though.

There are lots of people in the book I’ve met over the years, some are merely acquaintances, others can I proudly call friends. Many I’ve had the honor and pleasure to collaborate with.

I used this book as a guide to look for a job after graduation. If you were in Design in Texas, I wanted to work for you. I interviewed with Chris Hill (a great story for another time), who taught me a valuable lesson in humility. I wrote to Jerry Herring to try and get in with him. He wrote me back what is quite possibly the nicest rejection letter ever. Beautiful stationery. I held on to that letter for years and told his son, Stephen, about it over lunch one day a couple of years ago. He was mortified.

Texas needs another book like this. Another time capsule, if for nothing else. Another book that will fire up the imagination of a young designer here in the Great State of Texas.