Author: ratcliff


If you have to look past the dinner table for your heroes, then something’s wrong.

Dr. Joe King, The History of Baseball, Texas Tech University, Spring 1988


These words have been firmly entrenched in my mind since Dr King first spoke them during a round table discussion on the role professional athletes play in our society. A very profound thought that rings as true today as it did 30 years ago.

Contrary to popular belief, I don’t think heroes are limited to those who perform amazing feats of strength or courage. Or being defined as one who put the needs of others before their own, even if it is at great risk to themselves. True, those are heroic acts, but heroes are often times so much more, and complex.

In my worldview, heroes show you what life could be like and compel you to be bigger than yourself. They offer inspiration and influence that brings out the very best in us.

A couple of my heroes died this year.

The first was Anthony Bourdain. I’m not a foodie, hate cooking shows, disagree with his politics and cannot condone his drug abuse, but for whatever reason I found him to be endlessly fascinating. I suppose much of the appeal was his attitude. He behaved like a a rock star with this who-gives-a-shit way of living, acting, talking, etc.

Always provocative, always interesting, he showed us the world through his own lens (beautifully filmed)  in Parts Unknown. I do not care much for television, but I have watched every moment of this series, often multiple times,  and relish the stories, the people and the sites. The show opened my eyes on some subjects, my heart on others. What amazing power and what a gift given to the world.

Over the summer I broke down and read one of his books – Kitchen Confidential. About midway through, there is an entire chapter where he goes into painstaking detail about a day in the life of a chef that is thoughtful, frank, key-opening, and full of take-aways, that even a crusty old designer such as myself finds useful.

I enjoy reading his stuff because you could hear his voice, just like on the narration during Part Unknown, as your eyes silently glided across the page. I can only hope my prose is as expressive.

I thought about writing this remembrance in June after he died, but I held off, and as time went past it no longer felt relevant.

That changed this week when Stan Lee died.

As big an influence as Mr Bourdain had on me, it dwarfs in comparison to the impact Mr Lee had. Stories he told, characters he created filled my head with so many ideas that I could probably credit Stan Lee with pushing me into the design business. There was no way I could ever make it in comics – that is one hard way to make a living, and I do not have nearly the talent to be able to do it.

I have most of Marvel memorized from elementary school til midway through high school. Formative years that were heavily influenced by Stan Lee. He helped get me through it and imagine a better, brighter future. Again, what a gift to be given.

There is a lot written about Stan Lee already, and I won’t tread the same ground here, other than to say if you were to look at authors who had the biggest impact on the 20th and early 21st centuries, you would be hard pressed to find anyone whose words and ideas changed the world.

It’s harder for me to write about Lee than Bourdain. As I cobble together the words, my mind drifts back to long, lazy summer afternoons where I’d spend a day lost in the world of the Fantastic Four, or waiting on the front porch at the mailbox on a Tuesday afternoon – because that was the day my Marvel subscriptions would arrive. Or trips to flea markets and comic book shops looking for buried treasures.

I have lists of other heroes: Jack Kirby, David Ogilvy, Paul Rand, Henry Rollins (who, much like Anthony Bourdain, I cannot stand his music or politics, but love him), Charles Eames, Joan Didion, Hunter Thompson, Ernest Hemingway, George Nelson and many others. I could write at length about any of them, but it’s that two of my heroes died this year. Their book is closed, they will not be creating anymore, that I can reflect on their impact.

You know someone had an impact on your life when you come to the realization that you would not be the person you are today had it not been for that other person. That is pretty heroic, isn’t it?

A Grumpy Salesperson

I do not make it a habit of speaking ill of former co-workers, bosses or employers. Whenever I have gone on the attack, I’ve only gone after the idea, never the person. With this in mind …

The other day I stumbled on to this quote from Jakob Neilsen:

A bad website is like a grumpy salesperson.

At first, it made me laugh. Then  pause. For more than two years of my life at Schlumberger I worked tirelessly to align the work my MarCom group was doing with the needs of the sales team. Since the downturn, the oil and gas space has been terrible spot to be in, so beyond being altruistic and merely wanting to help the company succeed, there was also a fair amount of self-preservation in the rationale, too.

Schlumberger unfortunately has one of the worst websites on the planet. At one time, it was a treasure trove of information that I routinely consulted in order to learn  more about technologies and techniques for producing hydrocarbons.

The vision was that it would be a sales tool. But in reality, it is a bloated, antiquated, dusty library.

Or as Mr Neilsen puts it, a grumpy salesperson. Someone who knows an awful lot but isn’t particularly good about sharing that knowledge.

I met with one of the lead sales trainers back in 2016 and he told me something that scarred the wee wee out of me. He stated that more than 85% of buying decisions in the B2B space are made prior to contacting a salesperson. Contact being a phone call or a simple click of a button requesting more info. Therefore, the site has to actually work harder to facilitate the buyer’s journey down the sales funnel. (Boy, I love all this jargon.)

To further these thoughts, when your site is a library, it bets the question: When was the last time you bought a book from a library?

Look at a randomly sampled page. The kitchen sink is there, I promise, if you can find it. What on God’s Green Internet would make you want to actually click on any of this noise? Even with years of experience with this site, I still get lost and confused.

That sales funnel is all filled with sticky, goopy stuff. The site actually hinders the buyer’s journey rather than enhancing it.

No longer being in the organization, I am not privy to any plans for the site. My understanding is they are going to relaunch it in January and I wish them well.


From Mr Steven Heller, More de Harak Greatest Hits. Makes me fall is love with graphic design all over again.

From Ms Ashman, a lively talk on Designing the Brands of 2050.

How the Ballpoint Pen Killed Cursive.

Life in the Big City captured in  Workfront report saying workers are too swamped to innovate.

Next in line after Mr Walker’s piece on How to Pay Attention, the flip side: The Perils of Peak Attention.

Old guys rule: The World’s Premier Alternative Icon: How Nick Cave Became an Arena Act in North America.  At age 61, underground rock icon Nick Cave and his band The Bad Seeds are about to embark upon the biggest tour of their career.

Made in S.A. on the road: Shiner Beer.

A tragic loss this week with the passing of Stan Lee. I’ve spent a fair amount of time this week reflecting on what a powerful influence he has had on my life. Of course, there are eulogies and countless other sources of praise for him elsewhere on the web, but HBR’s What Stan Lee Knew About Managing Creative People really struck home with me, because I manage creative folks in a similar manner. God bless you Mr Lieber.

Post It Note Design

It is unofficially “Tool Week” at rat etc. First, a walk down amnesia lane blowing the dust off the lowly pica pole. And now, another useful tool …

The Post It Note.

As you are no doubt well aware, a large part of my disdain for “Design Thinking” is that when you Google the term and look at images representing the concept, most are of the shots of hipsters with stacks of Post-It notes (some stuck on glass walls) and with Sharpies in hand working their magic. I’ve participated in design thinking workshops and have not been impressed, largely because I’ve used many of these methods for years as part of my own way for working. I’ve never once found a Post-It useful for anything other than for its intended purpose — to remind me of something I knew I would forget if it was not written down.

Note the line quality — no Sharpie here.

Let’s travel back in time to 20 October. It is a day that will live in the annals of Design History as “The Day Mr Ratcliff Designed with Post-It Notes And Did Not Complain About It”.

I was on a crash assignment at Sysco and needed to come up with a story quickly. The project was to walk our friends in the Corporate office through the new process of engaging with my team. The challenge was to do it in a fun and memorable way rather than relying on a plain ol’ PowerPoint diagram.

As usual, I started in my notebook (Moleskine #64) but found that drawing and redrawing the action was taking way too much time. On my desk I spied an innocent stack of bright yellow Post-It’s. I quickly scratched out the story, made adjustments, jump from frame to frame then went back to fill in the gaps. It was glorious. And fast. I quickly cobbled together the story and started working on the visuals.

And I have Post-It Notes to thank for the help.

Every tool is useful. There is a time and a place for everything. Be resourceful and open to new approaches and tactics. Maybe even Design Thinking, of course.