Author: ratcliff



  1. the reduction of a fuel or substance to nothing through use or combustion.
    “good carbon burnout”
  2. physical or mental collapse caused by overwork or stress.
    “high levels of professionalism that may result in burnout”

Burnout happens all the time for creative folks. When your work is your life, it’s hard to give anything less than 100% all the time. But it’s a slippery slope that’s easy to slide down. You give so much of yourself to your work, it’s such a large part of you and your life, you want to do and be the best. It’s hard. It takes a tremendous amount of time and energy.

It’s easy for brilliant young professionals to burn out. They shine so brightly only to flame out just as fast.

Burnout causes bad decisions and poor choices. Even the strongest of us have fallen victim to it. The key to survival is to get out of the burned-out state and learn from the experience so that you don’t fall into it again.

I’ve always thought of burnout as a luxury.

Later in life, when you have bigger concerns (like a long-term career) and more responsibilities (like a family or mortgage), you don’t have time to burn out. You can’t burn out when others are depending on you. You just have to keep pushing through.

Bouncing back from burnout is hard.

The easy answer is always to find your work-life balance. That’s very weak advice. Life in general is all about balance, not just finding time to juggle working with your life away from work. If you’re a creative professional, the kind who show up every day to make things happen, your work is with you every minute of every day. You don’t get to turn off at 5 o’clock then turn it back on at 8 the next morning. It doesn’t work that way.

I haven’t been burnout out in years. Exercise and focusing on my family help keep stress in check. I draw a tremendous amount of strength from seeing my children’s faces. I look in their eyes and find the strength I need to keep pushing through even the hardest times.

Finding balance is not easy and be careful of anyone who tells you how to do it. There is no one-size fits all answer.



NPR’s TED Radio Hour is like Reader’s Digest for brainiacs. In one commute, you can wrap your head around a whole plethora of ideas about a variety of subjects. Endless fun.

The show on Maslow’s Human Needs, originally broadcast in April 2015 but re-aired recently, was the riffing-off point for this post.

As a reminder, Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs is (from bottom to top):

  • Physiological – Are basic needs of survival being met? Food, water, breathing, etc.
  • Safety – Health, resources, a good job, personal matters fulfilled
  • Love & Belonging – Friendship, family, intimacy
  • Esteem – Confidence, achievement, respect
  • Self-Actualization – Morality, creativity, fulfillment

This past year, I have been involved with re-thinking and implementing a new “playbook” for how my company go to market with new products. The previous version was found to be mostly useless because it required a fairly extensive knowledge of marketing in order to fill it out properly, and most of the managers who were tasked with this were woefully unqualified to do so.

So the Brand Manager took it upon herself to re-imagine this document and brought in a consultant to help out. There is some good thinking and fresh ideas in this new document & process they are rolling out, but after listening to this TED program, it got me to thinking.

Creative briefing documents, playbooks & marketing plans are all meant to help guide the strategy to most effectively reach new and existing customers. But with all this analysis, data, features & benefits, etc., how many of these briefs actually address basic human needs?

Worse yet, these documents are often filled with assumptions and the information we want you to know.

Shouldn’t one of the key ingredients be “How does ‘X’ solve my need? A lot of times, that information is there in the document/process, but rarely is it articulated into something very basic, touching a core value to the individual.

This is danged hard to do in a B2B environment, but not impossible.

I think Nike does this inherently as part of their branding and this is a key ingredient as to what they are so wildly successful. From the products all the way to the branding, Nike touches each of Maslow’s needs:

  • Physiological – I need shoes to protect my feet.
  • Safety – Because I have the shoes, my health will improve.
  • Love & Belonging – Because I run, I become part of a community of like-minded people.
  • Esteem – As I get healthier, I become a stronger, better person.
  • Self-Actualization – Just do it.

In contrast, I think Apple often times does a poor job of it. They are particularly good at telling you what you need. What they have been particularly adept at is guiding people down a path that eventually becomes a need. I never truly needed an iPhone, but now that I have one I find that I cannot live without it? Does that make Apple evil?

In a world that is becoming increasingly more digital,automated and with less of a human touch, addressing basic human needs should be at the very core of how we approach every piece of communication.

As Charles Eames said:

Recognizing the need is the primary condition for design.


Lately I’ve been digging into gobs of design thinking and UX theory. It’s not just about improving myself and getting skilled-up, rather I’ve been told on no uncertain terms that my college diploma is no longer worth the paper it’s printed on and I’d better get with the times.

So here are a few conclusions (Note: The opinions below are expressly those of the author. Any resemblance to rational thought is purely accidental) on what I have learned:

UX is a bunch of bunk. If you have a thorough design education, UX is already baked into your education. My advice is to quit doing tutorials and get to work.

UX is about making unimaginative, introverted ne’er do wells feel important and part of the process. Frankly, if you aren’t contributing you’re just in the way. Move along, please.

Most UX designers cannot even define UX. “Yeah, I do UX. I work in Sketch.” Phooey.

Design Thinking is bunk, too! “The world needs more people with Liberal Arts Degrees.” Those sissy voices might be right, but a bunch of Gen Y-Z’s standing around cogitating doesn’t help anyone or anything.

You know who invented these two abominations? 3M – the people who make Post-It Notes. You know who else? Sharpie! Google Design Thinking or UX and look at all the pictures that come up. Post-It Notes marked up by a bunch of hipsters with Sharpie’s.

NO! You know who really invented Design Thinking? The guys who make black foam boards, that’s who! Every office in the world uses Post-It’s. Every elementary school art class uses bazillions of Sharpie’s. It’s gotta be the foam board guys. There aren’t enough science fairs out there to turn a profit on foam boards, so they had to invent some other whack way of selling more boards. I’ll bet if you dig even deeper, the foam board guys went to the Kelley brothers at IDEO and got them to come up with the whole Design Thinking thing and told them thy could have it during the fee negotiations.

Regarding all of the statements above, know that I practice Design Thinking and UX dang near every day. Perhaps I’ve had too much coffee today.

The details

I think a lot about creating things. I also happen to create a lot of things I think about.

I’ve always been “big picture” kind of designer. Years ago I learned that by focusing on coming up with good ideas and high concepts, the design will tell you what it wants to be. This process has worked pretty well for the past quarter of a century.

To keep grounded in order to get the design knocked out, you have to pay attention to the details. Make sure all the pieces fit together properly. This is a tall task for Mr Big Picture.

Years ago I stumbled across a quote that has helped me keep my focus: “God is in the details.” I don’t remember where I first heard it. Paul Rand? I’ve seen it attributed to Mies van der Rohe, but I am pretty certain he ripped it off from someone else.

I’m not 100% sure how it has helped me. By focusing on the details, do I hope to get closer to God or to catch a glimpse of Him? As a Catholic, do I guilt myself into working the details?

Either way I do believe in the details. The slant at the end of the bowl of a lowercase Arial “e” drives me berserk. Someone had the audacity to defile the beautiful, geometrical elegance of Helvetica in such a barbaric manner.

But I digress…

It might not seem important or barely worth the bother, but these sorts of details are what separate you from the rest of the pack.

It can be frustrating because 99% of the population out there will not see those details, even when you point them out. Bu they’re not invisible, they’re just hidden in plain sight.

But those details are what makes you a Designer. Makes your work special.