God is in the Details

No, I am not linking to a religious piece. I have no interest in such things.

This article by Buzz Usborne—UX Director at Campaign Monitor and founder of Prevue—is all about celebrating the importance of obsession over the tiniest details in one's work.

“God is in the details.”

It applied to Ludwig Mies van der Rohe when he was designing buildings in the mid 1900’s, and it remains true in product design today. Though I don’t profess to know much about architecture, another likely commonality with product design is that it’s those same details that are the easiest to forget. But it’s those little things, the tiny minutia of detail, that ultimately make beautiful products, and beautiful houses.

[...] I’m not talking about obvious design things; like colours, drop-shadows or placement. Instead I’m referring to something harder to define; experience and subconscious patterns that help the user feel more at-ease with an interaction. That detail might come in the form of a change in cursor, a “down” style for a button, or a helpful animation.

He focuses on UX design mostly of course, but a careful eye will reveal philosophies that can apply to other kinds of creative work.

* * *

I would be remiss here if I did not also remind readers about my friend Shawn Blanc's wonderful ebook + audiobook + interview bundle, Delight is in the Details. Get this book and really absorb its lessons—your work will be better for it.

Structure

John McPhee, writing for The New Yorker about the evolution of his approach to (and preoccupation with) writing structure over the years:

“In some twenty months, I had submitted half a dozen pieces, short and long, and the editor, William Shawn, had bought them all. You would think that by then I would have developed some confidence in writing a new story, but I hadn’t, and never would. To lack confidence at the outset seems rational to me. It doesn’t matter that something you’ve done before worked out well. Your last piece is never going to write your next one for you. Square 1 does not become Square 2, just Square 1 squared and cubed.”

I enjoyed this little nugget about knowing where to end a piece:

“Look back upstream. If you have come to your planned ending and it doesn’t seem to be working, run your eye up the page and the page before that. You may see that your best ending is somewhere in there, that you were finished before you thought you were.”

"We Both Had a Head Start"

Heather B. Armstrong discusses the true benefit of being a stay-at-home parent, and the requisite privilege that allows such a situation to come about:

“I like babies, they smell good and are very cute, but I very much prefer what it feels like as a parent to witness my child learning. Not learning how to sit up or hold a spoon or how to say a word. Those are all wonderful developments, of course, but being in the room as my child learns about being human is beyond any honor I could achieve in my life.

[...]

I don’t think this scenario is easily replicable. I am more than certain that there are legions of kids out there who have talent that could crush steel if only it had the chance to be fostered, if a parent could take 40 minutes of their afternoon and devote it to walking around a room.”

Amen. I feel so lucky that I've been around for nearly all of my son's social development. I don't ever want to take this privilege for granted, and—like Heather and her daughter—I want him to someday understand how lucky he was to have both parents at home all the time.

What Happens When You Unfollow Everyone on the Internet

Helena Price:

“What if we made more active decisions about how we spent our Internet time? If we weren’t bogged down maintaining our inboxes and social networks, who would we set out to meet or get to know better? If we weren’t so busy clicking links or browsing photos in our feeds, what would we choose to study or learn more about? If we spent these hours differently, what would happen?

I was curious to find out for myself.

So, one night while I was sitting in bed, I un-followed everyone on the Internet.”

The results of her experiment are fascinating, particularly that the action of checking her various feeds was so ingrained into muscle memory that she continued doing it for a while even though nothing was there to check anymore.

I feel that same muscle memory myself all the time. One thing that has helped some is cutting down on my Twitter and RSS feeds quite a bit in recent months. I don't know if I'm willing to unfollow everything just yet, but I do believe there is something to be said for carefully cultivating (and judiciously pruning) one's online experience.

One Month with the Hobonichi Techo

Jenny Mason of The Finer Point writes of her experience journaling with the 2015 Hobonichi planner thus far:

“Every day when you turn over a new leaf of paper you get this great used look. The ink on the page almost creates this rippling effect and when you have gone through a few pages the Hobo takes on a worn feel. I really like this, it feels like I have recorded something worthwhile and interesting. At the end of the year this book is going to look amazing.”

Working for the Man Should Be a Last Resort

David Cain:

“According to my critics, even if you find your standard weekday boring, painful or unfulfilling, you ought to embrace it, simply because a third-world coal miner would kill for your benefits package. When so many have so little, attempting to escape a situation in which you can reliably feed yourself and fund a retirement could only be an act of the utmost ingratitude.

A minority of us believe the opposite is true — that escaping from an unfulfilling mainstream lifestyle isn’t a moral failing, but rather a moral imperative. It’s precisely because we have all the necessary freedoms at our fingertips (and because others don’t) that spending our lives in the stable isn’t just foolish, but wrong. To remain, voluntarily, in a life where your talents are wasted and your weekdays are obstacles is to be humble in all the wrong ways.”

I discovered this article and its author thanks to my friend Álvaro Serrano, and it resonated with me in so many ways.

When I was fired from my awful corporate stooge job, the temptation at the time to rush out and apply for other full-time desk jobs was enormous. There was a mortgage to think about and a family to support, not to mention our dreams of traveling the world together.

Thankfully I had enough support from friends and my wife, who all encouraged me to try making this writing gig work out. And here I am now, more than a year later, still putting words on the internet.

Does it make me a ton of money, you ask? Hahaha...no. That's cute. You're cute.

But! That's a tradeoff I'm perfectly willing to make, given the benefits:

  • I get to do work I actually care about, and collaborate with a group of people I respect and admire.
  • I get to spend every single day with my wife and son. Whenever I'm not writing and she's not teaching dance class we're free, as a family, to do things that used to be reserved for evenings and weekends—visiting the library, zoo, or science museum; playing at the park; going for walks or bike rides; grabbing lunch and/or coffee together; I could go on.

    I often think about how much of my son's childhood I would have missed thus far, how many experiences we wouldn't have shared as a family, had I continued doing the "normal" 9-5 job thing. It's a constant reminder that I never want to go back to that life, even if it meant making more money.

  • Despite our relatively low income, we still manage to travel two or three times a year (and more than that, if you count my wife's dance school's trips to competitions in other states). We usually even manage to squeeze in a Disney trip once a year, whether it's to one of the parks or a cruise ship. It takes a lot of careful budgeting and planning to pull off, but it's so worth it.

  • I can wear pajamas all day if I want. I might be wearing some as I type this. You'll never know.
  • Last but not least, I no longer have to wake up early every morning to commute to a job I hate.

So yeah, I agree with Mr. Cain up there: escaping the unfulfilling mainstream lifestyle (even if it wasn't of my own accord) was one of the best things that ever happened to me.

The Tom Bihn Parental Unit Review

Tom Bihn Parental Unit Diaper Bag

Erin Brooks wrote a great review of the new Tom Bihn Parental Unit diaper bag for Tools & Toys. It seems like only yesterday, rather than over three years ago, that my wife and I searched seemingly endlessly for the "perfect" diaper bag bef0re finally settling on the Diaper Dude bag. It wasn't a bad bag at all, but I still kinda wish the Parental Unit had been around at the time.

* * *

If you enjoy Erin's review, be sure to check out the first post on her brand-new blog, wherein she discusses her iPhone photo-editing process.

What Doesn't Seem Like Work?

Paul Graham:

“If something that seems like work to other people doesn’t seem like work to you, that’s something you’re well suited for. […]

The stranger your tastes seem to other people, the stronger evidence they probably are of what you should do.”

I totally agree, though I didn't realize this for myself until relatively recently. I hated writing and editing as a kid, only to discover how enjoyable they were after dropping out of college. Now I'm lucky enough to have a paid writing gig, and I'm tossing around the idea of starting a small editing business on the side.1


  1. High school me would have shuddered at the thought; 2015 me thinks it sounds fun. Already got the name and domain picked out too. 

Advice is Not Criticism

Seth Godin:

“It's quite natural to be defensive in the face of criticism. After all, the critic is often someone with an agenda that's different from yours.

But advice, solicited advice from a well-meaning and insightful expert? If you confuse that with criticism, you'll leave a lot of wisdom on the table.”

Sean McCabe on Dealing with Negative Feedback

In a funny bit of timing, yesterday Sean McCabe posted episode #50 of seanwes tv, giving advice on handling negative feedback.

He makes a good point about the fact that anyone with any measure of success, no matter how positive their message, is going to have haters. There's simply no getting around it. Thus, it's important to keep this in mind:

“It's not a reflection on you, it's just a reflection on them.”

Exactly the sort of attitude I want to internalize in 2015. Maybe I should make it my mantra.