Crit on the Wall


I think it’s easy for designer’s to take for granted the informal crits that they can have with their fellow workmates if you’re in a studio. But if you’re a designer that works alone or in a company where you’re the only creative one – where do you go to bounce ideas off with other designers? I received an interesting e-mail recently asking me if I knew of any web sites that offer crits because they work alone.

Personally I don’t know of any sites that do that, but if you do know of any – please post the urls. However I’m also thinking that if there isn’t anything like that, would you be interested in participating? Whether you are looking to get feedback or if you’re willing to share you’re experience with others. I don’t see this so much as a public site, but more about matching people up to share the drive to get better. But maybe there’s a better idea out there too. If you’re up to it, send me an e-mail or post a comment…

magCulture Blog

magCulture Blog

When it comes to publishing, the only thing I luv more than books is magazines and newspapers. Recently I was happy to discover magCulture, a blog about magazines and yes, newspapers. Be sure to check it out – you’ll discover something new. For instance on a recent trip to NYC, the editor of the blog (Jeremy Leslie) talks about some of the magazine related things he saw – like Visionaire. I didn’t even know such a place existed…

Visit magCulture at

Learning to Spectacle

Architecture and Books: Spectacle

Tonight’s design lecture was sponsored by the Architectural League and the Municipal Art Society. I came into the talk tonight without knowing much about the new book Spectacle by David Rockwell with Bruce Mau. Sometimes a little ignorance goes a long way. No preconceived ideas nor expectations. Just a guy sitting in on the conversation.

The night started off with David talking about the influences of growing up in both New Jersey, going to theater and then moving to Mexico at a young age. Reflecting on not how things looked, but what they felt helped influence some of the theories behind the book. He then moved on to defining what the working meaning of “Spectacle” means for the book. The breakdown for the what they are included Big, Bold, Brief and the what they do contained Connect, Transform and Immerse. With each of those headings he broke into simple examples that were in the book. A short two minute movie of the examples followed.

The discussion followed with Chee asking if the book’s premise was an oxymoron. Design brings order to chaos, yet under the subject headings that are Spectacle it seemed as though it was about creating chaos. The quick response was that it was more about creating opportunities, planning for spontaneity. Bruce followed that up by talking about the culture of no, regardless of the emotional effect. As opposed to cutting things down, think about the possibility. Emotional connections become real experiences.

What was really interesting was what was written on the cover of the book. Spectacle, David Rockwell with Bruce Mau. I’ve never seen a designer of the book placed in the same sentence as the author. I asked them about the line afterwards. Was it conscious or did it just happen? With some laughter it seemed like they had spent a lot of time with exactly how that was going to be expressed. David then went on to say that “it was the right thing to do”. During the discussion Chee asked Bruce about how he worked to place 3 Dimensional experiences into a book. For him it was about a cinematical experience – a sequence, flavour of expressions.

As for the overall talk tonight, the three of them shot out a lot of good sound bytes. Enough that I was curious about the book itself. With a bit of salesmanship it was mentioned that the first run of the book was sold out and that they were lucky to have enough for sale tonight. I’m not sure if I totally believed it, but it sure made people pick up the book quickly.

Me at the World Graphic Design Foosball Championship 2006 (WGDFC)

Me at the World Graphic Design  Foosball Championship 2006 (WGDFC)

WGDFC 2006 was a great way to end a busy week. Foosball, beer, designers and some friendly competition. Organized by the office of paul sahre and the studios of karlssonwilker inc., it was a great venue and they ran it pretty smoothly considering how many people were there. Lillian Coryn and myself did our best to represent Renegade. In the end we had two loses and one win. With a little practice we’ll score a lot more goals next year.

Some of the things that I overheard walking around included “are you in line?”, “is that how long the line is?”, “I think the bathroom is broken!”, “no, the bathroom is fine”, and trash talking about typography “hey man, what’s your favourite typeface!”. Looking at the uniforms or lack there of was also a great time passer. In my opinion Princeton Architectural Press won the award for most innovative use of sign stickers that you could probably buy at Home Depot. Big type was popular too, one guy had a big letter “A” in tennis ball material on his shirt, while another team who I’m guessing were from Los Angeles b/c one guy had a giant “L” and the other had a giant “A” which looked pretty cool when they were standing beside each other. There were track suits, people wearing shorts, pink shirts, striped shirts, and one astronaut uniform worn by no other than Felix Sockwell. Lillian and I had a couple cool ideas, but we just ran out of time…

Whenever I go to something like this, I never know how the vibe is going to be. By the end of the night usually everyone is pretty relaxed and having a good time. For the most part that was the case, I met some people that I knew through e-mail and a couple others through reputations. But in a two floor foosball tournament, your bound not to run into everyone you know or want to meet. Till next year.

I’ve placed all my flickr photos from that night at

D&AD Visit to Renegade

D&AD Visit to Renegade

It’s really amazing how quick things can happen in NYC. On Tuesday I went to an event that the D&AD were putting on for the first time in North America. Afterwards I talked with Laura Woodroffe who helped organize the event. During that conversation I thought it would be cool for D&AD to come visit Renegade (where I work) to talk about the organization. Two days later D&AD was in the studio. Laura brought two others, Ruth Metcalf and Rebecca Rollin both from D&AD. They showed us their Black Pencil reel and the 2006 Yellow pencil awards reel. They also talked about the three parts that make up the organization: Excellence, Education and Enterprise. This week long tour was one of the first of it’s kind in North America for D&AD. By the sounds of it, they will be making an annual event that possibly would be their awards exhibit and Professional Development sessions – hopefully starting in NYC. I know it was a great experience for all of us at Renegade and we thank Laura, Ruth and Rebecca for coming to share their passion for D&AD. For more info on D&AD check out their site at

Back in the day with the GDC

Back in the day with the GDC

Last night I stepped down from my National VP of Communication role with the GDC (Society of Graphic Designers of Canada). I don’t want to make a big deal of things as there are a lot of potential designers in Canada that still have a role to shape the Society for the better. However I was elected to the national board four years too early. Each local chapter in Canada has such a strong roster of leadership that I would have loved the chance to work with them once they move on to National. However like I mentioned my chance came too soon. The GDC is at a critical time for sustainability and I felt that I couldn’t accomplish what I wanted to see for that to happen. It is so sad that that the older generation is happy to leave things as they are and hope that things “just” get better.

Through a private e-mail I was asked this deceptively simple question. “What has your experience with GDC been like?” My response “As for my experience with the GDC, it’s not an easy answer. I’ve been involved since I was a student. First as a student rep, Chapter VP of Education, Chapter President and for a short period National VP of Communications. If I hadn’t been involved I’m pretty sure I wouldn’t have gotten this far, so how could that be a bad thing? However there were a lot of hard times with putting up with stuff that I probably wouldn’t have time for now. But I had goals of things that I wanted to accomplish which made the road a lot easier. I also met so many amazing people and had the chance to learn from them that I could never turn my back on a shared value system.”

However I do feel at the current time that the National GDC has a serious technological, strategic and philosophical disconnect with the potential of design. Or maybe it’s just me. Anyways, like I said the National board in four years will be stacked with the current leaders at the local chapters that will bring the GDC the legacy it deserves. As for my next steps, it’s not like I can quite being a part of a design community. I’m starting with the AIGA mentorship program where I’ll get the chance to befriend someone that has a lot ahead of them. Aside from that maybe it’s time to start something new with likeminded people.

D&AD Print & Editorial Forum in NYC

D&AD Print & Editorial Forum in NYC

Left to Right: Chris Dixon – Art Director, New York Magazine NY, Peter Buchanan-Smith – Creative Director, Paper Magazine NY, Chair – Jeremy Leslie – Group Creative Director, John Brown UK, Josh Liberson – Partner, Helicopter NY, and Suzanne Sykes – Art Director, Grazia Magazine UK

D&AD Print & Editorial Forum in NYC

Considering the level of speakers and their reputations in the magazine world, I was pleasantly surprised at how intimate the D&AD event was. The 50 (rough guesstimate) people that attended were dressed in quite a sophisticated British kind of way. But it was also relaxed too, and I while I was there by myself I only felt slightly like a loaner, but I digress.

Each designer had ten minutes to present their work. What was really interesting is that each of the four speakers presented in their own unique way. Peter Buchanan-Smith read from a set of prepared sheets of paper about his story of coming to NYC. Josh Liberson spoke to the audience somewhat ad-lib in more of a conversational way about some of the magazines Helicopter has redesigned. Suzanne Sykes got off the podium and talked about her weekly magazine Grazia. Chris Dixon was more commenting to each of his slides from New York magazine. Each person did a really effective job of presenting who they are and what it was that they were about.

Jeremy Leslie moderated the discussion afterwards. There were the inevitable NY vs London questions which I thought was slightly ironic considering two of the designers on the panel were from Canada. When the microphone was turned to the audience to participate, it took a couple ice breaker questions before the audience really felt comfortable asking questions to the four really talented designers. Usually I always have a couple questions, but I really didn’t think there was much that someone on the panel didn’t touch upon. I’m not working in the magazine industry, but I love buying magazines. Beautiful typography, stunning images and great content make my days go a bit better. And each of the four designers presented work like that, so what else did I really need?

After the event I had the chance to talk with one of the D&AD people. Not knowing ahead of time, but this event was D&AD’s first talk in North America. Laura Woodroffe mentioned to me that a lot of entries for their awards programme come from North America so D&AD felt it was time to make a presence, and to get out the word that D&AD is more then just about the awards. One such thing is professional development which is something that I’m hoping to take more advantage of myself.

National Design Awards Winners Panel Notes

National Design Awards Winners Panel

Taking advantage of the fact that I finally live in NYC, I went to the National Design Awards Winners Panel. I really enjoyed the talk, though at times I wondered if the entire audience did. They filmed the whole event and the online video should show up soon. But until it goes live, here’s some of my notes.

· Design for somebody you already know

· Design is a political act

· Nature to culture

· What is the difference between style and vision

· I don’t get called up by accident

· A project is what you make of it

· Art is not above life – it was a fuck you piece (art)

· Approachability

· Form follows finance

· The problem needs to be addressed

· Democracy: lowest common dominator or the best…

Jeffrey Zeldman talk w/ AIGA NY

Jeffrey Zeldman talk w/ AIGA NY

Before design talks I like to ask myself a number of questions so I can be a more active listener. Naturally the questions change depending on who’s talking and what their subject matter is. With Jeffrey Zeldman, I know him as one of the leaders in “web standards”. He has a well respected name in a diverse field, so I was interested in what he had to say. The title of his talk was Selling Design, so web standards wasn’t going to be priority number one of the night. Not such a bad thing considering the AIGA organized the event. So what was I looking to get out of the talk – I wanted to learn something I didn’t know, find out his design process, learn about what makes him different.

Something I didn’t know was that he started off in an ad agency before going into the web. And like most others when the web was in it’s early commercial side, those that created sites didn’t have a lot of experience. What they did have was an understanding of the brands they were working on. In one example, his knowledge of Batman helped convince the client that he should design the site. He knew what would diminish the image of Batman and what wouldn’t.

Is it simple enough to create great work only if the client is great? Perhaps not so true – VW wasn’t apparently nit the easiest client to deal with during the glory DDB days. Zeldman concluded that the great ads that got created was that the agency never stopped working on the same job. If you always do your best, even after three or four sets you will still come up with great stuff.

Respect your clients, simple enough – it’s a two way street. But you also have to be able to smell trouble. If you’re getting a lot of paperwork before the project starts, that may indicate a lack of focus. If the problem is hidden in all the early documentation that could indicate other problem issues that could pop up later on.

Zeldman also talked about the importance of being calm and methodical. You need to be able to explain your creativity and research in a clear manner – hence your process. This is helped along with having a relationship with the client before you start showing the design. It’s also important to keep reminding the client where you are in the scope of things, what has already been agreed and what’s going to be achieved.

Along with being able smell trouble, you need to be able to translate what the client is trying to say. As he talked about this, it seemed like I had heard a similar thing at another talk in Edmonton. The point being that you need to understand and interpret what they client is saying.

Everybody understands design today, or at least everyone reacts to design emotionally. When talking about your work to the client, convey the meaning as opposed to the raw technical things that are obvious in front of their eyes.

And you also need to be able to respond to criticism. What is it that they don’t like, and why. He used some examples from Dan Brown – push back, look into it, get agreement. Both sides need to feel as if they’ve gained something from it.

The overall talk was a good refresher on a business that happens to be in design. There wasn’t any shocking new pieces of info, but it didn’t need to be like that either. He related to the audience and in turn the crowd gave their full attention.

In a bit of gossip – the AIGA is getting a new website – probably in December.

Good Read?

I’m not a huge fan of design magazines, but I do have to say that it was nice to see the image from 37 Signals this morning. While I haven’t bought this issue of How Magazine yet, I will once it comes out. I’m looking forward to reading about design + business working hand in hand in a practical way. They’ve also created some great software and published a pretty influential pdf. To say that they’ve got a lot of “stuff” going for them is an understatement.

Looking Down: how the volume/channel rockers moved up

Oldtivouse Newtivouse

After years about hearing about TiVo in Canada where the cable monopoly kept the recording device out, it’s nice to finally have the capability to start recording shows now that I’m living in NYC. I don’t have a TiVo but a HD package from Time Warner. I could go on and on about the poor user interface that has (and probably will at a future date), but today the review is all about remotes and how TiVo recently updated theirs. Over at the PVR Blog, there’s a review of what an adjustment to the location of volume/channel rockers. This person knows TiVo’s, they’ve even interviewed the head of user experience at TiVo. The biggest issue it seems with the new design is that the hand is having a hard time finding the buttons without looking down. You can read the full reviews and comments that both praise and negate the new design at

Check out Limited Language

Disjointed dog, originally uploaded by Michael™.

“Beautiful as the chance encounter, on an operating table, of a sewing machine and an umbrella.”
Comte de Lautreamont, Songs of Maldoror (1869)

Read the full essay of Visual communication in 0.4 seconds at Limited Language

Why Design?

Every once is a while I’ll go over why I design, and how I work to accomplish that. Last night I asked my self what e x a c t l y is my process for design and this is what made sense to me…

The reason why I have a passion for design is that it gives me the chance to create better interactions through thinking and execution. My process is a mix of rational steps and practical applications. Looking at what needs to be accomplished I’ll ask what the end goal is and why and work backwards. Through a lot of questions a number of options open up. Through visualization of those answers from the questions, ideas and testing – a solution materializes. There’s more testing, putting it up to see what sticks and moving on to tweak it and see it live. The beauty and curse of the web is that nothing ever ends, but just grows and evolves over time, so it’s important to get feedback on what’s working and why some things aren’t so they can be changed when appropriate.

Designism additions

“The biggest disconnects between the materials we put out that worked and those that were proposed had to do with tone and style. What worked best were materials that were (a) non-inflammatory and sober, and (b) highly informative without being overly dense. Clarity and factuality were far more important than drama.

Citizens’ groups and causes have, as their first challenge, to establish credibility — especially in a rural area. Pungeant imagery and tough-talking text only works once that legitimacy has been established, if ever. Ease of use/legibility, and a lack of “trickiness,” are also important when distributing graphics in a community that is not overly design-savvy.”

From sampratt HERE

Designism Tonight

Designism Button

Two days, two design talks. Last night was Ellen Lupton, tonight was Designism with Tony Hendra, George Lois, Jessica Helfand, James Victore, Milton Glaser, Kurt Andersen, Brian Collins and Steve Heller.

Here’s a couple impressions from those that spoke in-depth tonight.

George Lois: Activist first, designer second

Jessica Helfand: Ask why, apply answer and do it bigger

James Victore: Cause you need to

Kurt Andersen: Take it beyond

Milton Glaser: Work around people’s immunity

and though Karl Rove was not there: Understand people’s responses

Good Design

ten, one & four

Good design is innovative.
Good design makes a product useful.
Good design is aesthetic.
Good design helps us to understand a product.
Good design is unobtrusive.
Good design is honest.
Good design is durable.
Good design is consequent to the last detail.
Good design is concerned with the environment.
Good design is as little design as possible.
Back to purity, back to simplicity.

via Dieter Rams / Design Museum Collection via Dieter Rams: “Less, but better.”

laptop, paper and plasma

laptop, paper and plasma

While the laptop wifi feature is nothing new, I think the combination of tv + laptop or newspaper + laptop, or even book + laptop with internet access are going to be more like brothers than distant cousins. Over the last couple of months I’ve been noticing that I really can’t enjoy a newspaper or tv show w/ out access to a computer.

Whether it’s b/c I want to look something up, jot a note down, or look something up b/c of a question that was triggered from a show – in any case it’s a new mode of behavior that I wasn’t reacting to a year ago. I think as more people notice this move to a brother/brother media play happen, websites will evolve in their interface. What that is exactly, I’m not too sure.

I did spend about ten minutes watching the MTV’s MVA’s last week (I switched it off once the Black Eye Peas won). During that ten minutes I tried to log in to their behind the scenes web cast. My computer has the most up to date downloads and I still couldn’t get the thing to work. So obviously if the tv + laptop/web thing is to really work, perhaps they should test it out. I’m sure MTV did, but it still needs some tweaking obviously. Football seems to do a good job too about keeping the live game in sync with their online content. What I haven’t needed to do, but think will pop up is how people search for the archive content. Relying on google is one way, but the interface should really allow for more than a couple ways to search. Date and subject matter are but only two ways.

BusinessWeek – Innovation of the Week Podcast

BusinessWeek - Innovation of the Week Podcast

One of the biggest failures of podcasting in iTunes is the unlinkability of the shows. Maybe you know a way to send people individual links of individual podcasts, but I don’t. In my mind this has really slowed down the word of mouth excitement that people have for their fav. shows.

Last week I came across a really smart and intelligent group of podcasts from BusinessWeek on innovation. There’s been some well deserved controversy on Design Observer about Business Week trying to get design firms to redesign their innovation section for free. While that should not be forgiven, the podcasts are a great asset for anyone interested in design.

There is no set time limit for a show, they run between eight to twenty eight minutes and the editors go about design in a less personality driven way. It’s more about the why and how as opposed to the who. The three editors; Jesse Scanlon, Reena Jana and Andrew Blum have a great skill for talking clearly and are just interesting to listen to. From time to time there’s guest editors as such Brian Collins interviewed Deborah Adler for Target.

Since I can’t directly send you a link to the shows, in iTunes I would recommend you going to the podcast search and typing in “BusinessWeek – Innovation”. I’ve probably gone through half of the shows and I’ve yet to be disappointed.

listen or do?

“You can listen or you can do, and if more people can do we’ll always be free” overheard by John Maeda with five minutes remaining on Design Matters with Debbie Millman. Her interview with John was the last guest on Debbie’s season three. The most memorable interviews for me in season three for very different reasons were Art Chantry, Jessica Helfand and William Drenttel, and Paola Antonelli. I didn’t know any of those people but just the personalities through their work and writing. With Art, I expected him to be well spoken (which he was), but I was pleasantly surprised with his candor and for me was the top interview of the season. I’ll contrast that with the Jessica and William interview. It was so bizarre to me I had to hear it three times before I could get a grip on it, and I’m still not sure if I do. The first time the whole interview seemed tight and awkward. The second time I listened to it, it inspired me to do some questioning of my own self. The third time, I got the impression that between Jessica, William and Debbie – it seemed like no one was listening to each other but themselves. With Paola, I’m slightly against seeing design in galleries or museums so I didn’t really have any expectation either negative or positive with her. After that interview I would love to invite Paola over and make her a coffee or espresso and invite her talk and talk and talk about whatever is on her mind. She just seemed like a well-considered person.

Brand Attributes

Today is my last day in the D3 team at NAIT as I head out to NYC on Tuesday. One of the smaller things that I noticed during my time at NAIT was how people interacted on one particular stairwell. The west side of the college is connected to the newer HP Centre with a long walking platform. To get to this platform you have to walk up a single person staircase. What’s funny is that this is one of the highest traffic areas in the college. When the staircase was originally built, it was never intended for the connection with a newer building and hence the small width. What surprised me the most was how people were willing to share this staircase. One group of people will go up while a group will be waiting to go down. You would never think that this system would really work, but it does. I think it speaks to the culture at NAIT. People go to NAIT so they can get a better job, but while they’re there people are also in a support mode. It’s one of those brand things that NAIT will hopefully remember as the do their “reBrand”.

The Question

The Question

It had to happen sooner or later, that just dumping a link on my blog and mentioning “it’s interesting” wouldn’t be enough. Now that I’m in the final countdown (for instance this is the last Tuesday that I’ll be working in Edmonton) in moving to NYC, I’m just about ready to move on with my blog. It started as an experiment, not really sure what to expect. Last Christmas I had a lot of time to think of where I wanted to take things, both with my career and my blog. I felt that it was time to move on from Blogger and perhaps with the name design*notes. I changed blogging platforms to WordPress and if you noticed the url of this blog it doesn’t say design*notes but sidewalkpressed. It was one of those small reminders of where I wanted to get to. When I finally moved to NYC the name of my blog would change.

I walk a lot, it’s one of those things that give me a chance to clear my mind and just think. During one of my long walks over Christmas time I wanted to come up with a name for my blog that didn’t have the word design in it, and something that would allow me to grow outside of publishing digitally. When you have the means and skills to communicate in an infinite number of ways, why should you hold yourself back? I liked the word “press”, but it wasn’t enough, I didn’t want it to be locked down in the world of publishing. As I bounced a lot of ideas around, I decided to keep things simple. Like I mentioned I walk, and that’s usually on a sidewalk – nothing too deep, but it gives things a bit of context. In the end I felt sidewalkpressed put a lot of the elements that mean something to me through the expression of ideas. In a long winded manner, design*notes the name is coming to an end. As a heads up I will be putting it to bed once I start walking in NYC. This blog will be known as sidewalkpressed in less than ten days.

The content isn’t going to change that much. I’m not a big fan of reading stuff from people when it gives tips about rules on designing or web interaction or whatever. I’m not going to go “I’m the expert and this is the way it should be” type of attitude. But I will try to put more time into writing about thoughtful experiences that were memorable to me. As my philosophy goes “see to think, think to design, and design to live” it won’t be like I’m not talking about design, but the life that makes up design.

On a side note I have to share one of the funnier e-mails I got from Vancouver about me moving to NYC. I’ve paraphrased a bit, and taken out some stuff, but you’ll get the idea. All I can say is that some people sure know how to write…


That’s fantastic. You talented little fucker. I’m jealous. Take me with you!!!

No, seriously. I hate you. I’m going to go kill a kitten in an evil ritual to put a design voodoo curse on you. The moment you arrive in NYC you’ll get creative block until you invite me there. You’re screwed. 🙂

Alright, alright, alright…congratulations. You’re a talent mofo and deserve a break like this…

Where have I been?

Sorry for the unuusal quietness of this blog, but hey I’m moving to NYC in a week and there’s a lot of things to get done. One thing that I’ve been to meaning to mention is the redesign of All This Chittah Chittah blog by Steve Portigal. Clean and easy to read, there’s something there that that will make you question your daily surroundings.

I’m relocating to NYC!

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I’m relocating to NYC!, originally uploaded by Michael Surtees.

Yes, it’s true – I’m moving to New York to work at Renegade Marketing. More to come as I can collect my thoughts…

More Video Clips

By now you’ve probably read and watched the vido clips from TED. But did you know that GEL (Good Experience Live) has posted clips of a lot of their presenters at If you don’t have the DVD, this is a good substitute to check out before signing up for the conference next year. Some of my fav. clips are from Theo Jansen, Laurie Rosenwald, Ross Kauffman and Charlie Todd. I was also introduced to the book The Island at the Center of the World by Russell Shorto through this conference – really good book. If you’re interested in the history of NYC, this is a must.

Collage a Day

Here’s a great way to keep you mind fresh and creative. Create a collage a day. Randel Plowman has and the work is pretty nice. Ever the entrepreneur, he sells them to. At $25 they’re a bargain. Check out his stuff at

via Chris Glass

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