Inertia

Momentum is a powerful thing. At the end of last year, I was publishing 5-7 days a week. Then the holidays came and I decided to start publishing less. And very quickly, publishing less became barely publishing at all.

It all comes down to inertia.

When you get in the habit of doing something, it seems almost effortless to keep it going. And when you stop something, it seems to take an act of God to get going again. And this isn't just about writing... Exercise and eating right are the same way, too.

I'm trying to get back into the habit of writing more — and for that matter exercising and eating right. January has been tough, but it's time now to figure out how to get going again. I've got to overcome the initial resistance and get some momentum going.

Rethinking my publishing schedule

I’ve been rethinking my publishing schedule for the past couple weeks.

Here on Sketchbook B, my plan is to publish a longer piece once a week on Tuesdays and then supplement with shorter links and thoughts throughout the week. I’m also going to continue to post my Creative Cloud quick tips on Wednesdays.

I’m going to relaunch Wanted in Columbia as something else entirely. I’ve got a concept and a new name and I’m looking forward to rolling it out. I’ll continue to post on Mondays. The new site will go live in February.

With Wanted in Columbia finding a new home, and based on some of my previous observations, I’m phasing out the “off-topic” section. Everything is going to roll into the “thoughts” section.

On weekends, I’ll post a recap of everything I’ve written over the previous week. I started this at the end of last year and I’m going to play with a slightly different format going into 2016.

Beyond the publishing schedule, I’ve got a bunch of projects for 2016 that I’m working on. I spent the end of last year developing a plan for Sketchbook B and I’m excited about how some of the new projects are starting to come together.

I'm going to be smarter about how I use social media to promote the site(s). Probably expanding my use of Buffer and reconfiguring some of my workflows. For me, this is one of the hardest things to figure out: the balance between promoting and annoying. But if I'm going to put the time into producing a bunch of content, I need to put as much time into figuring out how to promote it.

Linked: Simplify!

Most people are surprised that I actually like math. I didn't necessarily enjoy it in high school, but I'm completely fascinated by it now. And I really wish I paid more attention. People assume that as a designer, I don't need to do math. But that's not true at all. I use geometry and algebra all the time. I occasionally even need to break out a spreadsheet that – gasp – has some formulas. 

One of my favorite blogs is Math with Bad Drawings. I love how Ben simplifies really complex concepts into simple drawings. Today's post – Simplify! – is wonderful. And if you like math, you should check it out.

Stealing time

2015 was a long year for me. Literally. My 2015 was three hours longer than 2014 because I rang in the new year on the West Coast. For me, 2015 was 365 days and 3 hours long.

But here’s the thing with stealing time. You don’t get extra time, you have to steal it from somewhere. My 2016 will be three hours shorter* — unless I celebrate the new year in a different time zone again. 

I have lots of projects on my plate at any given time. Add to that my family, my job, organizations, teaching and more. (And oh yeah, I start grad school this week.) I’m always stealing time from somewhere.

I’ve been bad about stealing time from sleep. I tend to stay up late and get a lot done after the kids go to bed. But I need to dial that back and get to bed a little earlier each night. I’m aiming for an extra hour of sleep a night, which doesn’t sound like much until you realize that’s 7 hours a week… roughly 15 days over the course of a year. So I’ve got to make some adjustments.

Right now, my plan is to be more efficient and make the most of the time I have. Maybe I’ll be more effective working with more sleep. But efficiency will only get me part of the way. 

After that, it’s about prioritizing my projects and commitments. We’ll see what projects make the cut and which ones go on the back burner.


* Actually, 2016 will be longer than 2015 because it’s a leap year.

Linked: Goulet Pens matches Pantone's Colors of the Year

Last month, I posted a note about Pantone and fountain pen inks. Specifically, one of my thoughts was that someone could market special edition "Color of the Year" inks and pens.

Well, Goulet Pens has a blog post that lists inks and pens that match up nicely with Pantone's Colors of the Year: Rose Quartz and Serenity. A nice post, beautifully photographed. 

My best InDesign tips from 2015

I restarted my Wednesday Adobe Quick Tip a few months ago, but I figured I’d highlight my favorite tips from the last year to make you a more efficient Creative Cloud user. Although I post tips from other Adobe apps, most of them — including my favorite four below — are for InDesign:

That one weird little InDesign printing trick. I had no idea how easy it was to print a single spread in InDesign.

Hidden alignment. For some reason, the most helpful InDesign alignment options are hidden on the Alignment palette. 

Moving InDesign pages to different documents. The easiest way to combine pages from different documents.

Paragraph shading. A new feature in InDesign CC 2015 makes paragraph shading really easy.

But by far, the most visited page on my site is a tip from 2009 on how to create an Instagram-like vignette effect without leaving InDesign. I’ve updated the post in 2014, but Google really loves the old post.

My plan is continue the weekly Creative Cloud quick tip into 2016. You can see all the tips from the past several years on my Creative Cloud Quick Tip page. 

My favorite posts from 2015

As 2015 come to a close, I figured I’d highlight a few of my favorite posts from the last year. Not surprisingly, many of them came from the last few months when I was writing almost daily. But a few older posts, I had forgotten about.

My favorite posts from the last year:

B.A.R.E: Bad Acronyms aRe Everywhere. Why is everyone obsessed with acronyms?

A designers guide to fountain pens. This year, I fell in love with fountain pens (and writing utensils in general). I think more designers should get into fountain pens.

You get what you test for… We are obsessed with testing, but what are we testing for?

The billboard of the internet. What are web ads good for?

Inbox Zero-ish. My philosophy for handling email. (Somedays are better than others.)

Why do we do what we do. A reflection on side projects and why we put time and energy into them. This piece was a turning point of sorts for me.

What it’s like to have three kids… Everyone wants to know what its like to have three kids. Now I have an answer for them.

Advent Resolution. I’ve spent this Advent preparing for 2016. This is the post that kicked it off...

Stars on the Beach. One of my Advent Resolution posts during my preparation for 2016. How do you balance focus and living a normal life?

Reflections on my daily posting schedule

At the end of September, I decided that I wanted to be more structured with my writing. I wasn’t posting consistently and I wanted to write more. So I decided to set up a writing schedule.

My plan was to publish 5 days a week through the end of the year and then reevaluate. And so here I am — 13 weeks and 88 posts later — and it’s time to reevaluate. Here’s what I’ve learned:

  • I loved it. I really enjoyed writing more often. I grew up writing, but as a designer and a manager, I don’t get to write much for myself any more. And honestly, I really like the deadline pressure of having a schedule.
  • Writing sparks other creative endeavors. I found that writing more often tended to spark other creative ideas. I’m now got an army of things I want to tackle in the next year, and much of it came from things I posted on the blog.
  • I need to combine my blogs. A while back, I started an “Off-Topic” blog as a place to host my non-design related rants. I figured it would be best to segment my work that might appeal to different audiences. But while it made sense at the time, it didn't work so well in practice. Some blog posts were obviously off topic, but it wasn’t always clear where a post should go. (And some weeks, I only wanted to write off topic...) I think it makes sense to merge almost everything back into the main journal. 
  • I need to find a new home for Wanted in Columbia. One of the reasons I started the “Off-Topic” blog is because I decided to fold Wanted in Columbia into Sketchbook B in hopes that I would update it more often. I am updating more often, but it needs to live on it’s own and have it’s own world. I thought about phasing it out, but I enjoy doing it too much to kill it. I may go back to Tumblr. Or Medium. And probably change the name. Look for more soon.
  • Traffic increased, a little. I wasn’t writing more frequently to drive up the number of visitors, but traffic did increase a little.
  • I’ve got to figure out how to promote with Social Media. One of the reasons traffic didn’t increase more was because I didn’t use social media very effectively. When I promoted posts, they did better. But when you are writing daily, I feel like promoting constantly is annoying your followers. I’ve got to figure out how I want to promote posts and what channels I want to use. I’m been using the free version of Buffer to organize things, but I may need to upgrade to the paid version.
  • I need to revamp the schedule. I like writing more regularly, but I need to revise the schedule. Since I’m moving Wanted in Columbia and folding the Off Topic Blog back into the main journal, I’ll need to revisit the schedule. I’m going to leave the Wednesday Quick Tip on Wednesday, though. I may scale back to 4 posts a week here on Sketchbook B.

I’m proud of my 13 week experiment. I’m going to take the next week or so during the holidays to figure out what form the schedule will take, but I’m absolutely going to continue to write with some kind of a posting schedule.

Making Quick Apply useful in InDesign

Years ago, Adobe added a “Quick Apply” feature to InDesign. I have no idea when, but it’s been awhile. 

Quick Apply opens a window with all sorts of selections in it. You activate Quick Apply by clicking on the (very prominent) lightning bolt in the command palette, or by using the keystroke Command + Return. By default, it includes all your style sheets, menu commands and more. And you can search the options… it kind of tries to be Spotlight search for InDesign.

I saw it demonstrated, checked it out and had absolutely no use for it. I never used it again.

But the other day, I accidentally activated it and started to check it out again. And it’s a little more useful than I first thought.

In the top of the bar is an arrow that lets you select what is shown in the Quick Apply window. By default, there are too many options to be helpful, but by customizing what shows up, it becomes more useful. I turned everything off except the style sheets. Now I can select some text or an object, hit Command + Return and apply a character, paragraph or object style.

(I’m not sure why you would want menu commands to come up in the Quick Apply window. Yes, you can search them, but there are so many, it’s tough to get a helpful result.)

Quick Apply might save a little bit of time, but for me, the real benefit is for users with smaller screens. Using Quick Apply, you can apply any style sheet without having a bunch of palettes open. Should reduce clutter and be a real space saver.

Every Wednesday, I post an quick tip for an Adobe app.

Color themes in Creative Cloud

Years ago, Adobe introduced Kuler, a tool for selecting colors and groups of colors. I always enjoyed playing with it, although I rarely exported the palette I created and imported it into an Adobe app.

Kuler is now Color CC and is still available as an online tool. But Color CC is incorporated throughout Creative Cloud as Adobe Color Themes:

  • InDesign: Create themes with InDesign with the Adobe Color Theme palette.
  • Photoshop: Open the palette by going to Window > Extensions > Adobe Color Theme.
  • Illustrator: You can't create new palettes, but you can access color palettes that you've saved to your cloud account. There is a link to the online tool from the Adobe Color Theme palette.
  • Capture CC: A mobile app that let's you create color palettes on the go and share them with your other CC apps. Building a color palette from a picture is actually really cool. 

Integrating Color CC throughout the ecosystem is just another way Adobe is merging their online tools, applications and cloud experiences. They are slowly adding more and more value to the subscription.

Every Wednesday, I post a quick tip on an Adobe app.

The Color Theme palette in Indesign CC 2015

The Color Theme palette in Indesign CC 2015


* The Capture CC app replaces the older Color CC app and includes more than just color features. But we'll save that for another tip.

Solving problems... in the future

Today at work, I mentioned that I had participated in a Future Problem Solving competition and, much to my shock, someone else on my team not only knew what it was, but had also participated in one as well.

When I was in junior high, we lived in Illinois and the Future Problem Solvers Bowl was an after school program where we worked with teams to examine scenarios and work through a problem solving process. We went to regional and statewide competitions where we were presented with a scenario and had to work through the process to develop a solution and then present our conclusion.

When we moved to South Carolina, there wasn’t a Future Problem Solvers Bowl in the state. But in retrospect, I still use many of the tactics that I learned every day. 

The Future Problem Solving Process is:

  1. Identify challenges
  2. Select an underlying problem
  3. Produce solution ideas
  4. Generate criteria to judge solutions
  5. Evaluate solutions with criteria
  6. Develop an action plan

It’s basically the foundation of a good design process. And in competition, you learn to apply the process quickly, under pressure, with a team and then present your findings. 

I hadn’t thought about Future Problem Solving in years, but in retrospect, I can’t imagine a better foundation for my design career.

That squiggly line when you misspell something in InDesign

By default, InDesign's spell check is manual. You go to Edit > Spelling > Check Spelling... and run the spell check on the selection or document. I had a student the other day wish that InDesign could put the little "squiggly line" underneath misspelled words like other apps do. And he was shocked to find out that InDesign already has that feature. It's called "Dynamic Spelling" and you just have to turn it on.

There are two ways to turn Dynamic Spelling on. You can activate it from the menu at Edit > Spelling > Dynamic Spelling. Or you can enable and customize Dynamic Spelling a little bit by opening the Spelling preference panel. InDesign lets you change the colors for different types of errors.

One note about the way InDesign works... You can only see the squiggly lines in the Normal view mode. If you are in Preview, Bleed, Slug or Presentation mode, the lines won't show up. This makes perfect sense, but I know lots of folks who design in Preview mode and they won't be able to see the squiggly lines.

Every Wednesday, I post a quick tip for an Adobe app.

Request: Pantone inks for Fountain Pens

Last week, Pantone released their Colors of the Year for 2016: Rose Quartz and Serenity. Pantone’s product line and army of licensing parters has expanded over the last decade. They’ve never been scared to extend their brand to another product line. And so it’s surprising to me that Pantone has never offered ink for fountain pens. 

There are all sorts of products that have licensed the Pantone brand including hotels and restaurants. They’ve expanded their brand from providing a common color reference for printers and designers to becoming a worldwide authority on color.

Considering their expertise with press inks, it would seem like a natural fit. Partner with a company like Lamy, Pilot or J. Herbin to offer a range of fountain pen inks that match the most popular Pantone colors. I personally would purchase several bottles of Pantone 202* ink to use at work. 

They could leverage the color of the year by releasing an annual limited edition ink color based on the Pantone Color of the Year. Maybe even some special limited edition pens. I would buy a Lamy Safari Limited Edition Pantone Color of the Year pen.

As a designer, the Pantone brand is well connected to my professional life. I really do think that partnering with Pantone to offer products for fountain pens would seriously increase interest in fountain pens and inks from designers. 

I don’t know enough about the economics of fountain pens and inks to know if there is enough profit margin in the industry to make it feasible. But personally, I’d love to see Pantone fountain pen ink on the market.


* Pantone 202 is the official color of the University of South Carolina – my alma mater and my employer.

Review: Nock Co. Brasstown

When I purchased my second fountain pen, I started to think about purchasing a case to hold my pens, but I wasn’t impressed with most of the options on the market. They didn’t really fit my style and needs.

Finally, I came across cases from Nock Co., co-owned by Brad Dowdy from the Pen Addict podcast. Their cases were exactly what I was looking for. I also love that Nock Co. is located a few hours down I-20 from me in Atlanta* and all of their products are manufactured in the USA. 

BRASSTOWN, closed

BRASSTOWN, closed

I was instantly drawn to the Brasstown, a durable nylon case zippered case with a fold out insert that holds six pens. (Material-wise, it reminds me of my beloved Timbuktu messenger bag.) The Brasstown looked perfect, but it seemed like overkill for my two pens so I ended up not buying anything.

Fast forward a few months and my collection of writing instruments had grown. I started looking for a case again, and this time, the Brasstown made sense.

Nock offers their cases in a selection of “colorways” — pairings of colors that span across all their products. I liked a couple of the options, but wasn’t sure which one to get. When I finally decided to order, though, all of the Brasstowns were out of stock. 

After a couple of weeks, they restocked – and this time – with a new colorway: Red/Midnight. I instantly fell in love and ordered one. 

On the Red/Midnight Brasstown, the outside of the case is a bright red with a navy blue insert. The insert is sewn into the case and unrolls to reveal six slots. Each slot holds a single fountain pen but you can fit two smaller pens into each pocket if you want to.

The stitching is gray and looks sharp, especially on the navy insert. The zipper has two sliders and seems sturdy.

Brasstown, Open

Brasstown, Open

I was pleasantly surprised by how much the Brasstown holds. As expected, it easily holds my three fountain pens, my mechanical pencils and a couple of gel pens. But you can also put other pens and accessories in the main compartment. I’ve got mechanical pencil lead, erasers and more in the bag. And there is plenty of room for more. I can’t imagine ever needing another bag.**

The Brasstown is $35 and I highly recommend one if you are looking for a larger case to tote around your precious writing instruments. I’m very happy with mine.

(If the Brasstown is too big for you, check out some of Nock Co.’s other options. The Chimneytop and Lookout are different approaches, but also look awesome.)


* Their cases are named for mountains in Georgia. Nice touch.

** If they ever release a black/neon green or garnet/black colorway, I’ll be buying the entire line.

Spaced out (correctly)

Let's say you've got some words that you want to spread out evenly across a page in InDesign. I've seen this done a bunch of different ways — and most are completely inefficient. Here's the easiest way I know to do it:

You have a list of locations (A). Here I've used names of cities in South Carolina. Type them out with one space between each word and then "justify all lines." The words will now be stretched out across the entire text box (B), evenly spaced. And as a bonus, it's easy to edit if necessary.

But what if instead of four single words, you have grouping of words. Here I've added "Mt. Pleasant" and "Myrtle Beach" to my list of South Carolina cities (C). If you simply justify them, the words all space out as expected. (D)

But you want the city names to stay together, so what do you do? Replace the normal space with a fixed width, non-breaking space and keep the word groupings together. Go to "Type > Insert White Space > Non-Breaking Space (Fixed Width)" to place the special character. If you add the fixed width space to "Mt. Pleasant" and "Myrtle Beach," InDesign will ignore the space in the middle and treat the word pairs as single words (E).

It's a simple tip, but a time saver if you ever tried to build something like this with tabs, or god forbid, separate text boxes.

Every Wednesday, I'll post an tip for an Adobe app.

Linked: Upgrade #65

Earlier today, I posted about how confused I was about what direction to take with my next mobile device.

Then on my way home, I was listening to podcasts and caught Upgrade #65: Holiday Firewall with Jason Snell and guest host Merlin Mann.* At about the 1:30:00 mark, they talk about how confusing it is to pick the right Apple product today. Good to know that others are as confused about their options as I am.


* Merlin Mann is also the creator of Inbox Zero.

Struggling with mobile options

Too many options?

Too many options?

I use desktop computers at home and at the office and I’ve been struggling to figure out what to use as a mobile solution. I have an older MacBook Pro that has become slow and somewhat unreliable. I’ve been without an iPad since I gave my first generation iPad Mini to my daughter. 

My mobile needs are significantly different than my desktop needs. I’m not looking for a mobile device to serve as my main computer. I don’t need to edit massive files in Photoshop or build complex documents in InDesign. My music and photos are in the cloud and my storage needs aren’t significant if you take those out of the picture.

Of course, most of my computer experience is with the MacOS. But iOS has made strides in the last couple versions that make it a more complete OS. New apps like Ulysses and Adobe Comp make iOS an interesting option. I really do believe that most of my mobile work can be done on either a Mac or iOS device. 

I use Ulysses for most of my writing and I’ve got the app for Mac and iPad. Byword is my go to markdown app for notes and that’s on Mac, iPad and iPhone. I can access Squarespace, Dropbox, Evernote, Wunderlust and Feedly from any device as well. I might occasionally need to present with it and that shouldn’t be a problem, either.

I don’t plan on doing much designing on the device and am not buying a Creative Cloud subscription for the computer so I don’t need to worry about InDesign or Photoshop. The one app I need a Mac for is Glyphs, but most of my type design happens on my home desktop machine so it’s not a deal breaker.

With the way Apple has their current mobile line configured, I’ve got at least six options at a range of price points for Mac or iOS devices that would meet my needs. And I’ll freely admit that I have no idea which direction I will go. As I see it, here are my options for a secondary, mobile computer:

Upgrade my current MacBook Pro. Jason Snell recently posted an article describing the process of upgrading his mother’s older MacBook Pro. Adding an SSD and upgrading the RAM would make the MacBook Pro considerably faster. And I’m wondering if a clean install would help as well. The price is a little less than $200 for making the needed changes and would give me a reasonably powerful Mac that could run everything I need it to. There are drawbacks, though. The older MacBook Pro and its charger is heavy. Believe me, I know when it is in my bag. Additionally, the battery life isn’t close to what is available with other options.

MacBook Air. My wife has an 11 inch MacBook Air and loves her laptop. It would be more than powerful enough to run everything I need and then some. The price point for the entry level MacBook Air is $899, which I think is reasonable for such a small, powerful machine. I don’t need a lot of storage space on the machine so the base model should be fine. The main drawback is that it’s one of the last, non-Retina Macs in the lineup and I’m not sure about buying a new machine that already has an out of date display.

MacBook. The MacBook is thinner and lighter than the MacBook Air. It looks awesome in Space Grey. It’s underpowered, but would be able to do the things I need it to. And it has a Retina display. So what’s not to love? The price. At $1299, you are paying a premium for its small size and Retina display. In a couple of years, the MacBook will be cheaper and more powerful. But for now, it seems a little expensive for a second machine.

MacBook Pro. A 13 inch MacBook Pro starts at $1299, so when I mention the MacBook as an option, I also need to think about the MacBook Pro. But my gut reaction is that a new MacBook Pro is overkill for my second machine.

iPad Pro. The iPad Pro is now in stores and I’m intrigued. I’ve played with it in the store and it’s big, but not too big. It feels like a clipboard or a legal pad in your hand. The Apple Pencil has gotten great reviews and I think I would really love it. I do believe I can do most of my mobile work on iOS. It’s an investment, though. The price starts at $799. But I’d probably get the 128 MB version with the Apple Pencil and Smart Keyboard. So the total price there would be over $1,200. Again, a significant investment for a secondary machine.

iPad Mini or Air. I don’t necessarily need to go with a iPad Pro to do my work on iOS. An iPad Mini 4 or an iPad Air 2 would be plenty powerful, just without the awesome pencil available for the iPad Pro. I really do like the Mini form factor and they start at $399, so it’s a more affordable price point. And the iPad Air 2 is an option, too. But I almost feel like I’d spend a little more to get an iPad Pro before I settled for an Air 2.

So what am I going to do?

I really have no idea. I’m leaning toward upgrading my current MacBook to buy me some time to make a decision. The MacBook Air is probably my second choice with the iPad Mini right behind it. I really don’t see spending the money to get a MacBook, MacBook Pro or iPad Pro as a secondary computer.

But I think it’s interesting that I’m considering iOS as a mobile solution for me. Apple is developing iOS into a full-fledged second platform — a second platform that interacts relatively effortlessly with the MacOS. As new apps develop that take advantage of increasingly more powerful hardware, I think iOS will become a better solution for many people.