Microblogging Structure?

How will we set up our microblogs?

Random thoughts as we wait for Micro.Blog to launch.

 

It looks like there are two basic ways to configure microblogs:

  1. Set up a page for only your microblog posts – either on your own site or through a hosted service.
  2. Mix your microblog posts with your regular blog posts.

I wonder which will become the “accepted” way to configure your microblog. From a technical standpoint, both are reasonably easy to configure. 

If you collect all your microblog posts on a single page, it most closely mimics Twitter. But while many of us think of Micro.blog as a Twitter replacement, it is a different service. And some conventions that work on Twitter may not work as well on Micro.Blog.

Personally, I like the way that microblog posts and regular posts can be intermingled. (Manton has his own site set up this way.)

I think the best option for you will come down to how interrelated the content of your blog and microblog are. What would it look like if your blog posts and Twitter feed were interwoven? If they are similar, combining them will make sense. But if you write about technology on your blog and the bulk of your microblog posts are about bird watching, I don’t think it makes sense to combine them.

I look forward to seeing how the service functions before I make any significant decisions. On Sketchbook B, I’ve started to experiment with a separate Microblog page. (The RSS feed coming out of Squarespace seems to conform to the basic microblog structure. More on that in a future post.) I’m not sure I’ll leave it that way. For backing the Kickstarter, I'll get 12 months of Micro.Blog hosting so I'll probably start over there. But I like the idea of hosting all of my writing here, either on it's own page or integrated with my longer blog posts.

Let me know what you think on Twitter or on the Indie Microblogging Slack channel.


Bob Wertz writes about design, technology and pop culture at Sketchbook B. Bob is a Columbia, South Carolina-based designer, creative director, college instructor, husband and dad. He’s particularly obsessed with typography, the creative process and the tools we use to create. In his spare time, he is contemplating this whole microblogging thing will work. Follow Bob on Twitter and Instagram.

If at first you don’t succeed…

Does effort solve all problems?

The third post in my ongoing series on conventional wisdom.

We’ve all heard the classic saying “If at first you don’t succeed, try, try again.” Don’t give up! Determination will win the day! Increased effort is the solution to all problems.

The saying was popularized by William Hickson, a British education writer in the mid-1800s. The full phase is:

'Tis a lesson you should heed:
Try, try, try again.
If at first you don't succeed,
Try, try, try again.

The rhyme was obviously intended for to encourage school children to keep up their studies until they mastered a concept. But this simple message has grown into so much more than that.

The message that “effort solves everything” is ingrained in the American psyche. I’ve seen this phrase used by parents, managers, teachers, pastors and coaches. I’ve even used this phrase with my kids and my students. It’s intended to be inspirational, right? Just try harder and you, too, can succeed.

Often, it’s shortened to just be “Well, if at first you don’t succeed…” and endless and continuous effort is simply implied as an obvious next step.

Is this good advice for kindergarteners learning to ride a bike? Sure. Is this good advice for business? Not really.

“If at first you don’t succeed, try, try again” implies that no matter what, you need to stay the course. If you try harder, you’ll eventually get it. And if you fail, it’s your fault for not trying harder. 

You’ll pass the test.

You’ll make the sale.

You’ll solve the problem.

But all this focus on effort ignores one significant fact: Sometimes, no matter how hard you try, you fail. 

Repeating the same approach over and over might not get you closer to a solution. It only wastes time and resources. Effort is only part of the solution.

So how about an adjustment to the classic saying:

If at first you don’t succeed, ask why.

Once you understand why you failed, it’s easier to figure out a path forward. If you are headed the wrong way, continuing ahead blindly only gets you further from your goal.

Effort alone can’t always solve the problem. If you don’t know how to study for a test, studying more won’t help. Working harder won’t help your sales staff sell a flawed product. When you evaluate what went wrong, you’ll often find an better solution.

Every so often, you’ll find the goals that you’ve set are unachievable. I’m not advocating quitting, but there are times and situations where no amount of effort is going to help you reach an impossible goal. That’s okay. Reevaluate your priorities and figure out the next step. 


Bob Wertz writes about design, technology and pop culture at Sketchbook B. Bob is a Columbia, South Carolina-based designer, creative director, college instructor, husband and dad. He’s particularly obsessed with typography, the creative process and the tools we use to create. In his spare time, he is annoying his kindergarten-teacher wife with this post. Follow Bob on Twitter and Instagram.

What message does a design competition send?

A design competition has nothing to do with “design.”

The fourth part in my continuing series about design competitions and spec work.

Designers look at design competitions and know that it’s a terrible way to design anything. Design is about solving problems and there are proven processes that produce results. Look at the history of government design contests and you have to go back to the design of the Alaska State Flag in 1927 to find a successful one.

So if every serious designer knows it’s a bad way to create a design, why do we keep having contests? Two reasons:

  1. It’s inexpensive. It’s obviously less expensive to have a contest than to hire a firm to design it. Some not-for-profits or governments don’t have the money to embark on a redesign. And others don’t see any value in design and would never spend a dime on professional design services.
  2. The design isn’t the reason for the design contest. The point of a design contest isn’t about creating quality design, it’s about public relations. Drumming up support for your cause. Getting people to talk or tweet about your project, company or organization. The final design isn’t important. The attention is…

Why do most designers feel insulted by a design contest?

Many people act surprised when designers react negatively to design contests, but it really shouldn’t be surprising. When you hold a design contest, you are telling your local design community that you aren’t willing to invest time and energy into a proper design process, and that the public relations value is more important than the quality of design. A design competition sends a very clear message that an organization — or city — doesn’t value design.


Let’s talk about the Columbia Flag design competition for a minute.

Several people have asked me why I’m so concerned about the Columbia Flag design competition. It’s very clearly a public relations campaign to get people interested in a new flag. Predictably, yes, I’m insulted by the fact that my city and the arts organizations in Columbia appear to have no respect for the design community, but it’s deeper than that.

I teach a senior portfolio class at the University of South Carolina. On the first day of class, I ask students what type of job they want and where they want to work. Most of the students want to leave Columbia. After spending four years in Columbia at USC, my students are convinced that they can’t do good work in Columbia. I assure them that it’s not the case, but they leave any way. I’ve seen students go to Charleston, Greenville, Charlotte, Raleigh, New York, Austin, Houston, Knoxville, Atlanta and Chicago. Very few of our young, talented designers choose to stay here.

I hear time and again that the biggest challenge facing Columbia is attracting talent to the community and encouraging them to be part of a growing and vibrant Columbia. The recent Engenuity SC Competitiveness Report ranked Columbia 8th among 10 comparable cities in talent recruitment and retention. We constantly talk about ways to attract talent, while tangibly showing creative professionals that our city doesn’t respect what they do.

I fear that the City of Columbia, One Columbia and the Columbia Design League are solving for the wrong problem. They are concerned about our ugly flag. I’m concerned about building up our creative community.

At the end of the day, the design competition will end with an average flag that is better than the terrible one that we have now. But that banner will signal loud and clear that Columbia doesn’t believe in design.


Bob Wertz writes about design, technology and pop culture at Sketchbook B. Bob is a Columbia, South Carolina-based designer, creative director, college instructor, husband and dad. He’s particularly obsessed with typography, the creative process and the tools we use to create. In his spare time, he's still writing more blog posts. Follow Bob on Twitter and Instagram.

Kill two birds...

Two things at once? No problem, right?

The second post in my series on convention wisdom. Check out the introduction to the series...

 

When was the last time you killed a bird with a stone? Yeah, me neither. The idea of “killing two birds with one stone” is old, dating back to the 1600s. So what’s the story with this 400 year old piece of wisdom?

It seems pretty straightforward: accomplish two goals with one effort. People use the phrase at home and in business all the time. But if you dig down into the metaphor, it’s anything but simple.

Accidentally killing two birds with one stone is a lucky bit of good fortune, but trying to kill two birds with one stone is a trick shot. The degree of difficulty is high. The birds need to be aligned perfectly. You’ve got to pick the right angle. You need to be a little lucky. You might only get one bird and you might miss both all together.

Planning to kill two birds with one stone only makes sense if you must kill two birds and you have only one stone. If you only need one bird, target that bird and make sure you don’t miss. And if you have more than one stone, use them.

Let me translate that into modern terms.

If you happen to accidentally solve two problems with one solution, that’s awesome.

If you plan to solve two problems with one solution, be prepared that you might not solve either problem. If you really care about solving a problem, develop a solution for that issue specifically. In other words:

Kill one bird with one stone.

And if the “bird” is big enough, you may need to develop multiple tactics to address the issue:

Kill one bird with two stones.

Most people try to kill “two birds with one stone” because they lack the resources, time or energy to fully attack both issues. But it’s a strategic flaw. A lack of focus. More often than not, this approach results in bad solutions.

I can’t tell you how many times I’ve seen organizations shortcut good strategic thinking and try to quickly solve multiple problems with one solution. It almost always ends up as a mess, takes longer and costs more. In the end, no issues are adequately solved.

If you are serious about solving problems, take aim and focus directly on the issues at hand. You’ll be much more successful in the long run.


Bob Wertz writes about design, technology and pop culture at Sketchbook B. Bob is a Columbia, South Carolina-based designer, creative director, college instructor, husband and dad. He’s particularly obsessed with typography, the creative process and the tools we use to create. In his spare time, he is thinking about taking up bird watching. Follow Bob on Twitter and Instagram.

Challenging convention

How do 400 year old sayings guide our lives today?

The first post in an ongoing series on conventional wisdom.

 

Years ago, my oldest daughter Norah was struggling to tie her shoes. We tried everything and pushed her to keep trying. If only she tried harder, she'd figure it out. It was frustrating for her. It was frustrating for my wife and I.

Eventually, my wife found a video of a different way to tie shoes* and our daughter got it instantly. It never occurred to me that there was another way to tie shoes other than the way I'd been taught.

As a parent, I’d bought into the conventional wisdom that "If at first you don't succeed, try again." Increased effort solves everything.

At home and at work, we often buy into conventional wisdom. Idioms, sayings, parables, proverbs and fables form a network of beliefs that we apply in our daily life. This conventional wisdom is the unspoken foundation of our belief system. 

Many of these sayings were written for a more simple time. We don't remember — or maybe we never even knew — the details of the original saying. Maybe we've lost touch with the agrarian roots of the stories. Quite honestly, many of them are just bad advice for a complex, modern world.

I want to delve into conventional wisdom and ask what these foundation concepts really teach us. How they guide us and how they mislead us.

These ideas and stories are so ingrained in our psyche, that we are resistant to challenging them. I mentioned to several people that I wanted to reevaluate this conventional wisdom and they all reacted negatively. My wife -- a kindergarten teacher -- complained that I wanted to teach kids to quit. A former colleague argued that no one really takes conventional wisdom seriously. Others fought for their favorite idiom.

But I think that looking closely at these foundation beliefs is key to understanding why we behave the way we do.

I've selected a few pieces of conventional wisdom that are prime to be reevaluated. I’m going to pick them apart, look at the root of the saying and try to figure out how to translate them for the modern world.

This post is the first in my series about challenging convention. I went ahead and published the second post in the series, Kill two birds... If you’ve got a favorite bit of conventional wisdom you want me to explore, let me know on Twitter.


* Seriously… check out this way of tying shoes. It’s amazing.


Bob Wertz writes about design, technology and pop culture at Sketchbook B. Bob is a Columbia, South Carolina-based designer, creative director, college instructor, husband and dad. He’s particularly obsessed with typography, the creative process and the tools we use to create. In his spare time, he is collecting little bits of conventional wisdom to rip apart in future blog posts. Follow Bob on Twitter and Instagram.

How should designers respond to design contests?

Be respectful, but be direct.

The third post in my ongoing series on spec work and design contests.

So when faced with a design contest, how should designers respond. I’ve been thinking about this recently as I watch the slow unveiling of the horribly misguided Columbia Flag Design Competition. So here’s what I think...

Be an advocate. When you see a design competition, speak up. Every design competition is an opportunity to educate the community about how powerful the design process can be when it’s done properly. Share the AIGA position on spec work. Remind the organizers that a contest very rarely results in a successful design. Use our voices on social media to let the organizers know design has value. Be respectful, but be direct: Design competitions are never a good idea.

It’s not about the money. Remember that the primary objection to design contests is about respecting the creative process. That doesn’t always involve spending big bucks on a design firm. Designers and agencies will often donate services or discount their rate for something they believe in. But even if these firms work for free, they will still follow a creative process that involves identifying — and solving — creative problems.

Talk to young designers. Design competitions often prey on young designers (and students) who don’t understand that they aren’t being fairly compensated for their work. They’ll be told that it will be great for their portfolios. Or it will open doors for them. It’s up to us to teach young designers about their creative rights and educate them about spec work.

Don’t participate. This seems pretty straightforward, but one way to stop design competitions is not to participate. And encourage other designers to avoid competitions, too. A design competition relies on participation. And sadly, many designers don’t realize that they are being manipulated to work for free.

Respect other creative professions. One way designers can fight spec work is to support the rights of creatives in other professions. Designers need to support the rights of photographers, illustrators and writers whenever they can. Design competitions aren’t the only place that businesses and organizations are undermining the value of creative work.

Don’t be counter productive. As tempting as it is to flood the contest with joke entries, don’t. Don’t harass people on social media or in person. No need to boycott anything. Remember that you can stand for something without putting other people down. A design competition is an opportunity to educate the community on what design can be. It's our job to take advantage of that opportunity.


Bob Wertz writes about design, technology and pop culture at Sketchbook B. Bob is a Columbia, South Carolina-based designer, creative director, college instructor, husband and dad. He’s particularly obsessed with typography, the creative process and the tools we use to create. In his spare time, he is writing more blog posts. Follow Bob on Twitter and Instagram.

How is a design contest different than other types of creative contests?

It's all about rights.

After my post last week about the flag design contest in Columbia, one question came up from some local artists and writers: How is a design contest different than other types of creative contests? What makes a design contest spec work? The answer has to do (partially) with the rights to the work created.

  • If you enter a short story contest and you win, your story might be printed in an anthology. But you retain the rights to the story you wrote.
  • If you enter a battle of the bands competition, should you win, you retain the rights to the music you performed.
  • If you enter a photo or art competition, your winning entry might be displayed in a gallery or show. When the exhibition is over, you retain the rights to the artwork you entered.
  • If you enter a design competition, you may win a prize, but the artwork you created becomes the property of the organizer.

In fact, in most cases, design competitions stipulate that ALL entries — even the ones that are not winners — become the property of the organizer.

Would you enter a short story contest where you lost the rights to anything you wrote, even if you didn’t win? Would you enter a battle of the bands if every song that was performed by any band became the property of the event organizer? Would you enter an art contest where you forfeited any future rights to your creation? Of course not...

But that’s exactly what happens in a design contest. Designers are expected to forfeit any future rights to their entries.

Why? It’s pretty simple actually. Entires can be similar. Selecting one winner can be complicated. Selection committees in design competitions tend to take bits and pieces of multiple designs to create the final piece. And it’s less messy if the organizer owns all the rights to all the entries. But just because that’s the least legally complex way for the organizer to handle things doesn’t mean it’s the most equitable thing for the designers.


No guidelines or rules have been posted for the Columbia flag design competition so I’m not sure what the rights situation is.* 

As I mentioned in the last post, allowing everyone including the winner to keep the rights to their creation is the only acceptable option if the Columbia Design League, One Columbia and the City of Columbia insist on holding this competition.

A design competition is always a bad idea, though, especially for something like a flag or a logo. I’ll deal with those issues in a future post.** But if you are going to crowdsource design, at least respect the designer’s rights and allow them to retain rights to everything they create.

Got thoughts about spec work? Let's talk about them on Twitter.


* As I've mentioned before, I have complete respect for the three organizations involved, so until I see the rules for the contest, I'll withhold judgement.

** The deadline for the contest is some time in April. So I will continue to spark conversation about spec work and design contests for at least the next few months.


Bob Wertz writes about design, technology and pop culture at Sketchbook B. Bob is a Columbia, South Carolina-based designer, creative director, college instructor, husband and dad. He’s particularly obsessed with typography, the creative process and the tools we use to create. In his spare time, he defends the design industry. Follow Bob on Twitter and Instagram.

The Pen Addict returns to the Atlanta Pen Show

Catch the Pen Addict Live!

ATL.png

I’ve been talking about Kickstarter projects lately and here’s another one: The Pen Addict is doing a live show at the Atlanta Pen Show again this year.*

My wife and I went last spring and I posted a recap of the experience. I instantly backed this year’s project and can’t wait to go again. Backing the project includes an opportunity to see the show recorded live. It's fun to see a live recording of one of my favorite podcasts. I’m also excited to get a special Nock Co. Sapelo that holds a couple of pens and small notebooks. Looks sharp, even if the inside color is orange.**

It’s already funded, but if you are near Atlanta, want to see a Relay FM live recording and meet a bunch of podcasters that you routinely listen to, back the project today. I’ll see you there.


* This year's Kickstarter includes sending Myke to the Washington D.C. Pen Show, too. No live recording, though.

** As a Gamecock fan, I try to avoid all things orange.


Bob Wertz writes about design, technology and pop culture at Sketchbook B. Bob is a Columbia, South Carolina-based designer, creative director, college instructor, husband and dad. He’s particularly obsessed with typography, the creative process and the tools we use to create. In his spare time, he wonders why everyone in the pen world is obsessed with the color orange. Follow Bob on Twitter and Instagram.

Time is running out to support Indie Microblogging

Help Manton reach his $80,000 stretch goal on Kickstarter.

I've posted before about Manton Reece's Indie Microblogging Kickstarter. It's fully funded and is going to happen, but with three days to go, he's about $9,000 short of his stretch goal. If he hits $80,000, he'll hire a community manager to help shape the service, trying to proactively address issues like harassment that have derailed Twitter.

And one more reason to support Micro.blog... It just occurred to me that if I host my own Micro.Blog site, when I make a typo in a Micro.Blog post, I can go back and fix it!

If you are concerned about the future of social media, I encourage you to back Indie Microblogging on Kickstarter before Wednesday morning. Every little bit helps... I just increased my backer level.


Bob Wertz writes about design, technology and pop culture at Sketchbook B. Bob is a Columbia, South Carolina-based designer, creative director, college instructor, husband and dad. He’s particularly obsessed with typography, the creative process and the tools we use to create. In his spare time, he wishes he could fix typos on Twitter. Follow Bob on Twitter and Instagram.

How hard could it be to design a flag?

It's always a good idea to have a design competition, right?

I love my city. Columbia, South Carolina is a great place to live and I’m excited about the future of the city and the direction of the community. In fact, I have another blog completely dedicated to what’s coming to Columbia. I’m always talking up Columbia to anyone who will listen.

Which is why I was really disheartened to read in the Free-Times that the City of Columbia, One Columbia and the Columbia Design League are holding a design contest for a new city flag.

I think we can all agree that the City of Columbia’s flag is utterly awful and needs to be replaced.

But why in the world would you opt for a design contest instead of hiring a talented local firm to work with you in a collaborative manner. 

My two cents:

This is pretty much spec work. If you aren’t familiar with the concept of spec work, you should check out AIGA’s Statement on Spec Work or an organization like No!Spec. Basically, Columbia is trying to get a bunch of people to design a range of concepts for free and then pick the best. Maybe you pay the winner an award, but everyone else contributed their services for free.

Is this really how you are going to get the best result? Absolutely not. Hire a quality firm that understands the city and work with them to evaluate options. Talk through the how the flag needs to be used. How does it fit into the city’s overall branding? If you are just trying to pick something pretty, an art contest is fine. But this can be so much more than a pretty rectangle.

Do design contests ever work for something like this? Seriously, I can’t think of a single time this has worked out. We’re just now getting rid of the Clemson orange and purple license plates that the DMV selected in a design competition in 2008. Across the world, the track record isn’t good for government-sponsored design competitions. It didn't work out for Columbia, Missouri, either.

Who retains the rights? You can make this less offensive by allowing the creators to retain the rights to their artwork, even for the winning design. (The submission site isn't up yet so we don't know what the guidelines are.) I'm actually not 100% against design competitions. In 2008, I wrote a post about a Save Polaroid contest and was really impressed with how they structured the contest to respect the creators. But a flag for a large city isn't a low volume t-shirt for a cash strapped not-for-profit.

Remember that article in the Free-Times from last week? The one that said that Columbia was a great place to live, but lags in workforce talent compared to other cities in the region. Just a thought… having your arts organizations host a spec work design competition isn’t exactly the best way to show talent that they are valued in this town.

The flag expert handout is awesome. In the article, they mention using a Good Flag, Bad Flag handout and a guide. I saw it a few years ago and it’s awesome. But I missed the part where it advocates using a design competition as the way to generate a good design. In fact, I’ll bet some of those bad flags were developed as part of design competitions.

I really respect all the organizations involved. The Columbia Design League (which is an affiliate of the amazing Columbia Museum of Art), One Columbia, the City of Columbia all do great things for this city. I know and respect many of these people. And I think that’s why I’m so taken aback. I’m so surprised that no one involved suggested another approach.


I’m going to voice my concerns, but I’ll be honest, I don’t expect them to reverse course. I’m sure they will find something that their committee will be happy with. Let's be honest, anything is an improvement over the current flag. The process is basically free for them. City council will have the winning sixth grader come to a council meeting and will present a flag to them. They’ll get a few seconds of coverage on WIS and an article in The State. And some positive PR is really all they want, anyway.

But it’s a missed opportunity. A chance to partner with a local firm and do something awesome and appropriate for our city. A chance to show the community and the region our commitment to creative excellence.

It also serves as a reminder to all of us in the design community that we still need to stand up against spec work and advocate within our organizations and institutions that collaborative partnerships generate the best solutions.


Bob Wertz writes about design, technology and pop culture at Sketchbook B. Bob is a Columbia, South Carolina-based designer, creative director, college instructor, husband and dad. He’s particularly obsessed with typography, the creative process and the tools we use to create. In his spare time, he defends the design industry. Follow Bob on Twitter and Instagram.