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Print your own revolution

I recently had a great chat with Ben Barry, a designer at Facebook. His Analog Research Lab, and the poster-making that comes out of it, was inspiration enough, but it was also inspiring to see how it reminds an organisation to stay true to itself.

One thing I like about being a designer at Atlassian is that you can hack your job to be what you want it to be. Obviously you can’t go about making wholesale changes to a product’s navigation by yourself, and breaking other people’s builds and so on, but it truly is a ‘can do’ place. One of the company’s values that is lived out day by day is ‘be the change you seek’. If there’s something that you think can be done better, nothing’s stopping you, you don’t wait for official permission. It’s incredibly liberating, and inspirational when you see others act on that.

I’ll be the change I seek when it’s easier…

But sooner or later (even in 10-year-old start-ups) everyone gets pulled into the Borg of corporate normalcy. We can’t help but build up assumptions about what we can change, and what is easier left alone. The very tools we use start to restrict our thinking, and the prospect of change starts to look harder and harder.

I recently re-read Gordon Mackenzie’s great book Orbiting the Giant Hairball, which is a reminder to find a healthy balance between respect for constraints and direction, and creative disruption. All ‘out of the box’ clichés aside, someone has to keep poking that corporate hairball and remind us all to stay (to borrow roughly from Steve Jobs) just a little bit foolish.

How to help be a ‘cultural conscience’

I recently chatted with Ben Barry, a lead designer at Facebook. Ben’s most well known for heading up Facebook’s Analog Research Lab, a space where any employee can come in and screen-print a poster, t-shirt, make a lino-cut, anything really. There’s also a woodwork area, where you can make just about anything. And guess what? No HD screens, tablets or 3D printers in sight.

Someone screen-printing a poster at Facebook's Analog Design Lab

A designer screen-printing a poster (image referenced from Fast Company)

What really inspired me about talking with Ben were two things. Firstly, how he just started this screen-printing area up by himself, because he wanted the creative release. He started the lab about 4 years ago; now it has 3 full-time staff, about 4 designers who regularly use the lab, plus a never-ending stream of small groups coming in to see it done, learn, and try out their own hands at screen-printing and other making ventures.

Secondly: the internal effect that the spread of the printed posters has had on Facebook. Ben helps to amplify the hacker/maker culture in Facebook by sticking up the posters all over the various Facebook campuses. During our chat the term ‘cultural conscience’ came up. Through the lovingly hand-crafted posters, and the acts of making art with their hands, Ben and the other designers use these works to inspire and remind everyone in Facebook to stay true to organisational purpose.

The authority of print over pixels

Together, these two things are a big reminder of how designers can instil perceived authority. The posters are made from beautiful stock. They’re given out at events and signed by celebrities. Sometimes they’re framed. Their craft, texture, physicality and permanence — and their rarity — make their digital counterpart look all the more ephemeral, and somehow trivial. This means that the messages carry so much more weight and authority.

Marshal McLuhan has never been more correct when he said “The medium is the message”. Digital efforts to inspire good design are still great and still needed, but they seem to have to resort to other things like swearing to instil gravitas. In an age where a screen tells a thousand pictures, it’s nice to see the lasting authority of a printed message.

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iSad… iSalute… iRespect… how about iDonate?

Something’s been bothering me since the tragic passing of Steve Jobs, and today I put my finger on it. And I think there is an amazing unique opportunity before Apple to do something really worthwhile. Something maybe Steve’s family would really appreciate. And something we can all be a part of.

Odes, quotes and dress-ups?

There’s been terabits of memorial pieces — and comments on those pieces — written about Steve Jobs, and the Twitters have been groaning under the weight of sorrowful, pithy and wise statements about his passing. And of course Facebook probably has to buy another server farm to house the memorial groups in his honour; there were over 100 pages dedicated to him that I counted before getting sick of clicking that See more results link.

And people are suggesting things like wearing black polo neck sweaters and jeans in homage to Mr Jobs. But what really got me was reading news articles like this one that claim “Apple fans are paying their respects to Steve Jobs by snapping up the iPhone 4S in record numbers”.

Dear Apple: please donate $1 for every new iPhone sold to pancreatic cancer research

Is playing dress-ups and consumerism the best we can do? I hope – no, I know – we can do better than that. We can donate our money or volunteer our time and energies to those organisations who are raising awareness and funds for earlier detection of pancreatic cancer, as well as treatment and cure, and care for victims and loved ones.

But we can also do something together as a much larger group: we can ask Apple to support those organisations. What if Apple saw this is a unique and timely opportunity to do that? Wouldn’t it be awesome if Steve Jobs’ legacy of ‘Think Different’ was applied to raising funds for detecting and curing pancreatic cancer?

The Donate Different campaign

Apple are inviting anyone and everyone to email in their thoughts, memories, and condolences for the loss of Steve Jobs. So let’s ask Apple to donate $1 for every new iPhone sold worldwide, to nominated charities in each country or region.

If that’s something you’d like to do:

What would Steve Jobs have come up with next, were it not for pancreatic cancer?

As Steve Jobs wrote when he announced his decision to step down as CEO: “I believe Apple’s brightest and most innovative days are ahead of it”. I think corporate sponsorship and support for this cause would be an amazing step in the continued successful journey of Apple. What a tremendous example that would set for other companies. What a lasting tribute that would be to Steve Jobs and his family.


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The (facebook) year that’s been – in Wordle

At Christmas-time, I like to look back and reflect on the year that’s been. It occurred to me that my facebook status updates would probably be a good indication of what was going on.

So I just fed all my facebook status updates into Wordle, and out flowed this lovely undulating graphic. It’s really interesting (well, to me anyway) to see what sticks out. The prominence of ‘Canberra’ comes as no surprise to me; I was involved in a project there for most of the year, and it involved a lot of travel.

My year that's been, according to my Facebook status updates

My year that's been - according to my Facebook status updates

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Facebook: it’s OK to be yourself

If you have an inbox, chances are by now you’ve been invited by someone to join Facebook and/or hook up as their friend on Facebook. And me, I can’t get enough of it! I and many of my friends are giving it a lot of love at the moment. And why not? There’s no better way to dig up (stalk?) old friends, and there’s a lot of toys (sorry, third-party applications) to play with as well.

I first heard about Facebook through a brother of mine who pestered me to get onto it. He graduated from Simon Fraser University (Vancouver, Canada), which now, as it turns out, has its own Facebook dedicated server. Which makes sense, since it was first conceived for schools and universities as a way for alumni to keep/stay in touch.

Work/non-work personalities

But what of the whole work/non-work tension? Lee Hopkins writes about the dilemma of having a personal profile potentially (and embarrassingly?) available to your professional network as well as your non-professional circles. What if you’re going for a respectable job at a respectable company, and your potential boss finds you on your Facebook page as a beer-swilling hoon who’s into Primus, photographing road-kill and collecting traffic signs?

But hold on folks: I don’t think we need all this paranoia. Anyone who spends a few minutes on Facebook looking at a few pages will see the following: loads of photos of smiling people at parties, people on holiday, and pictures of their kids (and sorry you young ‘uns… more and more grown-ups are getting onto Facebook now, get used to it). There’s loads of ‘wall’ messages with friends saying hi and how are you.

It’s all very very normal.

I say be yourself; anyone you’re out to impress by being someone other than yourself is going to see the Real You eventually, aren’t they?