Plot 47A

Words on design and life by Cassie McDaniel

November 28, 2013

2013 Indy Holiday Shopping Guide

This holiday season I thought it would be cool to help promote some of the awesome independent designers, writers and artists within my network. These people are doing something I’ve always found incredibly difficult: making things with discipline and purpose, putting themselves out there, maintaining a shop, and schlepping their goods all over the place to try to make a dime.

Wouldn’t it be cool if we bought our holiday gifts from them this season instead of Target and Amazon? Target and Amazon are great for certain things, but it’s also nice to know that you can help support someone’s brave creative career. Even if we artists only bought from each other, that could make a small difference.

***Note!*** If you’re buying anything from Amazon, DO THIS FIRST! Amazon will donate .5% of each purchase to a charity of your choice. It takes 5 seconds.

These are just the artists in my network. Think about your own network too and reach out, I’m sure there is amazing art, craft and design right next door to you.



To look at

jessica-rae-gordon-floodArt & Prints by Jessica Rae Gordon – I once walked into a local café and fell in love with some cut-out art on the wall and realized upon closer inspection it was actually by someone I knew! Jessica’s work makes me absolutely giddy. If I had the stamina to be a full-time artist, this is the kind of folky crafty nostalgic work I’d wish I could do. Buy her prints, original artwork or even some fancy schmancy gloves from her etsy shop.

troy-deshano-crowsTroy Deshano prints– If you don’t know Troy, go watch his talk from Weapons of Mass Creation Fest right now (I went ahead and embedded it below). His story will give you chills. This guy is so creative and real and I think if you hung his pictures in your house you could only benefit from his good karma. His Crows poster is my favorite but he has lots more in his shop on Etsy.

“The Best Decisions Rarely Make Sense on Paper”

Troy DeShano – The Best Decisions Rarely Make Sense on Paper

old-and-new-lyons-499551_2112420_bOld & New prints – A couple years ago Troy Deshano, mentioned above, and Jim LePage started this Old & New Project – modern interpretations of Old Testament stories – and I was proud when they asked me to contribute to the first round. They never even asked about my religious beliefs because they wanted a variety of perspectives, which I think is rad. You can buy any of these glorious prints from really incredible artists and designers and ALL proceeds (not just a portion) go to Blood Water Mission. The one featured here is one of my favourites by the talented Andrew Lyons. (Here’s mine if you’re curious.)

Jim-LePage-46-1-Corinthians_Slider>Jim LePage’s biblical prints – Jim is co-creator of Old & New Project above and if religion is your cup of tea, he has some additional biblical prints. I find it admirable that he uses design to challenge his beliefs, I think that’s something we could all stand to do more of. He’s also super committed and consistent in his focus, so there’s always something new to look at. Nice gifts for someone in your life who cares as much as Jim about the Bible.

radworks-sail_bermuda_vintage_travel_poster<RadWorks custom posters – Lindsay Amerault, founder of RadWorks Studios, has got to be THE most positive person I know. She simply loves loves loves life, and that is reflected in her work and in how genuinely nice she is to everyone she meets. We studied Graphic Design together at the University of Florida and I often wish we were still deskmates, she was that nice to be around. Her beachy posters remind me of home, but you can customize them to say whatever you want.

California-Stately-SandwichesStately Sandwich prints and posters – Who doesn’t love sandwiches? One of the things I missed most when I became a vegetarian was ham and mustard sandwiches; in fact I thought sandwiches were dead to me. I had to rediscover them with vegetarian ingredients, which I’m happy to see featured in Kelly Pratt’s poster series, Stately Sandwich. These prints would be lovely in a kitchen or restaurant and Kelly says she’ll be having a holiday sale soon.

Sylvie-007 CaroleSylvie Ceres prints & greeting cards from ~$6-70 – I found Sylvie through my cousin Meredith who has always had an enthusiastic taste for all things artsy. Glad to be acquainted with her talented friend who says she is selling prints and greeting cards of all the designs from this album.


To read

Betos-Burrito-Book2Beto’s Burrito paperback ($15) or iBook ($5) – This was a heartwarming book I illustrated and published for my dad, who wrote the story. It has beginners Spanish vocabulary, and the iBook even has my dad pronouncing the words and reading the story aloud in his lovely Texan accent. I’ll definitely sign it for you and send along a handmade felt finger puppet to go with it! This project actually has a crazy story behind it. Watch the videos to find out more.

Commuter-LitCommuter Lit Anthology – The first thing I did when I moved to Toronto was join a writers group at the local library. My friend Nancy spearheads that group, she’s a wonderful writer with a powerful voice. She has since created Commuter Lit, a daily publication of short pieces for people to read during their commute to work, and recently she put together an anthology of the best pieces so far. I have a couple whimsical little poems about planned obsolecence in technology in there. Worth giggling over! Now 40% off for the holidays, only $12.Get it now.

cadence-slangCadence & Slang, A book about design by Nick Disabato, $50 ($35 pdf) – Writing for Nick in Distance was one of the most grueling editorial processes I’ve ever been through, which I’m sure carries through to Nick’s own writing. Cadence & Slang is one for the bookshelf of other smart design books. And knowing Nick, the advice within as well as the physical artifact will last for ages. Or get the digital version – read how you want to read! Satisfaction guaranteed or money back.

Ayla-Newhouse-bolditalicpiece_simplifiedV4-01-716x1024Dating by Design by Ayla Newhouse, $25 – Besides being a friend, I saw Ayla give a compelling presentation on this book at a Pecha Kucha night in Toronto. She explores how design principles can breathe new life into a tired dating scene, and her own design sense is charming, tactile and sophisticated. I think this is one for the lady designers in your life, but your divorced aunt would probably love it too! (Recently featured on The Bold Italic)

BorisRobot of Leisure graphic novel – $35 for 230 page softcover, or $10 ebook (available in Winter Park at A Comic Shop for my Florida readers). Holy smokes Katharine Miller is a prolific graphic artist. I first met Katherine at my Beto’s Burrito book launch, and she was sooo sweet but you could tell she had an edge. This comes through in her work. This gift would be an awesome lot of entertainment for young lovers of graphic novels.

cheng-these-daysJack Cheng’s book These Days – I met Jack at Brooklyn Beta in 2012 at the coffee station. We talked about character development and self-publishing and I had no idea he’d raised $23,000 to publish his work on Kickstarter – amazing. He was so totally unpretentious that I am more than happy to help promote his book here. Although I haven’t read it yet (new mums barely have time to brush their teeth) it sounds perfect for folks in the design industry who are craving a fictional holiday read. $9.99 on Kindle or $13 from Amazon.


To use

said-the-king-forewordSaid the King – Karen King was my first friend in Toronto and I’ve watched her grow from an artful copywriter into independent artist/entrepreneur, literally carrying her goods on her back to every craft fair in the city. Her site is worth a visit for the puns alone, but I think you’ll love her products too. I especially love her Foreword single book shelves (I have two – great for book lovers and book cover design lovers alike) and her ceramic bowls – I have the one with the hands (drawn by Karen herself) that says “Never stop eatin’”, definitely a family motto. I also love that Karen takes care to produce eco-friendly products that are still affordable. Go Karen.

ideacious-money-clipSlim money clip ($50) – My friend Josh started Ideacious a few years ago – it is a sort of Kickstarter for product designers. Designers submit product ideas, customers pre-order items, and if the product gets enough pre-orders it will go into production, with the original customers receiving income from future sales. Check out the full range of products, there’s some awesome stuff in there, just double check that it is already in production if you’re looking for a holiday gift.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERABen the Illustrator’s wintery backpack, £80 – Since having a baby I’m a sucker for cute backpacks, since backpacks are a necessity whenever we go out. Right now I’m stuck with a free Nestle one. So if anyone wants to get me this, yes please! Love it. Ben reached out on twitter to let me know about his stuff, lots of beautiful goodies in his shop (including this lovely pillow in the same fabric), check it out.

Mymo-keychainMymo, reinventing the monogram – Patrick Durgin-Bruce reached out to me on Twitter to tell me about this newly launched product – which looks awesome. Mymo – get a personalized necklace, keychain or ornament. I love the NY one. I wonder what a ‘To one would look like? Order by December 2 for the holidays.

meow-meow-tweetMeow Meow Tweet natural body products – I’m a real sucker for natural ingredient body products (it’s crazy they aren’t regulated like foods). Order these handmade goods through Shopify. Meow Meow Tweet (incredible name) is “a Brooklyn-based duo offering vegan soap and body products handcrafted from whole, natural and organic ingredients.” Wish I’d known about this when I was pregnant, I would have ordered myself some cocoa butter. (Thanks for the tip, Sarah Hallacher!)

rhymes-with-tweeRhymes with Twee paper goods – I found Leigh’s Etsy shop through my friend Sharlene, and a friend of Sharlene is a friend of mine. Her Etsy shop features punny holiday cards like “It’s bean a good year”, but my personal favorite is the Maggie Smith moleskin notebook (and only 9 bucks). Here’s what she has to say about it: “The Dowager Countess notebook should only be used by witty men or women. This is *the* perfect stocking stuffer for sassy folk in your life!”

Samantha Dubeau-il_570xN.519954058_2rxpSamantha Dubeau Etsy shop – Sam was also recommended by @boyreporter, and I love love love her holiday cards. If I ever got around to sending cards of my own, I would get this set and carefully choose six worthy recipients.


To wear

Aime-Luxury-M-Project-Charitee-Embroidery-Front-webAime Luxury clothes – My husband played soccer with Monica Mei and she had us over to her gorgeous flat where she had her fashion designs hanging on a rack in her living room. I’ve been following along her entrepreneurial journey since. She’s won all kinds of awards, and deservedly so. These clothes are on the pricier side but you can be sure they’re well-made. This shirt (featured) is only $35.
denim-vixen-$_57Denim Vixen jeans – This is my cousin’s ebay shop. When she’s not occupied with her two kids, she scours swanky Californian secondhand shops to find quality jeans and handbags. I’m super proud that she’s making this work for her lifestyle, it’s inspiring. Head to her shop to make a bid and snag a deal.

ghostfaceknittah-still_ill@GhostfaceKnitta makes great and charming jewelry. Great for hapless boyfriends,” so says @Boyreporter Ron Nurwisah. Her motto is “making sh!t for your girlfriend since 2007″. She doesn’t have an online store though so those in Toronto can look for her stuff locally; her next appearance seems to be at City of Craft Dec 14 & 15. And read the blog, it’s good.

maddy-douglass-il_570xN.465554598_2phh
Earthquake State
– My cousin recommended this gem of an Etsy store from Maddy Douglass. I love the unisex quality of these pretty knits. There’s also a good range of prices. If I was looking for ideas for Canadian men in my life I’d consider this store for sure.


To eat and drink

Style: "Porcelain vivid"Norm Hardie wine– I’m not a wine connoisseur but I know who is and that person is Sean Kozey. Sean (co-owner of ecentricarts) has been working with my husband on a new website for Norm. The site’s not up yet (but I’ve seen the preview, it’s beautiful!), but you can still order from their current site. Sean, along with other volunteers, spends his weekends stomping grapes and stocking barrels at Norm Hardie’s, which I’m sure he wouldn’t do if it wasn’t very excellent wine.

GreenZebraLOGO-GreenBig-For-Ad-Box-297x300Green Zebra Kitchen – Our friends Jessie and Jay bought us a two week meal package which we used when Amelia was born. I was impressed with the friendly home delivery service and yummy, healthy meals. I especially loved the vegan mac ‘n’ cheese with nutritional yeast. And I think it’s actually a really affordable, thoughtful gift – especially for friends or family who’ve just had a baby or are simply really busy with life (who isn’t?).

Mama-LosMama Lo’s bakery – Yum. Need I say more? Okay, I will. Mama Lo’s was referred to me by Bonnie Lui, who I actually met through Twitter because she asked me if I wanted to go macaron tasting with her, where I learned she takes her baked goods dead seriously. Therefore these cupcakes come highly recommended and would make a delicious addition to all your holiday parties.


To experience

LLC-gift_card_designLadies Learning Code gift cards – The women behind Ladies Learning Code are some of the hardest working people I know. Support their mission and give the gift of learning. I am friends with a few of their fabulous top-notch teachers and I’ve only ever heard good things about their courses.

makelabMake Lab 3d Printing – Although 3d printing produces a tangible product, it is still very much an ‘experience’ for lots of people who have never seen it in action before. My friend Vivien Leung is working with Make Labs to print custom gifts. If you have an idea for something that hasn’t been made yet, get in touch!

kiddology-1540d830a3d0ba096dee3dd8a2ed191f_largeKiddology on Kickstarter – This is a project from Jay Kapadia, who I’ve done some freelance work with. Check out the stunning artwork and support great storytelling for kids and families and become a part of bringing this project to life. Personally, I like the $45 tier: A sticker pack, demo code for our in-app purchases, and a children’s t-shirt or onesie with our Kiddology character Kiyoshi. Estimated delivery is Jan 2014.


To shop in person

Still like getting out to shop in person? Try your local farmer’s or arts and crafts market. Here are a few near me.

vendor-queensVendor Queens – Good ol’ Lindsay Munroe let me know about this: a pop-up shop for small business owners in Queen West every weekend through the end of December. There’s an awesome writeup on BlogTO about what’s available here. Looks fun, I might have a wander down there myself.

popifyShopify Toronto pop-up event – From the website: “Popify is a limited time retail experience where a storefront in Toronto is transformed into a curated selection of products from around the world.” December 5-8 in Kensington. Looks fun. Love that they’re supporting independent sellers.

City-of-craft-9412207784_91075c84d4_oCity of Craft – An arts and craft fair at Queen West in Toronto on December 14 & 15, 2013. $2 admission. More details here.


Alas, that is all! If I missed you or made any mistakes in the write-ups, let me know. Otherwise, happy shopping!

Kim-Nyblade
November 14, 2013

Painting Kim’s Portrait

It’s because of my Mom I always have a smile on my face. She taught me to always think positively and to be helpful toward others. Most importantly how to love. – Elaine Nyblade-Scholl

Russ and Kim and one of their daughters, Kyra, moved down to central Florida when I was in college, so I didn’t see them as much as my family that lived in Orlando (I was in Gainesville), but they were always there when I came down for holidays and birthdays. Russ is my mom’s cousin. His mother and my mom’s mother are sisters. Both women had lots of kids and then their kids had lots of kids and now 60+ years later, our families are both huge.

Somehow both women managed to keep their children and grandchildren close and joyful, creating a web of extended family that is sprawling but also loving, welcoming, warm, generous and – perhaps most amazing of all – connected, especially when we are close geographically. For instance when my cousin Julia moved from Florida to Pennsylvania she spent a lot of time with our parents’ cousins (our first cousins, once removed) and Russ’ parents (our great aunt and uncle). Now that I am in Toronto, I have made a couple trips to our great aunt and uncle’s family cottage in New York. And I think that when Russ and Kim and Kyra moved down south, our family also opened their doors and hearts to them.

The family connections may seem complicated but no matter how far genetically removed, we are still family. This is even more true with the in-laws we welcome into our lives who become no more blood-related but are completely immoveable in our hearts. They are the best friends of our brothers and sisters, the moms and dads of our nieces and nephews, and over all the time we spend together at family functions they become our friends-for-life too.

Today I want to write about Kim, Russ’s wife. She died last week, leaving a lot of people who love her behind. Nancy Meade Morell (Kim’s big sister) wrote:

Kim, was diagnosed with Stage IV Lung Cancer last December. It was only this past summer the cancer was confirmed as Mesothelioma. She, as an informed Hospice Nurse, chose “Quality over Quantity” and declined chemo or radiation at this late stage. She has lived with so much pain, however, and at this point chose to admit to In-patient Hospice House. What a privilege and honor to be here with her as she makes her winding journey to be with our dear Lord and Savior.

I’m not religious but I have great respect and admiration for those who are, and I am glad that faith brings peace to her family and that it brought peace to her in her final hours. Kim deserved it. She was always the one to make everybody feel welcome, to speak to the person in the corner, to ask questions in a lovely way that made you feel interesting and cared for. She had a talent for people.

It is a tragedy when someone so warm and kind leaves us, so I want to honor the memory of Kim by writing about the time (only 2.5 years ago) I painted her portrait.

***

Kim was number 15, after my mom and before my aunt Lynn. I painted everyone in my family’s portrait that March, 30 paintings in a month. Each one was done from a live sitting lasting about an hour or two. Kim’s lasted exactly an hour, which I know because I recorded the painting’s progress.

Kim arrived at my grandma’s house wearing lots of makeup, dangly earrings, perfume and a nice top. She looked very well put together, which felt to me like symptoms of being uncomfortable with the whole idea of this project, but she never let on that she was anything but eager to get painted. Instead she let conversation carry us through the experience like a heavy current.

In our hour together we talked about everything under the sun. Meeting and marrying her husband Russ, Russ’s sister Becky, Kim’s first trip to Florida and meeting many of my family members for the first time, my step-dad’s recent illness, diabetes, health and wellness, my dad’s radio show, our favorite wines, diet and exercise, nursing, my name and Scottish heritage, what it was like in Canada, common-law marriage, gay marriage, camping, her family, familial likeness, the Appalachian trail, London, my recent engagement, and so much more.

The thing I remember most about the actual painting was her piercing blue eyes. I didn’t feel I could do them justice with paint. But still I struggled on. She was a perfect model, moving nothing but her mouth to speak, staying focused on one object in the corner of the room.

At the end of the session I said, “Well Kim, it’s not perfect but I think I’m happy with it,” and she said, “Well that’s okay ’cause I’m not perfect either!”

Kim-Nyblade-full

***

Here’s a poem her daughter Elaine shared on Facebook the other day, one Kim had chosen for her ‘Celebration of Life’ service this Saturday. Sadly I won’t be able to attend, but I hope my family knows my heart is with them.

“Afterglow”

I’d like the memory of me 

to be a happy one.

I’d like to leave an afterglow 

of smiles when life is done.



I’d like to leave an echo 

whispering softly down the ways,

Of happy times and laughing times

and bright and sunny days.



I’d like the tears of those who grieve,

to dry before the sun

Of happy memories that I leave

When life is done.

― Carol Mirkel

Painting Kim’s portrait is definitely a happy memory for me. She was such a wonderful lady. Feeling very blessed to be able to share this little piece of her here.

mcdaniel-mum-ring-bling
October 13, 2013

Maternity leave projects

We’ve had a few people tell us how now is a great time to start a project, when the baby’s a newborn and they sleep and sleep. I don’t know what planet those people are from. We have an excellent baby – a sleep grunter with an amazing set of lungs, but excellent for sure. Not colicky, not fussy about noise or eating (for the most part), and a consistent sleeper for about three hours at a time. Still, finding time for a personal project seems a stretch. However I remember Matt Rix speaking at an InterAction event about how he built Trainyard during his parental leave, and I wonder about using this precious time to tackle some things I’ve always wanted to do.

I hesitated to post this because I know that living in the moment and relishing the free and ample time I have with my brand new daughter is the most important thing. At the same time, I know I need to find a way to stay connected to the world.

Maybe I will find some more time as we settle into a routine, and if so here are some projects I’ve been wanting to work on (in no particular order):

1. Make things you can touch

The Erudite Alphabet by Alex Westgate

The Erudite Alphabet by Alex Westgate

I have the urge to sew my own nursing tops. Boob Nursing wear has gotten the thumbs up as most stylish and discreet for public nursing, but why the H is it so expensive? I am sure I can DIY it. I’m also daydreaming about a children’s book Mark and I might work on together. Something graphic and awesome, along the lines of this book, The Erudite Alphabet. We’ve also talked about screenprinting all the pink onesies we’ve received as gifts with edgier patterns and phrases. This item is basically my master plan to generate passive income from creatively satisfying side projects. It would result in an Etsy shop where I could add the creations I made while pregnant (my invaluable nursing pillow, door hanging storage, nursing pads, etc).

2. Start a new parents group

An old high school buddy invited me to join her impressive 1000 person strong and very active mom’s group on facebook. It’s nice to have a welcoming and supporting community when times get stressful and you have lots of questions. Mark and I have noticed, however, that new parent communities so often exclude dads and that seems unfair. I’m not saying all groups should be completely open as many challenges women face are very gender-specific, and there is the matter of personal preference, community-building, how men and women relate to each other, etc. But walking around our neighborhood (which has the reputation of having the highest birth rate in Canada) we noticed signs in people’s yards reading, “Need a break? Join MumNet, for one day a week all about you.” What about DadNet? Or better, ParentNet? Why isn’t it more obvious that dads could be stay-at-home as well? Anyway, we aren’t convinced as to why all these groups are so gendered, and knowing both moms and dads who are new parents makes me want to start a more gender-neutral parenting group.

3. Illustrate 30 days of advice from my family

I've actually already started this project. This piece of advice is from my 86-year-old grandma.

I’ve actually already started this project. This piece of advice is from my 86-year-old grandma.

Mark’s birthday gift for my 30th (a week after Amelia was born) was a box of 30 gifts, one to be opened each day for all October along with a piece of advice secretly obtained from each of my family members. I grew up the youngest of my generation and, in Mark’s words, am always whinging to him about how I experience everything last, so he wanted to know what people thought I might have experienced before them, what their lives were like at age 30, and what advice they might have for me as a new 30 year old. We’ve been recording me reading each piece of advice, taking photographs of each gift, and I would dearly like to illustrate my favorite advice from each person. Phrases like Everything in moderation and Don’t lose your bold spirit. Wouldn’t these be beautiful lettering projects? This whole project as a set would be something I know I would cherish forever.

4. Share new mom experiences and insights

DotsThis might be an easier project than I imagine, but it does mean fully embracing the sharing part. I haven’t quite worked out how public I want to be about my new little family and how much I want to keep to ourselves, but I do feel the urge to share some of the practical aspects of what I’ve learned – like that a Boppy (my homemade one) is a must-have for nursing, that a night light is amazing for co-sleeping, that parenting books get a lot more interesting once the baby has arrived, that Wind in the Willows is the best read-aloud book for newborns ever, that Dots is probably the best one-handed distraction while nursing. Random things like that to capture this time in our lives. One thing that stops me is that there are SO many new parent blogs (especially by Mums) that this feels a little redundant.

5. Write a design book

I’ve been wanting to write a thoughtful book about design for ages, ever since I started this blog. Writing has always helped me figure out what I think, and I have always enjoyed doing it. It’s always been a life goal of mine to write a book. For a long time the dream was to write a fiction book, which I have tried twice (ending up with many thousands of garbled words and characters and storylines), but why not write about a craft I’ve spent years developing, that I care tremendously about? I do have some thoughts about process that could benefit other young designers. So why not start now? I’m thinking it could be a book of essays to be released at first as individual pieces for various publications.

Which would you endorse?

That’s what’s on my list so far, among things like ‘write a will’ and ‘mop the floors’ and ‘lose my baby pooch’. These other things can wait (except the will thing). Granted I know I cannot do it all. So I’m curious – do any of these projects stand out as something you would be interested in or like to get involved with?

Let me know in the comments, I’d love to hear your thoughts!

McDaniel-Thirty
September 30, 2013

Reflections on Turning 30

I’m typing this with a sated baby in the crook of my arm, with a new-found respect for true multi-tasking. I have been thinking a lot lately about contentedness, about how I have never been happier, and today’s birthday feels like it’s just added more pleasure to the pile. In fact every day has felt like that recently. It’s a little scary – feeling that what goes up must come down – but it also seems that my recent contentedness is of a particular kind, a stable kind, perhaps a result of having reached a mature and ripe old age with less tolerance for extremes. What I am hoping is that Contentedness (unlike Happiness) is even-keeled, and if a fall is around the corner, perhaps it will be from less a height, or maybe I am at least better prepared to deal with it.

Our newborn, Amelia, is pretty mellow. The midwife says Mark and I are mellow people so it’s no big surprise, and she might likely stay that way (fingers crossed). I have not always been as easygoing as I feel now though (surprise surprise), and turning 30 makes me reflect on that fact. It is partly a product of evened out hormones no doubt, but also of having gone through some major life shit that has taught me major life lessons, namely that so much of what we worry about is inconsequential in the grand scheme of things. Living abroad away from family, having to set up a new life with new friends here in Canada, making difficult but sensible compromises in my relationship, exploring what I wanted to do for work, reaching for lifelong dreams, getting to know my dad again and dealing with his death – all have been a part of my journey toward contentedness.

A friend recently lost his father too, but in a brutal and senseless killing . It is a complete tragedy, and my friend has struggled to make sense of it. Here’s a part of what he wrote in response to his grief, a heartfelt plea for people to try to find what does matter in life.

Ninety-nine percent of what’s on your mind and happening in your life doesn’t fucking matter. Things on my mind in the 24 hours prior to my father’s senseless killing included: iPhone 5S colour choice, dissatisfaction with my relationship status, hoping I’ll be able to get 4 weeks off in Jan/Feb to go to Taiwan, does this new startup idea have legs, dad’s bruises from his vehicle accident (he was bruised, but otherwise perfectly fine), why my mom can’t just accept that I love smoking cigarettes, how will Suits season 3 end, how it’s possible that anyone has NOT watched Suits, the Eagles are DEFINITELY scooping the Superbowl come February, GSXr or CBR. None of it matters. All that matters is life itself existing, and sharing the mere existence of life with the people that give your life meaning.

I’ll repeat that last bit because I like it so much.

All that matters is life itself existing, and sharing the mere existence of life with the people that give your life meaning.

I hate that it sometimes takes the horrid for us to understand and appreciate the good. But in the end, the good is there, and that’s what I think is worthy of our attention.

I remember when my older brother was graduating from high school his psychology teacher assigned a question for homework asking his students to reflect on where they would like to be in five years. My brother wrote something along the lines of wanting to be happy. I remember thinking that was sort of lame, and what were his goals and what did he really want to achieve in life? I did not see happiness as an achievement, but as something you were given. You either had it or you didn’t.

I see now that I was wrong. Happiness (or contentedness, which I prefer) does take work. You first have to recognize that happiness is a choice, and then you have to do the work to choose happiness, which means dropping bad or self-indulgent habits or being okay with whatever doesn’t make the cut. So, for example, not having enough time (for yourself, for your family, for rock-climbing) is making you unhappy? You choose more time by cutting out the extra hours at work or on freelance outside of work, accepting a slower career path or less money or whatever it is you think you get out of working all the time.

That’s a personal example. There are other kinds of trade-offs. Trade job security for a career that is riskier but more personally fulfilling. Trade a full-time career for a closer relationship with your kids or family. Trade the freedom of a car for freedom of conscience regarding your carbon footprint. Trade good booze-filled times for a healthier liver, or vice versa. Choices.

My choices have not all been perfect, but they are working for me. Compared to where I was at this time last year, I feel as if my wheels have found the ruts and things are going along so much more smoothly. I’m so content to have the partner I have, the job I have, the home I have, the city we live in, and the friends and admirable people in my life. I feel it’s such a rich and lucky life. (More thoughts on luck, later.)

There is nothing better than starting a new decade of life feeling this way. I am very very grateful for the people in my life that have helped bring all this joy inside what used to feel like a walled garden. Much love to you all. Thanks for never giving up on me. I hope I can repay this debt by any small measure, that I might somehow help others find their own contentedness.

Okay thirties. I think I’m ready for you.

Thoughts on Syria preview
September 11, 2013

Thoughts on Syria

I’ve been trying to understand what’s going on in Syria. Some images come to mind.

Thoughts on Syria

Tom McDaniel
August 7, 2013

The Most Important Work

Every morning you get up that big boulder is just sitting still and you have a choice, it really is a choice – am I going to put it to my shoulder, am I going to exert the blood and the sweat that it takes to move it, to get it going again?

Some days the boulder gets the best of you. And some days, you get a moment of exhilaration or whatever and it’s enough to push you to move, to choose to do something. -Peter Guinta

It’s 1:30 in the morning, and Amelia (our unborn daughter) is squirming, keeping me awake. This seems to happen on days of significance, when I’m not totally sure what that significance is, like a few weeks ago when I got up at 4:30 for apparently no reason but turns out it was the anniversary of my dad’s death. It seems today is like that too, except I really hope to go back to bed after this.

I guess I’ll start here, since I’m thinking about my dad.

On May 22, 2011, Dad and I were chatting about an interview we did that was scheduled to go up soon on the Kickstarter blog.

Tom: They have lots of blog, would we go at top or bottom?
me: at the top
Tom: Good! What you up to today?
me: work work working as usual
Tom: Work your fingers to the bone, whadya get?
Tom: ...Bony fingers. (lol it's from a song)
me: :)

I was a total workaholic back then. Obsessed with work, with getting my name out there. After a long hiatus from this, I finally wrote a new article recently and it reminded me of how absorbing digital culture is. You can get completely lost in words and pictures and twitter accounts, following one great thing after another. It’s hard to disconnect once you’re in it, barely bothering to look up.

But it’s important to look up. To remember why we work.

This is one of my favorite mini-docs. It’s by Eliot Rausch. It’s about work.

Yesterday my Dad, if he was still alive, would have turned 60. Thirteen months after his passing, I have mixed feelings about his death.

On the one hand, I miss him a lot. He was a character. Funny, sweet. He never did very much in the time that we were close… he stayed home, DJed an online radio show with friends, farted around in the same white t-shirt and grey sweatpants all day, collected veterans checks from the government. He read every single one of my blog posts, though, and would ask me about them on our Sunday calls. I remember him telling me about some website he was an “expert” contributor to - answer.com or wikihow or answerwiki – who knows. He was good at that sort of niche knowledge, whether it was literature, oil rigs, chemistry or pop culture. He was so proud when they sent him an embroidered bag to say thanks for being such a badass contributor.

I think he would have been really excited about me working at Mozilla, and he definitely would have made some pull requests and fiddled with things, or maybe he would have volunteered to localize Webmaker into Spanish. He was a weird man, absent in lots of ways, but very present in others.

Grief is funny. I miss my dad, and I’m sad for all the things he’s missed this past year. It’s been a big one. I had a wedding, started working at Mozilla, got pregnant. He would have enjoyed hearing about and being a part of all these things.

But I’m also glad he’s dead. Boy, did he suffer. Nearly his whole life was a battle against a disease that people are still so far from understanding. He was happy when he died, too, happy with his life. This has actually confused me for a long time – he died too young from what a lot of people consider a self-inflicted disease, and he was estranged with most of his family, but I think I get it now.

I went to see him a few months before he died. He knew the end was coming. We were watching Star Trek on Netflix on his bed because he didn’t have the energy to get up anymore. It was hard to get him to talk about his health, and I had no idea what his actual diagnosis and prognosis was because he was always quick to change the subject, but TNG had put him in a good mood and this loosened his tongue. We talked about end-stage liver disease, whether or not he was on the liver transplant list, his cataracts, the ascites that kept him from eating much and having even less fluids.

He told me he never understood his drinking would kill him, not at 58.

I remember his eyes when he said this, wide, wet, yellow. Looking back I know this was a confession of fear. I wish I had been more compassionate in my answer. All I’d said was, “Life is short.” I kick myself now. I know I could have done better than that. But that was what the moment gave me.

I’m also glad he’s dead for selfish reasons. Life feels simpler for me; I don’t have to worry about him anymore. I’ve been feeling guilty about this, but when I think about it I’m sure it’s not uncommon of people who’ve had to care for others who are at the end of their lives, or with people with whom you’ve had complex relationships with. Death is a release.

And death is finite. This is all I have of him anymore: my memories, and whatever I can dig up from my digital time capsules. All I have are the times I did try, the times I said something (be they right or wrong), the times I did remember to call.

All of this is to say, really, that I think Dad’s death gave me invaluable perspective. Just like, I’m sure, having Amelia will change my perspective again.

It has taken awhile for everything to sink in, but I see it very clearly now: so few things in life are really worth getting upset over, and so much of our time spent living is wasted on things that really don’t matter. Money, possessions, misunderstandings or miscommunications, making ourselves miserable because of assumptions, protecting our egos… I definitely still do and worry about these things, but I realize I shouldn’t. Neither should you.

Isn’t it so much more worthwhile to spend our finite time being grateful for what we have?

In here, somewhere, is also the discovery of why I care so much about getting things done, about finishing things. In the end, no one is going to look at your half-finished work. No one is going to assess what kind of person you were by how much money you made. No one is going to remember your particular troubles, the things that kept you up at night, they will just remember you – how you treated people, and (I think) the things you finished.

Let’s work on things that matter. Let’s assess our success by the same measures we put on a human life. Let’s put the important things at the top of our to-do lists. Let’s finish things. Let’s use the moments we’re given.

And with that, I’ll leave you with a couple videos from what is still my favorite thing I’ve finished. So much I could have done differently, especially aesthetically, but not a thing I’d change.

If you would like a book, you can order one here. I still have a couple hundred left, but these babies won’t last forever.

mcdaniel-obey-eye
June 20, 2013

The future of Webmaking

“On the other other side, a side that receives scant attention, scanter investment, is where big problems – little b, little p – reside. Here, you’ll find a group I’ll refer to as the unexotic underclass. It’s rather quiet in these parts, except during campaign season when the politicians stop by to scrape anecdotes off the skin of someone else’s suffering.”
The Exotic Underclass by C.Z. Nnaemeka

I’m excited about the new Webmaker.org. I’m excited about working for a company that stands up for its idealistic beliefs, that is actually doing something major about the exotic underclass.

This week I helped launch a new Webmaker.org. Short story: Webmaker is a big site, a platform, and it has a lot of devoted users already. To get through the relaunch of a site like this in the course of 9 weeks’ time (from my Day 1 on the job) means some shit had to move fast. Parts – technical, design, human – all had to work in rhythm. It’s thrilling to be on a team that is shipping that fast, but beyond that it is inspiring; many, many people get bogged down in the idea of how big their idea is that they never end up doing anything of consequence. Fortunately that’s not so with Webmaker.

I am most excited about the adjustments that have set us up for the future. This re-launch has a lot of surface changes, but those are the tip of the iceberg in terms of what’s going on in Webmaker’s core structure. Here are some of the highlights (courtesy of Brett’s words) and my interpretation of what they mean for things to come.
Old vs. New Webmaker

Big Changes to Webmaker

  • An entirely new look and feel and UX for webmaker.org – a more interesting way of browsing content made by users. A site structure that is more about making, and less about telling the Webmaker story (although there’s still a place for that, too).
  • A way for users to create their own domain name, stay saved in across all their apps, and access their creative work in any app – This was difficult from a technical and UX point of view, but I am hoping this ultimately means users will be more devoted to the content they produce, that their “space” on webmaker.org is  as much about our tools helping them inspire and change their world (through learning materials, portfolios and other content) as it is about making an awesome meme.
  • A new editorial strategy and accompanied content – hopefully leading to a wider user base for Webmaker (less of a focus on kids) and one that is a bit edgier. More misfits!
  • A revised events platform – This coincides with the Maker Party launch, “a three-month extravaganza of making and sharing online. Events are organized all over the world by Mozilla, our partner organizations and people just like you.” All over the world isn’t lip-service. Events so far are taking place in India, the States, Canada, UK. More to come.
  • New and old apps (like Popcorn and Thimble) written in node.js (after first learning how to write apps in node.js) – I believe this means faster applications in a more flexible language that opens the door to easier collaboration.
  • An API for users’ creative work (MakeAPI) and webmaker.org itself – This part of the site structure has informed a bunch of our UX decisions, including streamlining how users browse content. On the technical side, I believe this means more agile and flexible opportunities for people to create their own apps at some future point, and for us to respond in cool ways to what people are making (e.g. through added features).
  • An app for escaping malicious code – Not sure what this but it sounds badass!
  • Allow any dev to be able to push any of their work at any time to at least three server environments in the cloud – Holy smokes this is awesome for our team.

Some other things I’m proud of

Webmaker Search

  • A more unified experience across the site – This includes a consistent navigation across the site and tools, easy ways for users to find their way back to Webmaker.org from someone’s random project link, and a ridiculously easy way to discover the details of how one’s favorite projects were made. Let the remixing begin.
  • A faster way to making. People can get to our tools in one click now, instead of four. Patting myself on the back for this one.
  • A sweet search page.
  • A clever 404 page – Nice work by Erika Drushka, Chris Appleton and Kate Hudson.
  • Log in with Persona – another inspiring Mozilla product that promises not to track your web moves. We had a great conversation with the Persona team early on about potentials for improving this log-in experience, and I’m proud that we are supporting their awesome vision.

What I’m looking forward to

mobile-webmaker

  • A better mobile experience. The seed is there, as in our site is responsive and we have lots of retina-ready images and best practices in terms of icons, text and images (still working out some hiccups). I’m excited to make this even better from both UI and functional perspectives, particularly when our tools start working on mobile too.
  • Incorporating Open Badges into the Webmaker UX. – Admittedly, I think I’ve taken some convincing to see the value of badges, of getting recognized for earned skills (aren’t the skills themselves the reward?). My personal turning point was finally watching Waiting for Superman a few weeks ago and seeing how this project can help the world (and the exotic underclass) immediately on a real, practical level. I’m also excited about the gamification implications of this, always an interesting UX endeavor.
  • Realizing the vision for AppMakers – Mark Surman recently shared the board’s vision for this, the democratization of both the making and distribution of apps. Webmaker should be able to facilitate this some time in the future. I can’t wait to see what people do with a more balanced platform.

The Future of Webmaking

The Mozilla production environment is a special beast, and I’ve never worked in one like it before. Many of our team members work remotely across various time zones (never easy, but we are dedicated to making it work). There are also open source methodologies as well as working full-time on a single product (as opposed to client services), both relatively new to me.

One of the toughest things has been releasing the new Webmaker early, knowing how much more we’d like to iterate on it. Tough for a perfectionist like me, but a valuable lesson. I’ve had to kill a lot of my darlings and scale back on UX ideas because they weren’t part of our minimum viable product. I’m itching to pull those ideas out of the scrap heap and bring them back to life. But I’m glad we did it the way we did it. For one thing, we’ll be able to shift our attention to where it’s really needed. For another, I’ve gotten more sleep.

One of the easiest things (weirdly) has been tracking our progress through Bugzilla. I’m such a dork, but I love it. I love that it means keeping things open and collaborative, that anyone can step into a bug at any time in order to contribute. I appreciate the tools we’ve been using to keep everyone on track, like Scrum Bugs and etherpad (though I prefer the styling options of Google Docs).

Mostly, I’ve enjoyed working in this collaborative capacity because I’ve felt ownership over the core ideas, precisely because I have helped build the foundations for what’s to come. That says a lot about our team, our ideas, and the future of Webmaker, which is looking bright.

mcdaniel-plot47a
May 18, 2013

Getting a new name

I needed a new name for this blog once I knew it would no longer be about designing healthcare. “Plot 47a” sounds a bit like a graveyard plot, but it is actually the section of a community garden that my husband and I had when we lived in Surrey a few years ago (our allotment). We were 24 years old, pulling up weeds and watering the raspberry bushes every other day after work. Most of our friends lived in London, spending evenings in the pub. We did plenty of that too, but we are still romantic about our garden and the handfuls of strawberries, green beans and potatoes we got from it. It was something Mark and I built together that was completely different from the websites we built together at work. The garden certainly lasted longer than some of those websites.

Gradually, Mark and I began pushing harder in our careers until we were spending all our evenings coding and designing. New opportunities came for us to work on projects outside of work, and as those opportunities became more exciting and more lucrative, they were harder to turn down. A couple grand here and there paid for travel to see our families in Florida, Luxembourg and England. We weren’t making anything more than a few thousand, and we weren’t doing it solely for the money. We felt lucky that people wanted to work with us, and it was a chance to take the kinds of risks that were harder to do in our day jobs.

The other thing is that we were supposed to be doing as much work as possible in order to be great, advice I’ve heard from industry heroes over and over again. Working evenings and weekends on side projects or even work-work projects is the accepted standard in this industry. If you aren’t doing that, it’s easy to feel like you  aren’t at the top of your game. But there’s another side to this I haven’t seen until recently: Working really really really hard outside of hours – with sleepless nights, poor nutrition, slouching in desk chairs – maybe that is the way to get something started, but it certainly isn’t the way to keep it going. It isn’t sustainable.

For me, when I step back, a lot of the work I have done is so ethereal; I’m lucky if what I build lasts a year. And that is part of what makes it seem less and less worthwhile to spend more than my forty hours a week on digital doings. If I could take back some of those evenings I spent hunched over a computer and instead build a sheet fort with my nephews and read stories by flashlight, or watch a really inspiring, artistic film, or sit on the roof and look at the moon – those memories may not last long either, but at least it’s an investment with an outcome I know. I believe those memories contribute to a much richer life than a harddrive full of projects no one will look at or care about in a year or two. There needs to be time for play. For movies. For going for walks in the hail and cherry blossoms. For sewing projects. For paintings. For theatre. For friends and family. These are all things I have sacrificed time toward because I wanted to be a “good” designer.

It’s not that I regret my hard work, but lately I’ve been questioning the proportionality of it. The truth is, I’ll never be as good a designer as I would love to be, no matter how many hours outside of work I put into it, and I’m probably already as good as I need to be. That doesn’t mean I work any less hard, but I’m beginning to feel that my work is more concentrated, more focused, more deliberate. I feel like that should have been the goal all along: Quality over quantity. This is arguably a difficult strategy to take when you’re young and feel like everything you produce is crap, when you just keep making in hopes that something good will come of it. I guess that does happen eventually, but I hope the natural progression is toward a point where young designers can stop, reassess, and make sure they’re still doing the thing they love and loving the things they do. This is what I aim to do now.

All this said, I currently do work more than my forty hours a week, but I hope to get to a point where I can gradually stop coming in early and staying late and be strict with myself about how I divide my time between the things I value: yes, I need to do a good job at my work, I need my life to have some value beyond consuming, but it’s also super important to me to be a good partner, a good friend, daughter, sister, cousin, niece and an overall creative, well-rounded person. How can I be that if I spend all my time at the computer?

These are just a few thoughts to justify why Mark and I are giving up freelance, at least while we have full-time jobs. It’s almost crazy that I feel we have to justify it. We’ve been closing off projects and telling people we’re not taking any more work, trying to be strict about saying “No” (it’s really tough!), turning down family members and friends. A couple weeks ago, I finally refunded an initial deposit paid to me two years ago by an incredible client for a project we never really got off the ground.

I’m excited to see what doors this opens for us – not doors to new and better work, but doors to relationships and experiences (which may or may not improve our work). And hopefully, Plot 47a will become a place to document those creative thoughts and ideas, whether work-related or not.

mcdaniel-access
March 19, 2013

Brave New World

O wonder!
How many goodly creatures are there here!
How beauteous mankind is! O brave new world,
That has such people in’t.
—William Shakespeare, The Tempest

I’m a little sad, and a little excited, to share that this is my last week working at the Centre for Global eHealth Innovation on the Human Factors team. I’ll be leaving University Health Network to take up a new design position at Mozilla on their Webmaker team after the first week of April, which is pretty exciting for me! So I’ll be shifting my concentration from healthcare more to education, and I wanted to take a few paragraphs to reflect on my experiences here and where I’m going.

In January I wrote about the Disruptive Incumbent, which may appear to have been the beginning of the end, but in truth I’ve been sitting on this thought ever since I decided I would tackle healthcare design: how much can you change the direction of a heavy machine heading one way, when you desperately want it to go another?

While I believe there must be people working within the healthcare system in order for this system to change, I’ve had to question my own role as an insider. What are my own strengths? Where am I adding value?

Outsider vs. Insider

McDaniel-Outsider-Insider2
When I started I was very much an outsider, completely unfamiliar with the healthcare world. Then and still, I am comfortable with the contrasting laissez faire tech environment, am more used to experimental and sometimes haphazard creative practice, and I realize that through my experience in digital agencies, I often value the speed of innovation and “content” creation over its substance, believing that iterations will lead to incremental, meaningful impact.

To answer my own question, I believe my value at the Centre has been exposure; I have exposed people unfamiliar with design culture to a different way of thinking about problems, to new methods of problem-solving, and hopefully, to new ways of interacting with people that are necessary for great design (e.g., openness and forthrightness when it comes to critiques, quick iterations without hurt feelings, sharing of specialized knowledge and resources, and the idea that design is not magic – it is a process). I’m not just talking about the Centre, but also about new people I’ve met through this blog, through Twitter, and through community health events including Hacking Health. All of this exposure has built real value by contributing (even in some small way) to a culture change within healthcare.

At the same time, my projects, colleagues, and working environment have most definitely changed me: I am more cognizant of creating work that will have a real impact. I want to be able to measure that impact. I now think thoughtfully about potential harm my work may be inflicting upon users. These are not easy subjects to wrangle, so to have developed the skills and resources to cope with them over the course of one short year and a half is a huge advantage to me as a designer.

I have also been exposed to areas of design work I would never have come in contact with otherwise. I have watched users fiddle with my interfaces through a one-way mirror, watched patients enter an MRI machine, heard people well-versed in healthcare traverse this delicate landscape of healthcare politics, choosing which of their battles to fight. Even sitting side by side with a talented industrial designer and mentoring younger design interns straight out of school has taught me a lot about myself and how I work. It’s also been enlightening to face the challenge of encouraging other designers to join the healthcare cause, and to those who have stepped up: Keep at it. You continue to inspire me.

These challenges-slash-opportunities are often missing in your standard design briefs at your standard design agencies, and I feel lucky to know now that designers can deeply understand a complex problem, and we can influence complex processes.

I strongly believe this ability to affect change does not apply solely to designers. Anyone with insight that is willing to speak up – and sometimes fight for their beliefs – will be able to influence their environment. I hope that part of what I’ve been able to accomplish at the Centre is to have enabled the sharing of those insights as well as the ability to trust an insight without necessarily knowing where it came from. While design is a process, and its techniques can definitely be learned, the unstructured component of creative thinking (aka “play”) is also really important to anyone interested in doing things a little differently.

What’s next?

It’s the element of “play” that I want to focus on a bit more. I’m excited about shifting scenery and going to work for Mozilla’s Webmaker team, where I can help shape the vision for and build tools for people to play with content on the web.

A few weeks ago I saw Mark Surman speak about the Mozilla mission at Creative Mornings, and I was completely captivated. The Mozilla mission is to encourage web literacy, or the ability to understand how the web works, in order for users to be able to contribute to it in a creative way as opposed to simply consuming. I identify with the belief that the web should be able to be influenced by individuals who take part in it. This is, after all, what made me fall in love with interactive design in the first place. And not without irony, this “enabling” is very much how I felt about healthcare, too. How do we enable patients to become participants in their own care?

Also not unlike healthcare, part of my role as a user experience designer at Mozilla will be to think about what motivates certain behaviours and to imagine how we can create tools that makes those behaviours easier to accomplish or more desirable.

What will be changing, however, or at least what I imagine will change, will be that I won’t be facing the crazy inertia of a huge, complex system like healthcare that is – often rightly so – terrified of making mistakes. Education and the tech world are certainly still big industries to reckon with and are wrought with problems of their own, but in these worlds the individual consumer is granted more access, the importance of which I cannot stress enough.

Access

McDaniel-Access
Access allows people to be a part of something, to potentially change it because they are a part of it. I was lucky to have been given access to the health environment not knowing anything about it, but I know too many businesses that would love to work in healthcare and don’t know where to start. Their ability to access current work-streams, the hospital environment, and patients and doctors is extremely limited. Until that changes, I am not convinced healthcare will experience the benefits of a competitive and creative tech scene.

In tech companies, the sometimes fierce loyalty to openness and sharing has – I think – made strides for advancement easier to accomplish. (Granted, the opposite to openness, à la Apple, has also taken us places, but I’m not sure to good ones!) I’m impressed with the openness of Mozilla. For example, the Webmaker team has weekly phone calls  that any member of the public can join. Can you imagine this existing in healthcare?

It isn’t easy to maintain openness in the face of growth; we tend to have the natural desire to lock down whatever it was we feel made us successful, so that we can stay on top, right? But I really love that the value system of openness is baked into the culture at Mozilla, and I’m excited about what this means for my own potential as a designer to impact the world around me.

In the meantime, Healthcare Human Factors is still going to be doing some of the best work around in healthcare. I’ll still send anyone I know to their doorstep. They still have a crackin’ team of designers with communication, graphic, and engineering backgrounds, so I’m definitely going to keep tabs on them to see what they’re creating.

Sharing everything

It is in the spirit of openness that I want to share everything I’ve learned about building a creative team inside a hospital at Healthcare Experience Design Conference in Boston next Monday. I’m considering it my last hurrah in healthcare, at least for awhile! Do come out and hear what I have to say, and we can argue and debate about it afterward.

By the way, I’ll be keeping this blog, but will probably rename it eventually. Everything I’ve written about my journey in healthcare will still be here for others who want to take the dive and who want an excerpt of challenges they may face in this brave new world – and to those designers, I say you should definitely do it, the experience is worth it.

mcdaniel-disruption
January 17, 2013

Disruptive Incumbent

“You can’t create a disruptive business inside an incumbent business.”

Jon Lax wrote an insightful post about a month ago that I haven’t stopped thinking about since. Teehan+Lax have a “zombie product” they named Image Spark, an image collection service similar to Pinterest (but born way earlier). The service, with 90k unique visits, is not exactly dead, yet it is not alive either; there are no updates planned, no person driving it forward, no future plans. Teehan+Lax has decided to give up the ghost on this one for lack of infrastructure (and will) to sustain and nurture the product.

What interested me was something Jon wrote in the comments. “The issue isn’t having interesting problems to work on. We have a long list of ideas. It’s that you can’t create a disruptive business inside an incumbent business. Any idea will flounder without proper focus and a 3-4 year investment timeline.” Lax goes on to cite Basecamp as a successful product for 37Signals, which “got the resources (capital and human) it needed because it fueled the incumbent services business of 37Signals. It was able to take root because it wasn’t disruptive but highly complementary.”

So what I gather is that to succeed, a product needs:

  • 3-4 year investment timeline
  • focus, human resources, and capital
  • freedom from OR complementary services to an incumbent business

The last point especially made me think about initiatives amongst healthcare organizations. Can a single hospital or a single health startup disrupt the network of archaic but established practices in the health system? Can a department, embedded within a large incumbent organization disrupt the hospital’s own practices? Can an individual nurse, doctor, or designer disrupt a department? Is it true that only those innovations that complement the existing strengths of a system have a chance of making it?

Designers entering health and startups looking to disrupt healthcare would do well to consider how their skills or their businesses complement existing systems. It is easy to enter a new space thinking your skill or your product is so rare that it must be valuable; it is much more difficult (and humbling) to understand why your role or product wasn’t there already and to imagine what you can do to work within those limitations to still accomplish something meaningful. As ever, it is easier to criticise than to come up with a solution.

This is not to say we should be thinking smaller, but certainly more realistically. It is possible to think big as well as practically. In health, being a visionary doesn’t necessary mean changing everything, not all at once. It means using the resources you have to do the best you can during the time you have. It means knowing when to cut your losses on a project – as Teehan+Lax are doing with Image Spark – or to pony up the resources to keep it moving forward. Otherwise, products and projects become stale and just as useless as if they’d never seen the light of day.

On one final note, disruption is not always the real goal. We hear so much of that word from every  young startup that if we were all successful, our healthcare systems would be even messier, more chaotic and less effective than they are today. Maybe we simply mean to evolve the current technologies – to bring them up to speed, take them up a notch, or to complement them – or to create an environment where innovation can thrive.

I’m going to keep mulling this over, myself. It seems an important distinction. I welcome your thoughts!

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