Public service announcement 


The human mind is a very flexible thing, especially for lying to itself. ADM personal communication, political

As though stripping the context wouldn’t make it more true.


The Design Letters, Vol. 2

ghandi-learn-as-if-youll-live-foreverDesign is not dead.

Design will never die.

However, some design careers–and the careers of some individuals–will.

I’ve found myself writing again to the always-excellent Jarrod Drysdale. It speaks very well of a design or creative professional (or any team member) when their reflections on value creation cause others to examine and clarify their own. Bad ideas and lazy or wishful thinking about product and marketing, to borrow a metaphor from church, “are like a beard–you have to shave it off fresh every day.” It helps to have someone around who can stimulate and crystallize one’s thoughts.

It took another couple of Jarrod’s emails, and an article from UX Magazine (Is Web Design Dead?) to fully form my thoughts. And now I begin to see the answers to the questions, including the one  that was What is design worth? Can anyone do it? Can anyone do without it? Who is a designer? What counts as “creative” work?

I’ve got some answers.


I hope this finds you well. In our earlier correspondence I mentioned that turnkey solutions and customer ability to observe design patterns created a two way market that no longer involved design professionals. One example is web design…

Web design is not totally dead of course. No design idiom ever completely commoditizes; just look at furniture. Customers with real money to spend will spend it on non-commodity design talent. That’s why I enjoyed your article on productized consulting so much. It rebuilds the bridge from scarcity mentality towards design back to high-value-added service relationships.

But “margins”—insofar as that term can be clumsily applied to a consultant—for “average” designers go down precipitously when clients think they know what they want and have market substitutes that encourage this thinking. Thus, it very quickly pays not to be average in a mature market. The question for a designer (customer) is not that of the “death” (obfuscating triviality) per se of design. The question is whether the designer has (designer, design thyself!) positioned and refined (praxis) their professional creative ethos to fit with the business opportunities they seek.

On that mundane, pecuniary note: it is important to remember at this point that design consulting is (borrowing an image from speechwriting, one of my areas of responsibility) using one’s own mind to speak in someone else’s voice. It is a highly reflective, interpersonally intimate, and necessarily self-denying act. That explains the borderline violent experiences that we have all had with achieving acceptable [to ourselves and others] creative results.

Design, be it web, graphic, print, mobile, or other, will never die. But it will never stand still. And like any profession, those practicing it must first be honest with themselves about what they want to get out of it, what they are willing to give of themselves to get it, and whether or not that profession can truly provide it. On the last of those points at least, designers are lucky. After all, design can do the impossible.


Design continues to evolve.

Demand for design services currently emphasize some media and methods (and messages) over others, but it would be shortsighted to say that the current landscape will remain forever. A heavily price-elastic demand for certain kinds of design (e.g. web, more cheaply, for now) can be either a disruption to the established creative professional, or it can be an opportunity to change what is on offer. We can either create things that people pay for need, or we can create what we want to create. I am only saying that two are not necessarily the same, and each comes with different risks. Reality does not often obey our personal desires.

Creativity has assimilated into other professions and product spaces. Design thinking pervades every commercial and organizational experience. But not everyone is truly a (good) designer. It is up to all of us whether or not we are, and in what context that the market will bear.

The Design Letters, Vol. 1


Tread softly because you tread on my dreams.

In a rare example of successful content marketing to me (zero inbox is one of my proudest habits, sadly) I signed up for Jarrod Drysdale‘s Tiny Designer email newsletter series–not least, Jarrod-if-you’re-reading-this, because it promised to give me a semblance design literacy in only 5 short installments.

I’ll meet your business goals rather than sell you a glossy coat of paint. Jarrod Drysdale, with whom I have no business relationship, although he seems pretty cool.

Design thinking is where the rubber hits the road for systems thinking, and I like being able to actualize my thoughts, so it seemed like a good investment of email attention capital.

So far, it is. The first email I got posed this bold, no-bullshit question:

Is creative work valuable anymore? When anyone can write a blog, listen to a song for free, or design something pretty on Squarespace, it can seem that creative professions are going the way of the dodo bird.

This question reflects ground truth for a lot of people who will have to deleverage from their career or business pretentions for any number of reasons. Despite the abundance of design capital in the world today, anyone can easily fall victim to–or worse, embody–bad design outcomes, bad design practice, or bad entrepreneurship, or some combination of the same. I “designed” my own business card because I can’t afford a professional designer, and every reprint I order, exchange of cards that I “lose” American Psycho-style, or Pinterest binge I indulge reminds me of what the opportunity costs of my time spent and money “saved” might actually be.

Jarrod concluded by asking:

What’s the biggest threat to the design profession?

I tried to answer him, and answered some of my own questions, questions that I face as I try to clamber my own professional writing, communications, and business development consultancy–designing tools for strategic clarity and improved customer engagement–out of the depths of Resistance.

(Some clarifications added [in brackets].)

In my view, denigration of creative and design work always stops when competitive advantage [through superior design] is achieved (hopefully not by a competitor). The problem is that denigration persists because some competitive success can be found without real investment in design capital (e.g. Google [products outside of search] prior to their tipping point c. 2011 into puff pieces like this one).

This is because (a) design literacy seeps into the subconscious of sausage-making and client-facing types as a matter of simply interacting with the world, and (b) there is an economic market (profits and savings) for de-skilling of design. Real life isn’t going to end (a), nor is a cure for hubris going to end (b). But that complex is the existential threat to the design profession, even as it drives demand for a lucky few of its practitioners and aficionados/patrons.

Thank you for offering this course. Good content marketing always reminds the audience of the phrase “if you think hiring a professional is expensive, try hiring an amateur.” I believe, and I hope, that this is good content marketing for you.

This is one more place in our serviceinformationknowledgecreativeattentionsemanticrelationship economy where the “professionals” will either learn enough to adapt, or find a new profession, taking the transferable artifacts of their experience with them on a sometimes long, sometimes perilous journey to a new beginning and a new chance at personal differentiation in a new market.

We’ve all made the journey before.

Tackle new issues with humility and without fear: Capital Punishment, Vol. 2


I shall ask for the abolition of the punishment of death until I have the infallibility of human judgment demonstrated to me. Gilbert du Motier, Marquis du Lafayette (yes, that one)

I find that I am essentially for the death penalty in theory, but against it in practice. That’s one of those statements that is in danger of meaning nothing, like “supporting the troops but not the war.” In this case, however, I understand my position well enough to use such a platitude with my eyes wide open.

Short version of this post: Execution of a guilty person, for a finitely determined type of crime, is just. But in order to be a morally adequate human being, I have to privilege the (judicially) innocent. In a practical, real-life society I don’t know if there is any solution short of full abolition/repeal that can do justice (a terrible pun) to both needs.

And into the weeds we go.  Continue reading

Just written, without irony

Fortunate to serve/have served in both.

Fortunate to serve/have served in both.

Politics is practiced in a command & staff model, requiring an agile mind and secure, constructive dialogue. Campaigns recruit and mobilize assets, applying intent to the electorate to reach endstate on exact timelines–an allegory of the operational “art of war”. ADM personal communication, career-related.

Now don’t get me wrong; this is the God’s honest truth, at least in a campaign with money for more than one staffer. Still, this feels stilted in comparison to a more honest quote evincing the likeness between politics and battle:

One of the serious problems in planning the fight against American doctrine is that the Americans do not read their manuals, nor do they feel any obligation to follow their doctrine. Notebook of a Soviet Army lieutenant

What it's all about

What it’s all about.

You have more customers than you think


No one just builds a platform anymore. They have to make a market.

That’s what I told my colleague and good friend Duane Wells. Duane is a co-founder of CertSpring, an application that provides rapid, low-cost curriculum development and knowledge verification or “microcredentialing” for partners in content publishing and professional development. (Full disclosure: I am engaged with CertSpring to assist in marketing strategy and business development.)

The major platforms and in our life seem inevitable after the fact, but they were impossible at first, and their predecessors were impregnable right up until the moment they were undone.Technology now facilitates any combination of content, analytics, user mechanics, and social layering. But plugging all of the above together, no matter how seamlessly, proves nothing. If Rome wasn’t built in a day, don’t be fooled into thinking that the invention of cranes means Dubai can (or should) be.

Parts of an entrepreneur’s work have become faster and cheaper, but his work is not shorter or easier; that speed of effort and capital means that all assumptions are up for grabs and should be actioned comprehensively and simultaneously. It’s no longer possible to build a deeply functional product and wait for it to find its user niche, nor is it easy to grab and hold large swaths of engaged users without a compelling reason for them to discover what may be technically possible. Nothing can be taken for granted. Bridging the gap over a market problem to create a successful product lies in the difference between merely facilitating the combination of solution elements and catalyzing those elements.

On that note of market transmogrification, Duane occasionally uses the word alchemy to describe the success we’re pursuing–the stories in which the platform does deliver an experience that is affirmed as value-creating by both the “partner” and “customer” stakeholders, in a space where neither group realized value could be made. Now, I don’t think I have enough personality to get away with using such a sensationalizing word; besides, what we’re attempting isn’t entirely magical even as we look through an iPhone screen, darkly.

Product/market fit, service edition, is a process that regular old kinda-smart folk like ourselves can keep taking cracks at and getting closer each time. Good thing, because an element of two-way marketplace management catalysis exists in almost every business model, and increasingly in our careers. We are all continuously finding a way to stay in the value chain.

Platforms don’t make their own markets. People–like Duane, the CertSpring team, and I–do. And I hope you do too.

Excerpt from a conversation with a climate scientist

“I can certainly share my objections in more detail, but I want to give you the courtesy of going first since this is supposed to be a scientific conclusion driving policy and not the other way around. (I wasn’t breastfed, by decree of a father who smoked. /rimshot)” ADM email, not making it up, wondering if the recipient of this email (or anyone else) will get the joke.