Category Archives: observational

Concept and Execution

Matt Gemmell tweeted this lovely concept of the Macintosh Nueu from Curved Labs.  It’s a stunning piece of design work that immediately sets off a twinge of nostalgia.  Familiar in both 1984 and 2015, the design resonates.

I loved the design of the original all-in-one Macs.  I keep a Mac Plus and a Classic II on the bookshelf in my office.  Maybe it’s just because I used them in my childhood, but they evoke a sense of wonder that more modern technology struggles to match.

With few exceptions though, I dislike concepts.  They give me a sour feeling in my gut.  As someone who’s often tasked with turning bright ideas into reality, I’m deeply uncomfortable with presenting a cool idea in such a factual way.  Concepts make for great art, but they’re terribly misleading when it comes to portraying what we should actually do.

Executing on an idea brings forward all the sharp corners and rough edges.  We almost never know what the actual problems in a development cycle are going to be until we’ve finished the first pass at implementation.  Oh sure, you can spot some of the dangers from afar, but that doesn’t mean there aren’t more lurking horrors that will require a course correction midstream.

If you can execute on the idea and it’s still a good idea, you’ve got a winner.

Getting the Pitch

One of my favourite parts of telling people my side projects is watching their face light up when they really get it.  If you can do it in the first five seconds, you’ve figured out a way to tell the story.

I don’t know about you, but I’m not a natural storyteller.  I have to practice and hone a story until I have a good way to tell it.

So you throw the explanation against one person.  Then another.  Another.  You note down when they start to really understand what you’re talking about.  More often than not, I bury the lead so hard that the first few people I talk to are only listening out of politeness.

It’s not just about getting the story down smooth.  You have to mix it up and see if you can grab attention earlier.  You have to find out the hook and move it up front.

Eventually you have a real pitch.  You never really stop fine tuning it, but you’ve got something worth telling.

Buffer Time

Our goal was to finish cleaning the old apartment today.  Then tomorrow we could just show up, hand over the keys, and go find brunch.

Of course that didn’t happen.  There’s still one more load of stuff to bring over and a couple floors to mop.  It’s not much, but it’s the difference between ‘incomplete’ and ‘done’.  Luckily, by which I mean intentionally, we set a deadline before the real deadline.  It forced us to make better plans, and more importantly, it lets us have a bit of buffer for when plans inevitably fall through.

I’ve worked on lots of things that came in on schedule.  I don’t think I’ve ever worked on a project that didn’t use buffer time.  Work expand to fill the time available – plus a bit longer while you put the finishing touches down.  I think it’s critical to include some extra time in every project.

I Don’t Admire the UHaul Guy

This morning I picked up a UHaul van for our move to the new apartment.  It’s college-moving weekend, so we had a narrow window to use the loading dock.  That meant that everything else had to go right.  We had plenty of helpers lined up, we had the loading zone at the old apartment booked all morning, and everything was ready to go.

When I got to the UHaul place at 7:05, the manager was already on the phone with someone.  He was explaining that they needed to return their truck *now*.  Someone had it booked in a couple hours, and the previous booking had failed to return it the night before.  I couldn’t hear the other end of the conversation, but it seemed like the person was befuddled that they couldn’t just hang onto the truck until they were done.

The manager explained that they were ruining someone else’s move, and asked when they’d have the truck in.  The look on his face said he wasn’t happy with the answer.

He helped me afterwards, but his mind was somewhere else.  He was going to have to call the people who booked that truck today and explain that they didn’t have one for them.

I wonder how many times a year he has to make that call.


My partner and I were packing up the kitchen appliances this evening and came upon my toaster manual.  This little gem is from the troubleshooting guide:

Problem: Bread is jammed.

Possible Cause: The bread may be too thick.

Solution: Most breads, pastries and bagels will fit into the slot, however, occasionally the bread may be too thick.  Simply remove from the toaster and slice thinner.

It’s the “simply” that makes it art.