Step Into My Office

Alyssa bought me a desk, so now I have an office in our apartment. Actually, she bought herself a desk. It’s okay, though. I got the better one.

We’ve only had one desk since we moved into our apartment. A mono-desk arrangement was working fine (except for a few territorial disputes) until we decided to start this design company called HelloFriend. Now that we’re both juggling projects, promotion, and personal stuff, the desk was starting to become a hotly contested piece of property. Even the drawers were a potential touchstone for all-out war.

I needed an office space; the dining room table wasn’t cutting it. My laptop was always spread out across it until no less than 2 minutes before dinner, and it came right back as soon as we would finish eating. My art homework usually involves some form of glue or paint, and lots of paper. I’m usually making a very big mess, so having an office was getting to the mission-critical point.

We thought long and hard about how we could fit something in. We argued about it, we stewed about it, there were probably even tears about it. Then I came home one day and found our beautiful antique schoolteachers desk in a corner with a post-it note above it that read, “Justin’s Office”. On the desk were arranged in perfect height-order, were The Chicago Manual of Style, my books on advertising, my typography books, and a tiny little shrubbery. On the wall above the desk, Alyssa had hung these old 1960’s ads for Sprite and Squirt.

See, Alyssa had found another desk and bought it and set it up for herself, then she moved the other desk and set up my office as a surprise for me. It was a very happy day. And now I have a fantastic little office space to call my own, which is great. It keeps my stuff off the dining room table, too, which is always a plus.

A Message In My Sketchbook

While I was at a project meeting yesterday, my wife left a message in my sketchbook. You probably haven’t seen her work, so you likely don’t see this as a big deal. She’s rapidly becoming adept at lettering.

Check out her most recent post, Words of Wisdom, and some of her other work. She’s not famous, but she’s good. I’m incredibly jealous of her skill, but I guess I’m just lucky that I get to watch her work.

Why I Watch MTV

Here’s the thing: I like to think of myself as a moderately educated, cultured individual with what many would consider to be good taste. How is it then that I sometimes watch MTV?

Aside from the obvious fact that it’s mindless entertainment and allows me to focus on other things—typically my sketchbook (which is the primary reason, I suppose)—is there actually a reason that I’m watching anything at all? Why not just sit in silence?

Part of it goes back to my creative process. I get bored pretty easily, so I need something to distract me from time to time. Also, having a diversion keeps me from taking whatever I’m working on too seriously. While there is a time and place for laser focus, working on my sketchbook or amassing content to share (read: spending hours on Tumblr and Stumble Upon) is typically a more lighthearted affair and the forced distraction helps me loosen up.

There’s another reason though. It seems that I find myself repeatedly watching, of all things, Catfish: The TV Show. It plays at a variety of time slots throughout the week, so it tends to be on when I’m watching TV. It’s also not quite as repulsive as some of their other programming.

However intentional this might be, the shows on MTV, especially Catfish, illustrate issues that are important to anyone interested in understanding how our culture is developing. While the quality of entertainment is highly questionable, I find that some of my best insights on how people think (or don’t), interact with each other, and use social media all come while watching MTV-level garbage. It’s interesting: what started as a mindless diversion became a philosophical reflection. I really am a boring person, aren’t I?

If I Couldn’t be in Advertising

I’m applying for a media fellowship in New York and the application process involves several essays. The most challenging one thus far was about what career I would pursue if a career in media wasn’t an option. What I ended up with is a decent summary of why I want to be in advertising, as well as an interesting exploration into some of my philosophy and ideals. Let me know what you think, if you agree or disagree, recommend something for me to read.

Advertising was my gateway to media at large, the flashy billboards and print campaigns got me thinking about who decides what to print and who needed to see it. I quickly realized that advertising wields immense power to shape opinion and culture. My education focused heavily on understanding culture, and understanding why that culture exists. History appealed to me in middle school—tracing the lines of cultural influence helped me to make sense of the world as it is now.

As I examined culture, I realized that media played a huge part in shaping and solidifying it. Presenting new ideas to a wider audience, reflecting the ideas of the majority, outright lies told for the purpose of control, wherever media was used (and for whatever purpose) it always has an impact on the culture in some way or another.

Going back through history, you can see the influence of media innovations on the culture. The social web, the internet, phone, telegraph, international correspondence, and especially the printing press all facilitated huge cultural shifts. But before the printing press, I noticed that architecture was the chief guardian of culture.

While I have always admired his architecture from an aesthetic perspective, reading the essays of Frank Lloyd Wright caused me to realize just how much I have in common with his philosophy. In The Art and Craft of the Machine, Wright emphasizes how architecture was the primary mass media in the days before mass printing was possible. Wright goes on to describe how the explosion of the press led to a decline of architecture during the Renaissance, an important point stuck with me: architecture was the original mass media.

From cave paintings to inscriptions of the legal code, buildings were historically used to relay written (or at least graphic) information. Even today, our buildings share a symbiotic and co-influential relationship with the way we live. Our houses and offices not only reflect how we live now, but they also shape the ways in which we live in the future. Architecture can promote collaborative creativity or encourage solitary meditation.

While my first choice is still media—the nature of the work appeals to me on many levels and I have invested a significant amount of time and energy into understanding it—I find myself considering the part that architecture plays in cultural influence. The most basic reason for my passion for media is a passion for inspiring others and promoting positive change. Media seems to be the area in which my skills, interests, and passions overlap the most, and the more specific field of advertising only increases that overlap. However, if the areas of media were for some reason not an option, I would most certainly pursue a career in architecture as it still provides me with a creative, arresting outlet for my core passion—inspiring others to affect positive cultural change.

New Favorite App: Everest

I discovered a nifty and new app over Christmas: Everest. This one promises to wedge itself into my daily routine. With lofty intentions of helping you achieve your dreams, it seems to follow through fairly well (it’s still new). I’ve been looking for a good way to keep track of all the things I want to do “someday,” and I had nothing else going on, so I set up an account and gave it a try.

Everest asks you to create dreams—simple statements of something you want to do. Obviously, the rules of good goal setting apply here as much as anywhere else, but there’s a unique twist: dreams aren’t intended to be done. Instead, you create a dream and use it a a place to store inspiration, notes, moments (in the form of pictures), and steps you want to take to reach your goal. When you choose a dream, Everest presents you with a place to upload a picture for inspiration and a counter of how many steps you’ve taken so far, and a prompt with the next step on your journey.

Each time you add a step, you select when you want to do it. The default is “someday,” but you can set a specific date as well as repeating steps to take every day, every week, or even every Tuesday and Friday. It’s a really powerful idea. Everest takes the steps from all of your dreams and compiles them into a feed so that you know what you can do right now to make your dreams become real.

That’s another powerful difference in Everest: you don’t set things to do. You set steps to take. If you set a step to take every day but don’t take it today, Everest calmly moves it into a category labeled “to revisit.” Any good coach will tell you that a feeling of failure for missing a day isn’t going to help you remember the next time so much as make you want to give up (you already failed, so what’s the point?). The way Everest is set up helps you to focus on what you want to do, but doesn’t shame you into doing it. Every step you take is a step closer to your goal, but a step not taken is just that.

While I’m not a fan of having thousands of different apps (in fact, one of my current goals is to identify all the unnecessary ones), I think that Everest warrants its existence by minimizing task-overload. I don’t like putting my goals—especially personal ones—on a to-do list. When I have a list with three phone calls, an email, a document to edit, sketching, and yoga, it just feels a little disorganized. Invariably, there’s also a time crunch. Yoga and sketching get pushed to afterwards and I do all the business stuff first, feeling all-the-while like there are other things I should (and would rather) be doing. Things that are sitting there staring me in the face all day. Things that are an integral part of my long-term life goals, but not critical to momentary survival.

Instead, Everest keeps all of those things that I want to do in order to achieve my goals in one place, along with the beginnings of those goals that aren’t fully formed yet. Some are in motion, others are still labeled “dreaming.” There’s an activity feed. You can follow friends and strangers or just browse through everyone’s activity. If you see in inspiring step or a dream that you share, you can copy it or add a comment to inspire someone to keep at it. Finally, it’s easy to mark dreams as private, but where’s the fun in that?

Give it a try, find me and follow my dreaming. It’s worth a shot. I’ll be using it for the foreseeable future. It’s already helping to motivate me. Case in point, I ran today and made (and finished) a focus list. Check out the challenges and you’ll understand. I’m off to go eat some homemade doughnuts.