Designers can either become drivers of business within their organizations, or they can create the businesses they want to drive. We’re entering an era of design entrepreneurship, in which some designers are realizing that they’re not just a designer employed by a business; they’re creative business people whose skill set is design.
The quotation above is from a report at trends.uxdesign.cc subtitled “Enter Late-Stage UX.” It is an important thought. And if it seems like a new one to designers in their first decade of work, it will feel quite familiar to to those of us who earned our merit badges during the 1990s and 2000s. See, for instance,
History repeats, but it also changes. If flying from your corporate perch feels like your best response to an industry where the idealism that led you to UX feels somewhat beside the point, go for it! —But first, check your bank balance, and talk with family, friends, and a business advisor, if you have one.
Trusting my ability to use design and words to say something original enabled me to work for myself (and with partners) from 1999–2019, and it was good. Financially, running independent businesses is a perpetual rollercoaster, and it can crush your soul if your beloved creation fails to connect with a community. Some people exit rich. Others just exit. “Don’t burn any bridges” is a cliché that exists for a reason. But I digress.
“Consider entrepreneurship” is but one piece of useful advice in this year’s excellent State of UX report by Fabricio Teixeira and Caio Braga, with deeply clever illustrations by Fabio Benê and significant contributions from Emily Curtin (God bless the editors!) and Laura Vandiver.
I invite you to read and bookmark the whole thing. I plan to reread it several times myself over the next weeks. It’s that deep, and that good. Hat tip to my colleague Jill Quek for sharing it.
When I joined a tech company after working for myself for 20 years, the corporate world had changed in many ways. One, in particular, struck me. My old jobs had existed in environments so laddish and rowdy that even I, as a man, had felt uncomfortable in them. So I’d gotten out.
For 20 years, I ran my own businesses. I prioritized impact over profit. I prized adherence to a set of beliefs over survival. If marketplace disruptions made pivoting to an ugly business model the only way to keep a company going, I shut that company down—even when I wasn’t sure what I would do next.
After shutting down enough of my companies to convince me that maybe “business” wasn’t my strength, what I did next, in 2019, was to join Automattic, Inc.—the people behind WordPress.com, Jetpack, WooCommerce, Simplenote, Tumblr, and other web-based empowerment tools.
It’s nothing like the places where I used to work.
We believe in Open Source. Follow a Creed. Instead of laddishness, we support and even celebrate difference. One way that support flows is through Employee Resource Groups, which we at Automattic call Automattician Resource Groups, or ARGs—so that’s the name I’ll use here.
ARGs are communities, formed around personal identity and situation, where colleagues connect with and support each other and work together toward common goals.
At Automattic, we have several of these ARG communities. Eventually, as the lead of Automattic’s Employer Brand activity, I plan to join them all. Initially, I joined two: Neurodiverseomattic and Queeromattic. I saw myself as an ally. In joining these two ARGs, I hoped to become wiser and kinder; to increase my ability to support, live, and work with family, friends, and colleagues; to deepen my interpersonal skills; and to grow in compassion and understanding.
I accomplished those goals, but I also gained something I hadn’t expected.
It started with Neurodiverseomattic, a group that provides support and resources for neurodivergent Automatticians (including but not limited to autism, ADHD, dyslexia) and their allies.
As the dad of an autistic daughter (who also suffers from an alphabet soup of additional diagnoses), I have the joy of loving, living with, and learning from one of the most brilliant minds I’ve ever encountered. But I also have the challenge of supporting someone whose life, through no fault of her own, is often painfully difficult.
I must listen when she needs an ear. Advise when she seeks help—and occasionally when she doesn’t.
Autism, in my daughter’s case, simultaneously includes remarkable, magical, wondrous capabilities, along with painful, mostly social, disabilities.
Some Neurodiverseomattic members are neurodiverse themselves; some are neurotypical but support neurodiverse family members; many, maybe most, are neurodiverse themselves and also support neurodiverse family members.
Over months, the more I shared experiences with members of my ARG, the better I became at meeting the challenges of parenting an autistic, depressed, anxious, dyslexic, artistic, gifted, emotionally intense, profoundly insightful teenager. And the more I came to realize that other members of my family had also been on the spectrum. Like my late father. And maybe my late brother. And, in a different way, my late mom. And…
And the more Ava shared her past experiences of being bullied, misunderstood, abandoned, and confused, the more I realized that I myself had had many of the same feelings and experiences growing up that she was having.
Like Ava, I had gone through a period of crying every day at the thought of going to school. The terror of brutal bullying and the shame of not fighting back. The shock of trusted friends laughing at me, not with me, or pretending not to know me. Lubricating their rise in the social ranks by pretending to find me ridiculous. Or maybe not pretending.
Like Ava, I’d concocted strange fantasies to try to understand why these things happened to me. Had I committed some crime? Was I a mistake? Had my parents been bribing my school friends to pretend to like me, and then run out of money?
So much of what Ava experienced, I had experienced. And so, it seemed, had many of my neurodiverse colleagues who courageously shared their stories.
And, finally, reader, it sank in:
I’m not just the president of hair club for men, I’m also a customer.
I’m on the spectrum. Of course I am. And always have been. Of course. And just never, ever knew.
Once I saw it, I was amazed that I’d never realized or even wondered about it.
Once I saw it, I was grateful to work at a place where we’re afforded the kind of support that can not only help us improve our people skills, but can also introduce us, on a deeper level, to ourselves.
The world I grew up in was so homophobic, and the romantic films I grew up watching were so prescriptive, that I got in touch with my heterosexuality long before I reached puberty … and didn’t recognize my queer side for decades.
Not even when I made out with a boy. (Hey, I was drunk.) Or years later, when I made out with another boy. (Hey, I was drunk, and, anyway, he looked like a girl.)
My new self-knowledge is mostly academic. Divorce has freed me of certain illusions, a spiritual practice has brought a taste of inner peace, and aging has eased up on the hormonal gas pedal, so that I no longer confuse attraction for a plan, or feelings for fate. Parenting keeps me plenty busy and fulfilled, and singlehood may not be exciting, but I’ve had enough excitement for multiple lifetimes.
Romantic love is for those still willing to risk everything. I prefer to hold onto what I have left. Because I know it’s a hell of a lot.
Thanks to the wisdom, vulnerability, truthfulness, and compassion of the friends I’ve made through my company’s ARGs, I have come to better know myself. It gives me pride, no pun intended. It even grants me serenity. And for that, I am grateful.
When he was eight years old, my dad taught himself to take apart watches and put them back together. He supported his mother by doing watch repairs at that age out of her little jewelry stand, and a few years later by delivering clothes for a Chinese laundry.
As a laundry delivery boy, he earned no salary—he lived off tips. Emanuel Romano, a starving modern painter and customer of the laundry service, could not afford to tip Murray, but in lieu of cash, he offered to teach the boy how to paint. My father accepted the lessons and painted for most of the rest of his life. (Our home in Pittsburgh would one day be filled with Murray’s paintings. All would be lost in the flood that later destroyed his home.)
In his early years, Murray couldn’t read. He was probably autistic and dyslexic, but nobody back then knew from that. And a public school in Queens in the 1930s was certainly not going to have the resources to help a child with those issues. When beating him didn’t improve his skills, the school labeled him “sub-normal” and stuck him in Special Ed. He would likely have remained there and become a janitor, or a grifter like his father (my grandfather). But one remarkable public school teacher spotted Murray’s gifts. “This boy is brilliant,” he said.
That changed everything.
(Everything except my grandfather, from whom my dad got nothing but violence and psychological cruelty. When Murray was one of two kids from his neighborhood to be accepted into Bronx Science—a rigorously academic public high school specializing in engineering, mathematics, and the sciences—his father said simply, “They’ve made a mistake.”)
Murray enlisted in the Navy at 17 to fight the Nazis, but they surrendered before he reached Germany. The navy then shipped him off to Japan, but the atomic bomb got there first.
On returning after the war, he attended CUNY on the G.I. Bill, studying electrical engineering. He eventually took his Masters—not bad for a slum kid from a poor family. He would go on to work in robotics, fluid hydraulics, and even early typesetting computers. He came the director of a Research & Development laboratory in Pittsburgh, and afterwards, spent 25 years working for himself as an author, consultant, and lecturer.
Below is his biography from twenty years ago. At the time, he was still vigorous, still flying all over the world as a consultant and lecturer. If you wish, you may skip down to the bottom, where I tell what became of him.
Maurice Zeldman, President
A world authority in the field of project management, Mr. Zeldman has consulted and led seminars for over 180 client organizations. His in-company and public seminars have been presented around the world. Advanced project managers use his special techniques to create realistic estimates, time frames, and implementations which enable the completion of these development projects on schedule and within budgets.
Before launching his EMZEE Associates consultancy, Mr. Zeldman served with Rockwell International as the Corporate Director of Technical Development for the Industrial & Marine Divisions. Responsible for all of the division’s new product and process development projects, he designed, built, and staffed an Engineering Development Center for the corporation.
Previously Mr. Zeldman served with Perkin Elmer in the development of an Atomic Absorption Spectrometer, and with American Machine & Foundry as Chief Engineer of the Versatran Robot business venture.
He is the author of “Keeping Technical Projects on Target” and “Robotics: What Every Engineer Should Know.” (Book links at Amazon.)
My mother died in 2000 after seven years with Alzheimer’s.
My father remarried the next year.
His second wife divorced him when he came down with dementia at age 91.
He was also experiencing seizures. While he was hospitalized for one of them, his house flooded, and everything he owned was destroyed.
My brother Pete found our father a clean, decent nursing home to live in.
There, his dementia progressed quickly.
The last time he saw me with my daughter, he mistook her for my wife and asked how we two had met.
He accused the nursing home staff of soiling his underwear while he slept.
He often sneaked out of the facility to buy scissors, which he smuggled back into the home. (Scissors were contraband because the home feared that their demented patients would use the blades to harm themselves. He had no practical use for the scissors, but was incensed at being told he could not have them.)
During the first year of the Covid pandemic, he contracted pneumonia.
He died at age 93 while in palliative care. He was alone.
When my mother was pregnant with my younger brother Pete, my father took her to see West Side Story in New York. My mom said every time the orchestra played, Pete kicked in her womb, keeping perfect time. Some people are born to play the drums. Pete played before he was born. He never stopped.
He loved music and courted danger. At age two, one day, he took my father’s LPs out of the record cabinet, spread them on the floor, and walked on them. When my father came home, he spanked Pete. The next day, Pete did the same thing again. And again, my father punished him. Every day it was the same. One day my mother tried to intervene as my brother was just starting to lay out a fresh pile of LPs. “Peter,” she said. “Do you want Daddy to spank you?” My brother shivered in fear. And continued to spread the records on the floor. Finally, my father put a combination lock on his record cabinet. My brother picked the lock.
Pete had his own ideas. Most were better than walking on Dad’s records. Many were brilliant. Some people march to their own drum. Pete marched to a whole set.
You could not stop him. He was full of life, full of energy. My idea of a great summer vacation was inhaling the musty aroma of books in an air conditioned library. But my brother was out from sunup till sundown—running around, making friends, buying candy for all the other kids in the neighborhood out of his tiny allowance. He loved other people. He paid attention to them.
I have a lifetime of stories about him. So does everyone who knew him. He was full of life, full of energy, a clock that never wound down. And now, he’s gone, leaving a Pete Zeldman shaped hole in the universe.
Goodbye, brother. I love you. I will keep your memory close. And maybe when time ends for me, too, I will see you again.
This is one of the most difficult things I’ve ever had to write. Pete is still with us, but has decided that he cannot fight this fight any longer. Here is a window into what I have witnessed behind the scenes: I have never seen someone battle in such a heroic way in my life. Starting last summer when we first discovered that there were possible cures available for the very deadly pancreatic cancer he has, Pete was informed that if he tolerated the Abraxane/GEM chemo protocol that he was on, and if his numbers continued to fall, he would be a good candidate for the trial at the end of the year. In an effort to continue to be in the trial he essentially poisoned himself, refusing to complain or change course, with a 100% dosage for over 6 months (apparently a very rare thing) to get himself to the finish line when the next trial was scheduled to start.
He was hospitalised more than once with septicaemia due to the toxic levels of chemo in his body. He compared it to a Russian-style nerve agent poisoning. His glorious brain went deeper and deeper into a state of confusion and he had trouble thinking straight. His body started falling apart and his usually exquisite sense of ultimate limb and body control started to abandon him, and he began to take frightening falls. But this reaction to the chemo was all in service of his making it to the trial so he continued on, even though the whole thing was devastating and brutal.
When the time for the trial came, when we launched this GoFundMe, we were threading a needle. He had gone off the chemo to give his broken body and mind a break. The original lab in Portugal that was going to do the trial did not have their new lab ready and so sent him to a new-to-our-team lab in Germany. Pete’s team in the UK waited quite a while to put him back on a chemo protocol. When they did put him back on, they chose a protocol that had been more tolerable for him during his first bout in 2021, when they were trying to get him operable (and did!). As this chemo pause and shift to a new team was taking place, his once very low cancer markers were rapidly, more rapidly than anyone thought would have happened, rising in his body.
He was recently put back on Folfirinox, his once well-tolerated chemo protocol, and he just could not spend another day on it. It was terrible for him. The lab in Germany did the initial evaluation of his tumour and blood at a cost of €16k from this GoFundMe fund (which cannot be refunded), and found things there that have given them some optimism, but the vaccine takes 10-12 weeks to produce, and without a chemo protocol keeping him alive, he more than likely doesn’t have those weeks left to wait.
He is being put in palliative care now. The world is losing one of the greatest musicians, rhythmic theorists and just lovely and decent human beings ever to exist. I am heartbroken. I have been privileged to have met him when I was 19. We were a romantic couple when we were kids, from the time I was 20 until I was 25. We were in 2 amazing bands together. And he has allowed me to go on this illness and end-of-life journey with him. He is truly a hero to me.
His wife Cheryl is a beautiful human being. They have been together for 20 years. They adore one another. She is the perfect partner for him. Calm and loving. Understanding and kind. Smart and practical. I’ve seen over the years how much he loves her. I am heartbroken for her too.
He’s been extremely nervous about this GoFundMe should we have needed to halt it for any reason. He’s been incredibly touched by everyone’s beautiful, kind and loving contributions to his health and well being. We have been discussing a strategy regarding the remaining money in the fund, and are going to work out an amortisation based upon everyone’s overall contribution to the fund, and will refund according to percentage. This is Pete and Cheryl’s wish for the monies.
That is all I can say at the moment. I am in a great deal of personal pain, but that is to be expected because it is perfectly in proportion to the amount of love I have felt for Pete in every role he has played in my life. If you haven’t taken a moment to look at the videos of him playing polyrhythmic drums and explaining what he’s playing as he’s playing it, please do that now. Then, if you’re so moved, you can send him a message about it while he’s still here. I know he’d appreciate that.
First thing after her breakfast, Snow White climbed into a small, half-filled paper and cardboard recycling box. It was barely wide or deep enough to contain her. Her little brother Mango instantly appeared, sliding into a position that was barely an inch from the box. As Snow White arranged the papers and cardboard beneath her, Mango watched with tremendous concentration.
Moments later, with a pretty little jump, Snow White abandoned the box, striding off in the direction of the living room in slow, deliberate, dignified steps.
Seizing his chance, Mango leaped into the box.
As soon as he had settled in—the work of an instant—he turned his head to gaze at Snow White and confirm that she was watching him.
But she was still slowly walking away, not paying him the slightest mind.
So, half a moment later, Mango too sprang out of the box, sauntering off meaningfully into the front hall.
Two swimming pools hold an almost holy place in my heart:
The indoor pool and gymnasium of the Chatham Center Hotel in Pittsburgh, where our family lived before our house was ready for occupancy. And where the gym manager Mr Kaufman, a mountain of lazily contented flesh who was never without his lighted cigar, unfailingly greeted my brother and me thusly: “Hello, boys. How’s your mother?” And where I taught my younger brother Peter to swim. We would hold our noses and hang upside down, our legs gripping the edge of the pool. When water went up our noses, we would shout “Angela!”, emulating some character on a TV show who had shouted that name, and cracking ourselves up over nothing, as only two close siblings can. After swimming, we would have spaghetti in the Howard Johnson’s that served as the hotel’s restaurant. That world is long gone.
The Big Pool at the Grand Floridian hotel in Disney World, several summers in a row, starting when my daughter Ava was six. The hotel is on the Magic Kingdom’s grounds. Entering the park an hour before general admission began, we’d hit our favorite attractions for an hour or two, while the temperature and humidity were still bearable. It’s a Small World and Pirates of the Caribbean were of course our favorites, but we also enjoyed the singing bears, and even the dreaded hall of presidents. Before lunchtime, our Magic Kingdom needs sated, we’d have returned to the hotel for a long day’s lounging in and around the pool. We made up imaginary and ridiculous Disney movies, describing the trailers to each other. (In “The Dog Who Shit Nickels,” when the suburban neighbor, pointing to a pile of coins, complains to dog owner Arnold Schwarzenegger, “Look what your dog did on my lawn!”, Arnold says, “Keep ze change.”) We splashed, we swam, we paddled. We floated on our backs, gazing at the palm trees and getting giddy over the ducks who roamed the grounds and used the pool as their toilet. My nostalgia for those moments is enormous. They will never come again. For we will never again travel to Florida.
All my life I’ve known I was “creative” and “different.” Only recently have I realized that I’m both neurodivergent and bisexual.
In my youth, as I struggled with drugs, alcoholism, depression, and underemployment, it never crossed my mind that I was neurodivergent—not that the term existed then.
Even after I was diagnosed with an Anxiety Disorder some ten-plus years ago, I didn’t make the neurodivergence connection. It was only as my ex and I began coming to grips with our kid’s autism that I began to recognize many of her autistic qualities in myself and other members of our family.
And it’s only in the past year or two, and only with my daughter’s help, that I’ve come to realize I’m bisexual.
I’ve known I was attracted to women since age five, when my mom took me into the powder room at B. Altman, where I gazed with open mouth as ladies touched up their lipstick, fluffed their hair, and adjusted how their bodies fit into their dresses. I was dressed in a wee suit with short pants and a bow tie. Two of the ladies picked me up and called me handsome. A lady kissed me. I smelled flowers as she enveloped me in a hug. A deep hunger was born in that moment. (I know. That sentence is gross.) Years later, in college, as I watched the adoration sequence during my first viewing of Fellini’s 8 1/2, I recognized my own experience of awakening.
Yet for all those years of knowing I loved women, I didn’t understand that the love I felt for male friends could also be a romantic attraction.
How could I not know that? I suppose it’s because the other drive was more dominant—and, let’s face it, was also far more socially acceptable in those benighted days. As a short, nonathletic, curly-haired, unaggressive Jewish male in a world that beat me down for every one of those adjectives, I suppose I wasn’t eager to throw an extra (and even heavier) albatross around my own neck.
So much so that I could not accept or even recognize that aspect of myself—not even when my unconscious tried to tell me.
I remember writing a short story about a failed connection between two male high school friends. Thinking I was another D.H. Lawrence, and that my hermetically sealed tale was secretly ripe with deep meaning and profound feelings, I shared the story with my peers in the graduate creative writing program where I was hiding to avoid growing up.
A colleague in the program, who was a far better writer than me, and an out gay man, disdainfully labeled my work “another failed male bonding story.” I thanked him for his honesty and because his ability to use words that way amazed me, but I didn’t understand why he didn’t understand—because it was I who didn’t understand. (Understand?)
And so the decades have passed.
At this point in my life, being single works for me, and, after two marriages, I have enough to get on with, just working and being a dad. So why even share these fragments and evasions? Surely who I find attractive is of interest to absolutely no one.
Except that Fascists in my country are drawing lines, turning back the clock on human rights and human decency, and I’ll be damned if I’m going to sit silently warming my feet at the hearth of some late-recognized private truth.
If they want to outlaw queerness and Blackness and ovaries and pretty much any identity other than Ward or June Cleaver, then they’re not just a threat to humanity and a wrong turn in the arc of history, they’re my enemy to fight. I’m right here, motherfuckers.
You may not know his name, but he played a huge part in creating the web you take for granted today.
As the first person to realize, way back in 1994, that the emerging web could be a playground, he created Cool Site of the Day as a single-focused blog dedicated to surfacing interesting sites, thereby demonstrating the web’s potential while creating its first viral content. (As an example, traffic from his followers, or, as we called them back then, readers, brought NASA’s web server to its knees.)
He co-founded The Web Standards Project, which succeeded in bringing standards to our browsers at a time when browser makers saw the web as a software market to be dominated, and not a precious commons to be nurtured.
He anticipated responsive web design by more than 20 years with his formulation of Liquid, Ice, and Jello as the three possible ways a designer could negotiate the need for meaningful layout vis-a-vis the unknowns of the user’s browsing environment.
He taught the web DHTML through his educational Project Cool Site.
And then, like a handful of other vital contributors to the early web (e.g. Todd Fahrner and Dean Allen), he vanished from the scene he’d played so large a role in creating.
Glenn Davis wasn’t always missed. Like many other creators of culture, he is autistic and can be abrasive and socially unclueful without realizing it. Before he was diagnosed, some people said Glenn was an a**hole—and some no doubt still will say that. I think of him as too big for any room that would have him. And I’m talking about him here because he is talking about himself (and the history of the early web) on his new website, Verevolf.
If you go there, start with the introduction, and, if it speaks to you, read his stories and consider sharing your own. That’s how we did it in the early days, and it’s still a fine way to do it—maybe even the best way.
I knew Glenn, I worked with him and a lot of other talented people on The Web Standards Project (you’re welcome!), and it’s my opinion that—if you’re interested in how the web got to be the web, or if you were around at the time and are curious about a fellow survivor—you might enjoy yourself.
When I think back to my college friends and me, what a beautiful bubble we lived in! Don’t get me wrong. It wasn’t a fancy college—it was state school, and we were all from out of state. And we certainly weren’t rich kids: my friend J came from a Lower East Side single parent family, back when the Lower East Side was the Lower East Side.
The most comfortable of us came from middle class homes with a single professional breadwinner (engineer, dentist). Some of us had been caught in the American legal system as teenagers—although, as white teenagers, we’d had it comparatively easy.
We’d all experienced prejudice, not only witnessing bigotry against friends, but coming up against it ourselves due to our ethnicity, or sexuality, or religion, or looks, or weight, or height, or comparative lack of athletic prowess, or disability, or the way we thought, or the way we talked, or what part of our town we lived in, or because we did well on tests, or because we did poorly on tests, or because of some other thing, or (usually) some multiple of the above.
In Pittsburgh, where Cadillacs were called Jew canoes, the kids who tolerated me in ninth grade called me Mini Kosher, and I was subjected to daily humiliations until I proved myself by getting arrested and becoming a low-level pot dealer. But I digress.
We weren’t rich or cheerleaders or jocks (not that those kids don’t have problems of their own), and we weren’t the kind of white kids White America approved of, but we were privileged as hell not only by skin color, but also because we were educated.
Education should be a right and American public school was initially set up, however imperfectly and even accounting for the racial segregation and deep unfairness of the time, to make sure everybody, at least in principle, would be educated enough to read books, understand political issues sufficiently to participate in America’s representative democracy, take care of their children, earn a living, grill hot dogs in summer, and pay taxes—the good life.
For the luckiest, those whose families cherished learning, those whose parents read to them, those who looked forward to a Saturday library visit to pick out new books to read (novels and history books and science books and science fiction novels and fantasy stories and books about insects and books about reptiles and books that shed at least some light on the thrilling secret mysteries of adult relationships)…
Those who understood how to take tests so as to do well in school (which is a completely different thing from learning and retaining information), those whose parents encouraged reading and learning and cared and asked about grades and teachers, those with parents at least one of whom had time to spend with them, making them feel loved and safe, those who came from cultures where learning was cherished, so that their aunts and uncles talked about art and science and politics, and not just ball games and recipes…
Those whose families strenuously opposed all racial and religious bigotry, who taught their kids to stand up for the underdog, those who taught their children to approach all others with love and respect (even when, in reality, approaching everyone with love and respect means you sometimes get bullied and ridiculed, because some people are damaged and hateful and will see your humanity as a weakness)…
Those whose families (like all families) were far from perfect, but who somehow, despite failings and tragedies, instilled a love of learning or blew on a spark that was already present…
…So that their kids could do well enough in high school to attend a college, even if they really wanted to run away and join a rock and roll band…
And whether or not it was the most expensive or most competitive college in the land (it wasn’t), it was a place where they’d encounter other smart kids from different backgrounds and discover Truffaut and Bergman and stay up all night enthralled by great ideas or ridiculing them, cracking each other up, sleeping together, experiencing new levels of romance and heartbreak, discovering possibilities.
The ultimate privilege: having a sufficiently educated background to discover possibilities and think for yourself.
I used to medicate my anxiety by drinking, but that was not good for me, my friends, girlfriends, family, coworkers, liver, or wives, so I stopped.
One way I manage anxiety today is by avoiding or delaying indefinitely the tiny tasks that stress me out—tasks other people do without blinking. Like checking my postal mail. The mail carrier used to think I was away from home, traveling. Nope, just scared to open the mailbox.
Today, I will tackle a series of important tasks I must get done before nightfall. I cannot avoid or postpone them. I’ve already tried bargaining, rationalizing, and pleading with myself, but was unable to find a loophole. What’s gotta be, gotta be.
Back when I was in advertising, one of my team’s clients was a well-known Irish Airline. They could only afford an 1/8th-page ad in the travel section of the paper. But my partners and I didn’t think creativity was dependent on budget. We were determined to deliver great ads for them—ads that would make a viewer look, even though the ad was tiny and was surrounded by other ads.
So we created a standout campaign for them—the kind that would not simply be noticed, but would also make travel-focused consumers smile and encourage them to buy tickets.
We blew up our tiny layouts and mounted the enlargements on illustration board, for an impactful creative presentation when we met to show the client the work.
The great day came. The work was good, and we had rehearsed our presentation to perfection. We booked the conference room, had the client’s favorite snacks and beverages spread out when they arrived, and sold our little hearts out as we presented.
The lead client blinked, cleared his throat, and finally said, in a thick Irish brogue:
“I’m afraid it’s far too clever for our needs. It calls too much attention to itself on the page,” he explained—as if getting a distracted newspaper reader to notice his company’s message was a bad thing.
The lead client asked us to set “Ireland $399” in bold type, stick a shamrock in one of the 9s, and call it a day.
Fear of getting noticed is a terrible thing. It’s also a self-fulfilling prophecy.
Clickbait headlines get a deservedly bad rap in digital marketing, but you know what else should get a bad rap? Blind, boring, infinitely ignorable links and titles, that’s what.
Crafting messages that get noticed and acted upon by their intended audience—the people for whom you create your company’s digital products in the first place—isn’t a crime. It’s your job.
Hat tip to Mark Mazut and Tim Irwin, my fellow passengers on the above disaster. Bit o’ nostalgia for those who remember The Ad Graveyard.
I was a teenage telemarketer. Reading from a script, I attempted to raise money for St. Jude’s Hospital for Leukemia-Stricken Children. I was fired after three days for departing from the script.
We were supposed to hard-sell, no matter what the person on the other end of the line said. But when the people I cold-called talked about their financial hardships, I sympathized, asked questions, and didn’t try to force a donation.
Our boss listened in on the calls. My empathy toward the people I called was not appreciated.
My boss failed to see any irony in the job’s requiring psychopathically cold-hearted behavior toward some needy people in order to raise money for others.
Herewith, a scene from last night’s interview with legendary web & book designer (and Dean of The Cooper Union School of Art) Mike Essl, who shared his portfolio, career highlights, early web design history, and more. Fun!
If you get a chance to meet, work with, or learn from Mike, take it. He’s brilliant, hilarious, warmly human, and one of the most creative people you’ll ever have the good fortune to know.