Journal

Brief thoughts that jump between the internet, design, music, film, self-development, and work culture.

Better Words

I’m writing to share a link to the best blog post I’ve read in the last few months: You’re probably using the wrong dictionary by James Somers It’s a special mix of nerdy and splendid—somewhere b...

When the Work Looks Back At You

A few weeks ago, the folks at Milanote asked to interview me and brought along an unexpected brief: “let’s sit down and talk through the process of one of your projects.” As someone who is consis...

A Few Bullet Points on Design Criticism

Criticism is placing yourself in an earnest, difficult, and awkward conversation. This is mostly unavoidable, but gets easier over time with the same group of people. If you’re in client work, r...

A Modest Guide to Productivity

Hello, zonked Frank! It’s me! That ideal Frank you wish you could more regularly be! I’ve taken a moment away from my self-actualized, perfect state to jot down some advice that you may find handy...

MVP Soundsystem

My ears are greedy; they always have been. When I was 4, I cried because I couldn’t listen to The Beatles and Fleetwood Mac at the same time. (Thirty years later: yes, still.) When I was about 10, ...

New Visual Essay: Back to the Cave

Frank Chimero in his most desperate state is Frank Chimero writing a talk. Each time I go through the process, I swear I will never do it again. Then someone invites me to speak at a conference abo...

SuperHi Foreword

I was commissioned to write the foreword to SuperHi’s first publication, Learn to Code Now. If you’re interested in boosting your HTML, CSS, and Javascript skills, go check them out. The house w...

Plainness and Sweetness

It’s human nature: I over-value where I have influence. Since I am a designer, this frequently means placing too much emphasis on how things look and work rather than the direction they are pointed...

Tarkovsky’s Flame

Mirror, 1975 When the world is brash, fast, and stupid, we must seek out what is quiet, slow, and intelligent to brace ourselves against the world’s madness. I have been under the influence of Ru...

Hi, I’d Like to Add Myself to the New Yorker

A few months ago, I stumbled into the little cottage industry of media manipulation. I weaseled my way into international publication, collected accolades left and right, then moonwalked out. I wis...

Other Halves

There are three ways to cut something in half: front and back, top and bottom, left and right. Front and Back My wrists have been aching. The pain is nothing to be concerned about, only my body o...

The Second Trip-Up

Designers from my generation and before didn’t come directly to design. We started somewhere else (music, drawing, architecture) and tripped over the field in pursuit of something else. This story ...

Jettison the Rest

A few weeks ago, I reread Joan Didion’s essay on self-respect. It smacked me on the back of the head at the right time: I was wringing my hands over work and life, then, as a fully-realized modern ...

Boring Future, Vol. 1

Boring Future #1 The income gap continues to grow. Most white collar workers choose to work offsite, because incomes have stagnated, and the cost of living in major urban centers continues to skyr...

There Go The Grown-Ups

Last weekend, M and I had a really nice chat about all of these articles on adulthood. Everyone wants to talk about it, because things are changing, aren’t they? It’s temping to label it as generat...

The Only Note to Self

You don’t get to decide the truth. Other people have their own experiences, just as valid. This is easy to forget. Your slice of life seems so large and unmistakeable, but it is your job to not con...

Rules of Engagement

We used to have audiences, but the information age has transformed them into users who are no longer satisfied with the passive consumption of content. They desire interactions and opportunities to...

Reshape, Reprint

The point of this blog post is to announce The Shape of Design is being reprinted and you can preorder it today. Two years ago, I had an idea. Maybe there was a place in the world for a book that ...

Refragmentation

Sometimes it’s worth reading the comments. For instance, take this comment on the web’s consolidation from Mike Caulfield. You look in 1993 and see Guido Van Rossum and Berners-Lee arguing that...

From the Porch to the Street

Dear J, To answer your question, I haven’t much felt like it. I’ve been quiet, because there hasn’t been much to say, and I haven’t been looking for things to say. Of course, Twitter is a megaphon...

I Can’t Read Walden

Time is already a tough customer, but it is torturous when you start measuring yourself to others by it. Henry David Thoreau was my age, thirty, when he sat down to write Walden. What does that mea...

Massimo and Me

I can pinpoint the moment where my grudge against Massimo Vignelli began. About halfway through Gary Hustwit’s documentary Helvetica, Vignelli is filmed isolated against a gray background, and afte...

Only Openings

On May 14, 2014 I spoke at the School of Visual Art’s Thesis Festival presented by the Masters in Interaction Design program. The day’s theme was “open,” and I tried my best to finish the day witho...

Three Things to Say

Communication in the city is so frought with bruskness, and words at work can be so soulless, so I’ve been searching for ways to eliminate pretense and increase warmth, all while ensuring good outc...

No New Tools

Being an early adopter is exhilarating in the same way that riding a rollercoaster can feel like travel. You’re moving, but you’re not actually going anywhere, only devising ever-increasingly compl...

Madness and Rowing

I was in a tough spot this past week. The Great Discontent magazine is consuming all of my working (waking) hours, and I’m grunting my way through the center half of the process where you can’t see...

New Computer

Buying a PC, 2002 Open box, turn on computer, run updates, download third-party software to replace pre-installed software, then devise ways to disable or hide proprietary software you can’t unins...

My Tattoo

I have many blueprints for tattoos: festina lente in a small roman italic on my right wrist, two crossed rings around the circumference of my left forearm for my passed mother and father, an anchor...

This One’s For Me

Thirty isn’t that old, but I feel like I’ve aged two lifetimes in the past three years. Maybe aging like that makes you look back a bit more. You realize you’re stuck with yourself, so you had bett...

Designer’s Poison

Earlier this week AIGA sponsored a round-table discussion with every designer on Twitter called One Day for Design. As expected, it was a cacophony of noise with the occasional delightful or insigh...

Some Lessons I Learned in 2013

Life isn’t a story. A lot of things don’t need to be intellectualized: “because I want to” is often a good enough reason. Empathy is first an act of imagination. Don’t take business advice fro...

Writing Advice

Just try. You’ll improve. Keep going. Enjoy it.

The Inferno of Independence

You’re not supposed to hear these sorts of things from these sorts of people. Things have gone well for those chosen to speak at conferences like XOXO: credibility, attention, success—whatever bras...

Portraits

Good art is pointable. Something complex occurs, and you can’t quite explain how you feel about it. Instead, you find the appropriate book, song, poem, whatever, then point to it, and say “That. ...

Generosity of Perspective

Louis CK has a joke where he lambasts anyone who complains about the speed of their mobile phone by saying, “Give it a second! It’s going to space. Could you give it a second?” Yesterday, during Ap...

Woozy Walk

I was thinking about the city last night. It’s hard to remember the things outside of New York while you’re here—the city is your mental field of vision, plus a little bit. It might as well be ever...

Why vs. How

Goodbye, Reading Rainbow. From NPR’s article, emphasis mine: Grant says that PBS, CPB and the Department of Education put significant funding toward programming that would teach kids how to rea...

Waste Need Not Waste

When you don’t have someone to teach you, looking closely at good things and noticing their patterns becomes your education. I have no formal teaching in writing or literature (perhaps the reason g...

Let’s Talk About Timeless Design

I have a pet peeve when it comes to describing design (or any kind of creative work). The word “timeless” makes my skin crawl, like that scene in Indiana Jones where he has the snakes and creepy cr...

The Cloud Is Heavy and Design Isn’t Invisible

Timo Arnall’s dismantling of the “invisible design” ethos is a rousing read. There’s too much I want to talk about in the essay, so I’ll settle and highlight one choice bit that runs parallel to so...

All Kinds of Awesome

A few days ago I got an email from a close friend. He wanted me to make an illustration for his home. The brief is: awesome things that exist in the world. A small print, suitable for framing. ...

Digital Jubilee

As work slows for the holidays, I try to put the year to bed. I sweep out the dust clods in the corners of the closet, pack away the warm weather clothes, hang thicker curtains, and make my tiny es...

Saimese Dream

I think far too much about how to best listen to my music. It’s a fun time to be a music fan, because it seems more consumer choices spring up each week that promise bigger libraries, enhanced soci...

The Humble Pencil, The Mighty Computer

Creative people tend to romanticize their tools. We place them on pedestals as the conduits for our ideas and the enablers of our craft. Contrastingly, though, I think all creatives believe that a ...

The Wall

It feels as if everyone is working in public these days. Public working leads to public criticism, and developing and articulating the etiquette around providing feedback is now a necessity to deve...

The Tree of Life

The Tree of Life is wonderfully profound film. It takes effort and attention, but I think like most things, the more it hurts, the more it means. The thing that frustrates so many about this film ...

The Particle

This talk was originally given at the Emerging Designers Symposium at the AIGA National Conference, 2011. This morning I crawled out of bed incredibly early. I guess I’m not used to the sun bein...

The Long, Hard, Stupid Way

What follows is an transcript of a talk I gave at the 2011 Do Lectures in Wales. The text may differ from the actual phrasing in the presentation, but the premise is the same. I’m a designer a...

Suggestions for Speakers

A lot of people are surprised when I tell them I dread speaking, especially in light of how many talks I’ve given in the past three or four years. Public speaking is like exercise: it hurts—and it ...

Stand Clear of the Closing Doors

A subway car is a sealed room between rooms, an inconsequential destination—the negative space between here and there. We are stuck in transit, so these middle moments are perfect opportunities for...

On Baseball

I’ve been jonesing to go to a baseball game—must be the summer heat. It’s a beautiful sport: the one-on-one duel between the pitcher and batter, the equal distribution of play (everyone gets an at-...

Sorting a Mass

To prepare for an upcoming lecture, I’ve been thinking about the relationship between collecting and curating. This morning, I tweeted: Thinking about collecting vs. curating, and how the inter...

Reading Readiness

I always come back to the truisms of the classic kung fu instructor depicted in the movies. Not so much in regards to how classrooms should be run, but more in what it is like to share and learn, t...

Velocity

I’ve got one charge left. Only a few minutes of battery on this laptop, and a cacophony of thoughts to spew out before the screen goes black. I left my charger in the hotel room 3 hours away. Stupi...

Making the Bed You Sleep In

If I had to describe my philosophy toward technology, I’d say I aim for the crux of whatever works the best with the least amount. You add things until it starts sucking, take things away until it...

The Setup

A few weeks ago I mentioned on Twitter that I’m using a top-of-the-line 13" MacBook Air as my primary machine. The 27" behemoth of an iMac is gone: I sold it to a kindly soul on Twitter, and watche...

On Content

You ever order soup at a restaurant and get a bowl that’s mostly broth? The problem is the register at the restaurant is four-hundred bucks under what it was the day before, and everyone is runnin...

Kid A

Kid A turns ten-years-old this month. Ten! That’s quite the anniversary, so I feel obliged to spend a few moments celebrating the album, since I think I owe a great deal to it. You could probably t...

There Is A Horse In The Apple Store

There is a horse in the Apple Store and no one sees it but me. I think, “Why?” Am I nuts for thinking this is exceptional? Does anyone else see this? Did I accidentally drop acid and not realize...

What Advice Would You Give To A Graphic Design Student?

Design does not equal client work. It’s hard to make purple work in a design. The things your teachers tell you in class are not gospel. You will get conflicting information. It means that both ar...

There Is No Catching Up

It’s hard to hold it all in your head. All the different possible ways that you can enjoy life. Or not enjoy life. And all the things that are going on. The different rug patterns. The different...

You Are Here

In Stephen King’s On Writing, he talks about the concept of an ideal reader, the exemplary person for whom you’re specifically writing. There can be others, and other people can enjoy it, but this ...

Big Ideas

Why is Greater Than How A complex world has made us over-emphasize How-based thinking and education. Once the tools are understood, grasping why to do certain things becomes more valuable than how...

Anti-Pre-Pro

First, a quote from Eva Zeisel: To be different is a negative motive, and no creative thought or created thing grows out of a negative impulse. A negative impulse is always frustrating. And to ...

On Iteration

Two related quotes. First, Pixar president Ed Catmull on sharing work: In the process of making the film, we reviewed the material every day. Now, this is counter-intuitive for a lot of people....

Ten Principles

I hate the word “tip.” It implies that there’s something that you don’t know. Some secret little gem that, when sprinkled on your work, your creative process, your diet, or your sex life will magic...