Monday, January 28, 2013

The $100 Startup

What do freedom and independence really mean?  For many people, it's about financial security without a nine to five job, which is what "The $100 Startup" is all about.
Chris Guillebeau has been on my radar for a while now, for as long as I've been interested in traveling and entrepreneurship.  When I heard that he had a new book out, and that he was going on book tour, I knew I had to go listen to his talk.  I was expecting the talk to last for around an hour, with a little bit of Q&A to follow.  However, the talk lasted around half an hour, and Chris was remarkably humble about the whole thing.  After his talk, there was a Q&A, which was surprisingly interesting.  It was much more like a discussion than the usual Q&A dynamic.  The whole experience of meeting Chris and hearing his story first-hand was inspiring.  Chris has a similar mentality to that of Startup Weekend, that it's better to start something now than it is to try to make something perfect and start it in a year or two.  I find that I'm latching onto this mentality more and more, that I just want to start something, and tweak it as I go along.
Let's go out and build things, and make great stuff, and keep on working at it.

I blogged about Chris once over the summer.  You can read that post here!

Monday, January 21, 2013

Startup Weekend

I spent this past weekend at Startup Weekend, which was a fantastic experience.  The event started on Friday evening, with participants pitching their startup ideas to the whole group.  There were around 30 ideas pitched, then everyone used stickers to vote for their favorites.  The votes were counted, and the top ten were the ideas we were going to work on.  It was a little hectic after that, with people dividing into groups, trying to find out who was needed in each group, but it worked out.  Then we got to work,  finding out what needed to be done and deciding who was going to do it.
On Saturday, we made the bulk of our products.  I was working on a card game, which we named A-List*.  Things started out well, but as the day went on, we lost momentum.  We needed to make business decisions, but we didn’t know it.  Aaron Schaap, one of the hosts of the event, stepped in and asked the questions that we needed to answer in order to bring A-List from an idea to a product.  We got back on track and focused, but we lost some time because we didn’t know what we were supposed to be doing.  In the future, I think I’ll make sure that everyone knows what they’re doing, and is taking action towards the goal, instead of occasionally floundering.
Sunday involved a fairly short period of work before presentations.  This was hectic, trying to get things finished and put together, but it wasn’t overwhelmingly stressful.  One at a time, the groups went up and presented their work.  It was exciting to see what everyone else was working on and see the progress that they made in such a short amount of time.  It was incredibly encouraging to see all the projects, and see the process everyone took in building their startup.
I think one of the best parts about Startup Weekend was being able to spend time with people who are interested in creating things.  That’s important - everyone who was there was the type of person who thinks that making something new is a good way to spend their weekend.  It’s invigorating to be in that kind of environment.  The other huge thing I’ll take away from this is the idea that it’s easy to start a business, and it’s okay to launch something before it’s entirely finished.  Having said that, I don’t think that it’s easy to make a fantastic business, but I think it’s good to treat a business like an experiment - always trying to find out what works and what doesn’t, and always trying to make it better.

Here's a video that Skyward Visual made about Startup Weekend.  It shows the feeling of the event pretty nicely.
You can see what everyone was tweeting about from Startup Weekend here.
*If you’re interested in playing A-List, you can buy it here.

Monday, January 14, 2013

Design Ethics

Photo by Ernst Brooks, from National Library of Scotland
Is good design a moral obligation?  How do ethics apply to design?
I'm taking a journalism class right now, and ethics is a huge part of journalism, but ethics isn't emphasized much in design education.  In Mike Monteiro's book, Design is a Job he makes the point that everyone is responsible for what they put into the world.  If you're a designer, and you choose to do work for an organization that does terrible things, then you're saying that you agree, at least a little bit.  Monteiro writes about a designer who he interviewed, who had work that he did for a tobacco company in his portfolio.  He asked the designer why he did that work, and the designer didn't have an answer, other than the fact that the company asked him to.  This designer didn't see any issue with doing work for the company.  If a designer really needs work, then it's understandable to take on a project that they don't agree with, but otherwise, it doesn't make sense.  Lisa Congdon touches on the issue in this interview as well.  Her philosophy is a little different, it's more about choosing projects that you support and feel aligned with.  She talks about it at 35:24, but the rest of the interview is well worth a watch.  Congdon is pretty fantastic and has an admirable career.

What do you think?  If a project seemed intriguing, but involved an organization that you disagree with, would you take it?  What sort of responsibility do you feel like designers have to the world?

Tuesday, January 8, 2013

Designing Media

The concept of going a day without media, whether it be books, music, tv, movies, or the internet, is unimaginable.  Media is a huge part of our lives, and the ways we consume and produce it are changing.  "Designing Media" focuses on that changing atmosphere.

The book is comprised of interviews, divided into sections based on what sort of things they do in the media.  Every interview is worth a read, and they're all pretty compelling.  I particularly liked the interviews with Chris Anderson, Craig Newmark, Ira Glass, and Jane Friedman.  For a book that's non-fiction and fairly information-dense, it's remarkably readable.

In the book, the idea of the internet being a popularity contest is mentioned by several people, which I find interesting.  It sort of makes me question if I'm looking at things online because they're popular, or if it's because a I want to.  I think it's varying combinations of the two, but it's worth thinking about.

Also, Bill Moggridge designed a website that is incredibly effective, compared to other book websites.  Most book websites are "Here's the cover, here's the author's bio, here's the summary, here's the Amazon link." This website says "Here's the book, and here's loads of content from the book."  The website is useful in it's own right, and points users toward purchasing the book.

I'd recommend "Designing Media" to anyone who's interested in the different and changing ways that media is created and consumed.  Bill Moggridge wrote another book, "Designing Interactions" which I think I'm going to read in the future.