Monday, December 27, 2010

Story and Purpose

This map grounds our work:

People and companies create value in the world by living their purpose, which is understood by the world as a story.

We consider ourselves an artisan communications studio - we seek to tell the tastiest stories - and that's why we choose to work with purpose-driven people and companies. Art and craft are important, but the best stories are connected to a deeper purpose. Those are the stories people are hungry for, now more than ever.

When I work with someone, we start with these four questions.
It's a great way to begin the relationship, and something we return to again and again. Your purpose can be creating a world where every single human being has free, shared and open access to the sum of all knowledge, or it can be making doughnuts. It really doesn't matter. But things start getting super-powerful when your deeper purpose aligns with the bigger stories emerging in the world.

Here's wishing all of us a purpose-filled 2011.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

We all get working in small groups, collaboratively, no titles. We’ve learned how to create as a team. We’ve learned about the power of storytelling, and creativity, and craft, and voice. We’ve learned about improv, about saying Yes.

We've learned about interactive, and social media, and sharing, and involvement from the audience, and co-creation. We've learned how to tell stories through environments, and packaging, and events. We've learned about embedding into culture.

I'm interested in talking about our work's purpose.

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Well we all shine on

After posting this video, it made me think about working at the Martin Agency in Richmond as a young art director in the early '90s, a year or so after graduating from Portfolio Center.

We worked in the Shenandoah, a turn-of-the-century converted apartment building. I sat on a floor with half a dozen master art directors. Some of them - like Bob Shira, and Danny Boone - smoked while they worked. Everyone had a drafting table as a desk, not a single computer.

We were all making print ads, mostly, hyper-crafted, that was Martin's thing. We traced type. We ordered type from typographers. We'd cut it apart, tweak the spacing, send it down to the stat room to get a photostat, paste it onto a board, and stare at it. We'd lay out our work in the hallway. Other art directors would walk by and take a look and maybe stick their head in your office and make a comment.

We were still figuring out how to make TV commercials. Jerry Torchia did some cool stuff on Wrangler and with the Maysles brothers, but a lot of the stuff we were doing was pretty stiff and contrived - filmed print ads, really.

I wasn't looking for it but somehow I got a 3/4" tape with a copy of a Nike commercial that changed how I looked at advertising forever. I watched it in "the TV room," a strange space crammed between two offices a floor above me, maybe 15 feet deep and three feet wide. I squeezed between the TV and the wall and put the tape in and watched. Hit rewind, watched. Watched again.

What was it? It wasn't a concept. What was the concept? No copy, or punchline, besides Just Do It. The type, what was that? It moved, like something in an art film - modern and beautiful. The images. Sports like nothing I'd seen on TV, better than what I'd seen in most movies. Such memorable images. A guy sitting on a basketball backboard? Swinging a golf club with a tangle of electric wires in the foreground? Scottie and Michael stretching together? That triple cut of Joan Benoit. Michael in silhouette, holding the ball above the kids? Modern and graphic, but human and surprising.

That cool squished look! What was that? I'd never heard of anamorphic lenses. It just looked... right. It had a point of view. I hadn't heard of the director, someone named David Fincher.

And the song! The lyrics! The kids! The teeth! The jumping rope with the tripping! What kind of company would say that? Nobody made commercials like this. How do you even make a commercial like that? It was so pure, it was pure feeling.

I could watch it a hundred times. I have.

Later, I went to work for Wieden and Kennedy, and was told the secret by Dan Wieden himself. "You have to understand, Jelly," he said. "TV is primarily an emotional medium." And that was all he said about that.

Years later, I asked Jim Riswold to put a reel together of his work(!) to share with a 12 class, and I noticed he didn't include the spot. "Jim, you made a mistake, you left off Instant Karma."

"Yeah, I hate that spot," he said.

Huh..!? One of the best spots W+K has ever made...?

"There's no idea."

Well. For me, back as a young art director trying to figure out how to powerfully use the medium of film, the idea seemed to be something like, show that we become like angels when we use our bodies, and use the best and most interesting filmmaker you can find, and, use a profound and relevant song by one of the heaviest musicians ever, and, maybe especially, respect your viewer.

It confirmed that Nike was the coolest company ever. They not only made a great product, they knew who they were and expressed it clearly and confidently.

Same stuff still interests me: Artfully told, and true.

Monday, November 8, 2010

Sunday, October 31, 2010

The latest on LinkedIn

A friend of mine who is scary out-front on all things interfizzle recently told me that LinkedIn will soon be the hottest way to connect online, hotter than Facebook.

Huh? LinkedIn? This kid is all sneaker and social media blah blah and isn't LinkedIn a boring businessman site? "No, it's credible, because it's no bullshit, just cold facts. You can't lie."

Look what I discovered on LinkedIn tonight.

That's right, Mark is joining me and Aaron in the studio as a TBD, starting tomorrow morning. I hope to keep him as a TBD as long as possible. Mark has so much to offer - and I am looking forward to him bringing it all.

Aaron and I and everyone we work with are lucky. Welcome, Mark.

Monday, October 11, 2010

Word power

Great day this weekend spent at Wordstock. Very comforting hanging out with a crowdful of book/word/idea/story nerds.

I was there manning the Wheel of Cogitation, a table that the studio designed and built for Oregon Humanities to take to events. Its purpose is to create conversation around ideas.

It was a great experience. All sorts of people participated, including lots of kids. The wheel seemed to create space for meaningful and meaty conversations, but in a fun way.

Here's something that happened: A woman walked up with her son, a mysterious mop-topped boy with auburn hair and big brown eyes. He reached out and spun the wheel and stared at the clicker and smiled. "He's autistic," the mom said of the four-year-old. The wheel stopped on a question.

I couldn't tell if he could read the words or understood them. He paused for a short moment, then reached down and touched a bare spot in the leather of a red antique steamer trunk that sat next to the table. "Healing," he said.

Monday, October 4, 2010

How Share went down

This past Saturday, I was invited to participate in the 1 year anniversary celebration of SHARE, "an event series that brings small groups of artists (writers, painters, actors, musicians, dancers, culinary artists) together to create from the same one-word prompt."

The event showcased some of the work from the last year of SHARE events. The organizers also invited thirty or so artists to create live at the event itself. I was one of those artists.

At 2 p.m. I was at SCRAP prowling for supplies, checking my iPhone for the prompt. By 2:03 I was getting impatient and sent an email to Margaret Malone asking for the prompt. My email had just crossed the one she sent to all the artists.

Cue Banjo music while I run around the store again looking for inspiration. Between...

Yes! I find a kit for making a wooden flower press that has 5 pieces of 6"x 6" plywood for pressing the flowers between. Get it? "Between"? I like how specific and contained the square pieces of plywood feel to me.

I stopped by Columbia Art and Drafting and picked up a basic set of word carving tools. I had a vague feeling that I wanted to carve words into the squares? Questions maybe?

Since we would have a live audience, I wanted to get them involved somehow. I liked the idea of something emerging from my choice of materials, a random prompt, and a conversation between me and another specific and random person at the event.

6 p.m. and the audience starts arriving. I put up a sign inviting people to sit down on a couch with me and have a conversation. I handed each person a card with a question.

The best part of the evening for me were the four conversations that ensued. Common themes came up - the nature of happiness, the role of money and time in attaining our goals, fear, death, things outside of our control.

Now I had to make something in response to each conversation, and I had two hours to complete all four.

I dove into the first one, working intuitively, combining every image that came to my mind as I listened to the first person telling me what stood between her and wanted she wanted most.

I had painted the wood black so that the cuts revealed the wood underneath. The materials were unfamilar and not particularly suited to each other. In short, I didn't know what I was doing, but I pressed ahead.

When it was time to start the second piece, I realized that there were similar themes in the conversations, so I wanted to use some of the same images, but it was clear that I couldn't work to the same level of detail as in the first piece. I simplified the image and changed materials.

By the time I started the piece based on the third conversation, the theme was feeling a little heavy. I was most interested in an aside. "I have a cat named Jelly!" she told me. "I love him. He's an ass. The relationship is completely on his terms. He's all male. He watches me undress, and it makes me a little uncomfortable."

That was fun. I finished the fourth piece just as the event was finishing.

When it was over, I was spent, and wished I had spent the evening in the audience, just enjoying myself, checking out the performance and the food and the other artists. I didn't really get to visit with anyone - including a lot of friends who were there. I thought to myself, I'll never do this again. Exhausting.

But this morning, thinking back on it, it was another great creative experience - working without a net, dealing with fears and expectations and serendipity and failures. It was great.

Congrats to Kathleen and Margaret and Chris Haberman for an outstanding event, and to Margaret and Kathleen for a cool idea. Big and risky and experimental and fun. I get the same vibe from SHARE as I did from RIPE in the early days. Something self-defining, born out of passion, nourishing the community, inventing itself and evolving as it grows.

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

This summer I took on the assignment of writing/designing a blank journal for a Write Around Portland fundraiser - because I believe in their mission, and also because I was interested in exploring the relationship between me and someone willing to spend up to 750 dollars for my journal.

Tell your truth, Mark Ritchie once told me. I tried for several months to talk directly and candidly with this person and wrote and wrote and wrote and it was all so BORING. The deadline passed and I had NOTHING but a bunch of self indulgent blah.

With negative three days to go and complete bewilderment, I thought about how stuck I was. I started writing short sentences to myself, things that have helped me get unstuck in the past.

No expectations, I wrote. Yes. No expectations. Wanting to do the most personal meaningful honest journal of all time was killing me.

No disappointments, I wrote. Yes. They come after expectations. Without expectations, you don’t have disappointments.

27 sentences later and I had written something of a meditation or poem on chilling out, a mantra for regaining flow.

I counted the pages in the book and it happened that I had the exact number of pages to write each sentence four times, a rhythm that felt right to me (and reminiscent of my high school punishment known as JUG, where delinquents were forced to write out a page of the school’s rules in long hand).

The journal is on display at Design Within Reach until Saturday, the evening of the auction.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Wikipedia launch

Reed Harkness, Noah Stanik and I traveled to Poland this summer to film some of the wonderful people who create Wikipedia. They gathered in Gdansk for Wikimania, the yearly gathering of Wikipedia editors from around the world. The work launched yesterday. They'll keep showing a new one each day this week on the Wiki Facebook page.

From the Wikimedia blog:

This week the Wikimedia Foundation is pleased to introduce a series of short videos that were produced in Summer of 2010 that highlight our users: the volunteer contributors from around the world who help make projects like Wikipedia a reality.

(The clips will be posted on this YouTube channel, and also as CCBYSA files on the Wikimedia Commons)

These videos were produced with two key outcomes in mind: to inform the general public about the people and inspiration behind our movement, and also to energize and inspire new Wikipedia editors to engage bravely in contributing to Wikipedia. The latter focus is particularly important for the Foundation’s current Public Policy initiative outreach, but we’re hopeful they will inspire other new editors around the world.

Altogether we will be launching four videos, and today’s video ‘Username’ is a short clip that introduces some of the 35 Wikipedia editors that were interviewed during the annual Wikimania conference last summer in Gdansk Poland. We’ll launch the rest of the clips through this week, hosting them on video sharing sites and of course on the Wikimedia Commons.

Tuesday, September 7, 2010


I shared this perspective exploder with Mark and Doris, then Doris sent me back this, from a talk by Laurie Anderson.

You know what I like about the stars, we can't hurt them. We can't bruise them or blow them up. They exist so far away and nothing we do or say or make can harm them in any way. They are safe from us. But... we are reaching for the stars. We are reaching...

Monday, August 30, 2010

Startin fresh

Walked in this morning and saw that all of our work was somewhere under this clean white wall and it felt really good. I'd recommend it.

Thursday, August 26, 2010


Last night I was joined by the talented and generous Melissa Delzio, Mia Nolting, Kate Bingaman-Burt, Jeremy Pelley, Taylor Twist and Aaron Rayburn, in finishing the mural in the Goldsmith Bldg.

Together, we made a golden cathedral.

Today I traced over the Spanish graffiti someone had scratched into it a while ago, and then I added a title in the upper right cell, and now it's done. I'm happy with it. It's just what I wanted to say, even though I didn't really know what that would be until we finished.

This weekend, they'll paint over it in preparation for the September mural, so you have two days to check it out, if interested. I hope you do! I want you to see it, reader.


PS. Here's a quickie photo til I get the one Chris Hornbecker shot. It came out pretty neat. Gone!

Thursday, August 12, 2010

The book for one mysterious person

This June I received an interesting invitation from a non-profit in town, Write Around Portland. Through workshops, readings and publishing, they use the power of writing to transform lives and communities.

On October 2, Write Around Portland will be hosting our annual fundraiser XY&Z: A Word Art Extravaganza at Design Within Reach. XY&Z is an evening of great music, word and writing games including MadLibs, Word Poker, Typing Pool, Speed Scrabble, Boggle and literary conversations. We'll also serve up a signature cocktail and some wonderful food. Design Within Reach, Powell's Books and Stoel Rives, LLP are the lead sponsors of the event.

Like last year, one of the draws of the event will be the display and silent auction of Writing Journals Fashioned by Writers, Artists and Celebrities. Your journal will be one of 12 being auctioned this year.

We anticipate bids between $250-$750 per journal. ALl of the money raised at the silent auction of these journals will go directly to keeping our workshops free of charge for those who need it most.
I am interested in this person who is going to spend such money to buy my journal. I've already begun something of a relationship with that person. I'm saying things to him or her that I haven't said to anyone else.


UPDATE: Finished this piece. Turned out unlike what I imagined above. It's on display at Design Within Reach in the Pearl for the rest of the month, along with all of the other journals, if you'd like to check them out.

Wednesday, July 28, 2010


I spent this month doing the majority of my creating/expressing outside of the internet/Facebook/the blawg/Twitter. It was interesting. Great month. Has to be my most productive ever. If you can make tomorrow's opening/closing of the Goldsmith Bldg. mural, you'll see part of the result.

Hope you can make it.


POSTSCRIPT: They decided to leave the mural up another month! Come see it in August if you get a chance.

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Over it

And here are a couple of shots from Jeremy of the show coming down.

Monday, July 5, 2010

Pullin weeds

why not pull the weeds in your yard if ya wanna do some good work for humanity....

yuri nabor

You being funny?

Oh, "yuri nabor," your neighbor, I get it. Sure. I'll post that comment.

Wait a minute, on second thought, I bet he's being a smart ass. I'm taking that comment down. Yuri Nabor. Wiseguy.

Then this weekend I take a look, and sure enough, there's a ton of weeds in my front yard that need pulling. Like, one was 6 feet tall. I probably pulled ten pounds of weeds.

I have plenty of weeds to pull.

Thanks, Yuri! Thanks, teacher!

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Going dark

Is your going "dark" part, or a result of, the art project? Just curious.


Yeah, D. Busy. Partly the gallery project, for sure. Tonight we continue the installation. It opens next Thursday.

I've also taken on an idiotic creative assignment in the lobby of the Goldsmith Bldg. Last year, building owner David Gold installed a frame in the lobby for a giant mural that goes up on the first Thursday of each month. A few months ago, I signed up for July.

This was my original idea. I love large type, words, questions, uniting ideas. But as it hung on my studio wall, I got tired of it, and spurred by a comment from my wife, I decided to let the mural unfold over the month - create something new every day without knowing where it's going.

We divided the wall up into 35 rectangles for the 35 days that the mural will be up. Each day I'll put up something new. I started with the original idea.

On day 2, I decided to reproduce this graffiti that I spotted on a very active stoop on the side of the building. Take a good look.

I've already had stress dreams about this assignment. It's an exercise in letting go, trust, discovery. We'll see. I'm halfway finished with today's.

I've also been dark because of a lot of other studio work. Finishing up a self-promo poster, took on an Oregon Humanities project that was too fun to pass up, and I'm leaving next week for Poland to produce a series of films for Wikipedia at their annual gathering of Wikimaniacs. I'm also participating in a fund raiser for Write Around Portland where a artist/writer creates a personalized writing journal and they auction it off.

So D., some of it is about being busy, but I am also going to use the month of July as an experiment where I do all my expression/creating in the real world, and give Facebook, Twitter and the blawg a little rest. See what happens. Documenting it/talking about it less, and concentrating on experiencing it.

I'll be back. And I'm still on email.

Thursday, June 17, 2010


In January, when Aaron started, he mentioned that he had a show scheduled for the Littman Gallery in July, and wondered if it should/could be a project for the studio. Sure, I said. An art show. That'll be fun.

I went to check out the space, and it's gorgeous. It's on the PSU campus and its huge windows face the park blocks. Great.

We thought about what we had to say, how we'd construct a show, what theme we might address. Aaron was telling me about the brainstorming he was doing while washing dishes, but instead it came out, "I was brainwashing the other night," and that malapropism became the name of our show. Brainwashing. Later shortened to Brainwash.

We liked the positive connotations of brainwash. It sounds kind of nice. I'd like to have my brain washed, get all the barnacles and crust off of it.

We explored that for a few weeks, and got nowhere. I thought, we have so many talented friends, why are we trying to figure it all out ourselves? Why don't we gather a group of people and make something together?

Aaron was game, so in April we sent out a call to participate in group show called Brainwash, and we got a great response.

We gathered in my studio to decide what we wanted to get out of the show. Fourteen people were there: Aaron, Damion Triplett, Mike Giepert, Kate Bingaman-Burt, Jeremy Pelley, Fritz Mesenbrink, Mathew Foster, Chris Hutchinson, Scrappers, Patrick Long, Marco Kaye, Jennie Hayes, David Neevel and me. Later, one dropped out, and Driscoll Reid, Jason Sturgill, Jim Lasser, Taylor Twist, Julia Oh and Julia Blackburn joined us.

So, an incredible group, but pretty unwieldy too, especially at arriving at a POV. So on that first night, we decided that our best bet might be getting behind a singular idea.

We set up a second night in the studio to create together. Inspired by an event that my wife hosts in my studio called SHARE, the group came together to create. We worked off of a prompt, and worked in teams and solo for a couple of hours generating thoughts.

That's the backstory. Part of it anyway.

The show opens on July 8, and is now called OVER IT. Come see what we make.

Monday, June 14, 2010

Client update: O. Hm.

Last fall, after all the work we made for Oregon Humanities, I met with Kathleen, their editor and communications director, to formally hand over the work and talk about what happens next. We met over coffee, and it was a little sad. It was something of an ending to one of the best client relationships I'd ever had.

I encouraged Kathleen to make the stuff their own, use it, break it, experiment, try new things themselves. I told her about how I liked the storytelling from PS1 and MoMA. Feels like they are creating it themselves, and not speaking through a 'branding agency.'

So, we didn't create a traditional "style guide." Remember style guides? Life moves too fast for style guides anymore. Instead, I made a little hand-drawn map with thumbnails of the work and possible ways it could be shared with different audiences.

We talked about voice, the personality of Oregon Humanities. We talked about how believing in the power of new, bold, surprising, lively ideas as an organization means your storytelling should be bold and surprising and lively.

We talked about not overplaying "Oh, Hmm," unless you wanted to be super annoying.

We talked about finding good partners to help create things, how to encourage them to not feel locked in a system, but have freedom to make it their own, which will keep the voice human and alive.

"It's gonna be awesome," I probably said.

We hugged and said goodbye, Kathleen went off to have her baby, I moved on to other projects/relationships. That was probably 9 months ago.

Any lingering sadness went away the other night when I went to a simply outstanding event they hosted. I have a smile on my face as I'm writing this. It's another chapter in my case study of an Ideal Client. They not only had absorbed the storytelling and made it their own, their new communication materials created without me were possibly better than what I made for them. Everything about the event reflected an aligned organization with clarity and confidence around its own purpose, story and voice. Super powerful, and inspiring.

First of all, the event was simply art directed very well. It was held in a cool space, the AIA building in the Pearl, the food and wine were great, and the women of O. Hm. looked spiffy.

The visiting guest was a heavy hitter. Remember Denver in 2008, when a Republican congressman appeared at the Democratic Convention and endorsed Barack Obama? That was Jim Leach, a 30-year congressman from Iowa. Now he's Chair of the National Endowment for the Humanities. His focus at the NEH has been a "civility tour" where he talks about the importance of dialogue and humanity in civic engagement. It's been called the opposite of a Tea Party. Pretty awesome.

As tempting as it would be to simply put him behind a lectern, Cara, O. Hm.'s executive director, took a risk and set up the evening as a moderated conversation between Jim and Alison Carey, director of the Oregon Shakespeare Festival American Revolutions play cycle, and co-founder of the Cornerstone Theater Company, an experimental, community-based, collaborative theater.

"This arrangement reflects what we believe," Cara told us, "that through dialogue and different ideas colliding, we move forward.

"We believe in the transformational power of new ideas, for communities, and for people." Terrific.

I can't remember the question that Cara used to kick off the conversation, but it was something along the lines of, What is the relevance of the Humanities in this whatever-the-hell-it-is-that's-going-on-out-there, the chaos, the struggle, the divisiveness?

Deep breath and silence as everyone seemed to absorb the weight of the question.

Jim talked about personally being most struck by the acceleration of change, how that raises the critical question of whether we see that other person we are forced to confront as our neighbor or as our enemy. Our answer determines whether we frame the other person's POV as an opposing idea or something we are curious about and seek to develop an understanding of.

(Made me think of Pifkin's take on Empathic Civilizations.)

Alison also talked about curiosity. She talked about the insights that happen when we take a deep breath and ask ourselves, "How do I feel about this? What's my understanding of what's happening here?" We don't give ourselves time for deep breaths anymore, she said, but art gives them to us. Art makes us curious, and it's nearly impossible to condemn something or someone we are curious about. Curiosity is the gateway of understanding.

So, yeah, awesome, the whole evening, so thoughtful and provocative and stimulating, and then they brought out the cookies. Conversation cookies.

Instead of fortunes, each contains a question designed to spark thinking/conversation. The Oregon Humanities staff made them. Great!

They also handed out their tasty new re-branded magazine, designed by Pinch.

An energizing evening. I'm so proud of those guys, inspired. I've learned so much that's relevant as I seek to begin new client relationships.