Category Archives: Design Tools

The Uncle Sam Service Jam

Just about a month ago, I participated in a really cool event here in DC called the Uncle Sam Service Jam. The USSJ was a local version of a global event which brought folks interested in service design together for 48 hours to develop entirely new services around a common theme. The USSJ event was hosted by Peer Insight, who led us through general service design methodology and provided us with an awesome space, atmosphere, and coaching.

Here’s a little sketch of what the weekend looked like:

timeline crop w color2

I really enjoyed learning about Peer Insight’s process and discovering new frameworks and tools. Another highlight for me was how amazing my team performed in the 11th (47th?) hour. I had brought skills to the table in terms of design process know-how and visualizing our ideas, but when it came to prepping, recording and editing our video I stepped back and watched in awe as my talented team took over 🙂

Speaking of talented teammates, here’s an amazing video that my teammate Brent Davidson put together to capture the weekend:

And last but not least, here’s our ‘final prototype’ of the service we developed. We dubbed our service SkillJam.com, and created a platform (in concept only) that will help match people who want to learn a skill with folks who want to teach that skill, with nice benefits for the teachers since those tend to be harder to come by. Check it out:

It was a fantastic weekend!

If you want to learn more about the Global Service Jam, you can find them here or follow them on twitter at @GSJam

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Gift Guide for Creatives


I have mixed feelings about Gift Guides. In general, I try to remind myself at the holidays and otherwise that I don’t really need All.This.Stuff. Videos like this one from Patagonia and this one from Free Range Studios & Story of Stuff have been especially thought provoking this holiday season. In spite of all this, I’ve chosen to go ahead a post a gift guide for creatives, because a.) it’s cheery and b.) it’s my hope that these things are tools you can use rather than “more stuff.” I hope these gifts will help the creative folks in your life (or you!) come up with great ideas, express themselves, and live 2013 to the fullest. Feel free to add your own ideas to the comments!

  • Stendig Wall Calendar ($40) | I’ve though this calendar was cool ever since one of my favorite bloggers, Elise Blaha, wrote about using hers to organize blog posts. I think its large size makes it ideal for mapping out projects and goals via post-its.
  • Moleskine 2013 12 Month Daily Planner ($36) | I used these for 2012 and though they were great! I make to-do lists for each day and sometimes include grocery lists or details for appointments.
  • Designer’s Notebook ($20) | This is my current “idea log”. It’s small enough to fit in my purse, has dotted rather than lined pages, and also has some neat reference features in the back.
  • Evernote Pocket Squared Smart Notebook ($25) | I haven’t tried this one but it looks really neat. Apparently, both the pages and the stickers make it super easy to use OCR and tagging for converting your paper notes into digital ones.
  • Targus Ultralife™ Stylus ($20) | Isn’t she lovely? My company, Continuum, helped create the design for this snazzy stylus for Ultrabooks, but it will work on any capacitive touch screen.
  •  The Sketchnote Handbook ($20-$27 with video) | I think sketchnoting/visual notetaking is the coolest, so I’m jazzed about this how-to manual, the development of which I’ve been following on instagram (@rohdesign).
  • Winning the Story Wars ($16) | I’m 75% of the way through and finding it a very worthwhile read. Read this to learn about how to learn from myths and apply their structures to marketing campaigns or really any convincing brand story.
  • Young House Love: 243 Ways to Paint, Craft, Update & Show Your Home Some Love ($17) | I pre-ordered this one, and what a fun book! So many great projects to tackle.
  • The Creative Habit ($11) | An inspiring, down to earth read about what you can do to keep your creative juices flowing.
  • Paper (free but $7 for brushes) | A super simple app for sketching out notes and ideas on the iPad.
  • iFontMaker ($7) | An app for turning your handwriting and handdrawn lettering into digital fonts for the computer.
  • Totally Rad Actions ($149) | I read about Totally Rad Actions on A Beautiful Mess and was completely intrigued – such an easy way to add pizazz to your photos!
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The Art of Idea Logging

One of my favorite parts of being a designer is upholding the practice of keeping an Idea Log. Actually, you might say I’m an overachiever in this respect, because at any given moment I’m usually keeping 5+ idea logs for different subjects.

An idea log is a solo, visual record of thinking, one that you create as you think rather than after the fact, as you would a journal. Moreover, the idea log is a kinesthetic tool for the thinking itself, giving you space and opportunity to let your mind wander to creative, out-of-the-box thinking. Because they’re your own, idea logs are a safe space to explore half-baked thinking and relate your own life experiences to the problem at hand.

Why Idea Log?

The first reason why I love idea logging is because I like having a record to refer back to. Idea logs help you capture thoughts that pop into your head while on a walk, record meetings or conversations for later verification, and create a record of past mistakes so you won’t repeat them.

Additionally, I find idea logs to be one of the best tools for processing thoughts and working through problems. For me, scrawling out thoughts on a blank sheet of paper is an excellent way to jump-start a project that I’ve put off for awhile. Or, if I’ve been talking an idea to death with colleagues, working alone over a notebook is the perfect way to clear my head and move on to fresh thinking.

One Idea Log vs. Many

Some people use one log to capture all of their ideas. The great advantage of this is that with just one notebook, it is easier to carry everywhere, which means you always have it for jotting down moments of brilliance or looking back on. I personally prefer keeping separate notebooks that are specific to a project or subject, so my thoughts are somewhat organized. In order to do this, I usually carry around a stack of post-its so I can move thoughts from whatever I have on hand to where they belong.

Here are some of the types of notebooks I’ve kept:

  • Work Project Idea Logs – these include project planning notes, meeting notes, photos, idea sketches, etc
  • “Life” Notebook – where I map out week plans, gift ideas, menu plans, budgeting, etc
  • Wedding Notebook – a small Moleskine that I can carry to potential wedding vendors to jot down notes, and use to collect DIY inspiration
  • Recipe Notebook – one of the new Moleskine ‘Passion Journals’ for capturing my favorite recipes
  • Sketchbook – blank sheets for drawing & sketching practice
  • Personal Project Log – a large format (11 x 9) sketchbook to capture sewing patterns, graphic design ideas, etc

Best practices for idea logging:

There is no one way to idea log, and everyone has their own idea logging style. But oftentimes forcing yourself to step out of your comfort zone is the way to get to new ideas. This means if you’re the type who thinks through text, force yourself to doodle or sketch frameworks and see where it takes you. Here are some other tips for getting the most out of your idea log:

1. Create conditions for creative thinking
Find a place that is comfortable and free of major distractions, and make sure you have the things on hand that help you think best, like good snacks, music, colored pens, and craft supplies.

2. Quantity yields quality
To get to the good stuff, you need to give yourself enough time to relax: think 45min+. Once you get started, try to go through as many pages as possible, because the point is to get beyond your initial thinking, which will take up the first few pages. If you’re truly an idea log master, you should also be striving to idea log every day, a task that is difficult but not impossible.

3. Leave time to go back and make discoveries
The key takeaways from an idea log session come out in the last ten minutes, when you look back on what you’ve logged and take notes on what you’ve learned. This might take the form of identifying patterns and themes, or simply highlighting the most important stuff. To this end, make sure to write legibly and avoid excessive shorthand so you can understand what you’ve written even after a few days have passed.

4. Capture stream of consciousness (don’t edit yourself)
In order to make implicit leaps and understand subtle nuances within your thoughts, you need to allow yourself to capture your ideas before you’d be ready to share them – in other words, to capture half-baked and wacky thoughts. You also need to give yourself permission to let go of laying out the perfect page, spelling everything correctly, and making it look pretty. If you’re going for style points, you’re probably not allowing yourself to think deeply enough.

5. Give yourself permission to get off-topic
I often find that when I sit down to idea log about a framework, the first thing that pops into my head is something completely unrelated and mundane, like what I need to pick up at the grocery store later. Allow yourself to work through these roadblocks by thinking on them, making a list or otherwise capturing, and moving on. While your goal is to get deep into a topic, you should definitely indulge these distractions, as sometimes the most surprising insights come out of serendipitous explorations.

What are your favorite ways to idea log? Do you have any favorite notebooks or tools for idea logging?

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