1. Having the courage to admit that you’re wrong (about notebooks)

    Posted July 13, 2018 in Diary, work  |  1 Comment so far

    In 2013 I wrote a blog post about how I was only going to buy cheap notebooks.

    My rationale at the time was that a high-quality notebook repelled low-quality content; in other words, that my reluctance to scribble half-formed thoughts and sketches on such a pristine medium undermines the very purpose of having a notebook in the first place. A cheap notebook, on the other hand, would offer a less judgemental home for incoherent scrawls, and so I would be encouraged to write and draw in it all the time without fear of my contributions being put to shame by the paper on which they were borne.

    I can now look back and say that I was categorically wrong about all of this and, what’s more, that my flirtation with cheap notebooks didn’t last. In around 2015 I ditched them and before long I found myself drawing and sketching far more than I’d ever done before. Moleskines (which I was in the habit of buying when I wrote the abovementioned blog post) were replaced by Leuchtturm notebooks and since then I haven’t looked back. I now always have an A4 and an A5 Leuchtturm1917, both dotted: the latter to carry around and take notes, the former for more serious in-depth sketching.

    Pokémon and diagrams

    And it’s not even more expensive either. The Leuchtturm paper is extremely thin so a single notebook lasts for a long time. The A5 one I’ve got with me now was first used in January 2017 (I know because I write the date on every page) and it’s only now in July 2018 that it’s running out of space. And I’ve used it a lot.

    So that’s it, I just wanted to make it known that I recant the blog post of 2013 and am back on the side of decent notebooks.

  2. Escaping the tyranny of expensive notebooks

    Posted July 16, 2013 in work  |  4 Comments so far

    The people at Moleskine have a lot to answer for. In the last few years I’ve become addicted to their highly desirable yet expensive notebooks, making them the cackling recipients of money I might otherwise have spent on pistachio nuts.

    Yet this misappropriation of my hard-earned funds is not the cause of the sullen, accusatory gaze that I now cast towards those Moleskine folk. No, this is something much bigger. I’m starting to suspect they’ve created nothing less than a prison for ideas. It may be an elegant and nicely designed prison – one whose bars, when clenched, give a pleasing and tactile sensation rather unlike the cold, rusty steel of a traditional penitentiary – but it still gets the job done. This gilded cage is something that ideas need to escape if they are to truly thrive.

    Now the Moleskine people – and other expensive notebook makers – would emphatically deny this. They’d probably suggest that an aspiring idea could hope for no better start to life than on the pages of their costly but obviously top-notch products; that ideas sketched on their subtly creamy sheets are destined for greatness, unlike those scrawled on the backs of napkins whose lowly origins will eventually drag them down into the gutter.

    I probably felt the same way up until recently, otherwise I wouldn’t have been buying Moleskines or other pricey pads in the first place. I guess I felt like the snazzy notebooks would force my ideas to up their game somehow. Pen would not hit that lustrous paper unless the idea to be conveyed deserved to live on that prime real estate. My customary messiness would be eliminated. So by the time I scribbled on its final page my notebook would be headed not for the recycling bin but the bookshelf, maybe even the coffee table, propelled by its merits as an artistic artefact in its own right.

    This misses the point of notebooks entirely. When you need to write something down or draw something, the thing you reach for should be your notebook. If you pause for even a fraction of a second to consider whether the information or idea or whatever it is “deserves” to be in the notebook, then the thing you’re reaching for isn’t really a notebook at all, it’s a canvas for more fully formed ideas. Because notebooks aren’t supposed to be works of art; they’re supposed to be a mess.

    That pause, that momentary flash of doubt about something deserves to be written down, can be thought of it as a filter – let’s call it the “Moleskine Filter” – because it attempts to filter out bad ideas before they sully the pristine pages of your Moleskine. And I see the Moleskine Filter as a bad thing because ideas aren’t in a position to be judged until they’ve been reified in some way. You need to put that idea down, get it out of your head somehow, before you can sit back and decide what to do with it. If your notebook doesn’t help you do that, then what else will?

    So I’ve decided to embark on an experiment: I’m stepping away from expensive notebooks and their seductive allure. As a first step I’ve just bought a notebook which cost less than a third of an equivalent Moleskine. It’s not a good-looking notebook and it doesn’t feel like it’s going to hold up to wear and tear very well. In fact I suspect it’ll look very battered and beaten up after a couple of weeks in my pocket. I can’t wait.

    My theory is that having a cheap notebook that was never going to rival the Sistine Chapel ceiling will nullify the effect of the “Moleskine filter”, helping more of my thoughts and ideas to make it on to paper where they can be fairly evaluated. If I’m right – if such a filter exists, and cheap notebooks can vanquish it – then I’ll have successfully liberated my ideas from their snazzy Moleskine-branded prison. But if I’m wrong, and it makes no difference, then at least I’ll be able to use the money I’ve saved to buy more pistachio nuts.

  3. Job news

    Posted September 20, 2010 in work  |  1 Comment so far

    I don’t discuss work on this blog very often. My company’s clients are very secretive and don’t like their projects being mentioned in public. But this post isn’t about clients – it’s about my own role and a difficult choice I’ve recently had to make.

    For the last four and a half years I’ve been working at interactive agency Tobias & Tobias. In the time I’ve been there a lot’s changed: the company has grown, we’ve taken on many new clients, and I’ve had a number of different roles, most recently as head of the combined strategy & user experience teams.

    Screenshot of Tobias & Tobias website

    I’ve really enjoyed working at T&T. I’d never stayed in the same company for more than three years until this job, which is a testament to the people and the culture.

    But all good things must come to an end, and it’s with great reluctance that I’ve decided to move on to another role, as an associate creative director at SapientNitro.

    In terms of size, the two companies are poles apart. SapientNitro is part of a group that employs 7,000 people in 30 offices worldwide, while Tobias & Tobias has 30 people in one office. But in other ways I think the companies are quite similar.

    Specifically, I think that both companies have a similar approach to quality in the user experience and information architecture work that they do. I feel qualified to say this because I’ve interviewed a lot of UX practitioners, and most of the best portfolios I’ve seen have been presented by people with long stints at SapientNitro. This is a big part of the reason why I chose to join SapientNitro. The last thing I’d want to do is move to a company that didn’t take user experience seriously.

    Obviously it’s going to be a big change for me – I’ve worked in large organisations before, but it’s been a while since I was in an office so big it was a challenge to remember everyone’s name. But I’m looking forward to having the resources of a large company to draw upon, and a large pool of new colleagues & clients to work with, learn from, and – hopefully – help out in some way.

    The current plan is that I’ll start at SapientNitro from November 1st and will be working at their office in Spitalfields, a much more convenient location than Kensington Olympia! But while I won’t miss the extended Overground journeys and the constant roadworks outside our office, I will miss working at Tobias & Tobias, and plan to stay in touch (which means that, yes, I will be gatecrashing the Christmas party!)…

  4. Why you should work from home more often

    Posted July 28, 2008 in work  |  No Comments so far

    I’m lucky to have an employer with a sensible telecommuting policy – all of our staff are entitled to spend one day per week working from home.

    If this isn’t something your company does, this column from the Economist provides a useful summary of the reasons why they should.

    The benefits of telecommuting are realised in the following areas:

    • Personal productivity – the telecommuter gains on average two hours of time normally lost to the commute
    • Environmental impact – avoiding the commute means a drop in personal CO2 emissions; if enough people did this, the global drop in energy consumption could be huge
    • Business benefits – it’s increasingly recognised that working from home can lead to productivity gains and cost reductions for the business; see the link above for a discussion of these.

    However, it’s going to take some time for working from home to break into the mainstream. Working practises will need to change quite fundamentally in order for less technology-centric workplaces to move to a telecommuting model. But companies should start to move in this direction sooner rather than later.