How a Single Tweet Made Me an Apple Customer for Life

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We’ve all had that moment of frustration with a piece of electronics or software. You know the feeling. Something that is advertised to just work, doesn’t, and you get pissed off enough to rant about it on social media. Well, last week that happened to me when I encountered a problem with my Apple Watch. The digital crown had seemingly stopped working (it was stuck basically), and that triggered things like random Siri queries, app switching, and a bunch of little annoyances that added up after a few days. Naturally, as any entitled millennial would do, I took my frustrations to Twitter. Little did I know that this single tweet would be the thing that etched my Apple fanboyism in stone for good.

This morning I got a phone call from an unknown number out of Sacramento, CA. Fearing this might be a phone call from work I picked up. The woman on the other end of the phone identified herself as Marie from Apple, and she said she was calling in response to my tweet that I had sent to Tim Cook, Apple’s CEO. For a moment I thought it was a prank call until I remembered an article I had read a few weeks ago that claimed Cook was indeed monitoring Twitter and reaching out to troubled customers.

During the call Marie addressed my issue, asked several questions to determine what the problem might be, and even walked me through carefully washing my watch to free up the digital crown. All the while she was very friendly, personable, and seemed to genuinely care about my satisfaction. Once my issue was resolved she asked me a very interesting question… Why did you tweet to Tim? Honestly, I didn’t have a good answer for that, but I admitted I was frustrated and that I had heard Apple execs sometimes monitor social and email channels like that, so I figure I’d give it a try. She laughed and said “yes, they do.”

This is a prime example of the great lengths Apple goes to ensure the happiness of its customers. Steve Jobs was famous for actually answering his emails from customers, and now it appears that Tim Cook has inherited that habit as well. Thank you, Apple. Thank you, Marie. And thank you, Tim.

Photoshop CC 2015 Review

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This week Adobe officially unveiled the latest version of Photoshop and the rest of their Creative Cloud applications. Now that I’ve had a few days to digest all of the new features and explore them in-depth, I thought I’d give you my full review here on my blog. This release of Photoshop seems to be mostly design-focused, but there’s actually quite a bit in this release for just about any creative professional.

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Artboard Support

Multi-page PSD files have always been a pipe dream for designers, but with the release of Photoshop CC 2015 it appears Adobe has finally heard their cries. I must admit that when I first saw the new artboards in action, I was less than impressed. In fact, I thought they got the implementation wrong altogether. Having been an Illustrator user for so long now, I just didn’t get the choices they had made, but once I got my hands on it… Wow.

The best way to describe artboards in Photoshop is to liken them to the way groups worked in the layers panel in previous versions. Each dartboard acts as its own group and can contain a completely separate set of layers within it. You can open and close the contents of each of your artboards just as you would a layer group as well. This is very intuitive for those that’ve been using Photoshop for several years, and they’ve even made it easy to convert your existing documents that use layer groups into an artboards document.

In order to manipulate and add new artboards you must use the new Artboard Tool, which at first is somewhat difficult to find. It’s nested within the same toolbar slot as the Move Tool, and in order to access it you must either use the keyboard shortcut (v) or press and hold on the Move Tool and then select it from within. I’d say this is the one complaint I have about this new feature right now. Adobe needs to do a better job of making this tool visible to new users, and with artboards being such a big new feature I think it should have its own dedicated slot on the tools panel just like the artboard tool in Illustrator. Granted this isn’t much of a complaint, but it was a significant paint point when I first started using the feature.

Alongside the artboards in Photoshop comes a whole new group of document presets, and for once they actually include most of the modern devices you would expect (even the Apple Watch). This is a far cry from previous versions of Photoshop where the “web” preset contained screen sizes that might have been suitable had it been released in 1997. There are two categories for screen designers called “Web” and “Mobile App Design”. Both of these categories contain a nice variety of screen sizes and devices, so it should be relatively easy for designers to jumpstart their next project without having to worry about plugging in arbitrary numbers into the width and height fields.

Design Space

The second big ticket item in the Photoshop CC 2015 release is something called Design Space. Before we get into what it is and how it works, I think it’s important for you to understand that this is what Adobe calls a “technology preview” which basically means it’s a beta feature that may not be feature-complete right now. That being said, Design Space is a completely reimagined UI design aimed at web/mobile app developers, and while it’s limited right now, the possibilities of this new approach from Adobe are really exciting.

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In order to use Design Space you must first enable it through your preferences (see above). Once enabled Photoshop will then jump you into this new user interface that might be a little alarming at first. The interface is very flat and dark with a minimal set of tools that are meant to eliminate clutter and reduce the normal friction that designers face when using Photoshop proper.

Screen Shot 2015-06-18 at 12.19.57 PMWhat I like about Design Space is the easy access it gives me to the tools that I use most for wireframing a project. I can draw vector shapes like rectangles and ellipses without having to click and hold any toolboxes or remember keyboard shortcuts, and I love the fact that the selection tool triggers a series of contextual style panels depending on what kind of object you have selected. This makes it transitioning between objects and tools super simple.

Another amazing feature of Design Space is the ability to swap locations of objects. Let’s say, for instance, that you had several buttons laid out in your UI, but the client comes back to you and says he wants Button A swapped with Button B. Traditionally this would require quite a few moves within the layers panel and possibly the alignment panel as well. Now it’s a simple click of a mouse and those buttons instantly swap places. This alone is enough for me to start using Design Space more often.

My only real issue with Design space is its lack of functionality. I can’t quite put my finger on what it’s missing, but it feels a bit incomplete. That being said, I’m well aware that this is just a preview, so I’m sure that this will get better over time as new iterations emerge. For the most part I think this is a solid first start, and I think designers should give it a try if they’re looking for a faster way to work with Photoshop.

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Export Options

Just when you thought it couldn’t get any worse for the Save for Web dialog box, Adobe delivers a catastrophic blow with its all-new exporting features. They’re touting this as a modernized Save for Web experience, and it truly does deliver on that promise.

You can choose to export single layers, entire artboards, or whole documents using this feature, and it’s accessible either by right clicking on the object you want to export in the Layers Panel or by going to File>Export>Export As. This is the method that gives you the most control because you can specify file type and compressions settings, but there’s also a Quick Export feature that allows you to simply right-click an object in the Layers Panel and instantly save it out as PNG, JPG, GIF, or SVG (depending on your preference settings).

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What really impressed me was the new compression capabilities of this feature. In a small test run I was able to cut the file size of a JPG image in half by using the new export features in Photoshop CC 2015 versus that of the Save for Web dialog in Photoshop CC 2014. That might not seem like a huge deal to some, but to web designers who are constantly monitoring file size and trying to trim it down, this is going to be a game changer.

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If you’ve ever wanted to add multiple instances of the same Layer Style to an object in Photoshop… Congratulations, today is your lucky day! There’s not much to say here, honestly, but it is worth noting. Now you can add up to 10 instances of select styles to your Layers. The feature is currently limited to Strokes, Inner Shadows, Color Overlays, Gradient Overlays, and Drop Shadows, but for most people I think that’s more than enough. I would’ve been happy with just multiple drop shadows alone, so the rest just feel like a bonus to me.

If you want to apply these new styles simply double-click on the right-hand side of your layer to open up the dialog above, and then click the plus sign next to any of the supported styles to add another instance. Each new style is independently configurable and you can add/delete styles at any time as well. While it might not be the flashiest feature in the 2015 release, this is still a welcomed addition in my book.

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Glyphs Panel

Finally, Photoshop has a Glyphs Panel! For people who are serious about typography, this is a major addition to the 2015 release, and I am definitely excited about it too. I’ve heard many people gloss over this feature when talking about the latest version of Photoshop, but this feature is something that I’ve been hoping to get for a while now.

The main reason I’m excited about this feature has little to do with traditional typography, however. I’m more interested in its ability to enable me to work more efficiently with icon fonts like Font Awesome. Up until now my Font Awesome workflow consisted of me opening up a web page that contained all of the icons within the font and then copying and pasting them one at a time into Photoshop. This, as you can imagine, was less than ideal, and it was another motivating factor for me to move to Illustrator for my web projects. Bravo to whoever finally pulled the trigger on this one!

Content-Aware Filled Panoramas

Ever since the iPhone gave me the capability to shoot panorama photos, I’ve been hooked. I take panos on al of my vacations and business trips to help me capture more of the scenery around me. Recently, however, I’ve been toying around with shooting panoramas with my digital SLR, which is a little bit more labor-intensive than just shooting with my camera phone. With a DSLR I have to take individual photos and then stitch them together in Photoshop. Don’t get me wrong, Photoshop does a tremendous job of stitching the photos and manipulating the images that it looks like one giant scene instead of several snapshots, but there’s always several areas around the photo that appear unfilled, and that’s always been disappointing to me.

Generally when this happens I would just make a selection of the unfilled areas and then use the content-aware fill option by using the Edit>Fill command. Well, now there’s a little checkbox that allows me to tell Photoshop to automatically fill any empty areas using the content-aware fill method. This is just another way that Adobe is trying to streamline common workflows within Photoshop, and while the content-aware fill isn’t always as accurate as I’d like it to be, I think this little checkbox is a great addition to an already powerful feature.

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Dehaze

In every version of Photoshop there’s always at least one “holy s%$!” feature that makes me wonder whether or not Adobe has engineers or actual wizards working in their laboratories. In this release, that feature is the new Dehaze setting that has been added to Camera Raw. Basically this allows you to take an image that normally would look like complete crap and transform it into something a bit more usable. Just take a look at the example above. The original shot almost looked like a complete washout, but after the Dehaze and a little vibrance, the image started to come back to life, much to my amazement.

I’ve found that this feature works really well on RAW images (naturally), but it also does a fairly decent job with JPG images as well. The only difference being that I saw some slight banding in the JPGs that I tested, but that was easily smoothed out by other means later. For wildlife, nature, and street photographers this is going to be a nice little addition to your digital tool belt, and the best part is that you can add it non-destructively as a Smart Filter.

I first saw this feature demoed at one of Adobe’s MAX conferences, and I remember thinking that it was cool, but that it probably wouldn’t ever ship. Well, once again, I’m wrong and this feature is right on the money.

Conclusion

This is just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to the new features of Photoshop CC 2015. You can check out the full release notes here for more information. These are simply the features I was interested in and had time to try. For the most part I think that Photoshop CC 2015 is a solid upgrade for just about any Photoshop user. However, designers were the clear winner this year with all of the new and exciting features that were geared towards their workflow. That is why I said on Twitter recently that this is the most significant update to Photoshop for designers in a very long time, perhaps even since Layers were introduced. Adobe has laid a great foundation on which to build new and exciting things for the design community, and I fully expect that to continue in the future.

I’ve seen many people discount this release because they didn’t feel like Adobe added anything for them specifically. What you have to understand is that Photoshop has become a bigger animal than we ever imagined it could be. You might even argue that too much has been added to the program over the years, and I’d have a hard time disagreeing with you. That being said, look at all the enhancements Adobe has added to Photoshop and the Creative Cloud as a whole over the past two years. They’re iterating at a faster pace than they ever have before, and I think they’re doing one hell of a job at keeping up with today’s creative workforce. It’s also important to remember that while this is the official 2015 release of Creative Cloud, we will undoubtedly see more updates before 2016 rolls around. That’s the beauty of the Creative Cloud platform, really. Adobe can drop features whenever they want, so don’t be surprised if you open up your apps later this Fall and see a whole slew of new updates waiting for you.

I Want to Be a Designer… Do I Need to Go to College?

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Do I have to go to college if I want to be a graphic designer? This is a question that I hear on almost a weekly basis. Unfortunately, the answer isn’t as cut-and-dry as one might think. These days the rules are much different than those that governed the workplace even five or ten years ago. Do you need to go to college? Well, maybe, and maybe not.

Some Thoughts on College

Before we get into the nitty gritty of where I stand on this whole issue, let’s talk about college for a moment. I’m on record as saying I’m not a big fan of the traditional education system, but college has much more to offer than just education. College is a great place to find oneself and figure out what it is that you’re destined to become in this world. I made several life-long friends while I was in college as well, and I can’t overstate the importance of having a support circle like that in my life.

College isn’t just books and tests, it’s preparation for life, really. Going to college is oftentimes the first experience of really fending for yourself. There’s no one there to get you up in the morning, cook you breakfast, or do your laundry. Mom is usually hundreds or even thousands of miles away, and that can be both liberating and scary at the same time. Even though I don’t think a lot of what is required to “succeed” in college is relevant to the real world, I do think that there are certain intangibles that you get exposed to along the way that make the experience worthwhile to just about anybody, no matter of what area of study you’re interested in pursuing.

Choose Your Path

The first question I ask people when they ask me whether or not they should be attending college is what type of designer they want to be. Do you want to work freelance? Or do you prefer a corporate environment? This is, in my opinion, one of the first decisions you need to make when deciding whether or not you should attend college as a graphic designer. You can always change this choice down the road, but the initial choice will determine much of what you need to do next.

If your choice is freelance, I would argue that you are not required to go to college. That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t go, but you’re much less likely to need that piece of paper when you’re meeting with clients than if you were trying to get your foot in the door at a big agency. Freelance work is all about the portfolio, and answering the question of “can you do this work?” for your clients. I did freelance work for a few years and not once did a client ask to see a resume, transcript, or diploma before I got the job. All of them, however, asked to see my portfolio.

The corporate world is much different than that of the freelance world. You get the benefit of a steady stream of income, health benefits, time off, and many other perks not afforded to freelancers. However, the corporate world is still ruled by a lot of people from a previous generation that still firmly believe that a college degree makes you better-suited for a given position. In the freelance world the designer with the best portfolio and most competitive rates often wins. In the corporate world, if two designers have comparable portfolios and interview well, the deciding factor more often than not is who has a degree. Until there’s a changing of the guard, college is still a must-have credential in this environment.

Conclusion

As I said at the beginning, there’s no clear-cut answer to this question. Ultimately it’s up to you to decide what’s best for you and your future. Personally, I think you’d benefit greatly by attending college. There are several things you can educate yourself on while you’re there that will help make you a more rounded designer, like marketing, finance, and public speaking.

Many people ask me if I had it to do all over again, would I have gone to college or would I have just become a graphic designer? My answer to that is simple… I didn’t become what or who I am today until I went to college. The knowledge I gained, the experiences I had, and the friends I made all contributed to the successes that I’ve had in my life since then.

Do you have to go to college? No, you don’t. Should you go to college? Well, that’s a complex question that you’ll need to ask and reflect on yourself.

How to Work From Home Without Going Crazy

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This past year I made the decision to leave Southern California and relocate to Nashville, TN. In doing so I left the 9-to-5 work environment I had known for nearly three years and became a remote worker for the first time. The transition was tough and full of mistakes, but now that I’m settled in I think I’ve figured out how to survive in the remote employment world. In this article I’ll share with you what I’ve learned in hopes that it’ll help your transition when/if that ever happens.

Create a Schedule and Stick to it… No Apologies

Tennessee and California operate in different time zones, which means my day starts about two hours earlier than that of my colleagues. The problem I had, however, was that I would attempt to not only work my full day at home, but also cover the additional hours of the Western work day so that I was accessible to my co-workers.

This isn’t sustainable, so eventually I had to just come to terms with the fact that if I was going to work alongside my colleagues, I had to alter my schedule. Instead of starting my day at 9AM Central Time, I opted to begin my work day at 11AM CT, which is 9AM PT. I told myself it was ok to start my day later, and that I realized that going out to breakfast or running errands beforehand didn’t actually make me a bad employee, it made me more productive in the long run.

In addition to altering my working day timeline, I also decided I was going to have a hard “clock out” time every single day. This enabled me to completely shut down for the day and detach myself from work. Previously I had the luxury of leaving an office and driving home, but now I’m merely a few steps away from my office at any given time. Allowing myself to “punch the clock” gave me a sense of completion and allowed me to walk away without feeling guilty.

Have an Office… Go to the Office

No, I’m not saying you need to rent a space to work from, but I do think having a dedicated working space in your residence is a must. Don’t just try to do your work while laying in bed or sitting on the couch. Find a quiet spot in your house that you can work from, set it up as a work-only environment, and make sure that it’s use exclusively for that.

Remember, you don’t have a commute anymore, so you have to trick your brain into thinking the short walk from your bedroom to your desk is the same thing. By quarantining this area off and using it exclusively for work you’re telling your brain that it’s time to get stuff done. If you try to work from your bed, chances are you’re just going to wind up taking a nap.

Put Your Clothes On

When people hear that I work from home they inevitably say something like “oh, it must be great to work in sweats all day, huh?” Well, honestly I wouldn’t know. At first, yeah I tried it, but it felt awkward and I quickly changed my routine. I treat every day as if I’m going to the office now. I shower, shave, and dress just the way I would if I weren’t working remotely. You’d be amazed at how normal this will make you feel and how much of a sense of purpose it creates in your mind.

Understand It’s Ok to Have a Life

Fear is a big part of learning to work from home. I was fearful of doing anything outside the scope of my job during the work day, and that was miserable. Figuring out it was ok to walk to the mailbox, go grab lunch, or do a load of laundry while a project is uploading was a big relief for me. Nowadays I’m ok with taking my dog to the vet, answering a phone call, or simply taking a 15 minute break to watch the news. There are times when these things come up at the office, and it’s acceptable to take care of them there, so why wouldn’t it be acceptable at home too?

If you’re going to be “out of office” for an extended period of time, just make sure that you’ve communicated that to your team ahead of time. Being a remote worker already carries with it a stigma that you’re just sitting around watching TV, so the more you can do to let people know where you are and what you’re doing, the better off you’ll be.

Talk to Your Teammates

The thing I miss most about working in an office is the face-to-face interaction with my co-workers. Human interaction is something that we crave on an unconscious level, and not addressing that need can have a seriously adverse effect on your new at-home lifestyle.

Our team(s) at lynda.com make heavy use of online meeting platforms like GoToMeeting and Google Hangouts. I have weekly 1:1 meetings, monthly team meetings, and on-the-fly meetings regularly with my colleagues using these systems and it’s a great way to fill the void that is left when you start working by yourself. Make sure that you get down to business in these meetings, but put in a little time for casual conversation as well. Ask your co-workers how they’re doing, what’s life like back at the office, and let them know how you’re doing as well.

Communication and face time is probably the most important thing about remote work. Without it you’re pretty much guaranteed to fail. If video conferencing isn’t an option for you, just use a good, old-fashioned phone call. Hearing someone’s voice isn’t as good as seeing them face-to-face, but it’s certainly better than nothing.

Become a Slave to Your To-Do List

As a remote employee you’re not going to have a manager looking over your shoulder every day, but you’re still going to have to get things done. Find a way to schedule out your tasks, whether that’s using a to-do list app on your phone, writing things on a whiteboard, or simply covering your desk with post-it notes. Your days should be filled with what I call “baby step goals” that help you achieve progress towards a much larger over-arching goal or project. Set yourself a daily target and mark your progress in your to-do list. Accountability is your responsibility now, so become your own micro-manager.

Create the Illusion of Activity

Some people can work in complete silence, and while I appreciate a lack of interruption, I still like ambient noise of some kind around me while I’m working from home. If you are the same way, you need to find yourself a way to make your deserted island feel like a co-working space. One thing I’ve found that works well is Coffitivity. This web app (also available on iOS) is great for creating a real-world feeling in your otherwise isolated environment. There are days when I’ll actually forget I’m working alone because this service does such a good job of capturing the sounds of things like a restaurant or coffee shop. You may not like it, but finding something similar will really help you, I think.

Go Outside

This sounds simple, but seriously, go outside. Let your mind wander a bit and enjoy a little fresh air. This is a great way to break up the monotony of the at-home-work lifestyle. If going outside is difficult (maybe you live in a high-rise), open a window. Sunlight and breeze can really change your mood and enhance your working experience.

Conclusion

This is by no means a template that is set in stone. Every situation is different, and what works for me may not work for you. Working from home isn’t for everyone either, but just know that it does take time to truly find your groove and get to a place where you’re comfortable. Hopefully some of these tips will help you in your transition, and if you ever want to chat about remote work or ask me some advice, my door is always open!

10 Ways to Break Through Creative Blocks

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If you read my last post The Curse of the Creative Mind you know that there are times when it seems almost impossible to break through a creative slump. I’ve had days where I couldn’t make heads or tails of the project I was working on, and you’ll have those days too. Even though we can’t stop those days from happening, there are things we can do to help ourselves break through creative blocks.

1. Go for a Walk

I know this sounds simple, but I’ve done some of my best thinking while taking a break and just walking around my neighborhood. When you exercise your body releases chemicals called endorphins, which interact with your brain to alleviate pain, reduce stress levels, and generally promote a happier mood. Going for a walk every day can significantly reduce the amount of time in between creative bursts, making it easier for you to break through the inevitable slumps.

2. Meditation

This is one that I’ve always been skeptical of, but when used properly I do think it can be of great benefit to you. The whole problem with a creative block is that you’re allowing yourself to get in your own way. Nothing is stopping us from being creative except for the intangible parts of our personality. Meditation allows you to wipe the slate clean (albeit for just a few moments) and during that moment of clarity and relaxation you can sometimes find the answer you’re looking for.

3. Writing

One of my favorite things to do is write down what I’m thinking or feeling. I don’t keep a journal, but I’m constantly opening up a text editor and simply just pouring my heart out onto the screen. I rarely save these documents, but by simply putting my feelings into words I find that it helps me clear some of the mental cobwebs and focus more on the task at hand. Try sitting down and writing something every single day. Whether you write poetry, short stories, or simply what you had for breakfast, you’ll be amazed at what eventually starts to pour out of your brain.

4. Sleep

Sleep is the aphrodisiac of the creative mind, and so making sure you’re getting plenty of it should be a priority. I know there will be times where sleep won’t come easy, but finding a 2-3 hour window here and there to recharge your batteries can do wonders for you when you’re in a slump.

5. Talk it Out

There’s no shame in admitting that you need a little help. Whether you talk to your friends, family, or a professional, getting things off your chest can do a lot to help with creative obstacles. I am lucky to have an amazing wife that is always willing to listen to me, but I also regularly talk with my counselor to work out some of the deeper issues. Where I’m from there’s a stigma attached to talking about your feelings, and it took me a while to get over that, but now I fully embrace the power of “couch time”.

6. Watch a Movie

Movies are filled with creative inspiration. Look for films that are outside the scope of what you normally watch for entertainment though. This will keep you interested and guessing, as most of us tend to become accustomed to the formulaic nature of our favorite film genre. We want to stimulate the brain, not lull it to sleep.

7. Clean Your Room

Whether it’s your office, your bedroom, or just your kitchen, break out the cleaner and get to work! Decluttering and cleaning out the spaces around you can have the same effect on your mind. I’ll often fly into a cleaning frenzy when I’m creatively stifled. There’s something very liberating about rearranging your furniture too. Try moving the position of your desk, adjusting your monitor setup, or even hanging a new painting on the wall.

8. Break Your Own Boundaries

Finding something new to keep yourself occupied is a great way to relieve everyday stresses. Try something you’ve never tried before. For me that might mean taking a cooking class or attending Yoga. Try to go as far outside your comfort zone as you can.

9. Build Something

Working with your hands is a great way to give your mind a break. Put together some Ikea furniture or start building model airplanes. These activities shouldn’t be mindless, but they should be easy to follow and require a lot of leg work.

10. Acknowledge it, and Just Let it Out

Emotions are the biggest roadblock in the creative process. Acknowledging your emotions out loud and simply letting yourself have time to be emotional is more therapeutic than you think. Many people will tell you to take your mind off of it at all costs, but I think there is something to be said for simply wallowing in your own pool of emotions for a few moments. The key is to limit the wallowing to just a few moments. Set a deadline, enjoy the time, and when it’s over jump into one of these other steps immediately.

Conclusion

Sometimes there’s nothing you can do to break yourself out of a creative slump, but hopefully some of these things will at the very least make the situation more tolerable for you. Just remember not to overthink the situation. Listen to your mind and body, as they are the compass that will lead you out of this in the most efficient way.

The Curse of the Creative Mind

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I often hear from other people that they’d love to be creative, or that they admire my creativity. What most people don’t understand is that there is a substantial amount of baggage that comes with creativity that most people don’t ever see. You’ve probably heard stories about famous creative people who lived a very tortured existence. A few people that come to mind are Heath Ledger, Robin Williams, and Owen Wilson. While these are obviously extreme examples, they all (in theory) share(d) in the same struggle that I and many other creative individuals do every day.

For many of us it is a constant roller coaster of emotion that rises and falls without much warning or provocation. While we are able to create things that bring joy to the masses, it comes at a great cost to us and our loved ones. I’d never change who or what I am, because I do find great joy in what I do. But I often wonder how much I miss out on, and how differently I would view the world if I could turn it off, even for just a day.

When It’s Good, It’s Great!

Every morning when I wake up (assuming I actually slept the night before), my mind goes through a checklist before I’m even able to register what’s happened. Instantly I’m aware of whether or not today will be a good day or a bad day. You may think that this is something I can control, but it isn’t. I’m forever at the mercy of this fickle disease that is creativity.

On the days when it’s good, it’s great! I’m able to create things, think my way through problems, and really focus on any task that I set my mind to do. I like to say that “when the light is on” I see the world in a totally different way. Almost like how Neo could decode the Matrix. I rely on these days very heavily because I know that these moments are fleeting, and I need to get as much out of them as I possibly can.

When I was younger these moments lasted for days at a time. I could start something, work nonstop for days on end, and not even realize how much time had passed when I was finished. Nowadays, however, I’ll know instantly upon waking up whether not I have *it* today or not, but the actual time and duration of the moment is totally up in the air. I could wake up and instantly have a rush of it, or it might not hit me until 11PM that night just as I’m getting ready for bed. The point is that I have to be ready for creativity and I cannot even attempt to force it, or like a frightened rabbit, it will just disappear.

When It’s Bad, It’s Awful…

There are days when I simply don’t have what it takes to be creative. When I hit one of these days I have to come to grips with the fact that it’s simply going to be a bad, non-productive day for me. This means putting creative projects on hold, which in turn puts me behind the eight ball for many of my deadlines. Oftentimes employers and clients will misconstrue this as me being lazy, and admittedly I’m sure it looks that way from the outside, but that’s simply not the case. When the light bulb is off, I’m simply incapable of producing my work.

I’m lucky in that I’ve never actually found myself in a scenario where the juices didn’t eventually start to flow. They might come at the very last possible moment, but they show up nonetheless. When this happens it puts me into a frenzy, and I often work as hard as I can for as long as I can until the project is finished. This might mean 24-48 hours of non-stop work, during which I completely ignore anything around me, including family & friends. At the end of this whirlwind of productivity I often crash hard. My body is worn out, my brain is now mush, and all I can think about is sleep.

You might be thinking that I’m suffering from manic episodes or that I’m in some way mentally ill, but I’ve been checked repeatedly by mental health professionals, and while they say I exhibit some manic tendencies, they almost all agree that this is just part of my personality and how I get things done. My brain is simply like a sleeping volcano. Everything I need is in there, but I have to wait for the eruption in order to make use of it.

Accepting Who You Are

After speaking with several of my fellow creatives, I learned that many of us share similar experiences when it comes to unlocking our creativity. One colleague characterized it as him needing to “slow boil” his ideas before he could actually put them into action. Many others reported that they too feel drained and mentally fatigued after completing a project. As I spoke with these people I began to realize that I wasn’t flawed, but simply different, and that’s ok. I’m capable of producing top-notch work just like anyone else, but I accomplish it in my own unique way.

When using a program like Adobe Photoshop, there are a thousand ways to accomplish just about any task. What I tell students is that it’s the destination that matters and not the road you traveled to get there. This must be true for the creative process as well. As long as I’m producing work that meets or exceeds the standards of my employer or client, who cares how I got it done? No one, that’s who.

Conclusion

Figuring out your process and embracing it is one of the most important things you can do as a “creative” I think. Once you’ve figured it out, you need to own it 100% without hesitation. Only then will you be able to fully trust your process when it’s crunch time. For many years I looked at myself as a procrastinator, but now I realize that my method of ideation is one that requires an idle mind before it can be turned up to warp speed.

I love being creative. The energy and emotional high that you get while you’re in the moment are something that is indescribable to most people. Creativity is not something that can be taught, contained, or scheduled. If you have it, you have it, and if you don’t, you don’t. Either way you have to be willing to ride it out and embrace the roller coaster. Such is the curse of the creative mind.

Social Media is Not a Mouthpiece

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Social media is a great tool for any business, but only when it’s being used properly. There are many brands out there that simply use social media as a way of constantly inundating their audience with a series of generic news updates or links, and quite frankly, they’re doing it wrong. Social media is not a mouthpiece, it’s a party line, and everyone has a voice and a place in the conversation. If you’re not creating thought-provoking and engaging content within your social spheres, your ROI will be virtually non-existent.

The Old Way of Thinking Needs to Change

With traditional advertising brands didn’t have to think about creating a conversation around their collateral. All they had to do was craft a message, print the message, and pay a boatload of money to ensure that you saw it on your screen or in your magazines. This one-sided way of communication has been the norm for decades, so it’s easy to see why so many brands are having trouble keeping up in the social media age.

These companies are trying desperately to hold on to the old model because of the security it afforded them, and I get that, but if you’re going to go all-in with social media, the idea of security should’ve been abandoned long ago. You’re not allowed to dictate what the customer says or feels when it comes to your product or service anymore. Your job is to deliver the message and then field the reactions that come in from it in a meaningful way that benefits both parties.

This is a Pardon, Not a Death Sentence

The idea that social can be evil or somehow destructive to your brand is 100% self-made. When done properly social can transform your brand in ways you’ve never even dreamed of. You’re now able to connect with your audience in a way that you’ve never had before, and you have unprecedented access to their information which should be worth its weight in gold. Think back ten years ago. Did anybody want to be friends with Coca-Cola? Were people willing to share a commercial with hundreds of their closest friends? No, they weren’t. I think this is what makes social media so powerful today. You’re not responsible for creating massively successful ad campaigns. You’re responsible for creating an ad campaign that speaks to just one person, and they automatically make it a success by sharing that message for you at zero cost to you.

This should be liberating for your brand, but I understand that many people have a hard time coming to grips with this reality. Many old-school marketers believe in being a control freak, and they think that social media is a death sentence. It’s not. You just have to understand the conversational nature of what’s happening and figure out a way to incorporate that into your brand’s strategy.

The Humanization of the Internet

If you’re still trying to figure out exactly how to connect to your audience using social media, the easiest thing I can tell you is to approach your messaging with a sense of humanity. People want to know there’s another human on the end of the line when they’re communicating with brands online. One of the most frustrating things that’s ever been invented is the automated voice prompts that most companies have on their phone systems these days. Every single time I get one of those things, I immediately hit zero fervently until I’m sent to an actual human being. When I reach out to a brand on Facebook or Twitter, I’m looking for that same thing. I don’t want a canned response with a link to your contact form. I want some empathy, conversation, and customer service.

Even though airlines are notoriously bad at customer service, they are one of the best (in my opinion) when it comes to social media. Sure they pump out a series of sales tweets now and then, but for the most part their job is fielding messages from pissed off travelers all over the world. One of the things I like about the way airlines handle their social customer service is the fact that they append the initials of the customer service agent to the end of the tweet or Facebook message. At first I didn’t know what the initials meant, but once I figure out it was the initials of the person I was talking to (they actually called me on the phone) I have since started to take comfort in knowing that there’s an actual person trying to help me on the other end of the line. That small detail means more than you think to most people.

This is the type of thing you need to be doing on social media. You need to analyze your audience and figure out what their pain points are with your brand and its messaging, and then find ways to interject some realness into it. There’s already a world of distance between you and them because of the nature of this type of communication, so you need to be doing everything you can to make the experience of digital seem less robotic. Otherwise you’re just repeating the same old story we’ve seen for decades, and that is what makes us change the channel to begin with.

Conclusion

I realize that I approach social media marketing from a much more holistic angle than most do, but that doesn’t mean that I’m wrong. I don’t believe you have to sacrifice your brand or your conversions in order to create a more engaging social presence. In fact, I’d argue that you’ll see more conversions and gain access to more valuable data by doing so. The days of big ad buys and paid focus groups are over. Crowd-sourced information and conversations are the new norm now, and it’s time for you and your business to get on board.

Learning is Not One-Size-Fits-All

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What kind of learner are you? That’s a question that is rarely asked of a student or employee these days. Most assume that the traditional education model is sufficient for imparting knowledge onto others. The problem with that, however, is that most of us are unique in the way we interpret data. Humans are not made on an assembly line with identical processors that all read and write the same way. Some of us learn by seeing, some by doing, and others by hearing. Many of us are also hybrids, meaning we need to both see and hear something or touch and hear something in order to completely understand it.

Finding Your Learning Style

During my time in the traditional education system (K-12 and college), I was often frustrated by my lack of ability to comprehend what was being presented to me. I struggled with the traditional classroom paradigm and was seldom able to give my undivided attention to whatever was happening around me. My teachers labeled me a disruptor, the class clown, and even lazy. What they didn’t understand was that I wasn’t trying to be any of those things. I simply didn’t connect with the way they were teaching.

In order to be a successful learner you must first understand what type of learner you are. There are three distinct learning styles: auditory, visual, and kinesthetic. Most learners will display an affinity for one of these styles, but most benefit from a carefully-constructed combination of all three. I’ve found over the years that I’m very much a kinesthetic learner, but that I also benefit from audio reinforcement. This means that I can be told how to do something, but I must have my hands on that something simultaneously in order to fully grasp the concept. This is something that I’ve learned over time, really the past 31 years, and I continue to learn new things about myself on a daily basis.

This means that you need to be trying lots of different approaches when you are attempting to learn a new skill. For instance, if you were to ask me “how do I become a web designer”, I would probably tell you to buy some books, watch training videos, and attend a hands-on workshop. At some point you’ll either be reading, watching a video, or listening to your instructor, and you’ll realize that this is the learning scenario that fits you best. Then you should ask yourself why that is. Are you able to simply see someone demonstrate something and it clicks, or do you need to get your hands dirty too? Once you’ve figured out how best to go about consuming the information, your brain will automatically take care of the processing for you.

Making Others Aware of Your Learning Style

I stated earlier that most employers and educators don’t ask you what kind of learner you are. That means it is up to you to initiate that conversation and explain to them how you should be trained for your job or degree. Most will be willing to work with you on this, as it behooves them to help you achieve success, but they can’t help you if you don’t make it known up front. Don’t wait until you’ve missed a deadline or failed a test to engage them in conversation about this issue. At the end of the day you’ll both be happy and the end results will reflect that as well.

Adapting Your Learning Style Over Time

No matter what, you’re always going to encounter situations that require you to learn in ways you’re not comfortable with. Therefore you need to be prepared for that and constantly be working to evolve your learning style over time. I’ve worked hard over the years to improve my reading comprehension, for instance. Whereas before I could read an entire book and not be able to tell you what it was about, I can now process most of the necessary information and recall it in some way. That wasn’t something that came natural, however, it was something I worked for and earned the hard way.

How do you adapt your learning style? Well, I can only tell you what worked for me, and that was simply “baptism by fire”. There were times over the past few years where I simply forced myself to read, and read only. I wasn’t allowed to practice anything, touch anything, or listen to anything whatsoever. I put on a pair of noise-canceling headphones, sat in a comfortable chair, and went to work. By doing this and then quizzing myself afterwards, I was able to find ways of tricking my mind into understanding things. I used different visualization techniques to simulate hands-on exercises in my head, and I imagined myself reading the book aloud as if I were listening to an audiobook. Slowly but surely I began to see things more clearly, and now I’m able to comprehend written material at a much more natural pace. That doesn’t mean that I prefer reading, but I’m certainly not afraid of it anymore either.

Accepting That You’re Not Flawed

The traditional education system is quick to judge students for their learning styles. As I said earlier, I was labeled disruptive and lazy. These were adjectives that stayed with me well into my adult life. I had simply come to accept that I was irreparably damaged and unable to succeed at certain things. Producing courses for millions around the world has also shown me that I’m not alone in these feelings. Many people write to me each week telling me how they’ve been able to further their skill set or obtain a new job by watching my courses or reading my blog posts. Many of them tell stories similar to mine where teachers told them they were lazy or incapable. But once they came to see how they learned, they realized that they weren’t flawed at all, but simply misunderstood.

Education Needs to Evolve

I believe the traditional education system is flawed. It’s not ready for the junkyard, but it’s in desperate need of an overhaul. We have to educate the educators on alternative methods of education, and we have to show them that it’s not ok to put a student down for not being able to comprehend their preferred method of delivery. At the same time, however, students should be looking at ways to augment traditional education with learning experiences that benefit them and help their overall comprehension. Many people pit the traditional and alternative education worlds against one another, but I believe the only way we solve this problem is to help them co-exist in a meaningful way.

Conclusion

Learning is not one-size-fits-all. We have to know and accept that. The world is full of new technologies and methodologies that we can use to enhance the educational experience for people, but we must be willing to pursue and implement them. I realize it’s difficult to change a way of thinking that has remained largely unchanged for hundreds of years, but if we want each generation to be better than the next, we must find a way to do just that.

Revising My Stance on the Apple Watch

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Last week I wrote a not-so-nice piece about how Apple had “lost its way” with the release of the Apple Watch Edition. While this was precisely how I felt at the time, now that I’ve had time to reflect, research, and understand why the Apple Watch Edition exists, I’m revising my stance.

How I Feel Now

One of the reasons I railed on the Apple Watch Edition so hard was because I felt it showed a fundamental shift in the culture that Apple had worked so hard to cultivate over the years. My argument was that Apple had spent a lifetime becoming a company that was considered an accessible BMW-esque brand for the majority, and the Apple Watch Edition showed they’re intention to abandon their core user base in favor of designing for the 1%.

The exclusive gold watch is a marketing exercise. It bathes the lower-priced watches in a golden light, and makes the entire line aspirational. [source]

I read an article that detailed how the Edition was merely part of a bigger plan by Apple to make the Apple watch more appealing to the majority, rather than an just an unnecessary extravagance. The article points out that the Edition casts a golden halo over the entire line and aims to make the entire line more desirable to people from all walks of life.

I’m Still Not Buying an Apple Watch

The fact remains that the Apple Watch still isn’t a compelling product to me, and I don’t see myself needing or wanting one anytime soon. However, every now and then Apple is going to make a product that isn’t for me, and frankly, that’s ok. Apple is beginning to offer a far more diversified portfolio of products than they have in the past, so it stands to reason that some of them would fall short of being a must-have for me personally.

That’s not to say that the Apple watch won’t become a product that I want or need in the future. The fact remains that I’m still unclear on the story of this product, and I don’t believe Apple is done writing it either. Once we have a clearer picture of what this product is and how it will help or change the way we do certain things, there’s no reason to give it a damning review.

My Immaturity Shined Through

Another thing I’d like to address is my analysis of Jony Ive. Let’s be clear… I don’t know Mr. Ive, nor do I know anyone who knows him personally either. That makes me completely unqualified to pass judgement on him, his demeanor, or his thought process when designing products. I’m not the only one that jumped on the Ive Bashing bandwagon, but I might be the only one to realize how childish and unnecessary it was.

Also, I played a card that I swore I would never play, the “Steve Jobs would never have…” card. It’s easy for us fanboys to play this card because we know there’s no way to disprove it. What we fail to realize is there is no way for us to prove its validity either. None of us know what Steve would’ve done. There’s a chance he may have had input on this product in some way, but we don’t know, and Apple certainly won’t tell us. The truth is that Apple is doing its best to honor the memory of their iconic founder, while at the same time doing everything it can to escape the shadow he left behind. It’s not fair to judge Apple’s decisions based on Jobsian logic. Apple is Tim Cook’s company now, and we should be supportive of that. After all, he gave us bigger iPhones, and that’s something Steve actually said he didn’t want to do. Think about that.

Lessons I’ve Learned

I’ve learned very valuable lessons over the past week. From this point forward I’m going to keep a more open mind about the products that I review, and I’ll make an honest effort to look at the big picture rather than jumping to premature, myopic conclusions. To anyone I offended with my comments, I apologize, and I promise to do my best not to produce such low-class material in the future.

The Future of Apple TV is Bright, and I’m Excited

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Several news outlets are reporting that Apple is finally ready to enter the TV business. However, the way they’re choosing to enter the market differs greatly from what was previously expected. Many speculated that Apple would actually produce a television, but that no longer seems to be the case. According to the Wall Street Journal Apple is slated to unveil their new streaming TV subscription service later this year. This is huge, and I’m excited.

Why This Matters

Those of us who have attempted to “cut the cord” know how difficult it is to do so. There are no shortage of sans-cable options, but many of them don’t offer interesting packages for most people. Cable companies have had a stranglehold on the industry and many of the standalone streaming apps, like HBO GO for instance, required a subscription to a cable provider in order to use it. This is not ideal and defeats the purpose of cutting the cord to begin with.

Apple’s new streaming service won’t be enough to take down the cable industries. In fact, I’m not sure it’ll even make a dent in the grand scheme of things. The amount of people who own Apple TVs vs those that don’t is minuscule. What this new service does do, however, is that it shows other companies (and studios) that they have options. With a behemoth like Apple negotiating deals for streaming content, the cable companies will have to take notice, and it could spark real change in how cable TV works in the future.

As an Apple fan I’ll be first in line to try this new service, but I don’t expect it to replace my existing TV service… Yet. What I do expect is for this to send a shockwave into the world of cable TV and hopefully make it so that the process of subscribing to channels and services becomes a little more democratic. When it comes to TV, all I really need is a decent internet connection and a handful of channels. I’d love to be able to select a base internet package, at let’s say $40-$50 per month, and then be allowed to choose the TV channels I want a la carte for $5-$10 per channel. I’d wager that this would take my bill down under $100, which is a huge departure from the near $200 charge I currently pay.

My Expectations for the Apple TV Service

If the rumors are accurate, the Apple TV streaming service will feature around 25 channels for roughly $40-$50 per month. This is quite a bit more expensive than competitors like Amazon Prime, Netflix, and Sling TV. That doesn’t mean that it won’t be successful, but I do think that its success will hinge on what type of content deals Apple has been able to negotiate with their content partners.

Not surprisingly Comcast/NBC is reportedly not a part of the initial offering for Apple’s service. Comcast has always been hesitant to broker deals for streaming, however, and I expected this. The question is whether or not the lack of all that programming (Comcast owns a LOT of content) will ultimately hurt the popularity of the new Apple TV service. I don’t think it’s a deal breaker necessarily, but it’d be great if Apple could somehow get Comcast on board with this.

The service is said to include ABC, FOX, and CBS, but there needs to be more big name players involved if you ask me. For instance, I think ESPN is a pivotal piece of the puzzle. Sports is one of the most popular broadcast genres and without it there’s going to be a gaping hole in Apple’s new service. Another plus would be bundling in Disney, HBO, and other partners that are normally part of the “premium tier” of cable TV services. If you’re charging a premium price, you need premium content.

I also hope that the service isn’t just 25 channels. I’d like to see there be 100+ channels available, and you get to pick your favorite 25 for your subscription. This would also allow for multiple tiers of subscription revenue for Apple, and I’m sure they wouldn’t mind another influx of cash. Of course, this is probably just a pipe dream, but we’ll see what happens.

The Future of Apple TV Hardware

At Apple’s recent “Spring Forward” event they lowered the price of the current model Apple TV to $69. At first I expected they were doing this to make way for updated hardware that we’d see some time later this year (possibly at WWDC). However, I now believe that there will be multiple models of Apple TV, much the same as we see in iPhones and iPads. I’d wager they’ll keep the current model Apple TV around as a budget option in order to get people through the door, but that they’ll release a newer model with expanded capabilities at a much higher price point. The sweet spot for this would probably fall around $150-$200.

Whether or not Apple bundles the TV service with the new hardware is a whole other discussion. Personally, I don’t see that happening. Apple is all about making profits and they rarely bundle things together. That being said, I think that’d be a great up sell for the high-end Apple TV model.

Conclusion

I’m very excited about the future of TV. No, not just Apple TV, but the industry as a whole. Having more big name players in the space creates competition, and that is one thing that the industry lacks big time. Apple is big enough and popular enough to affect change in this space, and seeing as this is an industry ripe for disruption, I welcome their entry into the market.