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What I Believe
(AKA Manifesto)

It’s not just what you do, but how you do what you do.
Here are eight ways to work that I believe in.

8 – Fail

Nobody wants to fail, yet everyone should…just not intentionally.

The thing is to do your best to try not to, but when you do (and you will; everybody does), get back on that horse as quickly as possible. Sure, check to see that it was indeed a horse, that the saddle fit, and that it indeed needed riding, but don’t waste time pointing fingers, scheduling meetings to find out who to blame or complaining that Mr. Ed isn’t a car.

To accept that you will indeed fail, maybe, someday, somehow, is actually liberating, and makes things just a bit more exciting.

Something that’s done and fails/breaks/misfires can be fixed and tried again.

Something that’s not done because it might fail can’t be fixed because it doesn’t exist.

“Failing, to succeed,” not “failing to succeed.”

7 – Play

All work and no play makes anyone, any company, dull.

See what else is out there. Car builders may really enjoy a bike ride; movie makers may be astounded by a book; musicians may find unexpected miracles in silence; workaholics will live longer if they take some time off…

This is one reason why I started to draw. As my digital skills grew and expanded, I found myself thinking within the limitations of computers. It’s quite common, as designers design for Photoshop/Illustrator/InDesign/web browsers, instead of coming up with the best design, the right design. Pens and paper can do things that Photoshop never will be able to. Just the fact that there’s no ‘undo’ function is a powerful concept.

Besides, playing is just plain fun.

6 – Think Beyond the Gizmo;
AKA Focus on ‘What,’ Not ‘How’

Only the people who build web sites care if a site is built using Flash or HTML5. Even people who need a website shouldn’t care how it’s built, as long as it meets their goals (which may include device-specific accessibility). It just has to work, whatever it takes.

Once a user has to deal with “What version of Flash do I have?” or “Will this work on my Mac?,” then the magic’s gone. Instead of looking for a new car or finding great new music, they’re distracted when the curtain’s pulled, revealing that your Great and Powerful Website/App is just a bunch of code that most people don’t understand.

They’ll go somewhere else where they can focus again on cars and music.

Focus clearly on your goals, and they’ll dictate technology possibilities and limitations, especially once a target audience is defined: if you want your site to be viewed on iPhones, then Flash isn’t an option; if you’re aiming for a college crowd, then go nuts; if “people who work for conservative, white collar companies” are your target, they may still be using Internet Explorer 6, so certain technologies may not work. It’s a complicated minefield, and a good developer will find the right path.

Corallary:
Never approach a developer by saying “I want a Flash site” or “Make me an app using HTML5” because that may not be the best solution. What’s the goal of your project? Is it to display Flash or HTML5 or some other form of technology? Or is it to sell cars and/or music? Unless you want developers to tell you how you should make more blue cars, let them do their job; you focus on yours.

5 – It’s About the Story.
Always.
The End.

Why do you have all those cute puppy images on your music site? If you’re selling paint, who cares who won the world series or how you’re voting? Stick to telling the story.

Usually this kind of content sneaks in, justified as “it’s cool,” or “I just like it,” or (IMHO worst of all) “eye candy.” Then end result is the web site/app/whatever is prettier. But if it isn’t related to your principal message, then your story gets muddy.

I’m a HUGE fan of pretty things, but only when it makes sense, when it serves your ultimate goal. For example, here on this site, I’ve added some eye candy to showcase my creativity, to offer a richer feel for my style, and to enhance the text with my style. But when it doesn’t fit, I edit.

(I have a very pretty cutting-room floor.)

Ask yourself (or your team) if the extra material helps tell your the story. Maybe the puppy pics will help you connect with dog-owning music lovers. And fans of the World Series-winning team may want to buy your paint. That’s cool because then it IS part of the story, and it makes sense to include and embrace it.

The end.

4 – Delegate

– Whenever possible, let the gizmo do the work

For example, use databases connected to dynamic front-end designs to accommodate all relevant content variations; create code that draws the shapes all over the place instead of limiting it to the ‘same every time’ timeline plop; make the gizmo do the calculations with today’s numbers instead of showing old value; and so on.

This mindset requires more work at first, but it gives a project a longer life, greater possibilities, and will engage your audience more deeply.

– Hire experts to do their thing

Even M doesn’t do it all: He/she hired James Bond and Q.

Be open-minded enough to know your limits, then plan a flexible budget to bring in tried-and-true experts to do what others in your organization can’t. So don’t expect print designers to design interactive content, and don’t expect PHP programmers to develop your native iOS app. They can help, but get the experts in to work their expertise; trust their capabilities and experience.

After all, you may like your martini shaken, but let the bartender do the shaking.

3 – Own What You Don’t Know

If you don’t understand Twitter, Facebook, Reddit, blogs or whatever, admit it. Same with technology and its possibilities, limitations, capabilities.

Don’t assume no one else understands just because you don’t.

Instead, find people who get this stuff, and talk to them.Ask questions, listen to and trust them. Launch a tutorial or read about it to learn more.

Accept you won’t be a Digital Superman or Online Wonder Woman overnight. And just owning the newest gizmo or knowing the next big thing’s name does not make you an expert.

You cannot possibly know everything, because no one does. That’s okay.

Ego, hubris, fear, vanity — it doesn’t matter. Get over it!

Or kiss a potential audience goodbye.

2 – Collaborate

It’s that simple.

Too often, the account or media team make creative decisions; the creatives define the technical specs; and the developers, the last to join the project, are stuck fitting two weeks worth of programming into two days. The result is a horse-and-buggy while competitors zip by in digital jetpacks, and yet…the client just wanted a tuna sandwich.

What if the account team defines the client’s goals, meets with the creative team and developers, and together they explore budget, timeframe, technical realities, and most importantly, clearly defining the project’s goals? All of these ingredients are important; combined, they create a savory, innovative, effective dish that will fuel both the client and the end-user. Then, if applicable, the media team can contribute their skills.

The end result is everyone doing what they do, together, to create a project that achieves its goals.

I’ll type it again: Collaborate.

1 – Experiment

It’s amazing how many awesome things happen when changing, breaking, tweaking or trying something new. Sometimes it breaks, crashes, burns, or simply sucks, but other times something unexpected happens and it’s a “Eureka!” wrapped in a “Wow! That’s cool!”

When programming, I learned to mess around with constants first: What if they’re bigger, or smaller, or negative instead of positive? Then what if they’re variables, either random numbers or based on a sine wave?

When designing, drawing, or creating music, if I reach a comfortable place where I like the current state, I try to change something major: add a huge new element or remove something that I thought was required; drawing a big line where there was open space; change the key or add a completely unexpected instrument. That change usually doesn’t stick, but it’s enough to get more ideas to grow and flow.

I think companies need to do this themselves, but also encourage employees to do it on an individual basis. The potential rewards will far outweigh the accounting challenges, especially if organizations can replace fear and rigidity with curiosity and possibility.