Read Harder 2016

If any of you readers are up for more of a challenge, here are some excellent ways to expand your reading habits. It’s not always good to stick to the same kind of book, that’s why book groups are such an excellent idea. They force you to read different genres and styles.

Books Can Save A Life

Have you heard about Bookriot’sRead HarderChallenge?

I thought it would be interesting to see which books I’ve read in these categories, since Ann Patchett just wrote about her own progress in making her way through the list.

I’d love to hear what you’ve been reading, too, so let us know in the comments. Book suggestions are appreciated and welcome, especially for those categories I’ve left blank.

commonwealthBy the way, Ann just released her new novel, Commonwealth. Many of you know she’s one of my favorite novelists, so I’ll be sure to get my hands on it as soon as I can.

True story, when Ann was a girl, one morning she woke up to find kids she didn’t know in the kitchen. Turned out, her mother had gotten remarried, and these were her new half siblings.

Ann has translated some of that strange family experience into a novel…

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Getting cosy

img_0606I’ve recently come across the Danish concept of hygge. In English it roughly translates as ‘getting cosy’ or more accurately the art of being convivial and relaxed. The Danes claim to have invented hygge (pronounced hoo-gah or maybe hue-gah) and it’s currently a very trendy thing.  There are nine new books available on the topic in the bookstores for Christmas.

Many of the books on how to do hyyge involve scented candles, open fires, chocolate, red wine and cake (all of which sound great to me) but on a more serious level, getting cosy is more about being kind and comforting to oneself. So whilst hygge is the trendy new thing and will result in many candles being purchased this Christmas, I must admit that I’m more than attracted to the idea of self care.

Self care is about being nice to yourself. Why wouldn’t you? It seems strange that we need to be reminded, but perhaps we do.

One of the nine books has been written by Charlotte Abrahams (definitely not a Dane) who writes…

“Hygge is about taking pleasure in the small things in life: having a cup of coffee; walking in the sunshine or spending time with loved ones. Hygge is about enjoying the moment and feeling content in that moment.”

It sounds very much like a rebranding of mindfulness, but it doesn’t sound like a bad idea.

Abrahams writes that hygge appeals to her because it’s not about denial, it’s about being generous with yourself as well as others. Of course being generous doesn’t mean overdoing the wine, the chocolate, or the cake, but it does mean treating yourself to a walk before work, or spending time with family and friends and generally easing up on yourself.

Hygge makes people nicer and happier. It’s about paying attention to what makes us feel open and alive and I can’t see how this could be a bad thing.

Here’s some more ideas on how to be more Danish.

It’s not about the money

After a long and difficult year I seem to have entered a deeply philosophical phase where I spend a great deal of time contemplating the circles of life, and of course, death.

I’ve just reached the place where I could find the strength to read ‘When breath becomes air”  – the story of Paul Kalanithi, a brilliant neurosurgeon whose life and career are ended prematurely by lung cancer in a cruel and wicked turn of fate.

It’s a disturbing read not only because it’s sad, but also because it makes you question why you are here, whether you’ve lived a good and meaningful life, and what you should do next, if you are lucky enough to be able to contemplate ‘next’.

In my case I’ve arrived at another turning point in my career, although in reality, that sounds too grand. It’s more like arriving at a bus station really. Just another decision point in a career that has changed direction many times but has ultimately been interesting and rewarding. I’ve been lucky to work with some very inspiring people over the years and I think I’ve made some useful contributions to various projects.

Now it’s time to contemplate a new direction. One which challenges and interests me, but doesn’t consume all of my energy and attention and doesn’t keep me awake at night worrying about what I should be doing to ensure that everyone in my team is feeling valued and engaged.

Ultimately the next step isn’t up to me, it’s up to the decision makers. People with the power to pick and choose who they want and what skills and experience they value. All I know is that for me, career choices are not about the money. They’re about what kind of contribution you can make and what you bring to the role. I like to think that I can spend the next few years doing something useful, but if I don’t get chosen for this particular role, then I’ll just create my own future.

Life is, after all, about choices. We can choose who we want to be, where we want to live, and what we want to spend time on.

when breath becomes air

What is lorem ipsum?

Lorem IpsumLorem ipsum is dummy text that is used in the publishing and graphic design industry to show where the text is going to be placed in a document, advertisement, or web page. It’s used to give people a feel for the layout of a page when the actual words (also called body copy) have yet to be written.

Lorem ipsum has been used since the invention of publishing in about 1500 and as you can imagine it both looks and sounds like genuine Latin. Contrary to popular opinion, lorem ipsum is not actually meaningless babble, but is a mixture of Latin words taken from a passage by Cicero (according to Richard Mc Clintock, a Latin professor from the University of Virginia).

Where do you get it?

The best place to get dummy text is from a dummy text generator. My favourite is Blind Text Generator. Not only does it generate lorem ipsum, it can also generate dummy text in a few other varieties such as far far away, which kind of sounds a bit like a passage from the Hobbit.

Here’s an example of far far away:

Far far away, behind the word mountains, far from the countries Vokalia and Consonantia, there live the blind texts. Separated they live in Bookmarksgrove right at the coast of the Semantics, a large language ocean.

It’s nonsense, but it’s funny.

Why is it useful?

A blind text generator is useful because you can specify the number of words or characters you need, as well as the number of paragraphs. You may not know exactly what it is you are going to say, but it can help you work out how many words you actually need. If you are constrained by space (and you often are), you can pop a few of these sentences and paragraphs into your layout and it will give you a pretty good idea of what you have room for and what will look good. By looking good, I mean you will end up with text that is big enough for your audience to read and doesn’t look squashed or uncomfortable. If someone else is writing the copy, you can let them know that you only need three or four sentences, for example.

Do you always have to go online to generate dummy text?

Some software programs have built-in text generators. In PowerPoint for example, you can generate text by typing =lorem(p,s) into a text box and pressing enter. The ‘p’ stands for the number of paragraphs and the ‘s’ is for the number of sentences you want. Here are some detailed instructions.

Try it, it’s fun.

Design principles in practice

Thomas BrownIt’s rare that you see such a perfect example of clarity, simplicity and design principles all coming together to such good effect. I stumbled on this website belonging to photographer Thomas Brown and was blown away by its perfect balance, restrained colour palette, and judicious use of white space.

As well as being simple and beautiful, it sends a very powerful message about his approach and the kind of work that he’s interested in doing.

Never stop learning

cropped-shutterstock_463036362.jpgWhen I started this blog many years ago my focus was on explaining the principles of design in plain English. I had just enrolled in a graphic design degree and I was really at the start of my learning journey in relation to design. I didn’t actually finish that degree, but it didn’t matter as I wasn’t planning to be a graphic designer and I already have quite a few degrees, so it wasn’t as if I needed another qualification.

My motivation was that I was developing presentations and I felt that my design skills were lacking. The subjects I completed were pretty good and helped me to understand all of the basic principles of design. It all fed my ongoing interest in clarity and communication. I still feel a bit bad about ditching the course, but on the bright side I’ve never for one moment stopped learning. In my view there’s nothing better than learning new things. Continue reading “Never stop learning”


There’s been a lot of debate in the design world lately about skeuomorphism. You may not be familiar with this term and I have to admit that it was new to me until a few months ago. By the way, it’s pronounced skyoo-a-morf and comes from the Greek words for tool and shape.

Basically, skeuomorphism is when some or all of the elements in a design look like the objects that they represent, rather than having a flat representational design. Skeuomorphic objects have digitally created textures (for example simulated woodgrain or leather stitching) that look just like the real thing.

Probably the best way to explain this is by giving you some examples. The most obvious one that comes to mind is the classic iBook bookshelf.

Classic example of a woodgrain texture
Skeuomorphic design
Just like the real thing.

Skeuomorphic designs are used used to give people the impression that the app or website is friendly and easy to use. Because we are familiar with the object being represented (we all know how buttons work after all),  we unconsciously believe that our interaction will be positive.

So why is there a debate?

Let’s start off by saying that in the design world  there are always debates between minimalists (people who like clean uncluttered design) and those who like more flourishes. I probably fall into the first category as I have quite a fondness for white space. Whilst I think that skeumorphic designs are friendly, (and very clever from a graphic design perspective), I don’t always find the apps on my iPad that easy to use and I often find this quite frustrating. It’s as if someone has put a lot of effort into making something look easy to use, but the reality is that sometimes it’s not really all that obvious how the darned thing works. It’s kind of like the app is saying ‘I’m so easy to use, any fool can work this out’ – except me, apparently. When I try and use an app with a lovely friendly interface, and I can’t figure out how it works, it’s somehow more frustrating than when I try to use an application that looks complicated.

Skeuomorphic design is definitely going out of favour in the graphic design world and flat design is coming back in, however it’s still really big in the e-learning world and it’s finding favour in presentation design lately. I’ve been seeing a fair few blackboards and corkboards popping up in presentations recently, so if you are looking for something to spice up your presentation you could have a play around with skeuomorphism. At least you’ll know how to pronounce it!


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Finding focus

I’m guessing that most of us have spent at least a little bit of time recently deciding what we will focus on, and what skills or interests we want to develop in 2013.

I don’t know about you, but one of my biggest problems is that I am interested in way too many things, to the point where I flit from topic to topic always hungry for new and interesting ideas but not really digesting or absorbing very much. And while this is very entertaining, it results in knowing a little bit about a lot of subjects, but not being an expert on anything in particular. This is not a good thing in the world of business (so they say), which favours those with marketable expertise.

So this year I am going to focus on being more focussed.

This means finishing one book before starting another. (Well maybe I can have one fiction and one non-fiction on the go, but not five at once).

Attention (Photo credit: aforgrave)

It also means spending more time writing about practical ways that you can craft your material so that your messages are clear.

This doesn’t mean that I’ll only talk about one thing. As far as I am concerned, there are many elements to clarity. Regardless of whether you are writing a report, creating a presentation or designing a website the principles and elements are the same.

You need:

  • Clear concise writing that makes sense to the reader
  • Consistent and logical ordering of your content
  • Plenty of white space so that your text is legible and doesn’t overwhelm people
  • Graphs, charts and illustrations that help people to understand your message
  • An understanding of how people learn and how they make sense of information

But above all, you need to KNOW what it is you are trying to say. Working this out is by far the most important thing you need to do and is the place where you should start.

So my plan for the coming year is to focus on writing helpful, inspiring and practical blog posts. What are you going to focus on? Are there skills that you want to develop and can I help you?



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You Don’t HAVE To Use PowerPoint…

Here is a nice blog on presentation design that I thought might interest you.
The poster board is a good idea as again, it forces you to clarify your key ideas. As Alex says, its a bit like the projects we used to do at school. Do they still do these or is it all digital these days?

Creating Communication

For my Legal and Ethical Issues in Communication graduate course, we wrote our final papers and are having “poster sessions” tonight to explain our research and our findings…

I love the idea of a visual presentation that is tangible.  Simplicity, unity through color and typeface, and an application of the rule of thirds are key to a successful posterboard.  Remember making these for the science fair back when you were younger?  I wish we could go back to these days!

When is the last time you created a visual OTHER than PowerPoint or Keynote to support your presentation?

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