Category Archives: home office

BYU-Idaho Comm Dept at Goodby Silverstein

Takeaways from my trip to Silicon Valley: what makes companies like Google, Facebook, Linkedin & Big Monocle great?

Last week, the Communications Department of BYU-Idaho visited the Bay Area and met with some of the best companies on the planet. They are full of top notch people. Each company has a unique company culture, but they all had a similar thread. I’m going to take a moment and talk about the commonalities in these companies and the people that make them great.

What struck me about these people is that they are not God-like Super Beings. They are normal people like you and I who choose to do exceptional things everyday.

BYU-Idaho Comm Dept at Goodby Silverstein

We visited Big Monocle, Linkedin,Three Marketeers, Facebook, Google, Clorox, Edelman, Goodby Silverstein, Ebay and Paul Gustavson.

The purpose of this trip was to make connections with these companies to better prepare and place our students in high quality jobs. In addition to our conversations with these questions:

What are you looking for in people when you’re hiring?

What do you wish you would’ve learned in college that would have better prepared you for this job?

What could we do to improve our curriculum?

In no particular order, here’s a list of the top things we heard.

Passion Projects

One thing that stood out with each of the people that we met was that they all had side projects that they enjoy. A woman at Facebook quit her job to start an effort to help a leper colony. Employees at Big Monocle routinely break up their day by creating crazy vine videos.

The creative boutique Big Monocle

An employee at Ebay wrote a textbook of a class intended to teach visual designers how to code, a class he wishes existed. Every Google employee is expected to be “googlie,” or in other words, be the type of person who does something more than what is expected of them. In fact, google expects you to work 80% of your time on the job that you were hired for and 20% of your time on something that you’re passionate about. The employees we met at Edelman were hired based on their extracurricular activities. One woman began writing about sustainable agricultural practices in college to raise awareness on the issue (something she did on her own that had nothing to do with her classes) and was hired based on this extra effort.

Each company that we visited are looking for passionate people. The owner of the Three Marketeers said that he finds it very difficult to find employees with drive and ambition.

Three Marketeers b2b

Several of the companies echoed what we heard at Skype, “Great storytelling is crucial.” Almost all of these companies mentioned that altruism was an extremely valuable trait in a potential candidate.

Think about it; the type of person who is so passionate about something that she writes about it for free or spends his free time creating it or builds a nonprofit to fix it is the type of person who will bring that same effort to the job. These are not the slackers.

Today’s employers want passionate and driven employees. Doing more than you’re asked because you want to is a great way to demonstrate these qualities.

Takeaway: Do something. Do it now. Don’t wait to be asked. Don’t wait to be granted permission. Get in and help. Create something. Chances are that you are watching way too much TV. Cut an hour or two out and do something that you love.

Start a personal project today and do it everyday.

Your personal project should have 2 main criteria:

  1. You should feel vulnerable doing it.
  2. You should share it with the world.

Concise Writing

This came up at every company and, not surprisingly, was emphasized at the companies that require a lot of writing. No one in business appreciates a long winded email, no matter how well crafted it is. The ability to succinctly communicate your message is key. The recruiting sift through hundreds of cover letters a week. I wish I could convey the overly dramatic full body eye rolls that I watched as they described the “cover letters that go on forever,” and the “resumes that never end.” This is why I am such a huge proponent of Twitter. Learning to craft a message in less than 140 characters is great practice is concise writing.

Takeaway: Edit yourself and cut the fat in your communication before you send anything. Start practicing concise communication now so that you’re not learning those skills while writing your cover letter or sending a message to your boss.

Twitter is a great way to practice succinct communicating because you’re limited to 140 characters.

Figure it out

The best way to learn is “being dropped in the deep end.” The idea of learning to swim by being tossed in the deep end of the pool and possibly drowning may sound a bit harsh, but in today’s work environment, no one is going to spoon feed you the answers. On the job training does not mean that there is a regimented training program set up to teach you everything you need to know. It means that you will be required to do things that you’ve never done. In fact, some of the most agile companies we visited take on projects where no one in the company has any competency in the necessary skills. This may seem crazy, but they have full confidence that their people will figure it out and they continue to deliver quality results project after project. Many of these companies are on the cutting edge and are the ones blazing the trails into uncharted territory. They draw their own maps and write their own manuals. There is no tutorial for the thing that no one has done yet.

Takeaway: If any of the following sounds like you, then you need to change your mindset and learn to figure things out:

  • You email your professor before you try to find the answer online.
  • You find yourself waiting to be told what to do next.
  • You get frustrated when you’re expected to perform a task without detailed instructions.
  • The idea of jumping in and figuring it out as you go freaks you out.
  • You wait until you feel completely competent at something before you start trying it.
  • The idea of starting a personal project sounds like something you may do in the future when you’re better, more prepared or experienced.
  • You view failure as an end rather than as part of your iteration process.


Urgent vs. Important

We are all pulled in a million directions all the time. The unfortunate situation is that the things that are on fire and need immediate attention (urgent) are usually not the things that will have a significant positive impact (important). The important things in our lives and work are easily put off until tomorrow to take care of the incessant needs of the urgent things.

One employee at Ebay told us that he had to learn which meetings to accept and which to turn down because he could fill every day with urgent meetings and never get anything important done.

Takeaway: Prioritize your long term and short term objectives and make sure to move the needle on the important stuff everyday without ignoring the urgent stuff. This is a difficult balancing act that will require constant tinkering. The key is to do something that moves the needle in the long run every day.

If you spend all of your time on the urgent and do not carve out time for the important, then you will die having accomplished nothing important.

Visual reinforcement of the company culture

I’m a visual creative. I have spent most of my early career working for small companies with small margins and crappy workspaces. The single most impressive thing that I saw on this trip was that these offices looked amazing.

Goodby Silverstein

What made them truly incredible was that while each one felt different than the others, they were all communicating something. Every building, cubicle, wall, bathroom, window, break room and landscape was sending an intentional message. None of the spaces had been left to rot or looked dated. Everything was new and specifically designed to create an efficient workspace for creative employees.

Many will talk about on-campus massages, free laundry, free food, free bicycles, foosball, pool, ping pong, maternity/paternity leave, etc, but these are all part of treating your employees like people rather than a cog in the machine. The real key to the company culture is in the posters and decor. Campuses like Google and Linkedin are some of the most impressive work places that I’ve ever been, but Facebook really knocked it out of the park.

As I walked in, I was immediately struck by the hand screen printed, gig poster styled, propaganda posters covering every wall. When I investigated further, I was taken to the “analog research laboratory.”

Facebooks Propaganda Posters

The screen printer told me:

“this is where we do the opposite of what everyone else at facebook does.”

They had a letterpress station with movable type. They had screen printing. They made buttons, posters, cards, flyers and shirts… one at a time, by hand.

Facebook's Analog Research Lab

Here’s the key: these were not top down mandated messages. Anyone at Facebook can walk into the Analog Lab and make a poster. It was a grass roots system designed to give a visual voice to the feelings of the employees. I walked away with a huge stack of posters and a new insight on the importance of surrounding ourselves with good design.

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Later, in his living room, Paul Gustavson explained the importance of a well designed workplace with before and after examples of businesses he turned around. He starts by changing what the employees see in the office.

Takeaway: Surround yourself with visuals that remind you why you do what you do. You spend a huge amount of time in your office, it should look incredible.

Fill your life with good design.

Analyze and breakdown ads

People who create advertising and visual communication pieces don’t like or dislike things; They know why they work or don’t work. As someone who wants to connect and communicate with people, you should be able to analyze and breakdown what works in a project. Knowing the basics of design (proximity, repetition, alignment, contrast, flow, typography & color theory) are foundational principles in business today. Understanding sound writing practices is also key.

You don’t need to be a writer or a designer, but you do need to be able to communicate with them in industry standard terminology. Goodby Silverstein mentioned that they often require impromptu analyzation of ads during their hiring process.

Takeaway: What is it about that photograph, magazine ad or TV commercial that is making it work?

Make a habit out of asking yourself why you like something.

Be exceptional

Exceptional people are exceptional because they do exceptional things. Way too many people today are concerned with entertaining themselves and spend their entire lives never having made a difference. Too many students are waiting to be told what to do. We’ve built an academic culture in this country that produces students who are only concerned with how little effort they can put in to get the grade.

Exceptional people don’t focus on minimum requirements. They meet the minimums that they’re required to do and then get to work. They have passion. This passion drives them to excel and break barriers. They don’t care about the minimum requirements any more than an eagle cares about a traffic jam.

Someone who is working on a side project instead of rotting on the couch is doing something exceptional. Putting forth any effort above what you are minimally required to do is out of the ordinary. If you are passionate about that extra effort, then it is exceptional.

Takeaway: Becoming an exceptional person is very simple:

  1. Do exceptional things
  2. Do those things everyday

The employees we met at these places are normal people who do exceptional things everyday.

Your thoughts?

Tell me what you think or ask me questions about what these places are like in the comments section.

What I’m up to lately

You may have noticed that my posts have slowed down a little lately. Never fear, I’m still alive. I’ve been spending my early mornings and evenings working on a graphic novel. This will be the first comic I’ve done. I’m not trying to break into the comic industry or work for Marvel or anything. I just have a story to tell and I’m following my personal rule to work on skills unrelated to my current employment.

Its pretty exciting working on something of my own, rather than someone else’s project.
My plan is to post the entire book online for free with the intention of seeing if anyone is interested in reading it. If there is an audience after I’ve told my story, then I’ll see if anybody is interested in purchasing a printed copy.

So here’s how that is going to work. I’m drawing the pages of the book out of order. I also want to make sure to meet my schedule and with a full time job, that means that I’ll need a cache of pages already done before I start posting them. So while you won’t see a ton of stuff posted here in the next few months, just know that I’m holding back some really good stuff.

I’ll announce via email, twitter and facebook when I start posting pages (which should be mid 2013 at the latest), so stay tuned.

In the mean time, I’ll be getting up early to spend several hours drawing and writing before I need to go to my full-time job. So far, this has been one of the most rewarding things I’ve done with my “free time.” It is an amazing way to start the day. I highly recommend getting up early and creating something, even if you don’t plan on showing it to anyone.

Book Review “Steal Like an Artist”

If you like looking at, reading, or creating things

stop reading this post and READ THIS BOOK

immediately. Then wait a week and read it again.

Steal Like an Artist: 10 Things Nobody Told You About Being Creative “Steal Like an Artist” by Austin Kleon is a fantastic book for anyone who is even remotely interested in creativity. It is a realistic and extremely honest book of advice that addresses some large elephants and gorillas in in the room.

Many people starting out in a creative field are embarrassed or discouraged when they find themselves looking to others for a vision or a voice. As if we are born with this fully developed set of creative skills and experiences rather than, as Kleon points out, in his chapter, “Don’t wait to know who you are to get started,”

You might be scared to start. That’s natural. There’s this very real thing that runs rampant in educated people. It’s called “impostor syndrome.”

He then carries on to encourage people to just start making things. You’ll find your voice in the creation of stuff. I can’t endorse this book enough. It is not pretentious or preachy, its just good solid advice about being creative. So avoid two or three cups of designer coffee and use the $10 to get this book instead.


1 for you, 19 for me

Tax Man Poster

1 for you, 19 for me

So after doing my taxes, I made this poster. Here’s the lyrics… the short of it is that we pay way too many taxes.


Let me tell you how it will be
There’s one for you, nineteen for me
‘Cause I’m the taxman, yeah, I’m the taxman

Should five per cent appear too small
Be thankful I don’t take it all
‘Cause I’m the taxman, yeah I’m the taxman

If you drive a car, I’ll tax the street,
If you try to sit, I’ll tax your seat.
If you get too cold I’ll tax the heat,
If you take a walk, I’ll tax your feet.

Don’t ask me what I want it for
If you don’t want to pay some more
‘Cause I’m the taxman, yeah, I’m the taxman

Now my advice for those who die
Declare the pennies on your eyes
‘Cause I’m the taxman, yeah, I’m the taxman
And you’re working for no one but me.


Action: The cure for being overwhelmed

Do something. Do it quickly. Do it now.

Did you say, “Duh” when you read that? Well, it is pretty obvious, but we fall into the overwhelmed trap all the time. For some reason, when our plate gets too full we shut down. We start thinking of EVERYTHING that we have to do and don’t know where to start. It seems like an insurmountable task (or pile of tasks)… The answer I’ve found is very simple: Action

Do something

The cure for being overwhelmed is to get rid of the feeling that you’re not accomplishing anything while there’s so much to do and replace that feeling with doing something about it. As soon as you knock something off your list, two things happen:

  1. You’ve accomplished something, giving you momentum
  2. Your list is smaller

Do it quickly

Do it quickly refers to two things:

  1. Choose something that you can get done fast (if you have a huge pressing deadline that will take you a while, make that the second thing you do)
  2. Start quickly: see the next point, “Do it now.”

It doesn’t matter if you start with the easiest thing or the quickest thing or the thing with the most pressing deadline, it only matters that you start on something that you can finish soon and finish it. Knock it off your list. Get some traction on your day. Make a move. Take action.

Do it now

Don’t wait. Don’t try to convince yourself or muster up the whatever to get started, just get started. Do it now. Remember that action is the answer. Worrying does nothing. Once you realize that you’re overwhelmed, you need to stop thinking about being overwhelmed and do something about it. You’ll find pretty quickly that life is a lot easier when you’re doing something rather than worrying about doing something.

Do something. Do it quickly. Do it now.

Check out the Poster I made for this concept., the best videos on the interwebs

20110920-075608.jpg might be the best $25 a month you ever spend. Lynda is basically a series of very well thought out tutorials for how to do just about anything on almost all of the major software platforms. You want to get better at photoshop or learn photography or teach yourself CSS? Lynda has hours of video to help you sharpen your skills.

They also have an iPhone app that streams all of the content to wherever you are. So instead of your normal commute nap to work, you can learn how to apply a mask in illustrator cs5. Fair warning, these are videos about software… so if you’re in a warm room and didn’t get a full night’s sleep, they may put you to sleep.


I’m becoming obsessed with desks…

So I’ve come across this site full of really cool minimalistic office furniture. If course, I was drawn to the desks with my current search for a small midcentury piece. This site seems to be about ten times more expensive than I’d ever pay, but they have some cool stuff.









Desk Design

So, I like the tilting ability of drafting tables but not the “table” aspect. So I drew up a tilting writing desk. I may build this, or I may not. If course, if I do, I’ll post pictures… In the mean time, here’s the sketch.





Midcentury Mad Men Offic, AKA What I’m going to do soon

So I’ve been dreaming up ways to make my home office more creative. Mainly, I’ve been trying to come up with ways that don’t cost a bajillion dollars to make my office more creative. Then lo and behold,

Whorange is a blog that makes me want to jump back in time several decades and enjoy Midcentury extravagance. Basically, what I’ve got right now is an unfinished basement with concrete walls and a concrete floor. I’m thinking that I’m thousands of dollars away from finishing it until I see this rope wall office.

Now, you’ve got your concrete unfinished… but painted and with the extra added bonus of a swinging rope wall. Granted, its a beaded curtain and a few red light bulbs away from a brothel, but this is a way cool set up. Here’s a few more shots.

So that get the dividers done and then check out some of the other options for the walls:

Throw in some furniture [one, two], mad men styling and some more DIY projects [glitter floor, storage, etc] and you’re good to go.