Voting for Bernie. Here’s Why.

I believe in what he is about. Not every single thing, because we are different humans. But on the things that matter, that actually are still issues, I generally believe in what he is about. Not in a sound bite, but in what he has said consistently throughout every debate, at his rallies, how he responds thoughtfully (and with respect, I might add) to questions with real answers. And he’s been talking about this stuff for decades. Yes, I’ve observed the candidates, Democratic and Republican (the parties are meaningless at this point, I know), giving – as well as I’m able – the benefit of the doubt to each.

All of the Republican candidates but Kasich fail a basic character test to my human senses, and this matters to me: don’t lie, don’t be an uninformed, narcissistic racist jerk, don’t change your positions so you sound like what constituents want to hear. Don’t make dogmatic statements that only work because most people don’t actually understand the details. (See Cruz on Supreme Court nominations, Rubio on Apple case.)

If someone is overlooking these flaws because they want someone who professes sharing their values, I’d suggest considering the values and character that are being REFLECTED BY THE CANDIDATES THEMSELVES, as they interact with other people. (Not so good.)

If someone is voting conservative because they are a Christian, I’d ask, are the candidate and ideas you’re championing really Christian? Deportation, discrimination out of fear, survival of the fittest? (Welfare programs are not only for the lazy. Will they be abused? Obviously. Is that reason to not help those who need it? Obviously not. My family used food stamps. Was it because we’re lazy? Hell no.)

One thing Bernie says pretty often is that we are judged by how we treat the least of us. Hey, that sounds pretty damn familiar.

An unwillingness to compromise – not just on your beliefs, but on how they should affect others’ lives – does not equal character. It makes for catchy quotes, but it doesn’t get anything done and it doesn’t work in real, daily life. Also, the assertion that “the constitution is not a living, breathing document” is ridiculous and misleading. The genius of the document is that it was built to be interpreted and amended by people, as the authors could not have foreseen the invention of smart phones, the problems of climate change or the fact that it would become socially common and accepted for gay couples to seek marriage rights. What the constitution says or doesn’t say about these things (hint: it doesn’t say, so interpretation is necessary) is very relevant right now.

I wish that votes were cast not for parties, but people (character matters) with ideas. I’m not saying vote for Sanders, but if someone’s reason not to is because he calls himself a democratic socialist, they ought to actually listen, with an open mind, to what he is about. (I consider myself pretty conservative, but after hearing them, I want nothing to do with the “conservative” candidates.) I very much believe that most people have not listened. The things he repeats are not “we don’t win anymore,” but things like “a corrupt campaign finance system.” It’s not very catchy. But it actually means something.

Oh, and I’m aware a lot of the things Sanders wants are not going to get done. So is he, and that should be the case given that this isn’t a dictatorship and he is not seeking one. But big, morally responsible goals (who wouldn’t want an educated citizenry, health care for everyone, public transportation, if money weren’t an issue?) tempered by compromise and viability are far preferable to pandering, unoffensive stances which result in no positive change.

I suppose one reason for writing this is that I, like many young folks, get tired of being accused of being uninformed, naive or entitled, as if that is the reason for my worldview and the reason that I would dare cast a vote for someone who thinks the government should actually help people. Also, and this could be wishful thinking, maybe someone might think about why they vote the way they do.

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Yes, We Are Stupid

People can be such beautiful creatures. A few of them have sustained me for the last few months. But people, myself included, can also be stupid, judgmental, thoughtless, and so fixed in their brain-washed ideas that they can’t see the forest for the trees.

The forest is something like the greater good; the trees are hateful soundbites or prejudices, spread without thought to drooling masses looking for a cause.

Profanity warning! I might will curse moving forward. Know that. I don’t like raging, but I don’t like feeling rage inside of me or directing it the wrong way. Out into the ether seems a reasonable place to send it. I will just assume right away there is some hypocrisy in my words, but I propose that they’re still worth hearing.

One thing that has caused my brain to hurt recently:
Outrage about the idea of providing for free college tuition

I generally avoid facebook pseudo-political rants like the plague, but they find their way into my consciousness occasionally. Here are some comments I saw:

  • Okay, let’s just give them everything for free.
  • Where’s the money gonna come from?
  • I had to work for it. Why should they get it for free?
    (Brain exploding.)

So, to the “I worked for it, why shouldn’t they” crowd:

So anything you had to do should be given as obstacles to others? Is that a proper way of thinking? Even if they already have more obstacles than you can imagine? I know you think they don’t…I sometimes think the same thing, that people can rise above if they choose because I’ve seen it happen. But that’s wishful thinking on a broader scale. If you’re raised in a culture who doesn’t give a damn about education, or more likely just doesn’t see it as a viable option – even if (a big “if”) that isn’t actually the case –  then of course your likelihood of becoming more educated is low. It doesn’t matter why, that’s just the reality. If giving incentive might help, then why not try it? It would help. A rational person can see this. An angry person will find reasons that it won’t work. Before I go into how to pay for it…

I promise you, at least 95% of you, I’ve worked harder than you, and I’ll get to why that matters. Yes, I went to an expensive private university. That’s because I got scholarships. I worked 30 hours a week in high school, played football, and was Salutatorian, and worked 40 a week in college while taking a full load. I didn’t just go through the motions, or I wouldn’t have been accepted into the design program which started my professional career. I do everything that I do like there’s a merit prize for it. I’ve been a sacker, stocker, tire tech, valet, truck loader, heat box-driving delivery man, a professional designer, an instructor at a community college (yeah, you see where I’m going?). And I have worked my ass off at every one. Don’t believe me? That’s fine. I know myself. Yet I was able to attend college because of funding that wasn’t my own. It was given to me. Yes, I did something to be eligible. But it was given to me. You know, like a gift.

And you know what I continue to preach as a teacher and designer? Hard work. (The gift didn’t corrupt me. That’s what I’m saying.)

Why does that matter? Because I’ve worked harder than most of these assholes, I have a credible opinion (still a teacher, still a worker bee, still a frequent user of my brain), and the aforementioned line of thinking is still bullshit to me. It doesn’t matter how I worked. If something is good, then it’s good. More knowledge is good. Yes, there are things that need to be figured out. Yes, it’ll be difficult to work out the logistics. Yes, restrictions should be put in place (and were part of the proposals). Yes, some people will take advantage of the system no matter how much you protect it. (By the way, take this same line of thought and apply it to welfare programs, and you’ve basically got my opinion about it as well.) I hear the term “slippery slope” used a lot by people who think giving someone anything will make them want everything for free, or that systems that could be abused are dangerous. I challenge you to apply this thought process to some other things.

I’ll give you an example. A stretch, maybe, but I think you can make the connection. Some people abuse the fact that our country allows guns to be owned by citizens. So let’s take away all guns because of the actions of some. Oh, wait. You don’t like that? That’s what I thought. Okay, now go forth and do the exercise. (If your immediate reaction is “well, they are taking our guns,” then you should probably just go away. )

Also, that culture thing matters: people who are raised in a culture that sees higher education as unattainable are affected by it. I’ve seen it. I’ve seen scholarship students (the ones who show promise from high school) struggle early on because they feel like this isn’t truly something that’s sustainable, this education thing. It affects their work, because, in their own words (usually a year or two later) it’s hard to pour effort into something that seems transient. With a gradual change in perspective, I’ve seen these students change from bad students who seemingly don’t care into the most humble, hard-working and skilled young people I know. So perception, cultivated by one’s background, does matter.

Do I think my opinion is more valid than most because of my immersion in higher education? Yes, I do. Talk about things abstractly all you want; I talk about these things daily with other humans.

 Where’s the money gonna come from?

I don’t know. But it can be figured out. If we really find something to be important, prioritizing can push the money in the right direction. Prioritizing sent a lot of money into defense in the last decade, and rightly so. How many of you (yes, I’m stereotyping…prove me wrong, please) are complaining about where else that money could have gone? The cost of cultivating a future of educated people would be a fraction of the cost of our recent wars. Again, I’m not dismissing the necessity of defense. I’m just presenting the idea of putting money where your beliefs lie.

That presents this question: How important is it that our current youth become thinking adults? Seriously. And a follow-up question that has to be raised: If education (and the perception of its attainability) really might help elevate people from lives of poverty and violence, should we not lend a hand? Is this – letting people fend for themselves until they self-destruct – really the American Dream? If so, it is ugly. That is, unless you think the violence and riots around the country right now are pretty. We stand up for others in foreign countries to protect citizens who we believe can’t help themselves. That’s a good thing. If our perception is that our lower-class feel helpless, (whether it’s true, whether it’s just apathy, whether it’s self-inflicted, whether it’s institutionally-enforced) then it’s perfectly logical that we should help them. Right? And we don’t even  have to kill people.

Since right now people are being killed, and social status has at least some role in that, action should be taken.

So we should just give them everything for free?

I don’t believe that is what was proposed. I won’t elaborate. Look it up yourself.

A Wish I Have

Maybe don’t watch Fox News for a few days. Or MSNBC. I bet your anger levels go down. I’ve exhibited some anger here, along with some thoughts that I don’t have talking points to support, just life and common sense. My only defense is that I don’t go about spreading it daily.

That’s enough for now.

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Faith, or Something Like It

I was driving home from playing football a couple days ago and saw a billboard that annoyed me. It said something like “You don’t find faith. It captures you.” I thought, “That’s a pretty stupid thing to say. What does that even mean?”

This didn’t annoy me because it was just Christians being annoying Christians. I am a Christian. At least, insofar as the fact that I try (I said try) to live my life according to the model set by Jesus, who I do believe was and is the son of God, I am a Christian.

It annoyed me because these flowery little sayings are meaningless Churchspeak at best, and at worst a stumbling block to many people who try much harder to live as Christ than those who attend this church, or any church, every week. It annoyed me because it paints a false picture of what faith is; to put it diplomatically, it proclaims a type of faith and emotion that is foreign to many true followers of Christ. The mentality behind these declarations has a way of isolating people who don’t experience religion in the same way. I haven’t been captured; there must be something wrong with me. See what I mean?

A Practical Aside

Since these billboards are outside the church, would not their content be more effective if it made sense to people who aren’t already churchgoers? (Target Audience! There’s my connection to design.) Writers of church bulletins: spend less time trying to create puns and clever phrases, and more time welcoming people, advertising the non-weird things going on at the church. (If you didn’t know it, a lot of people think Christians are weird. That’s okay, but don’t blame them for not being persuaded by silly word play.)

My perspective is not anything new or exciting. If it was, you should be suspicious. Much has been written on the subject of faith, but usually in books or articles about religion. On this site, I’m talking about keying double-parked cars, Facebook etiquette and typography, so I hope the novelty of religiosity here at least warrants a perusal. At the least, I hope the context of the article shows my perspective is one of a relatively normal human being whose primary daily task is not studying scriptures or world religions. I’m just a person trying to live according to what I believe, sometimes writing knee-jerk reactions on the web.

My Grand Declaration: Faith is not about feelings

Rather, faith does not necessarily come with warm fuzzies or any feelings at all, and it certainly isn’t the warm fuzzies themselves. Faith has not much at all to do with feelings for me, at least as far as I can recognize. Faith seems to be a lot more about doing. This – the assertion that faith equals action – is the counter most often given, and one that I respect as it is closer to what I think is being sought when the subject is discussed in the bible. Since I know a lot more about what faith is not, I really don’t even talk about faith when I can avoid it (well, except for in this post). And why is that? Is not faith a cornerstone of the Christian faith? How dare I mangle the gospel? It’s because I find it fruitless to try and define something I cannot pin down. Just like I find it pointless to describe in detail the meaning of the trinity, if you believe in such a thing. Tell me you understand exactly what this means and I’ll call you a liar. That would be like telling me you understand 5 dimensions, or a world outside of time. That you can draw me a diagram of it. You can’t, because it is not something you have any experience with or any capability of grasping. Sure, you can conceive that another dimension exists, but you can’t claim any first-hand knowledge of what that world might be like.

For me, faith is – okay, for the sake of not being hypocritically dogmatic, faith is more like – a series of decisions. You have chosen to accept that a particular worldview is the truth, and that you are going to live accordingly. The decisions that you make throughout the minutia of everyday life should follow from this worldview. This acting according to what you’ve chosen to accept is also known as believing. This is quite a relief, since I rarely feel sure about the things I’ve chosen to accept, about what I believe concerning the grand scheme. For a long time, I thought that to believe something was to be always certain of it, emotionally and mentally. Instead, making those decisions, every hour, day in and day out, despite what feelings you have about the matter (and often feelings are nowhere to be found), and then acting upon those decisions, is what amounts to belief. Living in this way is a perfectly valid manifestation of faith. At least I hope it is, because this is closest thing to what people call faith that I’m capable of.

So I’m calling you a liar?

I do not mean to suggest that feelings are impossible or false, that they can’t be an important part of living faithfully, or that some do not experience God in this way. I believe that people do, and I am actually envious of these people. I wish I felt more. It seems like it would make this whole Christianity thing a lot easier. What I am suggesting is that the presence or absence of feeling is not a measurement of the quality of one’s faith, or an indicator of whether you’re living as you should. Much of this is just the result of differences in personality. If you think that righteous living always equates to peaceful feelings, look into the dark personal writings of Mother Theresa even as she continued to live a life of service.

So feelings of certainty, of constant joy, would be nice. But I wouldn’t want false feelings, or feelings at the expense of thoughtfulness. I want both. It can’t be said that I’m not thoughtful about matters of what we’re calling faith. I’ve read more, and studied more deeply, than many Christians I know. And I must admit that I suspect many (not all) happy-go-lucky churchgoers of claiming more certainty than they actually hold, or simply having beliefs that have never been put to the test. Maybe the feelings will come some day. But, as CS Lewis said, and I’m paraphrasing, “a lack of feeling is no excuse for a lack of action.”

So what’s my point?

As usual, I have no real thesis. But…

If you are a pastor or spiritual instructor or simply can’t quite relate to what I’m saying, please take away this: not all Christians are like you. Don’t take their questioning as heretical. Don’t take their doubts as spiritual weakness. You might even have a thing or two to learn from them. Living a life modeled by Christ, without encouraging feelings or “words from God,” is a tough road. In the mind of someone who is more logical than emotional, questions that arise must be addressed. This is not a bad thing either. The brain God gave us is meant to be used, and if it gets in the way of accepting the truth, is He not at least partially responsible for this? That is, will he not forgive us for trying to truly understand, rather than blindly accepting what seems to be contradictory information?

Whether or not you can identity with what I’m saying: if a real doubt or question or seeming contradiction has come about, which is better? (1) To try and ignore the question, or (2) to face it head on? To ignore it simply doesn’t work. It will continue to rear its ugly head. To face it head on will necessarily cause you to dig deeper into your beliefs. It may or may not lead you to a satisfactory answer. But even if your question isn’t answered, that doesn’t mean your faith will fall apart. You may just have to accept that you don’t and won’t know the answer in this life. You can be an agnostic – oh, the heresy – on a particular matter. (I, for example, have decided, after hearing all the varying interpretations of it, many of which have already revealed themselves to be false, that I simply don’t understand Revelations and I probably haven’t heard anything close to the real meaning.) And if we’re dealing with a transcendent God, doesn’t it make sense that most of life would be a mystery?

Yes, I ended up using the word faith as an umbrella term for the general act of living life as a Christian, in the best way that you can. Obviously, this word has been ingrained into my vocabulary.

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What Exactly Do I Do?

One of the most difficult questions I ever have to answer – one that, if unexpected, sends me into a temporary catatonic state  – is a terribly simple one: “What do you do for a living?”

After the initial “uhhhhmmmmm,” I sometimes do my best to give a proper description of what a graphic designer does. But I’ve found myself doing that less lately, for several reasons. (1) The verbal manifesto I’m ready to unleash when summoned is not nearly as captivating to someone foreign to the field. (2) Any answer I give – the type of answer that the questioner is really after, a familiar thing like “I build websites” – grossly understates what I do. (3) My solution to problem 2 is to offer more profound, but overly general or vague statements like “I solve problems for a living.” This answer doesn’t suffice, even though it’s true to the core, because the same can be said about most professions: the goal is to solve a problem. My shoulder shouldn’t be turning this way. Solve this problem please, doctor. My car is making a terrible sound. Solve this problem please, mechanic.

So what should I say? I create posters? Yeesh. That’s terrible. Just like it would be terrible to say a librarian just stacks books, that a builder simply pounds wood together, or that a nurse just pushes buttons and brings cups of ice.

A better approach, maybe, is to take the questioning piece by piece, person by person.  “What are the tangible things I create? What are the things I have to think about? How long does a particular task take? What skills are involved?” Rare is the opportunity when you’re able to answer all the questions you’d like, but a reasonable counter question is to ask “Do you want the long version or the short version?” The implication here is that there is much more behind the watered-down answer you’re about to give, and a subtle challenge is laid down: “are you really that invested in learning what I do, or do you want me to tell you what a simple, care-free job this is?”

So what’s your point here?

A high school student sent over some questions for me to answer as an email interview. It allowed me to at least establish the fact that designers don’t just draw pictures all day. But it still wasn’t enough. No philosophical rants, no terribly deep insights, and certainly no sufficient answer to the question “What does a designer do?” It’s never enough. Maybe I should write a book.

Here’s a copy of the interview. This is the real point of this post: simply relaying my answers to a series of common questions about my career path. But I had to place it within the context of this struggle that I find many designers have in describing what they do, in contrast to outside perceptions. These are certainly not THE answers, just the first things that came to my head within the narrow time frame I had to answer the questions. Forgive the dry tone here, and note, this is me answering as Derek the designer, not the instructor or occasionally-able-to-construct-a-humorous-passage writer. An interesting side note here is that sometimes, when you’re forced to do something just to do it (in this case, so the girl got her assignment done), you can’t just turn off your brain: something of value often results.

The Questions

What are the primary tasks involved in your job? What is a typical work week or work day like?

I can only answer very specifically for what my personal experience has been, as the practice of graphic design manifests itself in so many ways. My background consists primarily of working in a design & advertising studio – working on projects of various types and for many companies, as opposed to working in-house somewhere – so the tasks performed within a day varied wildly. Usually some combination of the following tasks was involved:

  • Researching and talking with people who have a business of some sort (clients)
  • Sketching, sketching, and then re-sketching things like logos, posters, flyers and web pages
  • Writing lists, lots of lists
  • Playing pool
  • Creating digital versions of things that have been sketched or illustrated in programs like Illustrator
  • Coding web pages or websites (writing the code that is transformed into the layouts we’ve created)
  • Dorking out on new typefaces or web techniques
  • Meeting with individuals or groups, presenting work to them
  • Checking and writing emails regarding all of the above
  • Talking with other designers about what they’re working on, giving each other advice
  • Writing radio commercial scripts
  • Looking at old matchbook covers, coke bottle designs, war posters, getting inspired

What do you enjoy most and least about your job?

Graphic design is a field in which the fundamentals remain the same, and one can therefore continuously gain a better grasp of them, but also a field in which the medium is changing daily. A graphic designer must be a lifetime learner, which is exciting, challenging and rewarding. It can also be quite taxing on the mind to never quite have a complete grasp on what it is you’re doing. You must maintain balance in your life (have other hobbies and interests, don’t become a workaholic) or you may quickly find yourself longing for a simple, thoughtless job as a laborer.

Are there any special challenges presented by your job that are specific to what you do?

Probably the biggest challenge is learning to articulate your ideas about what you’re doing to the people for whom you’re doing it. Graphic design is everywhere, and the tools to create graphics are more accessible than ever before, so those not in the field often are unaware of how much work it requires to create successful graphic design. You might create a poster that, in the end, turns out to appear very simple and clean. But the work you did to discover that this was the best solution (and the things you do to make something look really simple) go unnoticed. So a lot of time is spent educating your clients about what it is that you do. In the end, designers are problem solvers and thinkers whose medium happens to be in graphic form, and people don’t want to pay someone for their thoughts if they imagine that designers simply put together colors and shapes on a computer.

What education is required to work in your field?

Truthfully, the education required to work as a graphic designer is to work as a graphic designer. That is something of a Catch 22 in that nobody is going to hire you as a designer if you haven’t designed anything and shown that you are proficient. That is why a formal education in graphic design is very beneficial. I wouldn’t say it is required, but it would take a special type of person and quite a bit of luck to become a successful designer before going broke if you tried to become a designer with no education. Beyond the passion, history and knowledge that is gained in school, potential employers view it as a sign of tenacity and dedication that you have completed a degree. It is also more difficult to make the connections you need to make without going to school for design.

What special skills are required or desirable in your field?

As with most jobs, you will likely be more successful if you are more educated, not just in your own field but as a well-rounded person. You must be patient, tenacious, and a good problem solver. Skills in drawing and other medium are useful as well; after all, it will be hard to develop an idea whose eventual usage will be graphic if you can’t get it from your mind to a piece of paper.

Do you interact with other employees? What is the level of interaction with others in the field? Are there times that are more busy than others?

Interaction with staff is crucial, since as designers your focus should always be what impact your work will have on others. Successful designers or design studios are constantly interacting with one another. There are certainly busy times, though the particulars are different based upon who your primary clientele are. For example, the summer always seems a bit slow to me, but one client I worked with in studio dished out most of their work in the summer time, since they were a water park.

What changes have you seen in the industry in recent years? What is the job market like?

The public in general is more aware of design and more desirous of it, but the challenge remains to educate the public about what goes into creating successful design work, as most of the work is done behind the scenes. The industry is becoming more saturated with designers, as far as I can tell, but that doesn’t necessarily mean that there are more innovative, amazing designers out there. The internet and its ability to spread trends and information virally have made it so that there is a lot of “pretty” work out there, but a lot of it looks pretty much the same. The one-person shop (designer, web developer, doer of everything else) is much more common now, and even if you work in a studio, employers want designers to know a little about everything.

Does your job impact your life? In what way(s)?

Being a designer will make you a more thoughtful and analytical person in general, as the primary task of a designer is to solve problems visually. You will also become hyper-aware of poorly set type, and may find yourself quizzing your friends or spouse about the typefaces around you as you eat lunch. You will meet a lot of really interesting people. In my first couple months as a designer, for example, I met one of my childhood heroes, Troy Aikman, and watched a series of commercials with him as they were filmed. I also sat in the trailer of and talked with the host of Extreme Makeover, and watched as a house was leveled and rebuilt in a week. (Yeah, they really do it that quickly.)

Would you change anything about the career path you’ve taken?

I would not change anything that I’ve done. I’ve made some poor decisions, but I believe it has given me the perspective that I have and allows me to give proper advice to others.

What advice would you give to someone hoping to enter the field you are a part of?

Read. Seriously, read as much as you can – fiction, history, news. Yes, look at design blogs and magazines, but don’t just admire the things that look good. Read the story behind the work when you can. As a designer, you’ll be tasked with solving problems. The way that you solve these problems – the things that establish your style and identity – comes from what you put into your brain. The concept of “Aha!” moments is highly overrated and maybe even nonsense. As a designer, the richness of your knowledge, the quirky ideas you formulate about the world around you, and your ability to connect with people of all backgrounds is what will separate you from others with equivalent skills. These are the things that make life as a designer an exciting one, and they just happen to be the things that make a good designer into a great, passionate one.

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Amarillo’s Logo Issue & An Alternative

Amarillo recently experienced a small scandal involving the design of a new logo for our city. As it turned out, the mark that was commissioned and ultimately chosen was nearly a point for point replica of one for a company in Dubai. Cue the insults, a messy discussion about logos and why the city is wasting its money on something as silly as design, and ultimately a contest in which citizens were asked to submit designs for the new city logo.

I did not participate in this contest and am not now trying to. Nonetheless, I did produce my own version of a city seal. This was not for the purpose of entering the contest, but a compulsion born of my attachment to this wacky place and a reaction to the results I saw. I’m going to discuss this process in some detail, but I will go ahead and give the visual thesis – the final result for now – so there’s no anticipation or letdown.

City Seal Proposal for Amarillo
Derek Weathersbee’s Amarillo City Seal

Are you blown away? Underwhelmed? I’d imagine a good percentage of readers would say the latter. Either way, we’ll work our way back to this.

The Situation

A month or so ago, our local media (at least online) became awash in the news that our city had paid an exorbitant sum for what had been discovered as a rip-off logo. I should mention that I’m an instructor, and this was crunch time during the semester. So I didn’t pay as much attention to what was going on as I might have otherwise. I did receive forwarded emails and links to a contest that was being held by the Globe News. Citizens were to submit logo ideas, and the winner would receive a $500 gift card – yes, a gift card (some cash was later added to the mix by a citizen) –  and would present the mark to the city for consideration.

Two things about this article turned me off. Skip the rest of this long paragraph to avoid a mini-rant. (1) This was spec work, crowd-sourcing, which basically amounts to this: we’re going to spend a little bit of money and get a lot of options to choose from, and we’ll receive these options from people we’ve never spoken to. My stance: people should be paid for their work, or agree to do it for free. If you want quality work done, you partner up with someone who has proven their self worthy, you make a commitment, you communicate, and you allow this person’s knowledge and abilities to produce a solid product. There may be exceptions, and if so this may fall into that category, as there had already been a large expenditure of money. It may provide opportunities for exposure to someone starting out, or simply allow a person to contribute to a cause they find worthy. It’s just not an arrangement I’m fond of.  Now the silver lining was that this got people at least talking about design, even if the conversation didn’t always stay classy. And it must be stated that all the contributors were willing participants so there was no wrong done to them. (2) The writer could not resist the urge to take an unnecessary partisan swipe in what was basically an announcement post.

So I decided to steer clear of the contest*.  What I did do: I thought about what a mark for the city should be. The first thing I did was to look at the current logo and note what was good and bad about it. This is always something that should be done when re-designing a logo. A bad mark usually has some good qualities, even if it’s simply the inherent equity of being what people are used to. Drastic changes, though sometimes required, are usually a shock to behold initially, even if the results are spot on, so a complete overhaul requires justification and thought.

*Full disclosure: I did send an email asking if other marks would be accepted after I saw some of the entries.

Analyzing the old logo

Pre-December 2013 Amarillo City Seal
Pre-December 2013 Amarillo City Seal

I didn’t write these things down, but my mental list of the good and bad ran something like this:

The Good

  • It’s compact: the overall shape of the logo is a circle. Visually, you can’t get much more compact or magnetic than a circle.
  • It’s substantive: the cattle, oil derrick, plane and wheat stalk are all pieces of the narrative of our city.
  • It’s relatively simple: the mark is comprised of solid shapes and a straight forward layout (minus some arbitrary color fields).

The Bad

  • Poor Adaptability: This mark does not work in one color – black and white (no greys) is the best way to test whether a mark is adaptable. In the versions I’ve seen which required one color or tone, the background fields are simply dropped, leaving the elements floating awkwardly in space. A logo at its best retains all its elements even if it must become a one-color stamp.
  • Poor Contrast: The elements are arranged in such a way that the elements are hard to distinguish. This is a result of color choice and layout – the overlapping elements become abstract smudges at any distance.
  • Poor Hierarchy: There should be a clear and comfortable arrangment of the elements – using size, contrast in color, and organization – which guides the viewer through the mark. There should be some logic to the size of elements relative to each other. (The oil derrick and the wheat want to be treated proportionally as they’re sitting in the same field; in this context, the unnatural scale is unsettling. The position and size of the longhorn give it too much prominence, overwhelming the rest of the city’s activities.)
  • Dated Elements: The oil derrick should be replaced with something that is more broad and progressive, while others should be added to reflect the evolution of the city.
  • Stereotypical Content: while the elements used are appropriate, they are limited and therefore offer a narrow and, again, dated view of our city. A wider cross-section of our city is needed.
  • Poor Memorability: Poor contrast, ill-defined content and a sterile circle result in a shape that is not memorable.

photoWithin a day or so, in between student consultations and classes, I made some quick sketches of a mark and I made a list of the things I thought should be reflected in the mark. The first thing I thought of was an adaptation of the previous mark: a train and plane playing off each other to create a past and present approach.

My List:

  • Trains (pretty crucial to not only our existence, but our demographic layout and respective personal histories)
  • Airplanes (in conjuction with train, shows our evolution)
  • Science
  • Helium (how did this not make it originally?)
  • Art
  • Agriculture
  • Open Spaces (it’s part of the slogan and, well, it’s flat as hell here)
  • Energy (specifically replacing the oil derrick)

Principled Tangent

I should say now, as I often tell students or clients, that no mark can or should tell the whole story of the thing it represents. Non-designers, new designers and even design vets (including me, possibly in this very mark) often make the mistake of trying to do too much with a mark when in fact, a logo is really the signature of an organization, much like your signature is your mark. It’s a simplified, quick way to identify something with yourself or leave your fingerprint.

But a city’s seal – our city in particular, with its underrated richness of character – should say more and is rarely a good representation of the place if it is too abstract. For example, let’s say I wanted to do something with the letter A. This is a direction I usually do explore when creating logos: using the initials in a clever way. I might do something really nice and sleek, but it’s more likely to be similar to another mark and more importantly, it wouldn’t be specific to my city. The challenge then, as I saw it, was a classic one: fit a large amount of content into a space too small for it, and make it look purposeful. This is not an easy thing to do. Sometimes it really sucks. But often, it makes for a fun challenge.

Moving Forward

In any case, I cobbled together what I thought was a good selection of the things I’d listed and put them together in crest form. The result seemed like a good direction to take, but something that would require a lot of time, something I did not have. I tried some shortcuts or more simplistic approaches to this same concept: I quickly saw that none of it would work. To even gauge whether this might be successful would require redrawing everything. So I stuck a pin in the thing and considered it a lost cause. This was only solution I was interested in, but I didn’t have the time to execute it.

My temporarily required comp. A pretty nasty one.

The Submissions

I of course remained informed of the general arc of this story, mostly because people I knew brought it up and said “hey, you should do that.” When I saw that the submissions were up, I looked through them and saw what I expected – only multiplied by about ten – but I saw nothing like what I had in mind. There were some sketches that had a similar crest quality, but none that were fully rendered.

Here are the two that I find to be the most successful, and the winner of the contest should be one of these two:

Logo submissions by Miranda Bassett and Tyler Mitchell, respectively
Logo submissions by Miranda Bassett & Tyler Mitchell, respectively

These marks will both hold up well to sizing and coloring; they are adaptable and are simply well-designed and attractive.  My reason for steering clear of this type of mark (which, if you look at my work, is pretty comfortable territory for me) stems from what I believe makes a good city seal: it shouldn’t be overly abstract, and it should reflect the city in its most positive light, moving beyond the stereotypical view of the place. Despite these differences in approach, I’ll be content with either of these logos as our city’s signature.

Finishing it up

So now the contest was over in my mind and I had this thing taunting me as I sat at my desk. To not complete the mark felt like giving up, and after grading tons of student work, I was inspired and had a little extra time to explore the thing. So I did. What I found was that this project was really a test of tenacity. The concepting had been done and was really the easy part; the execution was the kicker.

Reworking the train so the lines make some sense

I knew I had to redraw the train first. So I opened another document and did just that. When I finished it, at the moment when my cobbled mess of a mark was supposed to become finessed by the redrawn train, I ran into a crushing problem. I had changed the angle of the train, and the result was that my composition was destroyed. So I put the thing down again and walked away.

Adjusting alignment and sizing

I got some feedback, figured out a way to retrofit the train, and fleshed out the other elements, aligning things that I had not previously.

This is where I’ve decided to stop, at least for now. There are flaws in this mark for sure, things which I may resolve at some point. It would require an entirely separate post to present even a distilled version of the process, the versions that were done, the questions that were raised, the problems that arose. I solved most of those to my satisfaction. I’m certainly open to comments and suggestions if anyone is still invested in this situation. But that is all for now, except for maybe a color version or secondary version: no grand climactic ending. I suppose that’s because this is not resolved.

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Abe Lincoln & Local Jingles: If it were update to me…

A collection of assorted thoughts, opinions, and recommendations on a variety of life’s issues ranging from politics to web use. I’m not qualified to make most of these assertions, but if that were the criteria for proposing ideas, then we’d rarely move forward. So on the strength of that reasoning (or excuse), here are a few ideas.

1. Stronger restrictions should be put in place to regulate musical jingles, especially for local business.

I don’t know how it would work – maybe a committee to determine whether the effectiveness outweighs the annoyance factor for each local ditty. And maybe these folks have to be elected. But they’re only allowed a $10 campaign budget, and they’re whittled down to about 20 by election. Then, we give them an IQ test, a character quality test (probably involving a lie detector), a social awareness test, and some sort of hip-ness test to reduce the number to ten. Maybe this is excessive and a bit oppressive, but I’m just the idea man. Somebody else can turn this into a democratic process. This probably applies to all the ideas that follow as well.

2. There should be a cap on the number of reality TV shows that can be part of our programming at any time.

I’m only about 10% joking on this one. Ideally, they’d go through a similar quality check as described above. Scores can be given based on criteria like the following:

  • Level of potential character-building, knowledge-building, and utility
  • Level of anger/unrest provoked by 15-second commercial clips of the show (most non-HGTV shows would currently fail this test, and angry basketball wives and guys punching girls would hit the chopping block)
  • Level of connection to actual reality

Again, is this bordering on dictatorship? I respond with a paraphrasing of Abe Lincoln: government should do only what the people cannot do better for themselves. Brilliant! Lincoln is a master of quotes, second only to Jesus and possibly Einstein. And we clearly cannot filter these things better for ourselves, evidenced by a quick browse of the TV Guide.

3. There should be a team of people who are authorized to tag up cars whose owners have intentionally double parked them.

I’m not talking about a slight crossing of the line by someone who was in a rush to get to a doctor’s appointment. I’m talking about people who straddle the divider lines as if they are the rail which carries kiddy trains around at an amusement park, with the goal of ensuring nobody blemishes their shiny new car.

The tagging material should be something that will wash off without damaging the car, but it should require significant effort on the part of the owner, to discourage this annoying practice.

I don’t own a shiny new car at the moment, although I do have a relatively new vehicle which was recently egged for no good reason. I might feel a little differently if my (hypothetical) freshly-painted ’66 Mustang was dinged a few times, but I hope that my stance on this wouldn’t change. So if you know me, you see that I’ve gotten a new car, and you see me doing this, I authorize you to tag up my car. But please follow protocol: nothing damaging, nothing permanent.

Lastly, here’s a solution proposal: businesses can build a few extra-wide parking spots for those who’d like (understandably) to protect their new toys, and charge a small fee for a permit to park in these spots. More profits for businesses. Peace of mind for protective car owners. A place to park for the rest of us. Win, win, win.

4. Anyone wishing to vote for elected officials should be required to first take a test that determines whether they’re qualified to do it.

The test needn’t be an evaluation of education level, or even of intelligence for that matter. It should simply ensure that we know a bit about the folks we’re voting for and what their stances are. This is a test that I’d currently fail. I’m resolved to become more aware, though I still have no desire to get “into politics.” A sample question:

Firsty Lasterson believes that acceptable methods of government-sanctioned torture include:

  • Whipping
  • Waterboarding
  • Tickling
  • Reciting Black-Eyed Peas lyrics without the music
  • All of the above
  • None of the above. Any method of torture is unacceptable.

5. There should be no option to vote “straight republican” or “straight democrat.”

You could still do it, but not with one flick of a pencil. The best case scenario is that we’d have to actually vote for individual people, and we’d be encouraged (but still not forced) to use our brains and judgment just a bit. The worst case scenario is that it’d be a small punishment for those who would normally vote strictly for a party – they’d have to spend the time to check each individual box.

Am I a hypocrite, not only in my actions vs my prose, but even within this article? Possibly, even though I tried to mention where I know I’m a failure. Am I doing that thing where I point out my own faults so that you can’t do it without sounding redundant? Absolutely.

Okay, enough with the pseudo-politics.

6. Country singers should not be allowed to use R&B, “Gangster,” or Rap-born slang terms that have come about in the last ten years in their country songs.

Recent examples include the words “badonkadonk” and “bling.” Please feel free to use the words all you want in daily life. I, for example, use tons of words in speech that I would feel embarrassed to put in print, words which are not becoming to me or which I simply have no “right” (according to PC standards) to use. I do this under the sorta hipster guise (no, I’m not proud of that connection) of doing it satirically, but I use the words so often that it in reality it’s more than that: it has become a type of Friendspeak.

But would I sing these things in a song, and expect to be taken seriously? No. Unless I was covering a 90’s R&B song (which I quite enjoy, actually) – and that’s barely permissible, only because I’m not presenting them as my own words.

This one is riddled with hypocrisy. And these folks have achieved success, made plenty of money, and facilitated a good time for lots of people. I guess it just bothers me. Speaking of what bothers me…

7. The words “communist” and “socialist” should be used much more judiciously. Or not at all.

All the talk that is common in some circles about how ‘the government is trying to control every aspect of our life’ is getting really old. Maybe because of my ignorance, which I mentioned above, maybe because I’ve been hearing it for nearly 4 years, or maybe because I don’t think we’re ever going to be China. In any case, it has created a little time bomb in my head, and the word ‘communist’ is the trigger. So the uttering of this word could set off an explosion (figurative), and if you’re close enough that I’m within earshot, then there’s a good chance that you might get busted in the dome piece by some debris. Again, figuratively; I’m not a violent person.

Thus ends this edition of What’s Eating Derek Weathersbee?

I don’t think it should need to be said, but I’ll say it anyway: although what I write is based on at least something I believe, I write it only for the sake of humor and fun. I do many things, I’m sure, which are just as annoying or nonsensical as the things I’m criticizing. Like using the word “thus” in a meaningless post about things I like and dislike. Or using far too many parentheses (seriously, I’ve actually deleted about ten pair before publishing this). Or talking about parentheses. None of these things are issues that keep me up at night, or things which I plan to act on. That’s why I’m writing a silly blog post rather than penning letters to mayors or senators or trying to provoke an uprising.

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The Difficulty of Writing “Pretty” Music

I’ve noticed what seems to be a pretty universal trend in the evolution of musicians and bands: their more memorable creations often gradually move from “ugly” to “pretty” as the musicians become more proficient.

Ridiculous? Let me elaborate. By “ugly,” I don’t mean bad, weak, or off-putting – I mean dissonant, off-beat, very clearly not mainstream (if you’re a musician, not Em | C | G | D). And by “pretty,” I don’t necessarily mean good, happy, or superior, and I certainly am not talking about elevator music. A decent example of the contrast I’m talking about can be found by listening to Mogwai and then Explosions, with the former being “ugly” and the latter being “pretty.” Obviously, there are exceptions even in my example, but I’m referring to the overall mood of an album.

If you don’t believe me, go back and listen to the earliest music that you remember from your favorite band. There’s a good chance you’ll spot some weird, persistent little clash resonating throughout the song. And there’s an even better chance that this little idiosyncrasy is what’s been stuck in your head all these years.

I’ll propose a guess as to why that is.
Let me preface it by saying a few things:

  • I am no authority on music, don’t know every chord in existence (or even a considerable fraction of them), and by most standards am largely ignorant on music theory.
  • My hypothesis doesn’t apply to bands who have been making “ugly” music for years. They do this very purposefully, and could play “pretty” music if they chose to. (Mogwai, for example, are more proficient musicians in my opinion than EITS, yet I still favor the latter.)
  • I listen to and enjoy a great deal of “ugly” music.

Okay. If you’re still with me, here’s my take.

When you’re first beginning to blossom as a musician – you’ve gotten past learning basic chords, and can strum along if given the key of a song – it’s much easier to make unique, memorable compositions when you drop a few dissonant notes in the mix. An out-of-context note or two played consistently under a standard chord sequence often produces a provocative, fresh, albeit melancholy result.

It takes more skill, musical intuition, and technical prowess, I believe, to create equally expressive and memorable music without the unsettling dissonance creating by adding that little piece that doesn’t belong.

As of my last attempt to compose a song, this is the rut that I am still stuck in. My reasons (read as “excuses”) are a-plenty, but I’ll spare you for now.

The more time passes, the harder it will be to create “original” melodies and compositions; it’s just simple math. Those sarcastic quotes come from a belief which I chant over and over: there’s nothing new under the sun. Yet we somehow can still differentiate between one song and another, even though they’re following a similar formula, and working with the same notes that have existed since the beginning of time. The reason: as long as different people continue to create music, they will each combine these elements in new ways. A drought of music is nowhere in sight.

That was certainly not my thesis when I began writing this. But it’s an uplifting one, so I’ll go with it.

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Facebook: The Missing Manual

If I could write a manual on how people should use Facebook, it would go something like the following. Yes, I’m sure I’ve broken these guidelines; I might even do so in this post, but I try not to make a habit of it.

Do not post obscure or vague statements fishing for sympathy or questions. If you want to say something, just say it.

Do not do things in your real life only so you can post about it on Facebook. (The same goes for Twitter.)

Do re-examine your life if every picture you post shows you with beer in hand.

If you must make political posts, don’t say the same things over and over. Don’t post an excerpt from Fox News or your liberal alternative every day with a smug remark. Preferably, just avoid it altogether. You probably already annoy your “friends” enough with your views in real life. Give them a break.

Do take at least a cursory glance at what you’ve typed before you submit it, to ensure that, even if your spelling is terrible, other people can at least translate what you’re trying to get across. Here is an overload of great examples of this, with hilarious and sometimes genius ways of pointing out such abuses of the English language.

Do not point out that I have a typo in this or another post, in response to the previous sentence (please). I’m not suggesting I’m perfect, but I think you at least get the gist of what I’m saying.

Do not accept friend requests from everyone who sends one.

Do not reveal your deepest feeling to your loved one only on Facebook. Turn your head and open your mouth, walk across the room, or pick up a phone. Facebook is a social tool; your statements go out to a society of people, so if this is your only method of communication, I’d say your motives are suspect.

There are no doubt many more of these to come, so a Part 2 is likely.

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Rocking My Ears Off! A Little Labor-Day Rant

Here’s a riveting proclamation: I enjoy music. I really enjoy live music. That’s why, when I lived in Dallas, I attended as many concerts as my time and cash flow allowed (which, mind you, isn’t a very impressive amount). I was able to see most of my favorite bands or musicians in concert, with my favorite shows all around being a tie between Keith Urban, Chris Carabba and Radiohead.

But here’s the problem I’ve found in almost every case, with the exception of the aforementioned shows, probably not coincidentally: I can’t hear the friggin’ music. Not because it’s not loud enough, but because it’s about 47 decibels too loud. Yes, my measurements are way off, and no, I don’t care.

Here’s an example of what I’m talking about, why it frustrates me, and why my rationale isn’t that of a cranky old man. I was doubtful, but slightly hopeful, when I dragged a couple guys along with me to an Explosions in the Sky concert a few days ago, that they might share my enjoyment of the band.

But from the beginning of the show until what seemed like a lifetime later, the music was so oppressively loud that the melody and even the beat became lost in an indecipherable cacophony – a physically wearing one.

If you know this band or one like it, you know that part of the thrill of most of their songs is that crescendo – not always at the end – which straddles the line between harmony and discord, and which is balanced out and made bearable by a calming, minimalist melody which builds and ultimately snowballs into an anthem. But even at the most clashy moments of the songs, you can still hear the driving riffs and melodies that hold the song together, just transformed into a triumphant and, put simply, much louder incarnation which makes you want to throw off all your baggage and conquer the world.

That being said, no matter how beautiful the music is or how technically proficient the musicians are, the human ear can only take so much volume until all this turns into nothing but noise.

I have no clue who has the final word on these acoustic matters: the band, the promoters, the venue, or if the demand for this punishing volume comes from the fans or from someone on the band’s side. I really suspect that no one really enjoys this. At least no one who is a real fan of the music being played. How could you? First, you’ve come to see the band because you enjoy their music. Secondly, music is something that people have to share. If you love a band, you tell your friends about them. However, as was the case for me, blaring indistinguishable dissonance into a friend’s ear for two hours is no way to get them on the bandwagon of your favorite group.

As we were walking the half mile back to our cars and recovering our aural functionality, we passed by a tiny club, where a band was playing in the corner, probably for nothing but exposure and the ability to sell t-shirts. I thought, “I wish the guys would come down here and play on these folks’ tiny rig.”

So my anticlimactic point is this: turn the volume down! We are not deaf. At least not yet.

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Hello! Goodbye.

My website is nothing amazing. Or even great. Really not even good. In fact, it’s been an embarrassment to me for the last couple years; that is to say, I feel that it is not a good reflection of my work. That being said…

I am so freaking tired of seeing, in letters about 300px tall, the word “Hello” or “Hi”, on the home page of designers’ websites, usually followed by a period (.) and a sentence like “I build websites.” To show an example, I’d have to single someone out, and that wouldn’t be cool, because maybe the person I’d single out wasn’t being a follower, or even worse, thinking that they were being ever so clever.

If you don’t know what I’m talking about, it’s not worth your time to figure it out. This just annoys me for some reason. I don’t know why. I copy things that I see all the time if I think they are cool. But I officially declare this uncool. And, while I’m at it, the word (or words – I’m not sure) douche bag is also off the market. It was funny for a while and often quite fitting. But now, too many people use it, and the age of people using it has just gotten out of hand. So goodbye, “douche bag.”

What use is it to rant on about something so stupid as this? None, really. But it gives me something to do while waiting for my wife to put down little Natee – after which we will continue our second run of Lost – since my attempts at creating a personal website design have been so futile. Why is it so hard to design for myself?

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