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Three key shifts in the design industry

This article was originally published in Computer Arts.

Fred Deakin is Professor of Digital Arts at University of the Arts, London and runs Collabology, an experimental educational initiative that readies students for working in the creative industry by encouraging greater collaboration. He outlines three key shifts happening in the design industry and shows how new talent and established players can prepare for the future.

Fred Deakin - photo by Rankin, DestroyIt’s a confusing time to be a young creative. We are in the middle of the biggest cultural and technological revolution in centuries, and anyone who tells you they know what the digital world will look like in six months, let alone six years, is a liar.

There is always wisdom to be gained from studying the past, but trying to replicate a previous generation’s career paths in the current climate of relentless innovation is clearly misguided. How can our emerging talent respond appropriately to this situation and how should education be helping them?

I believe there are three key shifts that need to be considered. The first is that we now all have access to professional tools and resources that will empower us to engage with pretty much any creative task. Affordable technology and software brings us tools, while Google provides basic understanding.

1. The shift from specialists to the multi-skilled
Specialists will always have their place, but a multi-skilled career will be the norm for the majority. Despite the stated specialisms of their respective courses, most students I teach are embracing this possibility and are refusing to classify themselves as designers, musicians, filmmakers, sculptors or performers, preferring instead to allow their creative instincts to lead them into whichever medium they feel is appropriate.

This can be problematic when an instant solution ignores fundamental design principles, but more often than not genuinely new synergies emerge. Working in this way also encourages the ‘T-shaped’ principle originally coined by IDEO.

Alongside a deeply developed core discipline (the vertical line of the T) practitioners also have a basic understanding of a diverse selection of skills (the T’s crossbar). This enables them to collaborate more easily with experts in those other fields.

Screen Shot 2015-03-23 at 7.54.40 PM

2. The need for greater collaboration
Collaborative skills are crucial when we consider the second shift. Today’s projects are vastly more complex than before. The need for a truly integrated digital element, as well as the constant innovation demanded by a rapidly changing landscape, means that a far wider range of skills is necessary.

The power to deliver excellence is now beyond the capacity of any one individual or a single discipline team, and the need to collaborate with others who excel in different areas is paramount for success.

But collaboration is not as easy as it sounds. Humility, trust and generosity are required to accept feedback on your half-finished work, explain its intentions in ways that others can comprehend, understand why feedback is important, honor others’ concerns and value their expertise as much as your own. Egos need to be left at the door – the age of the rock star designer is fading fast.

3. Closer ties between education and industry
Collaboration is a muscle that needs exercise. In my new role as Professor of Interactive Digital Arts at University of the Arts London I’ve been organizing a series of pop-up design studios in which 20 students from a range of courses are brought together for two weeks within a workspace donated by a pioneering partner from the creative industries.

Still from The Workshop

 

The invitation to the students is to come together to imagine and then deliver ambitious cross-media projects that have a positive impact on the world: so far the results have been brilliant. There is some initial resistance from the students, but after letting their egos relax a little they embrace these new possibilities with enthusiasm.

Cross-disciplinary and collaborative skills are important because of the third shift. It is a very exciting time to be a young creative. There has never been more opportunity: it’s still possible to have a great idea tomorrow and see it change the world within a couple of years by accessing an online audience directly.

How to prepare for the future
You’ll need some like-minded colleagues, lots of hard work, a damn good idea and a bunch of luck, but no generation has had more ability to create its own future.

In the last few years I’ve seen the internet become increasingly monetized by a new breed of corporates and snake-oil merchants who have weakened the original spirit of discovery and community that made us all fall in love with it.

This is inevitable with any emerging medium, but the internet is continuing to transform on a daily basis and it’s our responsibility to make sure that the next phase of the digital revolution is a genuinely creative and communal one.

I believe that embracing these practices will empower us for this challenge – watching them spread through education and industry, I’m optimistic about the future.

To learn more about Fred and his design, video and music work, visit freddeak.in

Five ways to embrace your inner perfectionist

Perfection - the gameThe world of tech has a popular maxim: f*ck it, ship it. It means that a new app, website or software update should be released once it’s good enough, even if it has a few bugs. This attitude powered Facebook’s “move fast, break things” ascent to becoming the world’s biggest social network. Netflix founder Reid Hoffman famously said, “If you are not embarrassed by the first version of your product, you’ve launched too late.”

In a fast-paced age of instant gratification, it seems like there’s no space or time for perfectionism. It’s often seen as a psychological disorder and perfectionists are people who need to be controlled. But some of the greatest modern creators are acknowledged perfectionists, from Steve Jobs at Apple to Pixar’s John Lasseter. Film director David Fincher is infamous for shooting multiple takes—one scene in Zodiac was done 56 times.

Perfectionism isn’t dead but how you get the most from your inner perfectionist has changed. You need to produce and share work faster than ever, but even if you aren’t aiming for Oscar glory or a record-beating share price, it’s worth getting details right so you’re creating high quality work and not fixing problems later. These five tips will help you embrace your inner perfectionist while remaining productive.

1) Decide how perfect it should be
Think about what you’re working on and how perfect it really needs to be. A flyer for a one-off event that will end up in the trash next week may not need you to spend hours poring over the smallest detail. A video you hope will still be watched on YouTube five years from now demands more attention. Of course, even ephemeral creations have long-lasting potential, like these beautiful hand lettered tickets that people at a whiskey tasting event preferred to keep instead of claiming their free drink.

Hand-lettered drink tickets

2) Be more collaborative
As Professor of Digital Arts at University of the Arts, London, Fred Deakin noticed how his students rarely collaborated effectively. “Students are marked on individual work so collaborating isn’t an obvious thing to do. My students would tinker endlessly with a piece of work until they feel it’s perfect before showing it to anyone. But the best creations often have little in common with the first draft and other people’s feedback is invaluable. I now run Collabology, a workshop designed to encourage collaboration and to show that aiming for perfection means sharing imperfect work.”

3) Focus your perfectionism
Italian philosopher Vilfredo Pareto’s observation that 20% of the pea pods he grew in his garden produced 80% of his total peas formed the basis of the Pareto principle. The 80-20 rule has become a business standard and can also apply to your creative endeavor. If you assume that the majority of your audience are really just interested in a small part of what you create, figure out what that is and make sure it’s perfect.

4) Impose strict deadlines
Saturday Night Live producer Lorne Michaels said about the weekly sketch show, “The show doesn’t go on because it’s ready; it goes on because it’s 11:30.” Deadlines are great for limiting perfectionism so even if your client or project doesn’t have a deadline, impose your own. Before work starts on every Pixar film, the studio sets a release date. As this amazing contribution to Letters of Note shows, John Lasseter’s opinion is “Our films don’t get finished, they just get released”.

Letter from Pixar

5) Remember that imperfection is relative
While you may see every flaw in your work, most other people won’t. At the end of a project, if your client is happy or your audience approves, then you’ve succeeded. Learning from mistakes lets you produce even better work next time so you’re always improving. Even an outright failure can be considered a step towards success—remember that the greatest baseball players of all time failed to hit half the pitches they faced.

Are you a perfectionist? How do you ensure your work is as good as it can be without missing deadlines and being unproductive elsewhere? We’d love to hear your tips in the comments.

Customer spotlight: Scales Advertising

Scales Advertising business card

 

When Scales Advertising describes itself as a “full-service agency”, it’s not messing around. Lots of ad agencies use the term, but few have such definite proof they mean it as this Minnesota-based firm that specializes in outdoor and recreational markets.

Working for a ceramic grill brand, Scales not only created a website and animated promotional video, but also developed a popular social media campaign and designed packaging, brochures and merchandise. A unique, outdoor fashion label came to Scales for a website, TV commercials, fashion photography and label designs.

Scales Advertising creative area

 

Whether it’s coming up with a tagline that helped a client get listed as one of Inc. Magazine’s fastest growing companies, or designing stunning, appetizing packaging for chocolates; Scales thrives on creating and sharing ideas. But that wasn’t always very easy.

“We used to send files to clients using FTP,” recalls the firm’s IT Director, Andrew Satnik, “but clients frequently had trouble using it. I was tired of fielding calls from people telling me they couldn’t download the work we had sent. We needed a new approach, but we had to solve the problem without breaking the bank.”

Andrew tried Hightail and was impressed with its simplicity. He knew both the Scales team responsible for sharing files with clients would find it fast and easy to use.

“With a service like Dropbox, using folders means there are a lot more steps. No one else seems to get the simplicity of just sending a file except Hightail. Switching to Hightail eliminated all the problems with clients not being able to download files. It made things a whole lot easier for us.”

Scales Advertising studio

 

In the competitive outdoor market, brands need to be fiercely protective of new products and campaigns until they’re ready for launch. With such a deep involvement in all aspects of their clients’ promotions, Scales is always very security-conscious.

“It was definitely on our minds when we chose Hightail,” says Andrew. Around that time Dropbox was getting a lot of negative press about security, which is why we didn’t consider keeping it. Another key thing about Hightail is that when our clients get a file link email, they see the Scales logo. This branding is very important as it assures them they can trust this link.”

With simple file sharing, trusted security and customizable branding, Hightail offers the kind of full service that Scales Advertising understands and needs.

Learn more about Scales Advertising at scalesadvertising.com and find them on Twitter and Facebook.

Tool tips with Lindsey Robinson

Tool tips is a regular series where Hightail employees share their life’s most essential apps, online services and websites. Next up is HR/Staffing Specialist, Lindsey Robinson.

Lindsey Robinson and a pirateWorking tool
HR is a special department where we save every document of information. It is usually daunting to keep track of all the reports, job offers and forms that we depend on, but Hightail’s Desktop app is our silent hero. It allows us to save everything virtually while granting access to the whole department (all three of us), which helps us stay green and efficient. Anytime we need to look back at an old offer or report, we effortlessly peek into our shared folders instead of frantically searching through cabinets full of loose papers.

Playtime
Pinterest is the holy grail of everything. It helps me organize projects and events and is also there for me when I am bored out of my skull. Anytime I have to plan a work event, find out a friend is getting married or want to make house upgrades, I bust out Pinterest to get the ideas flowing. I love that you can collect your ideas on boards to keep your projects separate and make comments…very similar to our amazing new beta product, Hightail Spaces.

General resource
I love following the Humans of New York blog by Brandon Stanton. The stories he gets people to share are often nothing you would expect and it’s a great reminder that everyone has some kind of battle or struggle and to just always be friendly, kind and understanding. To get real world news, I recently started reading theSkimm. I usually don’t have time to catch up on world events so this daily newsletter is a quick update on what’s happening outside of work.

For more Lindsey, follow her on Pinterest

Customer spotlight: Polyvinyl Records

Polyvinyl Records logoSeth Hubbard is Label Manager for Polyvinyl Records, an independent record label. He talks to Hightail about the label’s history, making music videos and why he strives to not have a Polyvinyl sound.

Who started Polyvinyl Records?
Husband and wife duo Matt and Darcie Lunsford started the label while they were dating in high school. It has now been around for 18 years and is home to bands such as: of Montreal, Japandroids, Deerhoof, STRFKR, American Football, The Dodos, The Rentals and Alvvays, to name a few.

How did you come to join the label?
I majored in music business in college and while there helped run the campus radio station, which led to my internship with Polyvinyl. I’m now Label Manager and oversee all aspects of the label, most specifically all things promo and A&R related.

Polyvinyl single series

How has digital technology changed the music industry?
Technology has changed EVERYTHING about the music industry over the past decade. The way things are now vs. how they were when I started are night and day. Polyvinyl is a small enough company to have been able to adapt quickly to the ever-changing musical landscape. We strive to be at the forefront of new developments in how people listen to music and discover new artists.

How has the kind of music that Polyvinyl releases changed?
When I first started the label was beginning to branch out from its roots in the Midwestern DIY/emo scene. One of the first bands I worked on when I started was Mates of State, which was a major shift stylistically from our previous bands. Six months later we signed of Montreal and that was a major turning point in broadening our palette. I love how labels like Sub Pop and Merge have such varied rosters. My goal is to not have a “Polyvinyl sound”. I want music fans to know if Polyvinyl Records is releasing it, then it will be good no matter the genre.

OfMontreal album cover


How much involvement does the label have with producing music videos?
A music video usually starts with the band and label sorting out what the single is and if we should make a video. The label figures out budgets, deadlines, concepts, etc. and I’ll go through our pretty large Rolodex of video directors if the band does not have someone specifically in mind. I deal directly as the go-between for the band and the director – it’s one of my favorite parts of my job.

How does Hightail fit into your process?
I use Hightail every day. There are always WAV files, remix stems, video files, etc. that need to be sent to people. It is one of our go-to places to send files online. When we’re making videos, a lot of work-in-progress ends up on private You Tube or Vimeo links to sort out editing and FX choices.

Sonny and the Sunsets

Sonny and the Sunsets photograph by Alice Shaw

Where are you based and what’s it like?
We are based in the Bay Area and last year moved from the Mission in San Francisco to downtown Berkeley. The scene out here is great and very supportive. We’ve been lucky to work with some of the best local bands, including The Dodos, Sonny & The Sunsets and Painted Palms.

Visit the website to learn more about Polyvinyl Records and check out the label’s latest releases on its YouTube channel. You can also follow Polyvinyl on Twitter and Facebook

The cloud storage business is dead (and that’s good for you)

EdisonElectricity-1878-GE

In the late 1800s, the new electric utility industry was a free-for-all. Direct current (DC) motors could only supply power to customers within a one-mile radius of the generating plant, so there was opportunity for many players to get in the game. When Samuel Insull took over as President of Edison Chicago, the city had more than 20 electricity suppliers. Rather than join a pricing race to zero, Insull used new alternating current (AC) technology to supply electricity more effectively, giving his company a position of dominance over their many rivals.

The internet service provider industry followed a similar path. At first innovative companies like AOL, TheWorld and Netcom helped get the country online. But technological innovations like the move to broadband allowed larger established companies such as Comcast and AT&T to dominate what quickly became a commoditized market.

The cloud storage market will be the next victim in the race to zero; it’s currently home to more providers than is possible to sustain. There’s a cloud storage or file sharing service for every letter of the alphabet: from Accellion to Zocalo. That last letter is significant, as Zocalo is the recent offering from Amazon, meaning it joins Google, Microsoft and Apple as a leading player in the market. It is unlikely that any cloud storage pure players can compete in a race to zero with these digital titans.

So what’s a mid-sized cloud storage provider to do? At Hightail, we’ve always believed that our value wasn’t just in file storage, but in the actions and insights we enabled. For us the commoditization of storage is not a threat, it’s an opportunity. Like electricity and the internet, the cloud isn’t actually all that interesting in itself. But what you do with it is. Cheaper and more accessible storage allows us to provide innovative new cloud-powered apps to more people.

Edison-LightbulbWhich brings us back to the Edison Company. Though Thomas Edison established the first private electricity supply business, his pioneering efforts weren’t aimed at becoming a successful utility. Edison’s interest in bringing commoditized electricity to private homes was prompted by the need to power his killer app: the electric light bulb. He wanted to solve a problem — lighting the dark — using an app — the light bulb—that utilized electricity.

The same parallel can be drawn with the internet but replace the light bulb with good content. Faster internet speeds are pointless unless there is something to do with all those megabits per second. So a company like Netflix stepped in to provide a killer app: instant streaming of thousands of HD movies and TV shows. Netflix has even recognized that video streaming could itself become a race to the bottom and is now producing its own original content as a way of giving customers increased value for their money.

Cloud storage will follow suit. Soon everyone will expect storage to be an unthinking, inexpensive, on-tap service, like the electricity powering their computers and the broadband connecting them to the internet. Users won’t just want their files to sit in a repository but will demand apps that do more with them. The battle among providers will not be about who provides more space for less. The winners will be those who go beyond passive storage to become an active part of a user’s life and work.

What that actually entails will depend on the audience. Someone working on a creative project may need feedback to be an integral part of file sharing (like what we’re doing with our new beta product, Hightail Spaces). A CMO might want a high-level overview of all ongoing creative projects. The key to success might be not trying to be all things to all people, but fulfilling a specific need and then going beyond it.

Edison’s light bulb ultimately became a commodity, but interesting products continue to be developed in the world of lighting, like LED technology and apps that allow you to control the color and brightness of a room using your phone. Storage should just be a starting point for more interesting applications. Providers need to deliver real value not just a cheap commodity. The cloud storage business is dead, which means more exciting times lie ahead.

Customer spotlight: Echo Entertainment

Echo Entertainment logo“We do a lot of run’n’gun work.” That’s how senior editor and head of IT, Brian Davids describes life at Echo Entertainment, a Los Angeles-based production company specializing in sports, poker and reality television.

“We were just up in Beaver Creek, CO shooting the US ski team,” he explains. “We rented a condo and set up two edit bays on the kitchen table to do prep for a live show. Meanwhile down in Copper, we had four guys working on an overnight edit for an NBC broadcast the next day. A lot of really quick turnaround work is our niche.”

One of the biggest events that Echo Entertainment covers is the World Series of Poker, the annual poker tournament broadcast on ESPN. Thousands of players compete in 65 different events in an attempt to win a coveted WSOP bracelet and Echo typically produces 26 highlights shows over the course of the tournament.

World Series of Poker Echo Entertainment

Producing this many shows with tight turnaround times requires the kind of solid process Brian describes:

“The first step is filming. We usually collect around 140TB of media while on site then get it to our systems at the office. A format editor cuts together footage and lays out the show. We share this cut with a producer who makes notes for the next version and we’ll give it a graphics pass at this stage — graphics are a huge deal for poker shows. A few more passes by a producer and then it’s onto voice-over. I always say that it isn’t a TV show until you have music and voice-over. The show is mixed and passed by a producer one last time. Then we’re off to final exports and delivery.”

A key factor in keeping this process running smoothly is fast and efficient file transfer. Whether they’re getting footage from a Las Vegas poker room to Echo’s post-production studio in LA, or sharing cuts with various network producers based across the country, any delays could mean disaster for the production.

“A one hour TV show could be a 50GB file,” says Brian. “We’ll usually compress it when sharing a cut with a producer but even then the file could be 500MB. We used to use FTP but it required so much support, especially as average file sizes grew with the advent of HD. Plus, it was horrible to use. I was always having to explain to people how FTP worked.”

World Series of Poker chips Echo Entertainment

Brian found a more user friendly solution with Hightail and the shift in efficiency and reliability has parallels with another technical change he implemented.

“A few years ago I moved everyone to Gmail,” he recalls, “which relieved the burden from me, the IT guy. Now no one ever calls me saying their email doesn’t work. It’s the same for Hightail. We never have to think about the file not getting there.”

The entire editorial team at Echo uses Hightail. Most prefer Hightail Express because files can resume uploading from the same point if the internet connection ever cuts out. “I totally screwed myself using a web service when I accidentally closed my browser halfway through a huge upload and had to start all over,” laughs Brian.

“One of the main benefits of Hightail is simplicity,” he continues, “the ease of use. You can see it in how Hightail is becoming so commonplace now. It’s almost standard in our business to use it. We did a Sons of Anarchy Afterword recently and the other production company we were working with used Hightail as well.”

Though the latest technology can help ensure a full hour of television is produced in as little time as possible, final delivery often harks back to a pre-digital era. Brian notes that some networks still insist on receiving the broadcast version on tape, meaning he has to transfer the digital file and send a tape to the network by courier.

“It drives me crazy,” he says, “because all they do is transfer it back to digital at their end. Why can’t we just skip that step? Europe is far ahead of the US in this regard. When we work with European networks, everything is sent digitally.”

HLN The Social Life Ali Nejad

Echo Entertainment’s embrace of technology now extends to the shows they produce. The company has just finished The Social Life for HLN, a show that sees host Ali Nejad harness the power of his nearly one million Twitter followers. Using technology to get things done appeals to Brian.

“Technology should never stand in the way of what we’re trying to accomplish,” he states. “I’ve always been a fan of Apple computers because they do what they’re supposed to do. Hightail is like that. It’s one of those things that just works.”

Find more out more about Echo Entertainment at echoent.com, watch videos on their YouTube channels and follow them on Twitter

Last night’s long maintenance period

Yesterday we performed some important maintenance work, which required temporarily shutting off Hightail’s services. Our initial expectation was that this would take between one and three hours and would affect a limited number of users.

Unfortunately, the maintenance took a lot longer than expected meaning many more users than anticipated were unable to access and share files. We are truly sorry for any inconvenience caused.

The scheduled maintenance was part of a project that is making Hightail a faster and more reliable place to share and store your files. We needed to take down the site in order to migrate data to new servers. The reason for the delay was that certain data took longer than expected to transfer. Our choice was to continue with the outage or lose the problematic data. We chose to prolong the outage instead of irretrievably losing any of our customer’s files.

Understandably, some people were upset that we hadn’t sent a notification email about the outage. As we hadn’t intended the outage to affect many customers, we decided to use social media to inform users as we could better target those most likely to be affected.

Again, we are truly sorry if you needed to use Hightail during this maintenance. Our goal is to help you get things done, not be a blocker. But we also need to think about the long term and the changes we’re currently making will make Hightail a better and more reliable service.

If you have any questions or concerns about any of this, please email us at support@hightail.com.

Tool tips with Justin Fiedler

Tool tips is a regular series where Hightail employees share their life’s most essential apps, online services and resources. Next up is Staff Software Engineer, Justin Fiedler.

Justin Fielders' tool tips


Working tool
As a software engineer I can’t imagine a day in the office without IntelliJ – my IDE (integrated development environment) of choice. IntelliJ provides a wide range of built-in productivity tools, such as autocomplete and real-time error checking, that make development faster and easier. This allows me to focus on creating an amazing application rather than crossing t’s and dotting my lower case j’s. For anything that IntelliJ doesn’t support out of the box there is also a vast library of plugins for everything from web development to task management. A big thank you to JetBrains for creating such a great product!

Playtime
I recently purchased a smart watch and I have been using Music Boss for Wear ever since. It’s a wrist-based remote control for all my media. I use it while driving to skip to the next song on Spotify. At home I can control Netflix without having to find the remote. On weekends, paired with some bluetooth headphones, I can go mountain biking with my favorite songs, no phone required. The best part is since all the controls are simple gestures I don’t need to look at or even see my watch to use it.

General resource
I love technology and cannot get enough of it. I think it is incredible to see what people, both individuals and society, are capable of achieving. For this reason I love Reddit’s Futurology sub. Whether it’s force fields keeping the dust off solar panels, NASA sending a nuclear submarine to explore one of Saturn’s moons or new cell phone batteries that can fully charge in 10 mins, I am constantly astounded by what is possible and what is yet to come.

Three Post-it productivity tricks

Post-it note

 

New products or services that fail to find an audience are often described as “a solution without a problem”. But this is exactly how one of the most successful inventions of all time started out.

In 1968, Dr. Silver Spencer, a chemist at multinational conglomerate 3M, was attempting to create a super-strong adhesive, but instead made a weak, reusable, pressure-sensitive glue. With no immediate idea of what to do with his new invention, Spencer continually hosted internal seminars about it until, a few years later, his colleague Art Fry, used the adhesive to create a sticky bookmark. One day Fry tore a piece from a bookmark to attach a note to the front of a report he was sending to a colleague and the Post-it note was born.

Though conceived by accident, the simply Post-it note has gone on to solve a myriad of different problems for millions of people around the world. The applications are endless: in the Oscar-nominated 2014 movie Gone Girl, a detective uses Post-its to highlight blood splatters at a crime scene, while the criminal plots out evil plan to-dos in sticky notes.

Still from Gone Girl

 

In an age of efficiency-inducing digital apps, the physical Post-it note remains a powerful productivity tool. Here are three ways that Post-it notes help people communicate and create more effectively every day.

1. Give each project a Post-it
Matt Stewart is the marketplace growth manager for BandPage, an app that connects music fans with the bands they love. Life at a startup is busy and requires a lot of multitasking so Matt needs to ensure he’s using his time effectively.

“My previous organizational method was procrastination then needing to pull an all-nighter to get the project done on time,” he recalls. “About seven years ago, I adopted a method from David Allen’s Getting Things Done to maximize my productivity and, crucially, do it stress-free.”

When a new project comes in, Matt divides it into the smallest divisible tasks each led by an action verb, like ‘Research’, ‘Write’ or ‘Email’.

“I have a large Post-it for each project,” he continues, “and I list the tasks on it in sequential order. Every morning I rewrite tasks from my various project lists on a daily Post-it. Mixing up tasks from different projects helps keep my day interesting and spreads out mentally taxing and easy tasks. But if I hit a groove on one project, I might go back to the main project Post-it and keep knocking off tasks.”

For Matt, the physical nature of Post-its not only makes it easy to reassess and adapt his task list, it also gives him a unique satisfaction when the job’s done. “When I complete a task, I cross it out as a haptic reward”, he says, “and once a day’s tasks or project are complete, I tear the Post-it in half.”

2. Put your Post-its on display
Designer at Pittsburgh firm ocreations, Nina Zivkovic has a unique system that helps her stay on top of her current projects and impending deadlines.

Nina Zivkovic's desk and Post-it notes at ocreations

 

“I’m big on visuals and seem to remember things much better that way,” she explains, “so I’ve always been a huge fan of using Post-its for organization, especially with color coding. I had a system where they were laid out on my desk but I’m a neat freak and the clutter was becoming more of a distraction. Last fall I started sticking the notes to the borders of my Mac screen. The left side is for upcoming meetings and events, arranged by date from top to bottom. On the bottom of my screen I have urgent deadlines, usually for that day. And on the right, I have all my current projects and little notes to myself about them.”

Like Matt, Nina enjoys physically removing a completed task: “It’s such a great feeling to grab one of those bright orange notes off the screen. My goal is always to complete all the Post-its at the end of the day and put a bunch more up the next morning.”

And unlike a digital app, the visual impact of Nina’s system is not easily ignored. “Always seeing bright colors on the side of my screen has made me more aware of what projects, events and meetings I have, which helps me stay on top of all my deadlines. Plus you can’t go wrong with orange Post-it notes in an orange office.”

3. Make Post-its part of the team
Post-it productivity methods are not just useful for individuals. Sticking notes to a white board or wall makes an effective project management tool to ensure teams always know which tasks have been completed and what’s coming up next.

New Tech City white board with Post-it notes

 

In this excellent three-minute video, Jamie Bonini, head of Toyota’s Production Systems Support Center, teaches radio host Manoush Zomorodi how to use Post-it notes to help her team prepare for their weekly show. After just a few weeks of sticking multi-colored notes to white boards, Manoush noticed that her team’s creative process was running smoother because people could just glance at a white boards to know how a project was progressing.

Those are just three ways of using sticky notes to be more effective, but the simplicity and adaptability of the humble Post-it means that there are many more ways to use it. What’s your Post-it productivity tip? Let us know in the comments below.

Customer spotlight: Victoria Sound Design

Victoria Sound Design logoVictoria Deiorio is a composer and sound designer for theatre and film based in Chicago. Her company Victoria Sound Design works with production companies across the US, including Oregon Shakespeare Festival, The Goodman Theatre and Cleveland Playhouse. She talked to us about the magic of theater, the evolution of sound technology and why silence is inspiring.

My work is both artistic and technical in nature
I am the person on the artistic team of a theater production that determines everything you hear and how it fills the space. My role is to support the emotional impression upon the audience as well as build sound cues, compose music and reinforce how all of it is heard in each space where the work is presented.

I began as a ballet dancer
At 14, I was on scholarship at Joffrey Ballet School in New York then received a BFA in Musical Theatre from Syracuse University. I studied classical acting at RADA and LAMDA in London before moving to Chicago to be a classical actress and director. After nine years of this, I transitioned into the music industry by joining a rock and roll band. I toured with that band for five years and later formed ToyBand, showcasing my original music and producing two CDs.

Victoria DeiorioMy first sound design work remains one of my favorites
A theatre company, of which I was a founding member, asked if I would compose and sound design Holy Days by Sally Nemeth. It is a beautiful play set in the dustbowl era during the depression. I wrote acoustic music and paired it with wind for the transitions from scene to scene. I love its sheer simplicity, which is why it is still one of my favorite designs. After that, I never stopped working in theater as my name was handed from one company to the next.

When I first started we used reel-to-reel tape and cassettes
How you play back sound designs in the theater has completely evolved. Equipment kept being invented and we used anything we could get our hands on to create dynamic rich designs. After tapes came early samplers and CDs. Minidisc made a big splash in theatre because it could auto-stop after every cue meaning you didn’t need the choreography of pausing a piece of equipment to change levels and speaker placement.

Technology has transformed my profession
Teaching your design to an engineer used to be like a dance performed in real-time in a near-silent dark booth. Now computer controls allow for continuity and ease of repetition from night to night, automating how the sound is played back during the production and ensuring the design stays intact. Though nothing compares to recording a live musician, composing music on a computer means I can work with smaller budgets and change the music whenever and however I needed.

DePaul Sound Studio - Victoria Sound DesignThe last 10 days before opening create the magic of theater
Typically my initial sound design work begins with research for inspirational pieces that suit the production’s artistic style, genre and time period. Once rehearsals with actors begin, I become more involved and if music or sound is needed to rehearse choreography or singing, I’ll create that. But it’s only at the full run-throughs that I get the best picture of what the end product can become.

The best way to create theatre is in person
However, I often work with production companies in different cities and budgetary constraints mean that traveling for every meeting isn’t always possible. So these meetings often happen via phone and video conferencing. Email is the main mode of communication as most notes and ideas are communicated in writing.

I don’t compress sound files
Sound files take up a lot of space but I never want to lose data by compressing to MP3 because you need to hear the fullness of the music as you would in a live environment. I wanted to be able to send really large audio files by email but most servers can’t handle more than 15MB attachments.

Hightail is the sound designer’s choice
I needed a service where I could upload sound files for others to download and began using Hightail because of its easiness. It was a godsend for me. I could finally send multiple sound files with one link to showcase my ideas for feedback. When I would amend the sound files, I would send another link for feedback. It was a brilliant addition to my work and made me look very professional. And now, honestly, I don’t know what I’d do without it.

Victoria Sound Design office 2Every experience brings artistry, efficiency and wisdom
It’s always interesting to track the journey of your career. I began with big, epic, ensemble-driven, gigantic, loud, scary shows. But over the past year I have developed my subtle side in two shows where you don’t hear but ‘feel’ the sound.

There is nothing more perfect than the planet we live on
It is essential to find moments that remind me I am a human being on a gorgeous, living, breathing planet spinning around in space. When I get a break, you’ll usually find me hiking in the mountains, bicycling through the woods, snorkeling in the ocean or experiencing new cultures. Because I live my life in a sound-filled digital world, I truly value the silence and solitude of exploring on my own.

My studio contains only the essentials
My space is light and airy, extremely comfortable, and easy. I have a fast Mac with lots of space, dynamic stereo headphones, great studio monitors, a collection of microphones that I am in love with and the software that makes my work sound better than I ever thought possible. Other than that, I have objects around me that remind of the special people in my life for inspiration.

Victoria Sound Design office 1I still act and direct when my schedule permits
Every now and then I return to the stage to sing, act, or direct and have just completed the sound and music for my fourth short film. When I’m not working for clients, you can find me teaching at DePaul University as the Head of Sound Design for The Theatre School…or on vacation.

You can listen to Victoria’s compositions at her SoundCloud page. Find out more about her work at her website and Like her Facebook page.

Tools tips with Brad Wrage

Tool tips is a new series where Hightail employees share their life’s most essential apps, online services and resources. First up is our dexterous Senior Product Designer, Brad Wrage.

Hightail product designer, Brad WrageWorking tool
As of late I’ve become a huge fan of Bohemian Coding’s Sketch, a vector-based design tool for UI designers. It’s still early in its life, but has changed my workflow tremendously. The combination of art boards, layer settings panels and symbols allows me to work quickly at a bird’s eye view while still giving me the ability to reach pixel perfection.

Oh, and at Hightail we’re currently working on a product called Hightail Spaces that is a really smart way to get feedback and iterate on designs. It has made my life as a designer much easier and I can’t wait to share it with the world.

Playtime
Outside of work I couldn’t live without Rdio and Instagram. Rdio is always playing in the background. Whether it’s jazz by Dave Brubeck for early morning reading or something to get me focused like M83, there isn’t anything quite so key for all areas of my life.

Dave Brubeck Take Five album cover

Then there’s Instagram. My wife says I’m addicted and I can’t disagree. I follow friends and family all over the world, as well as amazing photographers that showcase some of my favorite things: music, surfing and coffee. Instagram allows me to escape for a quick moment or two and find some rest in an incredible ocean view, which can be therapeutic!

General resource
These days there are so many resources out there to learn and grow in design it’s difficult not to become overwhelmed. Lately I can’t even keep track of the good stuff being shared on Twitter because there is so much flying around. My morning reading is Layervault’s Designer News, which curates all the top stories along with recent links and conversations around design. There’s plenty of gold in there each day so that I don’t feel left out on the key happenings.

Ever wonder what a day of the life of a product designer is like? Brad’s post on Medium is a great blow-by-blow account. For more Brad, check out his website and follow him on Twitter.

Customer spotlight: Ben Sanders

Ben Sanders company logoBen Sanders worked as a designer and art director in advertising before returning to his first love, illustration, in 2006. As well as creating images for clients like Saatchi & Saatchi and Wall Street Journal, Ben has written and illustrated two children’s books, both published by Thames & Hudson. He talks to us about living in Bolivia, starting with words and taking drawing seriously.

I got my first illustration job when I was 12
My dad was in the printing trade and an excellent artist in his own right. One of his clients needed illustrations for a sheet of kids’ stickers and, because child labor laws were easier to ignore in the late 1980’s, my dad encouraged me to submit a few drawings. During that summer I illustrated 32 stickers – things like elephants riding bicycles, walruses smoking pipes, apples with bites out of their bottoms – the usual stuff. Each summer holidays throughout secondary school I illustrated a new set of stickers. They were quite popular and the publisher found overseas markets for them. Not only was my work getting out to the world, I didn’t need one of those summer jobs as a spotty-faced supermarket trolley-boy.

Ben Sanders illustration for SBS Food

Nothing compares to drawing for a living
In the early 90’s I left illustration because I didn’t take it seriously enough. Actually nobody took anything seriously back then — remember MC Hammer? I didn’t think illustration could provide a stable career so I went into design and art direction. But as much as I enjoy advertising and design, an outright fondness for illustration brought me back to it as a fulltime job.

Simplify, simplify, simplify
Like me, my work is uncomplicated. I learned very early in ad school to create simple concepts and I strive for that with my illustration work. My philosophy is to deliver an idea as simply as possible, whether it’s an editorial spot for Wall Street Journal, a TV commercial for Vodacom or packaging for the Natural Confectionery Company.

Ben Sanders illustration for Australian GeographicMy process is different for children’s books
I also write and illustrate books for kids where you need to add a little more detail. With my first book, I’ve an Uncle Ivan, the words are simple but the illustrations are designed to engage the attention of children for longer periods of time.

Ben Sanders reading I've an Uncle Ivan

I start with words rather than pictures
I’ve witnessed many a surprised look when I tell other illustrators that. I try to break down a creative brief into two or three key words. This reductionism helps to clear my brain of unnecessarily complex thoughts. Next come the sketches, which usually start out as messy as an Oscar Pistorius alibi. But just a few sketches in, I’ll erase the clutter and be left with a nice succinct composition. The rest is just a bit of back-and-forth with the client and hours of mind-numbing fun on my Mac.

I provide an overnight service
My clients are mostly in Australia but I live in South America, so while they are sleeping, I’m working. It’s perfect for the client who has a brief to send out at 5PM but still wants a sketch on his desk at 9AM. I prefer to communicate by email and, when necessary, Skype.

Hightail is like the Little Red Caboose
Remember the classic Little Golden Book story? The Little Red Caboose appears at the end of the train and finishes the job after all the huffing and chuffing up the mountain. In the story the caboose saves the day. Hightail feels a lot like that when you see the little red line move across the screen and you get that message, “We have successfully sent your file.”

I started illustrating with ink pens and watercolor brushes
Decades later, I primarily work digitally. I’ve had a fascination with mid-century illustration styles since my awkward university days, so there is a strong element of the 1950’s in my work now. I moved from Australia to South America in 2014 so I suspect that a dramatic change in scenery and culture will have some sort of strange Andean influence on my style sometime soon.

Ben Sanders print illustration

It’s difficult for illustrators to make a living in Bolivia
After being in Australia throughout my career, I’m now based in Bolivia. Being a developing country means that there isn’t much of a structure to support creatives and many illustrators have to look beyond their borders to make it work. I have had the pleasure of meeting two of Bolivia’s finest illustrators, Ada Esquirol Ríos and Marianna Dotzauer at their funky studio, Cocina Gráfica. They provide a benchmark for other Bolivian artists to follow.

I owe a lot to fellow illustrators
I spent a lot of time working alongside two illustrators from my hometown, Travis Price and Sam Harmer. I learned so much from this one-on-one contact. It’s so good to see first hand how other people approach their work and produce such clever results. For shape and color, one of my favorite illustrators is Jim Flora, especially his editorial work and album covers. I have a classic Hervé Morvan poster on my wall at home with one of his usual clever visual twists.

My studio in Australia was a converted 1950’s garage
My workspace is very different now that I’m in Bolivia. I have a completely portable studio with just my notebook, laptop and me. It’s a quasi pop-up shop. I can move about, change location at anytime. It’s great to be light on my feet and not feel like I’m stuck in one place. I find a room with a view of the mountains and start creating.

Ben Sanders illustration for I Could Wear That HatI split my day between clients and volunteer work
When I’m not fulfilling client briefs I’m writing children’s picture books and volunteering my time on a Bolivian children’s curriculum (that’s why I’m here). I have to be flexible because every day is different, but the main ingredients are usually:
• Two mugs of coffee.
• Three briefs (two on the desk, one under my jeans).
• 15 sketches.
• 1/2 hour of design.
• One lunch.
• 30 emails.
• One bucket of mouse clicks.
• Two Redbubble sales.
• One or two Hightail uploads.
Stir well and season to taste.

You can see more of Ben’s work at his website or by visiting his blog.

Nine tips for organizing your desk

2014 Hightail email illustration: back to schoolIt’s a new year and you’ve begun with the best of intentions to be more effective at work. One way to ensure you keep your resolution is to make your desk a more productive place.

Whether you work from home, in a small studio or a large office, the place where you sit or stand every day is very important. If your desk is too cluttered or disorganized, it’s easy to get distracted or frustrated. These nine simple tips will help organize your workspace and make 2015 your most productive year yet.

1. Understand why you’re doing this
In a recent Washington Post article, Andrea Hancock, owner of professional productivity firm Dexterous Organizing, recommends being clear about why you want a more organized desk. Whether clutter makes you anxious or you struggle to find things, write down the reason so you have a reminder that keeping your workspace in order is worthwhile.

2. Start with a clear-out
Give yourself a clean slate by getting everything off your desk and onto the floor. You can leave large permanent items like a computer monitor or printer. Now go through everything on the floor and throw out anything that you don’t need. Get a wastebasket and keep it around — trash should never sit on your desk.

3. Prioritize what stays
Productivity consultant Matt Perman believes a desk is like a cockpit: the things you need most should be accessible instantly and easily. So look at that pile on the floor and really think about the items you use every day. How often do you actually need a stapler? If it’s daily, return it to the desk. Otherwise put it in a nearby drawer or shelf.

4. Make a scribbling space
Though most of us work using computers, it’s still important to have a physical scribbling space. This is especially true if you’re a designer or illustrator and like to sketch your ideas. But whatever your job, making a permanent place for a pad and pen on your desk will save you a scramble when you next need to take a quick note.

ocreations-thumbnails5. Get a tray for your paperwork
Even digital diehards can still end up with a pile of paper messing up an analogue space. A simple two-tier paper tray with one layer for active documents and another for completed work will help. Always add an action for each active document to a separate to-do list. This will save you shuffling through the pile when deciding which task to deal with next.

6. File early and often
Nobody enjoys filing but the documents in the completed work tier of your paper tray must be archived. Set aside a regular time on your calendar and treat it as a mindless break from your regular duties. Do it often — motivation comes much easier when it’s 15 minutes tackling a small pile and not an hour climbing Mount Archive.

7. Forget paper, start scanning
Why bother with hole punchers, binders and filing cabinets? With a scanner, you can turn your physical documents into 1s and 0s and throw away the paper. Store all your scans on Hightail and you can even access the files from anywhere on your mobile. Oh, and if you’re buying a new machine, a wireless printer/scanner combo can free up more desk space.

Hightail mobile apps8. Don’t stack business cards
Unless you’re still rocking a Rolodex, it’s time to throw away all those business cards stacked on your desk. There are lots of smart mobile apps that will use photos of cards to add the details to your phone’s contacts book. Or better yet, send the person a quick email saying “nice to have met you”. If they reply, they’ll always be a simple mailbox search away.

9. Update your decorations
A completely minimal space only works for some people. Most of us like to have photos of loved ones or fun toys adorning our desks. But instead of returning the same objects after your clear-out, refresh your workspace by changing the photo of your kids for a more recent one or give a different toy a chance to stare at you every day for eight hours.

These tips should help you transform your desk into an ordered space so you can get stuff done more effectively. If you maintain this order with regular upkeep, you won’t need to start 2016 with another clear-out. As for 2015, once your desk is ready, stop procrastinating and get to work.

Five secrets to making your startup go viral

An amended version of this post was originally published on Entrepreneur.com.

Screen Shot 2014-12-22 at 12.04.41 PMWhen Facebook paid around US$16 billion for mobile messaging service WhatsApp, people were stunned by the sky-high valuation. But what’s even more remarkable about WhatsApp is that it reached 450 million monthly users “without investing a penny in marketing”.

It’s a great example of a truly viral product, one that spreads by providing a valuable service not only to the initial user but also to their friends, family and colleagues. In the digital world, virality is a science expressed in mathematical formulas. Hightail has benefitted from natural viral growth as a result of users sharing files through our service. But what if your product isn’t a social network or messaging service with an obvious viral hook? How can you create a viral effect that will help your product spread via your customers’ networks?

Rather than relying on the barefaced bribery of a referral program or desperate begging for Likes and positive reviews, try these five tips for adding a smart viral twist to your product.

1. Let sharing benefit everyone
In 1991, telco firm MCI (for whom I once worked) was vying for new customers in the recently deregulated long-distance calling market. While rivals AT&T and Sprint relied on cold calls and direct mail, MCI invented the “Friends & Family plan”. Suddenly, every MCI customer had a compelling incentive to promote its service: discounted calls to their relatives and friends. Though this concept is now ubiquitous, at the time it was truly innovative.

MCI’s telemarketers could now begin sales calls by saying “I’m calling on behalf of your friends and family”, giving them three times the close rate as cold calls. By the end of the year, the company’s revenues, customer numbers and call traffic had increased significantly. An official AT&T response stated, “We would be uncomfortable using our customers as salespeople for our products.” If that represents the prevailing attitude of the early 90s, then MCI’s thinking was really ahead of its time.

2. Give sharing an emotional value
Coca-Cola Santa Claus adCoca-Cola is famous for its emotional marketing campaigns, from popularizing the modern image of Santa Claus to teaching the world to sing. The company recently gave this emotional appeal a viral twist by replacing the famous Coke logo on cans and bottles with thousands of names. The idea is to find one with the name of a friend or family member and buy it for them. The Share a Coke campaign first ran in the UK in 2013 and was so successful that Coke brought it to the US this year.

The forthcoming Apple Watch will also aim to create emotional connections with its “digital touch” features. Some tech observers are convinced that the ability to share heartbeats, sketches and other ephemera will make Apple Watch the most viral of all of the company’s products.

3. Make sharing the purpose of your product
GoPro makes lightweight video cameras designed for sports enthusiasts to record their activities. The technology is impressive, but GoPro’s transformation into a viral product is more a result of its action-packed online videos and in-store displays. The firm’s marketing doesn’t boast about product specs or features, they just show you someone boarding down a snow-covered mountain or swimming with dolphins.

GoPro’s “be a hero” tagline emphasizes that its cameras aren’t for just recording your latest extreme outing, they’re for sharing your adventures (often via Hightail) and impressing your friends. Customers are the company’s best marketing tool because they constantly share footage that highlights why anyone who loves action-based activity should have a GoPro product. “GoPro” has practically become a verb for filming personal action videos so don’t be surprised to hear supersonic skydivers or mugging victims say “I GoPro-ed it”.

4. Align your product with a powerful idea
Dove Campaign for Real Beauty adThe spread of ideas assuming a viral pattern is a theory propagated by the likes of evolutionary biologist Richard Dawkins and the 2010 movie Inception. Associating a product with an idea is something beauty brand Dove has done extremely well. Positioned as the natural alternative to traditional beauty products, Dove’s marketing campaigns usually feature “natural women” and not stick-thin supermodels.

Dove’s “campaign for real beauty” goes beyond product promotion. This YouTube video depicting an ordinary girl being transformed into a billboard model with some hair, makeup and Photoshop tweaking, is a persuasive message about the modern beauty industry. It’s something anyone can get behind even if they don’t buy Dove products. Having been watched by more than 18 million people, the video has built brand advocacy for Dove as a different way of thinking about beauty.

5. Use social proof if your product has a perceived risk
Having said earlier that referral programs are barefaced bribery, there is a place for using cash or other incentives to help build your audience. Ride sharing app Uber offered users free rides for referring friends in order to overcome any uneasiness people may have felt about using unlicensed taxis. For new users, knowing that a friend had previously used the service established Uber as reliable and trustworthy. And of course, they too got a free ride.

So don’t be discouraged if your product isn’t naturally viral. Offline brands like Dove, Coca-Cola, and GoPro have shown that all it takes is a little creative thinking. Which of your favorite viral promotions did we miss? Let us know in the comments.