As I mentioned in my look at the year ahead, I’m starting a monthly roundup filled with great links and new favourites who are worth a look. This is that roundup.

For this week’s roundup, I’ve tried to avoid the January trap of yearly summaries and resolution reflections. Instead, I’ve focused in on some inspiring design stories as well as a few pieces that really made me think, in the hopes they’ll motivate you for different reasons.

 

Short Reads, if you’ve only got a few minutes:

1. The best ‘design‘ books that aren’t explicitly about design.

Daniel Burka asked a whole bunch of designers what books, which weren’t specifically about digital or graphic design, inspired them, and he got some great responses

2. The Hospital Gown Gets a Modest Redesign

In partnership with students from Parsons School of Design, Care and Wear has created a hospital gown in a kimono-inspired style, so, at long last, it actually works.

3. Watch: How To Watercolor x Palms | Botanical Illustration

Watch Jess Engle, of Studio Jess, create a simple a palm leaf painting. It’s so soothing and if you’re looking for an easy, but lovely, creative project this would be perfect.

 

Long Reads, if you want something to get your teeth stuck into:

1. How Don Bluth changed the face of feature animation

From his studio in Dublin, the American animator rivalled Disney during the 1980s and early ’90s.

2. Tiny Wins

Joel Califa talks about the power of small changes when improving how users interact with your designs.

3. Here’s My Problem With the Google Arts & Culture Face-Matching App
Kim Sajet, the director of the National Portrait Gallery, offers ideas to make the Google’s now wildly popular face-matching app better.

4. Björk on creativity as an ongoing experiment

Björk talks to The Creative Independent about what makes a good collaboration, why she doesn’t get creative blocks, the value of being grateful in your work, and why she likes projects that aren’t overcooked.

Who to follow, if you want to spruce up your Instagram feed:

  1. Matt Dorfman – Matt’s collages and editorial work are always top notch
  2. Anastasia Tasou – Anastasia’s feed is full of positivity and words of encouragement, and who doesn’t need a little bit more of that in their lives?
  3. Skinkeape – some of my favourite sketches on Insta
  4. Claire Leach – some of the most stunning and detailed black and white drawings of nature

If you want to get more links like these in your inbox every Sunday, along with insights into my work and a few freebies then you might want to sign up to my newsletter.

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If asses are made by making assumptions, the design world is all out of room for them in 2018.

Up until now the world has been designed based on the assumptions of those who were in charge that everyone else was just like them. So, as white men have been in power for so long, that means that the world is designed to work brilliantly for a white man and not really for anyone else. Danielle Kayembe has a fascinating list of some of these assumption-based designs in her excellent piece The Silent Rise of the Female Driven Economy.

But, I’ll share a few examples here too. 

There’s a reason there’s always a much longer queue for the female toilets. Many women struggle to open push/pull doors because they were designed with the tensile strength of the average man in mind – presumably because they were the people doing the designing. Petite female crash test dummies weren’t mandated to be used in vehicle tests until the 2010s meaning there was a risk they hit the airbag chin first, snapping their heads back, leading to serious neck and spinal injuries. Passports, in the UK at least, are available with a braille sticker. However, this sticker just says the word “passport” rather than any of the useful information a blind person might be looking for in their passport. And to round things off, if you didn’t read about this automatic soap dispenser that doesn’t recognize darker skin tones, prepare to get mad. 

Now, catering for those who have needs outside of those of the 95-percentile man isn’t something new. But it is something that has previously been seen as something of a party piece. Brands and design studios would design specialist inclusive products to enter awards or as a PR exercise. These are often great pieces (or at least great-looking) pieces of design, but less often made into a reality. Catering for anyone who, if we’re speaking in broad terms, wasn’t white, middle-class, male, and able-bodied, was an exercise outside of their everyday. It was separate to how they saw their business identities.

But there’s change afoot.

Government services, through GDS, are leading the charge on digital design that works for everyone, by focusing on those who might need the most support don’t face any barriers to accessing their services. This means people who are hard of hearing or have visual, cognitive or motor impairments. But beyond that, it means all users – not just those with permanent disabilities.

Brands like Fenty and Nubian are making everyday products that work for a wider range of people, because sometime one size, or one shade of “nude” doesn’t fit all. They’ve put this inclusivity at the heart of their brands and it has paid off in spades 

Then you have a brand like Heist tights, who have taken a product we all have in our homes, tights, and asked the question “why does wearing tights have to be the worst?” They put in their user research, found the pain points, and actually designed a product that works for the people who use it. Unsurprisingly, they’ve had somewhat of a hit on their hands.

As is proved by the success of the companies mentioned above, getting to know your user putting building something that actually works for them at the center of your business pays. Plus, as more and more companies who genuinely put the user first and focus on diversifying their design teams in order to do so spring up it will soon be damaging not to.

So, in short, there’s no more room for asses in design in 2018.

Last year I wrote a post about starting to find my style and the lovely Asti left a comment asking if I’d ever shared my style inspirations, and it got me thinking. I have shared artists I love in the past, but I’ve never done a post about the ones who’ve had a real impact on how I work on a more personal level.

So here are a few of the names that spring to mind when I think of my artist inspirations.

 

Tallulah Fontaine

I’ve spoken about my love for Tallulah’s work before, so I won’t spend too much time gushing here. There’s a certain tender quality to her watercolours, which although I’m not a painter I want to incorporate into my own work. Her characters are always very simply drawn but hold themselves in a such a way that they really do appear to have genuine emotions of their own.

Jean-Michel Tixier

I think Jean-Michel is a more obvious influence on my work. His character illustrations always remind me of a modern Hergé. I love the way he creates playful interactions on a page using line in a way that feels quite bold without ever being static. When I first started adding colour to my own work, his illustrations were the first place I looked for inspiration because his work felt so familiar but just with something more that I’m trying to put my finger on, so it made the jump into colour that bit easier.

 

Neva Hosking

While you can certainly see Matt Blease’s influence in the work I share here, it might be slightly less clear as to why I’ve chosen Neva Hosking as a big inspiration for my work. Her detail rich pen drawings and etchings are very different to my digital work but I love how she uses line to create texture and depth within her work. It’s been something I’ve been working on more in my sketches and that I’m starting to try and incorporate in my digital. Her work is just quite simply stunning though. Her sleeping series is magical, dreamy even if you’ll allow me the pun.

 

Matt Blease

Matt’s distinctive line drawings were a huge influence on my work when I first started to illustrate digitally. I think you can definitely see it more in my earlier work. He’s also the reason I use a slightly off-white background in my images to give them a little warmth and to make them feel slightly less digital. His work is clear and confident, in part because of their very minimal style which requires a certain decisiveness in their creation but also because of their matter of fact statements. Everything Matt seems to draw says something, whether that’s a statement, observation or just a great visual pun.

 

Bijou Karman

Over the past year I’ve slowly become more and more interested in fashion illustration and colour, as well as moving back out of digital as a medium, Bijou Karman is a huge force behind those changes. She’s even inspired me to start having a play with gouache because she makes it look so fun.  As you might have been able to tell, what often draws me to an artist is their use of line. Bijou adds detail, particularly around the eyes of her characters, using line in a way that really enhances their character but also makes her images look very distinctive. She also uses coloured line in a way I find really refreshing. In fact, the way she uses colour in general is refreshing, especially as someone who mainly works in monotone. Her paintings are bright and have so much depth, so many layers of interest, without ever feeling overwhelming or hard to look at – the portrait focal point she creates is so strong.

Other honourable mentions:

 

So, at the start of the year I announced a few changes that you’re going to see coming into play throughout the next few months on this blog and also in my work more generally.

I’ve made those changes because in 2018 I want to really find some more focus in my work. I feel like last year I laid a lot of groundwork, I got my hands dirty, but in order to grow I need a focus to grow towards. In order to achieve a goal you need to know what that goal is*. That meant doing some serious thinking at the start of this year.

Having a focus or purpose behind your work is often described as this moment of divine inspiration. You just need to “find your niche” or “follow your passion”. For me at least, it hasn’t been that simple. I’m interested in lots of things, and I don’t know that I have an automatic “niche” especially within my non-blog work.

So, I decided to set myself some homework, in the same way that I would for a client. Now that I’ve done it myself, and seen what works, I thought I’d share it with you in case anyone else hasn’t had their purpose just leap out and grab them, or if you just want to have a bit of a refresh and remind yourself what it is you’re trying to do.

I wrote out the 8 questions below out on cue cards and did my best to answer them. I used cue cards to give me something physical to work on because I always like to have a tangible outcome. Using individual cards also meant I could switch around the order, and answer the ones I knew first and then move onto the harder ones. I divided my cards down the middle so I could answer the questions for the blog and my personal work separately, but you could also go with a project per set of cards.

While they’re only simple questions, don’t be fooled into thinking that answering them is a quick or easy task. It took me a good chunk of time to work out what the best answer to each one of them was.

I’ve put my answers below each of the questions to give you a bit of an idea as to how you might answer, and to keep me honest.

1. What do I want to get out of this?

  • Share my learnings and encourage others to pursue their creative interests
  • Establish myself as a thought leader around design, creativity and productivity
  • Add depth/credibility to my design and illustration practice

2. Who is my audience?

  • Essentially people like me
  • People interested in learning more about design/creativity
  • Young professional women mostly

3. How do I want my work to make people feel?

  • Informed
  • Empowered
  • Like they have a slightly different take on the world around them

4. What can I offer?

  • Illustrated blog posts – something more editorial compared to a lot of lifestyle blogs
  • Insight into my dual roles
  • My experience as a junior illustrator/service designer
  • Researched editorial content – use my English degree
  • Curation of the wild web

5. What are my core values?

  • Honesty
  • Consideration – work that’s thoughtful
  • Inclusivity

6. What is the personality of my work?

  • Credible
  • Friendly
  • Straightforward

7. How do I want my work to be known?

  • As smart and good to look at

8. Can you sum that all up succinctly?

I want to create work that’s considered and well easy on the eye, which encourages people to see design in the world around them.

 

Now that I’ve put some work into finding a focus for my work. I’m going to try and anchor everything I do to that purpose, because it’s a big one. So, every blog post I write, every time I take on some work around this platform, every time I start to think about a new social media series I’m going to ask myself how does this link to my mission statement?

I might even pin it up in massive lettering above my desk so I can’t avoid it.

*By the way, in all of this it’s also 100% okay if your end goal in your blogging or creative outlet is just to have fun. In fact, it’s super useful to identify that, so you can use it as a reminder not to take on anything you’re not going to have fun doing or get something enjoyable out of at the end.

The Other Mrs Walker by Mary Paulson-Ellis was my Christmas read. It’s the perfect curl up in front of the fire while it’s cold outside novel with its mix of detective-esque plotline, Edinburgh scenery and what can only be described as Call the Midwife vibes. 

After Mrs Walker dies alone in a cold Edinburgh flat on a snowy Christmas night, a glass of whiskey dropped from her hand and the remanence of a clementine on her side board, Margaret Penny gets the job of finding out who she was through the Office for Lost People. Margaret has returned home a lost herself, middle-aged without a career, a relationship or a life she can call her own. But what Margaret Penny doesn’t realise, is just how entangled her own life will become in the death of this dead old lady.

However, The Other Mrs Walker not quite so simple as just being a mystery. The plot jumps back and forth between 2011 and the 1940s-60s, and between Margaret and a group of three sisters Clementine, Ruby and Barbara. That kind of split-plot is something I would have normally avoided in the past, but here it works well. The jumps are well defined, and you always have a clear sense of where you are and which character you’re with, and all of the strands of the plot feed into each other and inform the narrative. 

Female characters – mothers, daughters, and sisters – dominate the pages. Their relationships are fraught and complex, but never over-complicated. They’ve each got their strengths and flaws, but they’re all a little too mysterious to be fully “rounded”. It is a novel of real women though, to the extent that I would have been surprised had it not been written by a woman.

I’ve read a lot of crime thrillers and detective novels in my time and I’m not sure this will go down as one of the greatest I’ve read. The reader sometimes knows too much, and the resolutions don’t always feel quite satisfying enough. But, it is “a detective story with no detective” and in that category, it’s pretty strong.

If you’re looking for a cozy page-turner to ease you into the new year, then The Other Mrs Walker should definitely be on your considerations list.

For this month’s alternative cover I chose to highlight one of the recurring symbols in the book – the clementine. I had a lot of fun playing with textures and a slightly rougher illustration style than I normally use.

 

SOME QUESTIONS TO PONDER AS YOU READ

  • Symbols repeat themselves quite frequently throughout the novel, what do you think the effect of this is? How well do you think this is done?
  • There’s a lot of reference to family heirlooms (prized or not) do you have anything you would want to pass on to a loved one?
  • The action of The Other Mrs Walker is driven by a set of female characters, how do you think the story would play out differently if it were about fathers, sons and brothers?
  • What social commentary can you draw from how the mentally ill and the dead are treated in the story?

 IF YOU WANT SOME FURTHER READING TRY…

IF YOU WANT MORE BOOKS LIKE THIS HAVE A LOOK AT…

  • Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s A Study in Scarlet
  • Wilkie Collins’ The Moonstone
  • Edgar Allan Poe’s The Murders in the Rue Morgue