Hand-Picked Links — Apr. 8, 2024

Welcome to week two (total solar eclipse version 🌑🌞) of Cotton Bureau’s hand-picked links. We’re pulling some of our favorite internet finds each week to share with you.

Russ Cook Runs

YouTube is a weird place where the content of every video must contradict the title, like some Alice in Wonderland version of Betteridge’s Law. But that doesn’t make Russ Cook running from Cape Town to Ras Angela — the length of the entire continent of Africa! over 10,000 miles in less than year!! — any less epic.


Austin Kleon on Quantity and Quality

I’m all for silencing the editorial voice when you’re trying to make new things, but in order to get quality from quantity, at some point, an editor needs to make an appearance. Whether it’s just you in a few days or a different person, somebody needs to make some decisions and make some cuts before we decide what to send out into the world.

We’re all about that quality. Please don’t send us thousands of designs. Send a few that you really care about, the ones that mean something to you. AI can crank out infinite volume. Only you can make something that has meaning.

Austin’s copy of The Steve Keene Art Book

Wyrmspan

Take a popular, incredibly well-designed tabletop game (Wingspan), swap out  birds for dragons, and re-publish as Wyrmspan. Feels like cheating, but even if you already own the original game (including expansions), how do you not buy this for your kid who loves Wings of Fire?


Web Awesome Kickstarter

Our friends at Font Awesome are over 1,000% funded for their new web components framework Kickstarter. If you like high quality software, independent businesses, or fancy keyboards(?), please consider supporting them.


J. Stark ⅹ Ugmonk

Practically sold out, you’ll need to move quickly if you want one of these J. Stark ⅹ Ugmonk briefcases. Impeccably detailed. The type of bag that only the right people notice.

Hand-Picked Links — Apr. 1, 2024

Welcome to the first edition of Cotton Bureau’s hand-picked links. We’re pulling some of our favorite internet finds each week to share with you.

Brand New

Fascinating story from Armin Vit on the third major revision of the Brand New identity. New logo, new colors, new typefaces… same bold opinions and trenchant brand critiques.

Logo by Rob Clarke

Emory Goods

Erin Emory painstakingly assembles reclaimed quilted material into one-of-a-kind jackets and apparel. The colors and textures are exquisite.


Kottke.org

A fresh, new coat of paint and some light renovation. Clean and readable, like always. Reimagined for the social media age. (Love the planets.) Bravo, Jason.

Here’s to another presidential administration or two before the next re-design. 🍻

Studio Neat Mark Two

A bulletproof alternative to the classic  Fisher Space Pen. Stunning in all black, perfect with no clip.


XOXO

Everyone’s favorite internet festival is back August 22–24. Hosted by Andy McMillan & Andy Baio in Portland, Oregon, XOXO highlights independent artists and creators across dozens of disciplines including graphic design, board games, creative writing, software development, and more.

Feature Friday #015 — Matt Hamm

Feature Friday #015 — Matt Hamm
A CB OG joins us for Feature Friday #015. He's founder and co-owner of the Supereight Stuidio, a rock star in the making, and a crack Star Wars designer (always a CB fave). You can read more about his awesome work and see a full collection of products at Supereightstudio.com. Or you can shop his Cotton Bureau collection here.

Hey Matt. It's been 8 years since we last did this. So tell me, has anything changed or is the world exactly the same as it was in 2016 for you? You up to any new endeavors, projects, or hustles?

In some respects EVERYTHING has changed and in others, nothing.

In 2017, Supereight co-founder Pete Orme decided to work full-time for one of our clients, it was very amicable, so I bought him out and continued to run Supereight Studio on my own.

The company went on from strength to strength and we managed to secure some really nice retainers which keep everything running smoothly financially. We also got into a position where we could run the company remotely. I still worked at the co-working space in Witney, Oxfordshire with Ed Hicks, Jon Hicks, and Wes West, which was a perfect setup really, we had a lot of fun in that office and shared many ideas.

In early 2019, my wife and I made a huge decision to move the family to Spain, before Brexit kicked in. We were looking to move houses anyway, but property was so expensive in the UK and the cost of living was rising. Because I was already effectively working remotely we could, in theory, live anywhere, as long as we had good internet access.

My wife is Venezuelan and is a native Spanish speaker, so Spain made sense for us. The weather was better and the cost of living was lower and it was still close enough to fly back to the UK in 2 hours.

We rented our house in the UK and found a beautiful villa to rent by the beach in Javea, Spain. I am still able to run Supereight Studio as a Ltd. as a UK company, as many of our clients are international. We've been living here in Spain for nearly 5 years now and things could not be better. There is a great digital nomad community here from all around the world.

I did work for a couple of years from a co-working space in Javea with some friends Dennis, Kieron & Linda, but now I just work from home in a nice little office space I have created in my house.

More recently we've been working closely with Cambridge University for some of their research departments and a Cybersecurity firm based in Atlanta, called Apptega.com. We are currently designing a website for a US based Music Label, which I'm pretty excited about.

Gotcha. So outside of becoming a sole business owner, moving to a new country, and starting full time work from home not a whole lot is different. Just your standard life altering experiences, huh?

I have quite a few questions about Spain but before I get to that I'm super curious about your work with universities and companies. Has it been significantly different than your early work at Supereight Studio? And does it vary at all from projects you normally handle in Europe or is it all pretty much the same process…

I've always found that the desired design aesthetic for US based companies is different from the UK, there has always been a difference in the direction taken. From my experience our American clients tend to like things more a bit more 'in your face' and flashy, where as the UK clients preferred design choices which are more subtle and perhaps more typographic led. But those differences, more recently are becoming more homogenous.

It all gets worked out with the same process though. You just have to trust the process.

That's super fascinating to me. It seems like the subtle approach is in line with contrasting design thoughts between the States and Europe in general… city planning, architecture, marketing etc. Does that feel accurate to you and what factors do you think are most responsible for the design differences?

That's a hard question to answer, as there are probably many factors involved. It's all about context. Design does differentiate from region to region and country to country. I have found the Spanish design aesthetic is actually very different to the UK, since living here, I notice it a lot more. It's more colourful, illustrative, playful and with different typographic approaches.

Americans tend to generalise Europe, but it's much more diverse than you think, especially in terms of design and marketing.

The USA is a very large country and although this is harder for me make a judgement as I have never lived there, there must be subtle differences between west coast, east coast, mid, north and south American design. Which will be down to history, market competition, weather, attitudes, politics, and all sorts of things.

Death Star Interior Lighting embroidered hat by Matt Hamm. Now available on Cotton Bureau.

That's a fair point. There's variation across the States (and especially across NA countries) but just like anything, once a trend starts it's picked up everywhere. Judging from your answer Europe feels a little more unique and culturally rooted. I'm sure that keeps you on your toes when working with a new client!

What else have you learned about Spain that was unanticipated? Regardless of how much I research a city or country or culture it always feels different than I expect when I arrive. It makes for a better experience because I love that discovery process, but it's also less impactful when on vacation. Committing to live in a new region is vastly different, I'm sure. Were there any crazy culture shocks, positive or negative, that really stick out when you think about your transition from the UK to Javea?

The area where we chose to live in Spain actually speaks Valenciano as their primary language, which is a Spanish dialect, it sounds like a mix of Spanish, Italian, French, and Portuguese.

They use this language in the public schools and in the government, so even though we can actually speak Spanish it's hard work getting to grips with that and understanding some things. We didn't really realise this before we moved here. But the community is quite international, there is a mix of expat English, Dutch, German and French people so English is spoken widely.

The bureaucracy is overbearing in Spain, there seems to be this layer of it that you need to work with to get anything done, which more often than not involves physical paper documents and queuing/waiting/travelling all day.

Websites and apps here feel a lot more dated than in the UK. I think the local skillset of developing, designing and securing those infrastructures is not quite up to speed yet. So it feels a little backwards sometimes. But saying that, I've got super fast fibre and it's only a small town, things are changing rapidly.

I just love the general mindset here though, where people focus more on what you do with your leisure time, than what you do for a living, or for work, it's far less important. And of course the beautiful weather and coastline.

Street sign in Matt's new hometown of Javea, Spain

As someone who took American Sign Language to opt out of the foreign language requirement in college, I think I'd have a better chance at becoming an astronaut than learning Valenciano. If you're the type to pick up and move countries I'm sure that is part of the excitement though, right? I imagine becoming fully immersed in the culture, local dialect, and community scene is sort of the point.

I'd think that same sentiment extends to Spain's philosophy on work/life balance. Do you find yourself having more time to spend on non-business activities you love? Or is it more of a change in mentality and priority than a difference in schedule?

I've always wanted to live abroad at some point, it was never the right time and at some point you just have to do it or it will never happen.

I like being slightly outside my comfort zone, like just paddling out into the sea so that your feet don't quite touch the bottom, that's where the magic happens.

My work load is up and down, sometimes I'm super busy and other times the work just vanishes. That's when I walk away from the computer and I enjoy my environment. I go hiking, walking the dog or jumping in my swimming pool or doing some gardening in the orchard behind my house.

I also play lead guitar in a local rock band, so band rehearsal always keeps me on my toes, we have our first gig coming up next month.

Next month I'm taking a few days to attend OFFF Barcelona, which is a design conference a 4 hour drive north from my house. It's got a great chilled atmosphere and they always have top notch speakers from around the globe, and you always meet interesting and inspiring people.

It took me quite a while to adjust to the slower pace of life here in Spain. At first I found it frustrating. It doesn't seem to matter if you are late or things take a while to get done, so you tend to take the scenic route and enjoy the journey more.

Deathstar Interior Lighting by Matt Hamm. Available on Cotton Bureau

Ah you've got me envious. It sounds like an ideal setup. I've found that taking actual time off and just enjoying the relaxing moments makes your work even better. The meeting tardiness would be a tough one for me to swallow though lol. Are the movie designs part of that relaxation time for you as well? They're some of our most popular on the site. Also congrats on the gig!

I'll get ya outta here on this one: What are you expecting at the OFFF Barcelona conference? I don't know whether to be skeptical, worried, or excited about the future of design. It feels like the industry is in a very precarious position as AI becomes more prevalent. How much of a role do you expect that to play both at the conference and over the next 10 years? I'm not sure if the inevitable litigation and regulations can stop the momentum (or if that's even what's best).

I love sci-fi and fantasy films. And I especially have a thing for Star Wars. I collect vintage Star wars figures too, which is another rabbit hole.:)

Most of the designs I make are just because I can't find the thing that I want, so I just design it myself.

The Death Star Lighting idea literally took me 10 mins to make, but the idea had been brewing for a while. It's insane how popular it's been, and over a long period of time. It's so hard to judge what will be sell, you just have to make it for yourself and hope that other people like it too.

AI like any new tech will change things of course. The path is unclear. It's not quite there yet but I'm sure it will be. We need to keep up and embrace that new tech or we'll all get left behind.

I already use AI daily to help my creative process to generate new ideas, create images that would normally be very labour intensive to produce, to help with writing clearer proposals or snippets of code. If anything, it just enhances what I do, it's not taking over just yet (*We're doomed!).

I know it's more of a relaxing culture in Javea but you certainly have a ton going on. Thanks so much for taking the time out to chat. Best of luck at your first performance and with the ongoing Supereight projects. We can't wait to see what you create next!

💡
P.S. Use code featurefridayMH for 15% off all Matt Hamm products now through 3/17!

New Creator Dashboard.

Behold the new creator dashboard. It’s simple, obvious, and functional.

Like any other feature, we started off by asking ourselves what problem(s) we were trying to solve. In this case, there was a shared bundle of needs waiting for a unified solution.

  1. The minute you have more than a few products on the site, checking sales for each one becomes tedious. It would be nice to see a consolidated view of the most recent orders flowing in across all of them.
  2. We didn’t have a good way to enable discovery of new site features and share other relevant information.
  3. Whether you want to call it a junk drawer or a modular, general purpose container, we simply didn’t have a non-specific place to put stuff that doesn’t quite fit anywhere else.

A dashboard is the perfect tool for the job.

Let’s take a quick tour. Up top we’ve got a few (admittedly self-serving) cards to aid in the aforementioned discovery (hey, did you know we have on demand totes?). Below, a table with combined recent sales plus a button to grab a CSV of said transactions. We also managed to work in a link to easily view your store which is something that oddly just didn’t exist before.

Is there room for improvement? Of course. There always is. We had to cut a number of concepts we wanted to include to push it across the finish line before the end of February. Our wish list for this page (and your account area in general (and the entire website)) is miles long. We’ll never reach the end of it because it’s ever-growing. But, progress.

Feature Friday #014 — Gerren Lamson

Feature Friday #014 is here, and it’s a throwback interview with our old friend Gerren Lamson. The best place to keep up with Gerren’s incredible output is his website. Shop his full catalog at Nosmal or his Cotton Bureau collection here.

Dude, I can’t believe it’s been 13+ years since we met at SXSW. Feels like (and is) a completely different world. Can you give us all just a super quick review on what you’re up to these days?

Yeah, it has been a long time! Last time we met I was close to wrapping up my time in digital marketing and advertising agencies before venturing into a tech startup called Creative Market which was acquired by Autodesk and then Dribbble in the last few years.

These days, I lead a talented UX team at Indeed consisting of UX designers, content designers, UX researchers, and UX developers. Our group works on the employer experiences side of the marketplace, and we support product experiences such as: Indeed Hire, Hiring Events, Indeed Recruiter Extension, Scheduling & Interviewing Platforms, Generative AI, and more.

Throughout that journey of learning how to grow an effective UX team and practice in different tech settings, I kept my creative hobbies alive with side projects.

Let’s talk about some of those side projects. You’ve got a UX newsletter, an active Medium publication, multiple musical albums, and hundreds of physical and digital products. We’re not as young as we used to be. I know I don’t get home from work these days excited to hop back on the computer to put in more hours. What makes you want to take on that additional load?

When you put it that way, it definitely doesn't make sense to work on computer-based side projects after a day job in tech. I don't recommend 12 hour days on a laptop. Let me provide some clarity.

My UX newsletter is a self-prescribed requirement for my job. I spend 1/8 of my time each week reading about changes to the UX industry of which there have been a lot lately. Then, I share the best of what I consumed with others with minimal effort. I haven't written about my experiences and perspectives as much as I'd like, but I've managed to publish 2 articles during my 5 year tenure at Indeed. Hopefully there will be more to come.

The technical nature of my day job leaves some creative itches to scratch. This is where I sometimes put an additional load on myself to invest in my music and visual art practices which have been going on since the early 2000s. For me, these art forms are like a meditative or therapeutic practice, so it doesn't feel like a heavy additional load if I have to spend some time digitizing my work.

There are recurring seasons such as summer and winter where I return to producing music and physical art organically. A lot of the time it starts with physical work such as noodling on the piano or sketching out some ideas. Then I translate it digitally during dedicated time on weekends or during the holidays. This approach takes longer than doing creative work full time, but I end up with a smaller body of work that I'm proud of over the years.


Got it. That completely makes sense. Still, that’s a tremendous amount of output and something to be proud of, particularly if it feels sustainable or even restorative for you. Since you mentioned work, let’s linger on that for a minute. What has the transition from designer to director been like for you?

That's a great question. Guiding the work of others rather than doing it myself wasn't natural at first. The transition took time.

I had two direct reports as a first time manager. There was a surplus of UX work so I continued pitching in as a designer as needed. The drawbacks of being in a "player/coach role" were that there was less focus on building good manager skills and contributing at the leadership level on strategy, staffing and other topics.

When the size of the UX team started to scale up, I had more time to focus on growing my management skills and impact at the leadership level. Over time, I got focused on supporting how the UX team could impact the strategy and initiatives at the ground and high levels of the organization. That became the most important work and I still really enjoy it to this day.

From conversations we had in person nearly 15 years ago, I could tell you had a strong analytical side which is not something you always see in designers. Has that been an asset for you as you lead teams?

Thanks for the kind words! I do think it has been an asset in my career.

I'm not a trained quantitative UX researcher, behavioral scientist, or data/product scientist, but I understand a lot of their work. I've  pushed for closer collaboration with UX functions (design, content, research, etc). I've also dabbled with general analysis on customer sentiment and behavior data at the high-level and taskflow levels of the business for my own understanding. I leave the scientific analytical work to the professionals.

Being analytical with quant data and qual insights is an important skillset. I keep returning to prompting the UX team to think about how to leverage quant behavior data and qualitative insights to tell compelling stories focused on the most important customer behaviors. UX teams can tell more effective stories by pairing them with analysis and facts instead of just trying to influence with data analysis alone.

It’s definitely not uncommon to see people move from technical or design-focused roles and more into management as they move through their careers. Have their been any specific resources on the management or UX side that you would highlight for people who are trying to add those skills?

Absolutely. For those just starting out in UX management or looking to improve, I would recommend these:

If someone is trying to improve their coaching of others or their own abilities, I would recommend the following short list for UX skills on the strategic side of the discipline.

That’s a fantastic list. Radical Candor and Jobs to be Done are two of my personal favorites.

Before we wrap up, I have to ask the single question I’m most curious about in 2024. Where do you see tool-assisted design — specially AI generated — moving in the near future? As someone who has worked in the past for companies who provide marketplaces for buying and selling art, how concerned are you about the space?

Good question. I'll give my answer in 2 parts:

1) I think that policies (or the lack thereof) will be a driving force for adoption (or not) of AI tools that accelerate someone's ability to create production-ready designs/art. Users can pick up and use any AI tools, but it'll come down to the businesses that the users submit the art into being able to detect and allow (or not) AI-created work if it wasn't generated by their tool where they can control the inputs/IP into their AI models. A big factor here will be the risk tolerance for litigation and the level of control that organizations have over their creators' content generated and/or enhanced by AI. It'll be tough for companies to control users' behavior with AI, let alone detect where non-owned AI model capabilities are being used. So, policies will be the thing to watch. I assume Marketplaces will take a conservative approach.

2) From a design perspective, I think we'll continue to see a slow evolution and adoption of AI being used to generate and enhance design. Companies such as Adobe who can clearly demonstrate rights-free AI generated content from their models that were built by their owned IP will potentially give them an advantage. I think we'll see more current or new design-focused companies trying to tackle sub-problems in the market if the TAM is big enough, such as the following:

  • Getting better at generating higher quality visuals that have tasteful intention and meaning behind them (esp in the context of the relevant culture(s) of the intended audience)
  • Giving more fine-tuned controls to balance the design from a visual vs. mathematical perspective
  • Improving automatic preparation for print-ready production such as outlining vector strokes/type, positioning layers, etc. for the intended print format

Let’s get out of here on a design note. You’ve got a deep catalog of products for Nosmal. Can you tell us a little bit more about the origin of that idea, where you see it going in the future, and maybe highlight a few products that you like best?

Sure! The name Nosmal is a fun play on my last name — Lamson spelled backwards. The origin of the project is that it is the latest evolution of the space I make for myself to experiment with visual design. To be honest, I'm not sure where it might go in the future. I'd like to think that my best work is yet to come.

In terms of my current products, I can share some highlights. I started playing with Bauhaus stylings which I quite enjoyed. Designs like Geometria I Gold and Geometria II Midday were like fun puzzles to arrange until they looked balanced. I was happy with how they translated to iPhone case designs too such as Geometria I Midday and Geometria II Sunrise.

A lot of my work starts with drawing, and I've always been interested in finding a way to bridge physical and digital art mediums. Some of my earliest pieces, Gaggle of Triangles and The Commander, were abstract drawings that were combined with a gradient which was inspired by my experience in screen printing the "rainbow roll" effective. Other times, I've got a more specific subject in mind such Ode to 512 and Maker's Heart I Gold.

Thank you so much for your time and insight, Gerren. Keep up the great work!

Thanks for having me!

P.S. Use code featurefriday15 for 15% off all Nosmal products now through 3/1!