Design, Art Direction, Graphics, Illustrations & Photography, in pixels or print. 
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Shooting Build

Build SpeakersFor three years now Andy McMillan has been running what is widely regarded as one of the world’s best design and web industry events right here in Belfast. The conference is called Build and features five pretty intense days of educational/entertaining/social activities, culminating in a main conference day of formal presentations. Build attracts the best designers and developers in the web design industry, both for the main speakers and the attendees.

So a while ago I suggested to Andy that it would be worthwhile ‘officially’ covering Build with myself as photographer. Of course there have been some great photos taken at previous Build events (most of the creative attendees are themselves pretty handy with cameras!), but those photos are usually captured in ‘downtime’ moments by people otherwise concentrating on the actual events. In contrast my attendance at Build would be exclusively for the purpose of capturing good high-quality images from as much of the event as possible, running over the whole four days.

I knew this would be a lot of work, both in shooting the photos and in the follow-up processing, but I was happy to add my support to the impressive work that Andy and his team undertake in putting Belfast on the international design map.

Build is a really significant event and I wanted to do it justice with images that conveyed the scale, atmosphere and excitement experienced by all who attended it. If you weren’t lucky enough to get to Build this year I hope my photos give you a sense of what it was like - and whets your appetite for Build 2012.

I have posted a small gallery of images in a new Photography section here on my blog. The main body of images from Build can be seen on my Flickr and accounts.

Swimming against the tide?

I’ve been a long time fan of Adobe’s Creative Suite, from way back when they started binding together their various apps to slay the mighty Quark Xpress.

I’m a CS5 user myself and, despite the frequent criticisms of growing bloatware, the CS Suite is an awesome and comprehensive set of tools, in fact it covers pretty much everything a graphic designer needs. But the accelerating development path (and more particularly the expense involved) of the recent CS Suite upgrades has raised a few heckles in the Creative Industries. It’s understandable that a company of Adobe’s scale needs a certain degree of profit to sustain their considerable momentum and also that they clearly wish to be seen as catering for the ‘Pro’ market, but the entire concept of software ‘Apps’ is currently undergoing serious re-evaluation as the platforms, marketing practices and the Apps themselves continue to evolve.

There’s an increasing number of alternatives cropping up to seriously challenge Adobe’s products and, while Adobe always had competition, the nature of their competitors has changed significantly. As the Mac OS has gained in popularity (including an overlap with the booming iOS world) developer resources have grown to reflect this. The big guns of the software market have always had competition from talented independent developers, but now those independents have access to a very mature programming ecosystem - and online marketplaces on a scale that they could never have dreamed of just a few years ago.

Granted these competitors are usually stand-alone applications and no-one is producing the convenient all-in-one toolbox that Adobe offers. However, a set of well designed single-focus applications, operating to industry standard file types, can achieve similar results and often with only a little more inconvenience. But by far the most compelling reason to try any of these competing apps is that they’re only a fraction of the cost of the Adobe products, so even if you have to buy three or four apps it’s still a huge saving over the cost of the complete Adobe Suite.

In the Creative Industries, as with many others, the trend driven by ever-improving digital toolsets has been towards a low (and decreasing) cost of entry for new talent. This has helped reveal some amazing new talent in Music, Design, Video and the Arts in general. But Adobe’s pricing policies for their Creative Suite appears to go against this low-cost trend, most noticeably with the new services and extensions to their existing CS Suite, intended to encourage content development for iPad/tablet publishing.

Currently the potential of the iPad as a publishing platform is generating a lot of excitement, with some very interesting start-ups making their intentions known. For example, this post (from the Adorama blog) on the impressive work from Pushpoppress, initially for Al Gore’s ‘Our Choice’ iPad book:

A team of ex-Apple engineers have created a specialized book publishing service for iPad. Originally created for a one-off multimedia version of Al Gore’s environmental opus, Our Choice, Push Pop Press has emerged into a full-fledged development platform, which promises to bring drag-and-drop simplicity to the process of creating multimedia books. It’s an obvious competitor to Adobe’s suite of digital publishing tools for iOS, which have a prohibitive price barrier and learning curve, suited more for developers than artists and writers. Now you don’t need an engineering degree to design an attractive user experience.

Of course it has yet to be seen if they will eventually sell this software to the public - and if it really will be as easy as it appears to produce such specialised content. But, like a few others, they see the opportunity for a lightweight dedeicated authoring App and I believe their approach to this is definitely on the right track.

And this from Wired Magazine:

The 800-pound gorilla in this digital space is Adobe, whose tools are used to create some tablet periodicals (including the iPad version of WIRED magazine). But the complexity — and expense — of Adobe’s Creative Suite is an opportunity for new entrants in the self-publishing game.

Sadly I think it is very unlikely that Adobe will attempt to make their pricing more competitive, as they still appear focussed more on the established (and presumably better monied) Pro market rather than those struggling to become the next generation of that market.

So what do you think?

Are you an established Pro who can easily afford the latest and greatest from Adobe and could care less about their costs?

Or are you a design graduate trying to balance your need for quality software tools with your bank account?

Scared Sitless

Are you sitting comfortably?

...then I'll begin,but you may not like it much.

I expect many readers of this blog already know they spend way more time than is healthy sitting working at a computer. For those who are solo freelancers, like myself, there is even less reason, or even opportunity, to move from our workstations as frequently as those of us working in communal shared office spaces. The swift evolution of my computer's capabilities has been matched by it's increasing influence in my physical world. My computer is now loaded with all sorts of software and can already do pretty much everything I need to produce a huge range of work. With most of my work also delivered digitally I don’t even have to go visit any supply companies, as I used to do with print projects. Of course the more efficient my computer becomes at doing almost everything the less reasons I have for moving away from it. I'm realising the old cliché 'chained to my desk' is taking on a whole new, and very unpleasant, meaning.

The legendary Kurt Vonnegut made a great observation on our increasing reliance on the computer to 'save' us from unnecessary 'work'. When Vonnegut tells his wife he's going out to buy an envelope...

Oh, she says, well, you're not a poor man. You know, why don't you go online and buy a hundred envelopes and put them in the closet? And so I pretend not to hear her. And go out to get an envelope because I'm going to have a hell of a good time in the process of buying one envelope. I meet a lot of people. And, see some great looking babes. And a fire engine goes by. And I give them the thumbs up. And, and ask a woman what kind of dog that is. And, and I don't know. The moral of the story is, is we're here on Earth to fart around. And, of course, the computers will do us out of that. And, what the computer people don't realize, or they don't care, is we're dancing animals. You know, we love to move around. And, we're not supposed to dance at all anymore.

And 'So it goes'

So there you are happily sitting at your desk all day, content in the knowledge that you're Getting Things Done, but, as Admiral Ackbar knows all too well: "It's a Trap!"

The Daily Mirra

It made sense to me that if so much sitting is inevitable then I'd best get a really, really good chair, and one of my first blog posts years ago was about finding the best chair to work from. Knowing I was likely to be spending an insane amount of time in my work chair I bought one of the best I could find: a Herman Millar 'Mirra' chair. It was expensive, but it was money well spent as I soon gained almost complete relief from some truly horrible back pains I suffered when using a basic cheap chair at my desk. But even the best chair in the world is still a chair and growing medical evidence reveals that sitting down, even for modest periods of time, can cause swift and significant deterioration to our health. This is not just another trendy health topic, since for a while now I've felt a gradual, but noticeable, increase in minor aches and pains due to my own sedentary habits. Of course age will play a part in this too, I'm fifty-one, but on rare days when I'm away from my desk I'm a much more mobile, ache-free and happy fifty-one. Comfortable though my chair is then, I need to ensure that I'm sitting in it as little as possible.

The inevitable Info-Graphic

Thanks to recently discovering Dan Benjamin's excellent 5 by 5 podcasts I’ve now read Robb Wolf’s book, The Paleo Solution. This book compounded a lot of nagging thoughts I'd been having recently that could be generally classified under the ‘Getting your Shit together’ category. Robb's book covers a lot of health issues in tremendous detail; diet, exercise, sleep, etc., all important components of our overall good health, but his information on the effects of sedentary behaviour was particularly well presented - and truly frightening!

And then I saw this:


Via DailyInfographic and originally published by: Medical Billing And Coding

(Thanks for those nightmares Twitter!)

If you take a look at this graphic you'll see the health risks resulting from 6.5 hours of sitting per day - but I can easily clock up 12 hours on a typical day, how about you? I knew I had to start reversing my descent into a slothful 'Millar-Chair' potato and the obvious first step for me is to...

Stand and Deliver!

For a start I'm making some changes at my desk which will oblige me to perform more physical activity, starting with creating a standing workspace. Although my main type of work is in visual design and the creation of images (normally requiring me to be seated with careful control of my mouse or Wacom pen) I can still work on the more 'admin' and project management type of tasks while standing and using a laptop (or iPad). There is a substantial amount of admin work like this in my day so I ought to be on my feet quite a bit.

A standing workspace is a relatively easy change to effect, but it should make an immediate noticeable difference to the detrimental effects of the endurance sitting sessions. This means finding a high-level working surface for the laptop, ironically for me this turns out to be a big drawing board on a floor stand - exactly what I used to work at before the Mac irrevocably changed the design world. As an added bonus I will once again have a proper angled drawing board for sketch work and rough concepts, I haven't enjoyed one of these in a long time, having made do with spare desk space around my keyboard for basic notepad sketching. I'll not be standing all the time I'm working though, but will certainly aim to stand more than sit during the working day.

I've seen that there is a trend (particularly in the USA) for using a Treadmill while working at a laptop, but I'm not quite ready for that yet, I think actively walking and trying to concentrate on a screen would not be very efficient, for me anyway. I've seen what appears to be the ideal solution: the Geek Desk a smart move by a company who have picked up on this trend and are producing motorised variable height desks. It's a great idea, you can either sit or stand at the same desk with all your tech in it's usual place, with the desk itself changing from sitting to standing height in minutes. Geek desks are expensive but I'd say a worthwhile investment, for now though I'll see how I get on with my desk/drawing board arrangement.

I've been following some interesting discussions on Conor O'Neill's blog too as he works on creating a standing workspace.

Onwards and Appwards

As the meme says: 'There's an App for that' and I've found a few that can help break the bad habits of the endurance sitting sessions. One of my favourites is 'Time Out', a timing application that dims your Mac screen at (your choice of) pre-selected intervals. To get the best from Time Out though you really have to respect the breaks that you programme into it - if you keep hitting the snooze button and ignoring those breaks (not that I'd do that!) you're wasting your time. This app is Mac only, although I believe there is a similar app for Windows.

The Pomodoro Technique: This is a useful for helping you 'Work the Dash', meaning you work diligently for a specified time, then enjoy a short break. The combination of hard work (in short bursts) followed by the guaranteed reward of a break (in which you are recommended to do something enjoyable) is a great motivator. For the purposes of this post though the real benefit here is in the breaks rather than the 'dashes'. There are Mac Desktop and iOS versions of this app.

There is also this useful site (now in my browser bookmarks bar) detailing a few easy exercises for the desk-bound. Bonus points if you do these exercises during the breaks prompted by Time Out ;-)

Hopefully by now you are suitably shaken and stirred to take steps (literally) to get out of your chair for more regular breaks. These simple preventative measures you can take while at your desk are important in breaking unhealthy habits, but a significant part of the overall solution to the sedentary trap is a good exercise routine. Such an exercise routine is beyond the scope of this post, but I highly recommend you look into it, soon - and preferably while standing at your computer!