Keeping Busy

2014.04.28 17:17

At the end of my previous post, I mentioned a new project and blog which will allow me to step away from Perez-Fox.com as a blog. For the past five months or so I have been building and producing The Busy Creator, a website and podcast showcasing tools, techniques, and habits for creative productivity.

The Busy Creator

It’s early days for this project, but I’ve already published nine episodes of the podcast, with several more recorded for future posts. Before I explain details about the project and reflect a bit, here’s how you can subscribe:

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a tale of the industry, the internet, this website

Something Something 2013

2013.12.31 12:12

If my inbox is any indication, it’s the time for annual reviews. Not be outdone by MailChimp or last year’s Warby Parker, here’s a quick look at my year.

The most obvious point to note about this year is that 2013 was the first year of my life in which I was continually employed in a conventional way. I spent zero days classifying myself as “unemployed”. The year started with me working at a rather crummy role, but I switched to a better one. Left on a Friday, started on a Monday.

I can’t overstate how much this has influenced the year. Evidence can be seen here on this blog, where I managed to write a staggering 8 posts (9 if you count this one) over these past twelve months. That is by far a record low for blogging on this site and to put this into perspective, there was a point back in August 2007 when I was posting nearly once daily, about 29 times per month. There are several reasons for this such as my adoption of Twitter to share quick thoughts and conceding that there are other people in the world doing show-and-tell posts much better, but mainly it’s due to having a job.

When I started this blog back in January 2006, it was in an effort to find a job. My goal was to make myself slightly more marketable to employers by showing that I’m continually observing and commenting on the industry. To show that I’m a man of the Internet, and connected to the movers and shakers of the design biz. Blogs, as they said, were the new resume, and I needed to have one with insight and expertise. But that logic failed, and in most of my job interviews over the years it wasn’t even mentioned, let alone proved to be a difference-maker. Over the past two years or so (having spent most of that time continually employed), I have all but abandoned that aspect of this blog. My plans for the site in general are a bit different now, but that’s another story.

Having worked this year, I managed to take my first ever paid vacation. That is, I put in for time off, was granted, then vanished for a period of time and returned. All the while being paid my usual salary. Never happened before. As I write this again, I’m currently enjoying the same situation, but with an office-wide automatic vacation in place rather than my own personal schedule. Either way, it’s nice, but still feels odd coming from a freelance/self-employed point of view. It just feels odd that I have to ask people about how to structure my day, week, month, and year.

Did essentially no side projects, having struggled for find a productive equilibrium with the changing schedule of the full-time job[s]. Popped in for a few hours with two existing clients, but nothing that rocked the world.

On a personal note, I really didn’t do much else. Stayed in a lot. Watched a lot of movies. Became frustrated with laundry and grocery shopping. I did manage to join a running club, which is nice, but in general I have carved myself a nice little slump and I have made it a home since the end of summer, really. Need to snap out of that shit.

As the new year approaches, I’m planning to launch a new project which is in part a blog, so I’m almost ready to conclude blog posts on this site altogether. Of course, I’ll need to have something better to replace this old bucket, but let’s cross that blog when we come to it.


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a tale of this website

I’m Still Standing, Part II

2013.11.17 17:17

Prescott Perez-Fox's desk
My battlestation

My desk is essentially one giant Ikea hack. The desk is a GALANT series desktop (63″ x 31.5″), stood on VIKA KAJ adjustable legs. I actually have the extension desktop in my closet, but given that I now live in a studio, I don’t quite have the room for more desk. Along with the desk, I have a TERITAL lamp clamped onto my bookshelf, and a second FABIAN shelf above the main keyboard and monitors. To the shelf, I attached a strip of DIODER LED lights which provides some nice overhead light without being completely overwhelming.

Prescott Perez-Fox's desk
Two Macs, three screens, shelf and printer in distance

Getting the height right was a bit of a hassle. At first, I set up the desk with each leg extended to a particular height. It was a bit unscientific, I admit, but I got it up and running for a while back in December last year, a full month after moving in. After a few weeks at that height, I realised that I needed a few extra inches because I was leaning over the surface and putting pressure on my right wrist when using the tablet. A few dozen turns of the leg and I managed to find a more suitable height for typing, drawing, mousing, and otherwise taking care of business.

Prescott Perez-Fox's desk
My Hackintosh, hanging from hooks and off the floor

Prescott Perez-Fox's desk
The famous cart

Under the desk I reused an old kitchen cart to hold my NASs, scanner, and black & white laser printer. This solution seemed to happen quite by accident, as the idea was pretty much a temporary solution while I was finding a place for things after the move. Turned out it fit nicely under the desk, and even wheeled out when I needed to open up the scanner or fish out some jammed paper from the printer.

Prescott Perez-Fox's desk
Surge protector, mounted to the underside of my desk

Prescott Perez-Fox's desk
From nearest, the surge protector, modem, and router (hanging on for dear life)

The real innovation, if I can even call it that, is the cable management. To the underside of the desk, I have mounted not only the tower of my Hackintosh using some standard screw-in hooks from the hardware store, but also the surge protector, modem, and router. This means that absolutely nothing is left sat on the floor, and no wires have to dangle from desk level to the floor and back. I purchased a cable channel which I cut down to fit the desk length. Even in choosing a 2″ x 2″ channel, I seem to have filled it up pretty good, and some areas are completely stuffed. I can’t imagine what it would look like if I just let it all fly loose without regard.

Prescott Perez-Fox's desk
The cable channel, keeping everything tidy

Prescott Perez-Fox's desk
Back of the tower, always a rat’s nest

It’s always a work in progress, though. I still think the back of the computer is a mess of cords. The monitor arms could be neater, the lighting could be better. I’m starting to crave and adjustable height desk for times where I want to sit and dig in to some serious work, and of course who couldn’t use a dedicated office space in general.

But for an improvised Ikea hack tucked into a Manhattan studio, it’s a good start.

And just for fun, check out my old desk from August 2007. If memory serves, I had just moved into my second apartment in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, and had just got myself set up. Clearly, I didn’t have a set spot for the Powerbook at that time. It’s actually the same desk, obviously without the above-described hacks.

Prescott Perez-Fox's old desk from 2007

I’m Still Standing, part I

2013.09.08 20:20

Standing Desk
The proper posture for a standing desk, image via Wired Magazine

It’s been just over a year since I upgraded my home desk setup to be principally a standing desk. At first, I simply put the existing desk up on cinder blocks, but since moving last November, my home setup has lost a little weight. It’s not more humble, no longer consisting of three desks to support a full-time work-from-home design studio, but in any case, I’m still standing.

In the past year I’ve come to discover some good points and some bad points about standing desks. Most of these observations, I think, are pretty universal, though I admit to having some particular quirks in this matter. I am, in general, very finicky about my desk and computer setup. I notice the little things.

I should also note that I am only using a standing desk at home. At the office, and indeed the three previous offices I’ve worked in this year (ugh, don’t ask), I’ve been made to sit and work in a conventional, sometimes brutally uncomfortable setup. Here now is a review of my first year with a standing desk.

The Good

Mobility. I love being able to step right up to my desk. This makes it exceptionally good for quick tasks like syncing your iPod or looking up directions, which you can practically do one-handed while walking to the other room. Not having to sit down and get settled, or even to bend over and awkwardly operate the computer, is great.

Morning Routine. Like many designers and computer geeks, the computer is part of my morning routine. Before I even make my way to the bathroom to brush my teeth, I download my email, check for new podcasts, and fire up my feed reader. It could be argued in the larger sense whether this is a bad habit, but the fact that I’m standing helps wake me up. It allows me to shake out my feet and knees and stretch out my back. It means that while waking up, I’m not tempted to slouch or even slip back into sleep in the comfort of a desk chair. It’s also great for walking back and forth to the kitchen to, say, make a cup of coffee or bowl of oatmeal. Mornings are better standing.

Gaming. Since building a Hackintosh last August, I’ve had a few occasions to get lost in a game, even while running Windows. Simply put, gaming while standing is great. I forget that I’m standing and can become just as emerged in the game as if I were slumped on a living room sofa. I can use more of my arm to operate the mouse and keep at it for hours.

Busybody workflow. One nice thing about a standing desk is not having to move from standing to sitting and back fifty times a day. If I’m printing something out, and then need the stapler, and then the phone rings, and then I go for a glass of water, etc. etc. I can do it all in the same position without having to transition down and up. I think we’ve all been there when we settle back down only to realise our pen is left over by the coffee. Up again.

Space-saving. I live in a studio apartment in Manhattan. To say space is at a premium is an understatement. And while a chair doesn’t take up a huge amount of space compared to, say, a bed, I’m literally trying to save every inch I can. Having a standing desk saves square footage by not having to clear an area for the chair to maneuver. In my case, I can also push the desk closer to the wall since leg room is not a concern. As a quick tour of Pinterest will reveal, some folks are using standing desks that are scarcely deeper than a laptop, allowing standing desks to be tucked into closets and the like. It may not be a principal advantage of standing, but it’s a nice bonus for home or office.

The Bad

My feet hurt. Most users of standing desks will confirm that it takes a few weeks to get used to being on their feet, but my feet still hurt. My feet always hurt. I have flat feet, and I roll in and grip with my big toes. Between dancing and running, I’m constantly putting my feet under stressful conditions and I generally beat them up. My cat also likes to nibble my feet, but that’s relatively minor. However, part of the problem is that at home I prefer to be in socks, flip-flops, or barefoot, reducing the potential cushioning on my feet. And although I equipped my setup with a yoga mat shoved under the carpet, don’t have a purpose-built anti-fatigue mat as one might do at a workplace. If I were presumed to be wearing sneakers and using a thicker, softer mat, my feet might hurt less, but as it stands now they still hurt, especially for extended periods of standing. I sometimes get jelly-legs after a whole day standing, but it’s usually my feet rather than knees, back, or thighs, that bare the brunt of standing.

Tough for extended periods. I tend to fidget and adjust my position very frequently, probably once a minute or so. In some ways, that’s good that standing allows me to do so, but it also means that working for several hours can be a tough undertaking. I find it extremely daunting to face 6+ hours of working at a desk, as one might have to do in an office. Even with taking purposeful breaks throughout the working day, standing is a lot harder when it comes down to cracking into some purposeful work. Part of this could be that, as I have said, I’m not using it at the office, but at home. The mentality of working from home (on weekends and on side projects) is that I’m supposed to be cutting my time short. I don’t want to get in the habit of spending an entire Sunday in front of my desk, but with the standing setup, it seems that is not even an option. I’d at least like for it to be an option.

Bad to watching movies/TV. Ok, this is probably a first-world luxury thing, but I used to watch a lot of videos whilst seated at my desks. The amount of work I was simultaneously doing varied a great deal, but since the standing desk has taken over, it’s almost impossible for me to do work and take in entertainment at the same time. I find that I can’t concentrate on the movie and also find the energy to stand. Sadly, I have caught myself leaning over onto my elbows watching the laptop screen, supporting my weight, and simultaneously hurting my back. This silly position is entirely against the point of a standing desk.

No option to sit. In my present setup, I do have a stool, but it’s actually too low for me to sit and work properly. I look like a child seated at his father’s desk, stretching to reach the keyboard and looking upward at the monitor. This is just a function of my own height; in order to feel comfortable while standing, I have to be uncomfortable while sitting. An adjustable stool, like one seen in traditional studios, might go a long way to sorting this out.

I haven’t become miraculously more healthy. I can’t say this is a drawback, exactly, but there is a great deal written about the health benefits of standing vs. sitting. In my case — and again, I’m only using it at home — I haven’t been transformed. I haven’t lost lots of weight or vanquished any enduring illness. My back isn’t magically healed and I don’t feel particularly more energetic. I’m an active guy as is, usually taking on about 7 or 8 workouts a week of various kinds. I get my 10,000 steps most days (usually well over it), but standing at a desk for continued hours barely adds to this figure at all. I won’t go so far as to say sitting is healthier, but in my limited use, I’ve seen no change to remark on.

How to fix it.

Two-tiered desk. I clearly don’t have the space for such a contraption, but imagine if I had a two-tiered desk (a part for sitting and a part for standing). If I felt like sitting, I could move the monitor to the seated part via an adjustable arm. A wireless keyboard and tablet/mouse might make this a lot easier. Or if someone else was using a laptop instead of a desktop, that’s practically a slam dunk. This solves the problem of not being able to sink in for a long day of work, even if it’s a weekend.

Adjustable desk. There are more and more adjustable desks coming on to the market at all price ranges, and while most can boast the ability to be seating or standing desks, I’m actually talking about adjusting an inch or two when needed. My current desk is bolted to the wall, and although the legs are adjustable, there is no single control to easily raise or lower entire setup. Why do I need an extra inch here and there? Because sometimes I’m wearing shoes. Sometimes I want to stand more straight up, and other times I want to spread my legs and lower my height. I might want to use the above mentioned stool or maybe someone else wants to use my desk. All this would require some adjustment. In my opinion, this is ideal. You can have a standing desk 90% of the time, but when you absolutely need to sit, you can drop the height and get busy.

In the next post, I’ll provide details on my setup and how I built it, including my cable management and lighting situation. A number of folks have asked me about it so I think it’s time to fork over the goods, including photos.

Have you switched to a standing desk? What have your found in your own field tests?


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a tale of computers & gadgets, New York, the industry

An App I Want

2013.08.28 8:08

Here’s something I thought of that I would love to have, but have never seen. Allow me to describe:

I want to a way to send files to myself from my various computers. Work to home, laptop to desktop, desktop to parents. Obviously, I could use a cloud-storage system like Dropbox (which I love), except that I want this file transfer to be a one-way shove, rather than a sync across all devices. For example, if I download a video at work, but I know I can’t watch it till I get home, I want to drop it in a wormhole, and when I get home, the video will automatically download itself to my desktop. It’s no longer available online anywhere, it has simply moved through space-time.

Is such a thing possible? Does an app like this exist? It seems only a few steps off from the current Dropbox — or for that matter, old-school FTP — capabilities. The tricky part is that my home computer sleeps during the day while I’m at work, so there’s have to be a server involved somewhere to temporarily store the files. Same would apply if, for example, I had a backup computer tucked in a closet or at my parents house that only gets turned on every few months.

Can anyone recommend an app for this? Does anyone want to build it with me?

The Way We Work, part II

2013.07.29 8:08

I’ve just deleted the most recent saved draft of this post and started over. I’ve been planning this post for several weeks months, but after failing to wrap things up in a tidy, coherent way, I’m changing tack. Here’s the skinny: at work we’re facing a number of challenges. Nothing Earth-shattering, but challenges that I’d like to solve. I wonder if any of you have experienced a similar struggle and if so, how you overcame it.

Challenge No. 1 – Rapid Growth

Our company has grown fast. We’ve doubled in size in less than a year, often adding two or three people simultaneously. All these new additions has meant that developing a formal, long-form induction process had been shortcuted in favour of more departmental interaction and only basic orientations on a company-wide level. The result is that we don’t exactly know what everyone else is up to. How can we interact more with the other groups and avoid being silo’d, especially in the first few weeks or months of starting?

Challenge No. 2 – Design Workflow within Non-Design Company

This is a huge topic but basically it goes like this: I’ve been struggling to implement a system of project numbers, standard forms, protocols and naming conventions, contact lists and resources, approval processes, etc. etc. that allow us to be an efficient studio within the marketing department within the company. But to most people, that shit is a giant hassle. Ever dealt with that? How can I bring people around to see the need for these systems, and more importantly, get them to start using it.

Challenge No. 3 – Vague Corporate Structure

Our company is based in Germany, and the American operation is small in comparison. That’s not a problem except that the hierarchies were not firmly established. We haven’t been told — perhaps because it hasn’t been decided — if we’re merely the American experiment, which must be closely monitored and controlled from Germany, or an independent company and brand which is up and running on its own. This is huge because if it’s the former we need to learn who our bosses are and what the larger plan is. I couldn’t name the CEO of our company on a global level and just met the head of International Marketing a few weeks ago. Ever been in a situation like this where the layers seem to blur together? It seems like we’re caught in between worlds a little, not quite given room to run and explore, but not quite chained to anything.

Challenge No. 4 – IT Concerns

Since our IT situation is slightly lacking, we’ve taken it upon ourselves to use some new tools and workarounds. We’ve signed up for Dropbox as a shared server to store files (and retain versions), and Basecamp as a project management tool, but we’re reluctant to sign up for any additional SaaS titles. For example, it would be great to switch to Google Apps for document collaboration, but that would mean we’d all have to sign up for gmail accounts in addition to our work emails and then manage everything that way. It’s more pieces to an ever-growing puzzle. So what software do you use to stay organised? Is there a suite that combines project management with database tools for project naming, for example, and can keep links and other bits? Recommendations are definitely welcome.

This all sounds like useless kvetching but I’m genuinely trying to solve these problems. Having worked solo for all those years, I’m not used to dealing with chaos on a daily basis. My struggle for so long was simply getting projects on my desk in the first place, not this three-dimensional chess of working with hundreds of people and trying to change and organisation from within. So any suggestions are welcome.

I should say very plainly and for the record that I’m very much enjoying my job. I want to make these improvements and kick butt.


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a tale of design, New York, the industry

Marmite: Thatcher Edition

2013.04.13 13:13

The Iron Lady
Image via BBH and The Guardian

In the continuing series of Marmite-related blog posts, here is a version to commemorate Margaret Thatcher, who recently passed away. It’s true, you either love her or you hate her.

The story continues on Creative Review »


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a tale of brands & branding, Britain, design, politics

The Way We Work, Part I

2013.04.12 14:14

This, dear friends, is a blog post about a blog post. My reactions to the ideas of another, and my arguments and opinions as to how the author is wrong, and needs to be corrected. I understand that the internet is full of critics criticising each other, but there are times when one is left with no choice but to leap into the fray and start throwing roundhouse punches.

Internet Fight

Recently, an article entitled Seven Rules for Managing Creatives* appeared on the Harvard Business Review blog in which the author, Tomas Chamorro-Premuzic writes a well-meaning but ultimately misguided manual for managers on how they can cope with creatives in their organisations. If that name sounds familiar, it’s because Dr. Tomas is a psychologist and has been seen in the media, including on Channel4 during the short-lived Big Brother On The Couch series. There, at least, his insights were quite fascinating and astute, but it seems that the industrial psychology of creative professionals (the subject of my own forthcoming PhD studies — date unknown) hasn’t quite gone as mainstream.

Anyway, let’s get to it. Here, I will feature Dr. Tomas’s article, and insert my commentary stating why I think he’s a bit short-sighted, and more importantly, what well-intentioned managers can actually do to get the most out of their design pros. The article will appear in block quotes, and my commentary in normal text.

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a tale of Britain, design, the industry, the internet

Starting Over, Part II

2013.03.18 12:12

In following last week’s post, I am starting over yet again, but this time not entirely related to computers and software. I’m beginning a new job tomorrow, reuniting with a former boss whom I adore, and joining a growing organisation at a time when they need someone to sort out their graphics and branding. It’s exciting, and I’m looking forward to the fresh start.

This announcement might seem rather mundane, but it’s been a tough year regarding jobs and working. It’s been about twelve months since I proudly announced that I would be leaving me role as self-employed, one-man agency of Starship Design, and joining MakerBot. That didn’t last, as our department was laid off before too long. After this, I reconnected with a creative director I worked with in 2007, but he had us working until 5 am, and that role (which was freelance, but essentially open-ended) quickly sputtered out. Come October, I found myself working at a small agency. Unfortunately, this too proved to be a mis-match, and I had no choice but to look elsewhere. I am grossly understating the subtleties of each of these jobs, but even a quick read will allow you infer, correctly, that it’s been exhausting. I’ve earned several black eyes in quick succession, and witnessed some appalling behaviour on the part of bosses, and staggeringly outdated workplace philosophies in a variety of organisations.

But as the post title indicates, I’m starting over. This time, the biggest variable is known. Reconnecting with a former boss (who, by the way, is awesome) means we can skip the awkward-yet-important first phase of getting to know one another’s work style. I’m walking in to a situation where I am trusted, where my work has a track record, and where I am joining a team, not merely another company. Clearly, I don’t have the ability to see the future, and with any job you take it one day at a time. But I’m hoping that the frustration of the past year is a thing of a past, and will not soon be repeated. Onwards and upwards, dear friends.

(cue Elton John’s I’m Still Standing)

The only other aspect to this is that with this new role, I’m hoping to achieve a much better work-life balance (if I may use that terrible term). I’m going to do my best to resume blogging regularly, as well as working on side projects and other design-related developments that, frankly, I didn’t have the energy for being in situations which were absolutely draining. I’m hoping to actually get busy on the redesign of this site, which I started but never finished in the early days of 2012! I’ve been planning it, but of course the thing is to actually do it. Watch this space!

(and don’t worry, I’m going to be setting up a new Mac installation when I arrive at my new job. Luckily, it’s fresh on my mind.)


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a tale of design, New York, the industry, this website

Starting Over, Part I

2013.03.10 16:16

Starting Over on my Apple system. I guess it needed a system.

Ok, true story. A few weekends ago, my computer stopped working. It just wouldn’t load the OS, instead greeting me with a black screen. Long story short, I had to reinstall the system and everything on my main drive. I usually do this once a year or so, on purpose, such as when the new operating system is released, but considering I’d only just moved and set up my desk, this wasn’t planned for at all. In fact it was most inconvenient.

As a computer geek first and a designer second, I run a very customised and configured system. I install a ton of tweaks and hacks, and run a bunch of applications on a daily basis that aren’t part of the stock installation. I remarked that it would be two weeks of customising and installing before I truly felt comfortable and productive. Friends encouraged me to blog about it, listing the apps I use and ways that I customise my system. So in the spirit of starting over, here’s a look at what’s going on.

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