Swordfish Skeleton

My fancy chef friend mentioned that he and his wife were grilling swordfish tonight, and I told him that he shouldn't because they're chock full of mercury. He thought I was wrong about mercury and swordfish, so I googled it and found that swordfish are in fact chock full of mercury. I also found this amazing picture.

The story isn't important at all; just look at that crazy skeleton.

Practice Makes Passable: Resumes and Work Samples #3

This is the third in a series of posts documenting my evolution as a designer through the lens of resumes and work samples. If you missed the first two, you can find them here and here.


This one got me several interviews and my first real job out of college. As you can see, the resume hasn't changed much, but the work samples are almost completely different. The only thing that I didn't change was the idea of featuring one type of work on each page.

Page One: I Like Books
I've always struggled with professionalism and adult etiquette — don't talk politics and all that. I'm not good at being professional in the traditional sense. I think that work, especially design work, is or should be personal. I loved studio culture at school and I really hoped to find a firm with a similar working atmosphere. The book page was almost meant to be a litmus test for potential employers: if they saw the books and found the page interesting or compelling, then there was a good chance I would find them and their work interesting and compelling, right? And of course, on the flip-side, if they didn't like it or get it, then they probably weren't the kind of people I was looking for. This is one of the few things that I've produced that I'm not ashamed of yet. I don't necessarily think it's the best way to present myself to potential employers, but I do like it a lot. And coincidentally, when I was interviewing for my first job out of college, the interviewer had me walk him through each of the titles. Either he was humoring me, or he was interested/compelled, so I guess it worked.

Page Two: Architecture Models
As in my first work samples, this page is dedicated entirely to my best/favorite models. I thought it very clever at the time to have as little text as possible. The idea was that work samples should stand alone and communicate 80% of their message at a quick glance.

The best thing about this set of work samples is that somewhere between this one and the one before, I must have discovered that there's no need to reinvent the wheel every time you do something. When in doubt, use a simple grid system. Don't struggle and fight with images and type in pursuit of the perfect layout or composition. Just communicate as simply as possible and walk away. The painful irony is that I probably worked a lot harder on the terrible one.

Also, I'm pretty proud of these images. I still use them.

Page Three: Urban Design
On this one, I strayed from the formula. This one lacks the simplicity and clarity of my books and models. The text is hard to read, the images are too small to be descriptive, and its confusing: what's with the grid of faded images in the background? I don't know.

Page Four: Thesis
Again, too complicated. Text is hard to read and the images are too small. I think I was falling into the old trap of working too much on the computer screen and not printing enough. On a computer, 8.5 x 11 can seem infinite, but it's not. A single sheet of paper should only hold so much information, and this is way too much. Also, my thesis wasn't attractive enough or compelling enough to justify its own work sample page.


When I got laid off last year, I spent a lot of time generating a new portfolio and fresh new resumes and work samples. This is where I landed. With these, I chose to format the work samples to be consistent with my resume, an approach that I think is very appropriate. The layouts are simple, the hierarchies are clear, and I guess I think these are pretty good.

I sent these out all over the city, and I've actually received a lot of really good feedback (apocalyptic recession notwithstanding). A detail of note is that instead of communicating personality through a full page of books that I liked, this one uses more subtle cues. My favorite one is that I specify 1983-Present beside my name. It's not a loud joke, but I think it's kind of funny. And it's consistent with the formatting, so why not? I'm sure that not many people notice, and that even of those that notice only a very few give it a second thought, but I recently got the following email from a firm I'd contacted:


We got your resume some time ago and while I don't have any good news for you, I wanted to email you anyway to say that I appreciate you sending it to us. Of the many we're getting these days, yours stands out for several reasons:

1. You're an Auburn guy... War Eagle!
2. Your work is very nice. I like the hand drawn elevations on the last 2 projects.
3. The 1983-Present by your name is hilarious. My partner and I laughed and laughed and wondered what we would do with the resume if it said 1983-2010. We hoped you were trying to be funny about it... if not, I feel a little ridiculous now.

Sorry about the job market these days. I'm afraid it will be like this for a while. There are few firms that seem to still be working - you may want to check with the [...] (I see job ads for them every once in a while). There may be some others - just keep on trying.

Please stay in touch. Who knows what the future will bring..."

So I haven't heard from him since, but he got the joke, and he liked it. So now he's on my list of people in the city that I'll follow from now on. I want to work with people that are ready and willing to laugh. People that won't laugh aren't funny.

Practice Makes Passable: Resumes and Work Samples #2

This is the second in a series of posts documenting my evolution as a designer through the lens of resumes and work samples. If you missed the first one, you can find it here.


So in my last Practice Makes Passable post, remember the disclaimer I attached to my first resumes - "...I didn't spend a lot of time or energy...they didn't represent me to any prospective employers..." Right? Well, that was all said in truth, but also to amplify our appreciation of this sample. In contrast to the first, this one does represent some time and energy; it was created specifically for a prospective employer, and I think it's far worse than the first two. I'm not sure what the fonts are, or why "SKILLS" isn’t the same as everything else. I'm also not sure why it's so so terrible.

As before, I have no record of grades or criticism. The only thing I can offer by way of feedback is that I did not get the job.


This one actually got me a job - my first internship. I remember thinking it was good at the time, although the first time I printed it out the size of the type really caught me off guard. I'd grown used to looking at it on a computer screen, and it didn't look good on a real sheet of paper — print often. In spite of this realization, I proceeded to hand them out at Auburn's internship fair, an annual gathering of 70-100 firms from all over the country. In addition to the cartoon layout and type sizes, this resume suffers from bad/excessive_use_of_underscore and bad use | of | the | pipe. But the work samples...

I had a couple dozen interviews at the internship fair, and two of them went particularly well: a firm in Huntsville (my home town) made me an offer, and a firm in Memphis requested some work samples and maybe a follow-up. I'd never done work samples before and so after the interviews, I scrambled to put something together. The results are above, and man are they lousy. As lousy as they are though, they're hard to critique; all I can think of to say is "No, no, no, no, no, no...Wrong. No. Bad. That's bad. Yeah. No, don't sent that. Don't. No." I just can't figure out what I was thinking. Part of the idea was to have one page each for architecture models, architecture drawings, and urban design work. I don't know what the deal was with the black, gray, and white backgrounds. BAD, BAD, BAD.

I sent the work samples and never heard back from the firm in Memphis, which was okay. I couldn't afford to go to Memphis anyway. I took the job in Huntsville and stayed with my folks for free. But most importantly, I consider this a very valuable humiliation. If I hadn't done these bad work samples then, I probably would have done them later, and that would have been a lot worse. My advice is to start failing as early as possible. Young failures come off as adventurous, ambitious, and endearing; old failures are just sad because, after all, they should know better by now, shouldn't they?

In spite of it's shortcomings, I kept this resume around for a couple of years. There were minor changes, but most of my energy went into trying to figure out how to do work samples and portfolios. Someday soon I'm going to post the evolution of my portfolio designs.

My Building - A Tragedy


My fourth year of college, I had a project whose hypothetical site was located right next to this building in downtown Birmingham, Alabama. Ever since, I have been secretly conspiring to go back and buy it and resurrect it. It's old, crappy, and busted up, the huge windows are boarded-up, and it's a pretty crummy location, but that doesn't matter. If I restore it, they will come. And by "they" I don't mean stupid yuppy loft seekers; I mean all of the cool places that I want to hang out at night and on the weekends when I move into my awesome old building in downtown Birmingham. If I'm able to buy the building and I do a good enough job, I don't see any reason why other folks won't flock to my side of town to participate in the next great urban revival, right? Right?

Unfortunately, while doing research for one of my forthcoming LifeLesson stories (searching for pictures of an old mill where I nearly died one time), I found this photo in some random stranger's photostream and my hopes were dashed. Turns out, the front fell off because of a storm, and thank goodness I haven't made my millions and bought that building yet, or I'd be pretty put out.

Image property of Flickr user “buildinghugger”.

The UPS Store and My Red Ring of Death

So, inevitably the day came that I had to strip my Xbox of its hard-drive and faceplate like the dog tags and letters for home of a fallen fellow soldier and take it in to the local UPS Store for shipment to a mysterious Microsoft repair station somewhere in Texas. When I walked in, I laid my stripped Box down on the counter and the UPS woman (middle aged black lady) instantly asked if I had "the form". I slid the paper across the counter to her thinking "she may have done this before..." While she typed something in, another UPS worker (thirty-something white guy) standing behind her said "Aww, Dude. Did you get the RED RING OF DEATH? That sucks. My roommate had that a few months ago." He went on to tell me about what I've come to know as "The Towel Trick", which is a method of temporarily circumventing the RED RING OF DEATH by wrapping your Box in a warm towel or blanket for about half an hour, at which point it overheats and, for a while at least, forgets that it has the most fatal and dreaded of all console failures, the RROD. [NOTE: Check it out on YouTube if you're interested. The squeaky twelve year old kid that showed me how to do it assured me at the beginning of his video that it doesn't void the warranty. He sounded trustworthy...]

So while we're talking about the RROD and the towel trick, he starts to measure the Box with a tape measure. Before he can finish, the UPS woman (middle aged black lady) interrupts him saying "They're 15" x 13" [NOTE: It turns out Xbox 360's are actually 12.15 in wide x 3.27 in high x 10.15 in deep. But I'm assuming she was referring to the dimensions of the box that I was purchasing, the box that about 54.2 percent of all Xbox 360 owners have purchased over the last couple of years.]

I go on to tell the UPS guy that Microsoft sent me a postage pre-paid adhesive instead of sending a box so I had to buy the box myself - $6.50. Not bad, I guess. Although, originally Microsoft was sending out free boxes [coffins they called them, appropriately morbid] with padded molds inside to protect your 360 during shipment and all you had to do was drop it off. I doubt it cost them $6.50 a box to do that, but it's not the first time Microsoft took the cheap and easy way out at the expense of their customers, is it? [An initial internal test production run of the 360 came back with a 68% fail rate. To be fair, this was just internal testing, but come on. Did they fix it or what?]

Then from across the room, an older white guy (probably 40-50, looks like he's dressed from an L.L. Bean catalog) gets our attention. He's finished getting his package sent off and he comes over to talk to us. "Did you do the overheat thing where you solder the two pieces together?" I said no instantly, because firstly, I can't imagine cracking open my $300 Box with a soldering iron, and secondly, I have some respect for the concept of the warranty, especially in the context of Microsoft's well-documented RROD fiasco. He kept talking: "Yeah, I tried this fix-it-yourself thing I found on YouTube, and it didn't work for S***. I spent like $50 on parts, too. Ended up just buying another one, but I got the Elite this time. It's supposed to be designed differently; they don't have the same problem."

He went after his Box with a soldering iron because of something he saw on YouTube. Unbelievable. And he spent $50 on parts, plus $300 for a brand new Box when he could have sent it off to Microsoft for about $100. What a series of unfortunate decisions. I sure hope he's right about the Elite.

But the point of the story is that I walked into a UPS store with an Xbox and one of the workers instantly knew I had RROD, and his roommate had just recently recovered from RROD. But he was a young white guy and a gamer, so maybe he doesn't count. The other worker though, the middle aged black lady, she knew that I was supposed to have a form for her, and she knew off the top of her head that I needed a 15” x 13” box. AND, some random older guy who didn't look like a gamer at all had had the same problem. So there we were together from all our disparate walks of life united by our shared pain, talking about YouTube, the towel trick, and how Microsoft is a piece of crap.

When I leave the place (promising the young guy that I'll check out Mass Effect 2 and BioShock 2) I'm smiling to myself, and my friend Jonathan is waiting in the car because we're going to lunch. I tell him I just had an interesting talk with a gamer and lay out the whole story and he laughs and laughs and tells me his story. When he had RROD, Microsoft was still sending pre-padded boxes to people. All he had to do was load it up and take it to a UPS drop off location; he chose Staples. When he walked up to the counter with his sealed, unmarked brown box, the young girl working the counter said "Oh, no. Is that your Xbox?"

If a young guy comes in carrying a box of roughly these dimensions, he's a RROD victim. Period. That's incredible.

[This same friend has another similar story. When he got his Apple Magic Mouse in the mail shortly after they released, the delivery guy asked him what it was because he had been delivering identical boxes all over town for days. The UPS life must be kind of interesting. Imagine going to work one day and half of the packages you have to deliver to random people around the city are exactly the same. I'd be really tempted to "lose" one of them just to see what I was missing out on.]

So, maybe I live in a tech oriented part of town or something, but this seems unusual. It makes me believe the insane numbers that have been thrown around regarding Xbox 360 failure rates (54.2%) are probably true. At any rate, all that's left for me to do is sit around and endure what I'm told will be at least three weeks of Boxlessness. I miss the gaming of course; my friend Jonathan and I have a regular appointment every Wednesday night that I haven't been able to honor for nearly a month. What's worse than the gaming fast, is that the Box is our only DVD player, which means we've been watching Netflix on our computer and it's terrible. I mean terrible. The TV hasn't been turned on in weeks, except for the time I was so desperate to get my gaming fix that I fired up the Wii. Which, of course, left me ashamed and completely unsatisfied.

Overheard: Politics

”...a doctor will never make as much as a “trash man.” And she’s like: “Yeah, huh. Obama’s changing everything.”

via some frantic girl at Chick-Fil-A

The Most Productivity Enhancing Tool of 2010


So is it the Magic Mouse, or is it the pin-up style John Krasinski mousepad? You decide...