One of the interesting things about dbqpartners is that we cover so many different areas of design – both 2D and 3D – and are able to mix up projects that are client-based with the opportunity to let our brains play and see what we can some up with to solve a random problem that we see in the world as a speculative project. I love having clients. And I also love speculative projects. They both give the opportunity to refine your design process and exercise different skills and progressions toward achieving your design goals.

I don’t know any designer who hasn’t either gone 12 rounds with a client about changes they want to see in a project, or taken the client’s direction and then gone back and screamed in abject horror when they were in the quiet confines of their office. Sometimes this can lead to apathy about projects, an inability to get fully-invested in a project that you know won’t end up being what you had really hoped it could. It’s a dangerous situation, because the client hires you and wants what you do for them to represent both them and you. The really skillful designer will chew on the function that the client is asking for while not getting fixated on the execution that they say they would like to see (but they are also smart enough to cover their hindparts and mock up both versions). This level of functional analysis and reconstitution into some other form is one of the great, satisfying challenges of working for clients in my book.

Conversely, on speculative projects, you can have complete freedom. It is up to you to provide the guidelines, to determine the critical aspects of the project, and to determine when you will hold yourself to those pre-determined criteria. But there can be a lack of accountability. You don’t have someone holding your feet to the fire. As the designer you have ultimate power, which can be fun but also reckless.

I’m in the middle of more projects than I can really handle effectively at the moment and trying to get everything together as best I can – fortunately one of the big projects is speculative and I can push that one back just a bit (but not too much as there are other people involved and I need to keep things moving as a matter of mutual respect). It seems like a great blend – having a few paying gigs where you have to answer to clients and exercise the skill set that makes those projects successful, while having the freedom to go to your limits on something that may pay off big in the future but is more a matter of passion and utilizing a part of your brain that needs to come out and play from time to time.

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I can’t think of anyone who has taken a mediocre product and built an image and a market niche as well as Red Bull. Personally, I think the stuff tastes awful. I used to have a training partner who swore that it could bring him back from the dead at the end of a long ride or run, but I always went for Extran and flat Coke because I couldn’t deal with the Mountain Dew on Meth flavor of ‘the Bull’.

Pardon the digression – regardless of what it tastes like, regardless of anything about the product itself, Red Bull has invented more crazy stunts to promote its brand than any company that I can think of. What does falling 28 miles have to do with what is primarily a party drink that is mixed with Vodka or legal stimulant used by BMXers to drive all night to get to a race or a weekend of riding skate parks? Or maybe hockey skaters racing the equivalent of a boardercross ice track built in downtown in Minneapolis-St. Paul has a tighter tie in?

There’s no direct correlation. The logic only makes sense when you get far enough down the road to see that insanity done to an extreme can produce its own logic. It’s like using Chaos Theory as a marketing plan.

So congratulation to Felix and to Red Bull. Long live Red Bull and all their crazy shit…

Branding is such a delicate thing. You can do all the research, you can focus group all you want – but with one miss-step, one post on Facebook or a Tweet those carefully developed and tested slogans and brand images can be erased.

Nationwide Insurance seems to advertise a great deal during the few television shows that I watch. They have a range of different ads that tell you what Nationwide is doing the be your friend, and finish with their catchy little jingle – Nationwide is on your side…

It was probably 5 years ago that a friend of mine in North Carolina had her car hit while it was parked on the street. She had been working with her insurance company – Nationwide – for about a week and was frustrated and obfuscated at every turn. She took out her frustration in a Facebook post: “Nationwide, mother f@#!ers aren’t on my side.” And even though I never saw the post (I heard about it from my wife, who cracked up as well), every single time I see a Nationwide commercial I spend the whole time thinking about that post rather than what the commercial is saying.

So, just a little rumination about how fragile branding is, and why you don’t want to offer bad customer service to someone who is a writer…

Every now and then I find myself contemplating ‘perfect’ things. Men’s Journal puts out a list of them every year that I rarely agree with. Robb Report puts out a list of them every year (The Best of the Best) that I don’t think I could ever afford an item from, but they are some incredible things.

Does perfect, by it’s nature mean that it can not be improved? Is something that is ‘perfect right now’ or ‘perfect in the moment’ really perfect? Can you define a category of ‘thing’ narrowly enough that you can actually call something ‘perfect’? Can ‘perfect’ be defined on anything more than a personal level? If it’s impractically expensive, or simple too expensive for you to use it to its fullest extent, then is it really perfect?

As a product developer I believe you are always aiming to make something “as perfect as it can be” and actually understanding the limitations of that theory is a critical part of being able to develop the ‘thing’ you are working on. In truth, all product development is rife with compromises – simply making something that can reasonably be manufactured invariably includes any number of limitations. From there you can get into any number of more philosophical discussions – if it was made using exploited labor is is really perfect? I would nominate Kettle Salt & Pepper Krinkle Cut Chips to my list of perfect things, but they aren’t Organic (something that is important to me), so can they really be perfect even though I cannot imagine that there is a way to improve them other than making them exactly as they are but organic?

At the moment, when I think of perfect things, what comes to mind are the A. Lange & Sohne Lange 1 Timezone watch (which is entirely a matter of personal taste, and also lands solidly in the unaffordable category for me but I give it an exemption because I think it is that exquisite), and Patagonia’s Micro D 1/4 Zip fleece top (which I consider perfect due to its incredible versatility and simplicity, its use of recycled materials, and the guarantee that Patagonia gives with it). Those are items that I cannot think of a way to improve them, and I would be amazed if anyone else can.

So what does ‘perfect’ mean, and what do you think are ‘perfect things’? It’s an interesting exercise…

Every now and then you happen upon something that is just fantastic. It’s sort of like the first time you tried beer and hot wings: they’re not the sort of thing that require a singularly brilliant person to come up with – but there is something about the combination that is profoundly brilliant itself.

This morning I came upon another. Coffee and anything are a brilliant combination for me in the morning. And when I woke up and realized that I left the coffee beans that I wanted to bring home at the office on Friday, I had to head in to pick it up so that I could brew a pot (Kind Coffee’s Blue Scoot done in a French Press today).

My wife asked me to grab some bagels and cream cheese on the way home. No problem.

So I stopped at Boulder bagel joint Moe’s and grabbed a half-dozen. When I ambled over to the cream cheese cooler there was a woman putting a sign on for Bacon and Horseradish cream cheese. It sounded delightful in a crazy sort of way. I grabbed it.

Long story shorter, a Pumpernickel bagel with Bacon/Horseradish cream cheese just got added to my list of brilliant combinations. The flavors were just destined to be together. I tried half a green chili bagel with the spread, and it just wasn’t in the same time zone.

I’d definitely call this a good start to the morning…

The group that makes up the core of dbqpartners has been together for a few years – operating as the IP and design division of fasterisbetter. Eric was the first to join a couple years and projects after fasterisbetter started doing technical consulting and product development for companies like Zipp and teams like Garmin-Slipstream. Earlier this year Morgan came in and was the impetus for us to finally go ahead and change the structure of things, and to make sure we all stayed on track I brought Carol on as well.

The only problem has been that we have had projects going on form companies like Oval Concepts, Girl Bike Love, and Vittoria that have been taking the time we have available, and getting the dbqpartners website up took a lot longer than initially expected.

Fortunately, we hammered something out so that people could check out what we do a bit, rather than just seeing something to hold the place where our website should have been. Now the big challenge will be getting it turned into an HTML website at some point in the reasonably near future, and getting the work samples updated with some the the myriad number of things that we’ve been working on (without compromising the secrecy of certain projects covered by non-disclosure agreements).

Doing the website isn’t anyone’s favorite project, but we’re pretty darn happy to have it moving forward, that’s for sure…

Is it just me or when your soul is quiet does music seem that much louder? Not to say you don’t want it loud, but the effective decibel ratio (actual decibel : perceived volume) is just different…

Tonight I was sitting with Eric (one of the dbqpartners) and discussing things over a glass of bourbon (my preferred spirit – in this case a 9-year single-barrel from Knob Creek) and I was reminded of my foundation 2-D design class taught by a German sculptor who was a professor at my university. She was having trouble explaining an assignment to one of the class members (someone taking the class to “round out their college experience,” not an art student) and eventually she became exasperated and started screaming, “It’s all just light and space. All design is just light and space.” The girl didn’t get it, but everything made sense to me after that…

I’m grateful to everyone who makes being ‘me’ possible. My wife, my son, my partners. our clients. I am good at putting things together, whether it’s food, or logos, or bike tire designs. I don’t seem to have have classically  employable skills – I can’t forge a tool, raise a crop, or slay a foe – so when a company unleashes me to explore the great extent of possibility and come back to them with something that they (likely) wouldn’t have gotten to on their own (be it a manufacturing process or a color palette) I have such a sense of satisfaction and purpose that I am almost overwhelmed  with gratitude that design and invention have become such an integral part of many modern businesses…

And to conclude: there is nothing funnier than a snoring baby.

I’m going to listen to some Pearl Jam/Eddie Vedder and get back to work. It’s only 11pm and I stuff to do…