What Would Mark Do?
     - Musings on design, opinions on business and discoveries to be shared. 
              by Mark Bendickson.

Saturday: Down the rabbit hole with @Coudal and @jasonfried

Have you ever heard the phrase "I fell down the rabbit hole" when talking about YouTube?  If you haven't, it's an Alice in Wonderland reference and describes that situation where you go on YouTube to watch a video about something relevant, let's say a new car you are considering.  Then, you watch a couple other car videos suggested at the end of it.  So, after you watch one or two, and after you segue to the one about the great engine sound the Lexus LFA, suddenly you are watching videos about car accidents in Russia from dashcams, and from there security camera footage of car accidents in an ice storm, and then the ultimate workers fail compilation, and another, from there to a few animals sliding on ice, and then to animals meeting babies for the first time, and there is no shortage of cute baby and/or animal videos on there and 45 minutes later...and then someone walks in and asks what you are doing and you say researching a new car, with baby giggles and meows coming from your speakers.

Well, I had a similar experience offline, in my head.  I received an email from a friend that was looking at my new website, and he mentioned that they also use Basecamp to help manage projects and collaborate with their clients.  I thought how long I had been using it (it's great software) and it led to remembering a rabbit hole experience offline.  I mention this because, in my experience, this is where some of the best ideas come from in real life.  An original idea you come up with is usually quite a few steps removed from the ultimate masterpiece that gets delivered to a client, and usually they resemble each other about as closely as Russian dash cam and giggling baby videos.

Back about 14 years ago a friend turned me onto Groove Networks, a cool project management application by Ray Ozzie, one of the creators of Lotus Notes.  It was an amazing tool, and we used it collaborating with each other, and a few clients, but most couldn't get on board because (a) it cost money (a tiny bit, and well worth it, but still 'not in the budget') and (b) you had to install it on your computer and corporate IT wouldn't ever let that happen.  At the same time I was buying CD and DVD jewel cases from a company in Chicago called Jewel Boxing.  I eventually found a cooler case, this translucent one with the little trigger that popped out the disk.  A little bit of trivia, the reason there is orange in my logo is that the trigger was orange and it looked like I had them custom made for me.

Cool disc case that I love, even though I seldom get to use them anymore

Cool disc case that I love, even though I seldom get to use them anymore

Anyway, even though I didn't use their disc boxes any more, I still kept track of them because they were owned by a great marketing firm called Coudal Partners.  They did these great projects and had an incredible sense of humor (and all the best ideas come out of humorous exchanges) like this documentary they made about climbing to the summit of a pile of snow behind their office.  Today, they are a firm that only does marketing for themselves, and has done all these great (both profitable and for fun) ventures like Layer Tennis, a duel between two designers where each creates or edits a layer in a Photoshop file for 15 minutes and posts it, and then the competitor takes it and embellishes the previous work back and forth for 10 sets of volleys.  I can remember actually watching these matches live, enjoying the play by play, and IMing with friends who were also watching.  It was great fun, a good exploration of creativity, and even has it's own Facebook page.  They also do Pinsetter, the Museum of online museumsVerse by Voice, The Deck Network, and the very successful Field Notes.  And it was because I followed them that I learned about 37 Signals, the web design firm that shared their office space.  And, when 37 Signals decided they were going to offer a tool they developed internally (using Ruby on Rails, a programming language they also invented in house) for their use to others, I heard about it on Coudal's blog and was one of the first to try Basecamp.  Basecamp was a great help to me and those I do work for, and has been for 12 years.  In fact, it is so successful that 37 Signals changed their name to Basecamp, moved into their own offices, and stopped doing everything else.  But not only is it a great tool, but Jason Fried, it's cofounder, is a prolific business guru, co-founder of 37signals, co-author of the book Rework, which was published in 2010, and he also writes Inc.'s Get Real column. 

And that is the end of the mental rabbit hole.  The CD case maker I didn't use, but had a cool blog, led me to their roomates, and in following them I found a great productivity tool.  But it led to another online rabbit hole (perfect for a cool, rainy Saturday afternoon).  You see, I get the feeling both Jim Coudal and Jason Fried are those rare business role models that don't preach or write tome after tome to convince you to be exactly like them, but rather just talk honestly and rather than tell you what you should do, they show you what they think is important, how they think, what they value and if you find value in it, then great.  If not, they don't really care. So, after being reminded of the chain of events that got me to using Basecamp I decided to watch a video I hadn't seen for a while from CreativeMornings/Chicago of Jim Coudal speaking, which led to one of Jason Fried, and then onto Nick Campbell (who creates a ton of content geared toward the rendering software used in our studio). 

I'm not sure what the weather is like there, but you could do worse than to check out this series.  If not today, bookmark them for a rainy chilly day when you feel like sucking up some wisdom by osmosis listening to people talk about doing something they love.  I am really glad they share these online.

Oh, and for a tasty treat, I recommend Mike Monteiro | F*ck You. Pay Me. A great talk about legal issues in client relationships for designers for dessert.

Bon Appetit.