Photo by Willian Justen de Vasconcellos on Unsplash

The more abstract and new a concept is, the more effort it takes to have a shared understanding with others.‍

When people collaborate if you skip the step of defining terms, you may find everyone in a room nodding their heads, thinking they are talking about the same thing — when in fact, they are not.

Design work often starts by creating a shared understanding with a team of people.

Thought Exercise:

Picture a mailbox in your mind. Pause and think of one for 3 seconds.

What does it look like, what color is it, what can it do? A mailbox seems…


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When a design team gathers for review or critique, less skilled designers approach critiques by defending their design (what I call the design result) instead of sharing their process.

A more skilled design mode is to wonder — how did this design come to be? To share the context, limits, constraints and other approaches explored.

A simple way to facilitate getting past the design surface is to replace your “why” questions with “how” questions.

Example: “why did you do this?” becomes “how did you come to this solution?”‍

Two benefits of “how” questions:

1. You are asking about the design and not the person.
2. You…


Photo by Ronak Jain on Unsplash

Preferences are helpful shortcuts that must be reexamined, so we can abandon them as needed, and they don’t become a vice that locks us into our current way of thinking.

Often, our design preferences are obvious biases that masquerade as the virtues of good taste.

Samurai Miyamoto Musashi wrote in 1645, a week before he died, the “Dokkodo” (The Way of Walking Alone). He wrote 21 insights he had gained from his life as a master in the way of the sword. #11 is “In all things have no preferences.” …


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There is a myth that artists can do some magic that others can not. But what appears as magic is a gap in understanding; we don’t see how a thing happens, so it must be magic.

The real trick is working day in day out to make progress, have a strategy to do creative work, and put it into the world when we don’t feel like it.

I hunt for these aha moments of design magic by gathering all my information on a topic, then going on a long walk, letting everything simmer. …


Photo by Willian Justen de Vasconcellos on Unsplash

When I first saw color gradients on the computer, they were stark.
Think of 1990’s PowerPoint font with a rainbow gradient fill.

By default, color gradients on the computer change in evenly spaced percentages from one color to another, this generally looks horrible, so their usage died out.

But in recent years, the gradient has made a return, both in a nostalgic 90’s design push (which still looks horrible) and in a more subtle approach.

Designers now have tools to blend colors; gradients have angles; they are not linear from one side to another. The result is that color…


Photo by Chris Sarsgard on Unsplash

This morning, I watched the river move at a walking pace, sauntering within the channel that cuts through town.

The river has been doing some version of this for over 100,000 years.

Long before countries and kings and dictators. 80,000 years ago, the Deschutes River in Bend, Oregon, flowed around Pilot Butte’s east side; lava forced the river into its current path a mile to the west of the butte.

The river has no mind for anything; its concern seems to be direction and continuation.

Whatever my worries are today, the river keeps moving all the same.

Reflecting on these vast timelines, I wonder:‍

First, when…


Part of the creative collaboration process is misinterpretation.

Photo by Sam Moqadam on Unsplash

Collaboration in the creative space has some magic to it, not because communication is perfect but because a set of people embrace that it is imperfect. In the gaps of interpretation, people look for a new way to see their work, and new ideas emerge.

When people work together to find new ideas, we call it brainstorming. It’s very common for one person to offer an idea, then another person will paraphrase their understanding, and the result is a complete misinterpretation. In a lot of human communication, the next step is to…


Photo by Firdouss Ross on Unsplash

When you ask for advice, whether in life or design, you get two styles of input.

One.) People share what they would do.
They may phrase it as what you should do, but it’s advice as if they were taking action. If you want to be like the person, then their advice often means more. This kind of advice is quick and easy to share. It’s helpful sometimes.

Two.) People will help you see what you should do.
They may or may not share what they would do, and they’ll caveat any story with differences in your context. This advice takes…


Photo by Gregory Hayes on Unsplash

Coffee roasting is all about the process.

I roast coffee as a hobby on a 1kg gas roaster; it’s a shrunk-down commercial-style machine. I’ve roasted about 300lbs of coffee at this point.

On every roast, I track my process with a roasting profile.

A roasting profile is a picture of what happens during a roast, the temperature, the gas, the airflow. The roasting profile captures all the variables that change the taste. It’s quite a bit more complex than light, medium, or dark roast.

With the same raw green coffee, you can get wildly different outcomes by changing the process.


Photo by NASA on Unsplash

My sister works at NASA in mission control on the EVA team, training astronauts and working on space missions… meaning there is not much I could do in life to be cooler than her.

I work on a completely different type of space; I spend a lot of time thinking about this visual and mental space. (see not quite as cool)

Design is not about filling space; it’s about the space we leave.

Often newer designers attempt to fill whatever canvas they have with all the information and options they need to show. This cluttered design approach forgets two helpful things:

1. If everything has focus, nothing has focus.
2. Leaving space allows…

Ron Sparks

Sharing tools for creatives, leaders and teams to remap and reimagine their innovation process and get ridiculously good at design.

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