Wilder Van

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Recent illustration work for Baxter Research, a California-based research service. The work was done in Photoshop (for the initial sketching and roughs) and Illustrator (for the actual vector art and type design).

The work started with some research of my own, gathering references for the van and the kind of courthouse building they had in mind. In addition to photographic references, I used some 3D models in SketchUp to pose the assets and do the initial quick thumbnails.


Once I went through a few rounds of grey scale wireframes, figuring out the positions and angles, layering in the background and foreground elements, I started matching the key colors of the client’s brand and deriving an overall color palette. The goal was making sure everything felt like it had depth and the key elements popped for the viewer, and that the logo was always a focus of the artwork, whether it included the background or just the van isolated.


The result is a piece of scalable vector art that can be used as small as a business card or as large as the side of a building, or a large format convention booth.


The UX Sin of Creative Talent Agencies

Spoiler: it’s lack of communication. Read on for an explanation.

It’s a fact of existence for the independent or unemployed creative professional that you may occasionally have to interact with agencies — Creative Circle, The Creative Group, Aquent/Vitamin T, Syndicate Bleu, and so on — to seek freelance opportunities or a job. In concept the agency system is a fine and noble mechanism, and when it works it solves a problem every independent professional encounters regularly: drumming up more work.

It’s great when it works. It’s one of the most frustrating sources of friction in a creative's life when it doesn’t. Which is why it’s a User Experience problem, you see; need to stay on topic here, right?

Having met with a number of agencies over the years, and having been successfully matched up with work through some of them, I get the impression that most agents are well-meaning and motivated to deliver on the promise of the agency system. They’re not bad people, by and large. It’s in their own best interest to get you work; they get paid when you get paid.

Which is why it’s all the more disheartening when they fail to fulfill the second most important aspect of their job: communication. The most valuable thing an agent can do is, of course, find you work. But when that’s taking longer than either of you would like, the other most valuable thing they can do is stay in communication about it.

It’s one thing to understand that you’re probably not going to hear back on a simple resume submission via email. But when an agent reaches out to you, either by email or by phone, regarding a particular job, you have a good chat about it, and when it all looks like it’d be a good fit, they cheerfully agree to submit you, and you walk away from the conversation with renewed hope for the future. Which proceeds to slowly die over the next few weeks as you never hear from them again. This happens enough and you lose confidence in the whole system. 

So, agents, please. If there’s a single area I can request foundational improvement in, it’s this. The agency that starts doing this better will stand out like a beacon in the darkness. Communicate more. Give me the bad news. If the job doesn’t go through, please tell me. If they hire from within, let me know. If you never hear back on a job, I would like to know that. Little acknowledgements go a long way. The current general lack of follow-up makes me feel like I’m out here by myself, sending emails into the void, like so many bottled notes that will never be responded to.

And I’m sure I’m not alone in this impression.


ps. To any of my own representatives who might stumble across this post, I don't mean you, of course. You're brilliant and practically perfect at your job. Just to mention.


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Gemma Art

Gemma Art

The experiment continues. Gemma Arterton is just about the best possible subject for such experimentation. The sacrifices one makes for practice...


Rough Trade

Rough Trade

More rough work, on iPad Pro. Something quick this time.

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I didn't mean to be on a Star Wars kick with these iPad Pro drawings, but it just worked out that way. Felicity Jones (iPad Pro, Adobe PS Sketch app).


I mean just looks at that texture. Kyle Webster's brushes, ladies and gentlemen.


Cushing on the iPad Pro

Cushing on the iPad Pro


I love iPads. I had an iPad 2 that I stood in line for at the Apple Store at The Grove in LA, on the day of release. I don't ever stand in lines for releases, even Apple ones. I'm allergic to standing in lines for very long, but that day I stood with those other hopefuls for something like 4 hours. It was a spur of the moment thing – it would have been much more sensible to simply order one from Apple.com, but I just stopped by The Grove and the Farmer's Market for an early dinner and got caught up in the moment when I discovered that they did, indeed, have the model I was wanting in stock at that very store. 

I fell in love with that iPad immediately, and we were constant companions. I eventually replaced it with an iPad 4 (the first one with the Lightning connector), which I kept until just last year.

So this is my third iPad, and I did not hold back. I went straight for the 12.9 inch Pro, with an Apple Pencil, and a few other accessories (including a set of Bose noise-canceling headphones that have revolutionized how I headphone). Anyway, one of the reasons I got the Pro is to encourage me to draw more. I've been doing art in Photoshop and Illustrator for a couple of decades now, but I thought it would be a good idea to get back to a more analog solution. Any normal person would just use paper and a pencil, but I've come to terms with the fact that I'm primarily a digital artist, so I'm happy to take advantage of all of the attendant benefits, but I do miss the rough analog results of traditional inks and such. This would be a very happy bridge between those, I was hoping.

So far I'm very validated in my hope. The combination of the iPad Pro and Apple Pencil is impressive, responsive and versatile. I've been experimenting with different art apps and right now my favorite is Photoshop Sketch with Kyle Webster's brushes installed. Such an effective illusion. I'm in love all over again.

So here, have some Peter Cushing, Grand Moff Tarkin himself. 


Apple Pie!

Apple Pie!

One of my very favorite WorkJuice Players, Mr. Hal Lublin. Been meaning to do something like this for a long while now, but you know, I’ve been busy what with moving again and having a new job. I understand it was his birthday recently, so I found some time. Cheers, mate. Happy birthday >clink!<

And Another Thing...

And Another Thing...

Just as a corollary to the previous couple of posts, how’s this:

I think we’re living in a world where Apple and Microsoft are no longer in real competition with one another. And I think they should start acting like it.

No, really. MS is developing devices that are solving niche problems that Apple isn’t solving for. MS is effectively no longer in the smartphone space, or mobile tablets.

Apple and Microsoft are now solving different problems for different people and complement each other’s portfolios more than they compete. And even if they do still overlap to some degree, I think it’s less than MS thinks. Windows is a distinct market separate from MacOS these days and I think MS would be better off treating it that way.

Microsoft’s markets are Windows users, PC/Xbox-gamers, and now this touchable tablet/ultrabook/creative segment. None of which Apple is in.

Additionally, I think MS should stop comparing their products to Apple’s in their marketing. They need to make ads that show off their hardware in their own light, without the constant references to Apple. It makes them look very self-conscious, and it’s a little demeaning.

It’s an admission that Apple’s the one to beat. That Apple is the market leader. It’s the reason Apple could get away with it with the I’m a Mac, I’m a PC ad campaign: they actually were playing catch-up. They were acting like a much smaller company because they had to. It’s the sort of thing you do if you’re a scrappy startup, carving out any position you can. Or if you’re an established company clawing your way back to relevance.

MS is neither of those in the actual markets in which it still competes. If it believes in its products, then it should let them stand on their own without making them seem like they’re in someone else’s shadow. As long as MS is taking cues from Apple’s marketing (that Surface Studio intro video, for example) then they should take this lesson as well. Apple shows their products in use, allows them to impress all on their own. Ever seen a spec comparison in an iPhone ad, trying desperately to convince you how much better iPhone is than Galaxy? Hell no. They put the latest model up on its own, in sexy lighting, and let you make up your own mind. They show software solving real problems, and creating real things for real people.

The only time I can think of Apple making self-validating comparisons these days is in keynotes, showing customer satisfaction metrics compared to other vendors, and adoption rates compared to Android. Frankly I think Apple should stop this, too, and for the same reasons.

MS is making some compelling hardware these days and playing on what remains of their strengths without chasing off after every shiny object in sight (like they used to under Balmer). That alone is a hell of a pivot, for which I have to give Satya Nadella full credit; pre-Nadella Microsoft simply didn’t have the insightfulness or taste to pull this off. They should have the guts and self-confidence to stand on their own and drop their obvious anxiety about being compared to Apple. 

Regarding a Mac Tablet and Why I Think There Won't Be One Any Time Soon

So why didn’t Apple develop something like the Surface Studio? Why is it letting other companies eat away at the edges of the creative pro market? 

For that matter, why the heck is Microsoft making a play for that market?

Apple is not in the business of developing for niche markets. They are not in the business of solving niche problems (except as an adjunct to solving big ones).

Apple, certainly since Steve Jobs returned to the company in the late 1990s, has been in the business of engineering solutions for the largest segments of the market in which they can be profitable. Apple loves solving problems for people, so the larger the problem set (bigger or more prolific problems for more people) the better.

The iMac was an appeal to the very common problem of getting on the internet easily, and an appeal to a sense of style and the computer as an appliance. Those were mainstream concerns for which no one else was providing a good solution in 1998, when logging on and surfing the web was a more complicated, technical problem. The iPod was aimed squarely at “people who like music,” not the tech nerds that earlier MP3 devices were designed for. iPhone was designed for the mass market, to provide a pocketable computing platform that could becomes ANY solution; the app developers concerned themselves with the niches, Apple provided the platform. Same with iPad. 

Apple’s Mac line has been designed as the biggest solution to the largest market segment in which Apple could make a good solid dent. “People who use computers for stuff” you could say. There’s a LOT of those. So they concentrate on making excellent machines for people who need computers to DO things. And they’ve been so good at it, their laptops have dominated the market and mindshare for the last decade. MacBooks (Pro or otherwise) are the reference design for the entire industry.

So what about the creative market? That segment that used to be so core Apple’s user base, the group that kept them alive during the Dark Times?

Well, for one thing, those Dark Times were 20 years ago now. I know, it makes me feel old, too.

For another, I actually think it was closer to 35 years ago that Apple was REALLY solving for creative professionals. Key moves like a GUI, settling on 72ppi for screen resolutions (to match printing measurements for typesetting), incorporating PostScript, and so forth, set Apple up for a couple of decades of creative support that established a cultural expectation of catering to creatives.

But even by the early to mid 1990s they were actually making products for the masses. They were selling Macs at Sears. As companies like Aldus, Adobe, and Macromedia picked up the task of making professional creative software, Apple ceded this ground to concentrate on making good out-of-the-box experiences for as wide an audience as possible. So, yes, they included creative software, but nothing designed to compete with the likes of Photoshop or Quark.

Even during the Jobs Renaissance, when there was a resurgence in Apple professional software tools, they were to fill holes in the overall ecosystem to support Apple’s revival and recover their core audience of professionals. But this was a survival mechanism, to sell enough machines to make sure they could develop the iMac, the iPod, iPhone, iPad, etc. Holding actions until they could build mainstream successes. 

So, Apple has always been about achieving broad public success. Being the Computer of the Creative Class was a means to that end. And we lapped it up. Mostly because none of us creatives thought this at the time, we just thought that we had someone in our corner making great products for us (that some other enlightened mainstream users also appreciated). 

Where Apple has supported us the whole time has been in making a great OS and great hardware that we can use without having to constantly troubleshoot or reinstall drivers for. They excel at designing platforms that get out of our way so we can just get to work. And that’s still the case. 

But, it’s also true that this means that certain particular problem cases fall outside of Apple’s directive. They have not created specialized hardware for people who draw on their Macs, for example. Even the iPad Pro with Pencil is positioned as a broader market device. I mean, they kind of have to, since it doesn’t run Photoshop or Illustrator, but they could have made a push to encourage a different development path, with changes to the marketing or development tools or App Store, to attract professional tools like Sketch, et al.

I’m not arguing that Apple’s approach is wrong. Their position is that Macs are good for computer things, and iOS is good for mobile things, and that both are better off specializing in solving those problems in their specialized ways. They could be right. I certainly understand the reasoning.

But it leaves spaces in the market for other solutions to other problems.

And this is where the Surface comes in. You just knew I was going to tie this together, didn’t you?

Apple is not in the business of solving for niche problems, they are in the business of solving for the largest problems they can for as many people as they can.

The Windows PC industry, on the other hand, is all about solving for niche problems. Even within their own ecosystem. When Dell and HP and the like rose during the 1990s as the mainstream computer sales megacorps, hundreds of smaller, leaner startup PC suppliers cropped up to fill every conceivable nook and cranny they were leaving. Gaming PCs, video PCs, audio PCs, recording PCs, cheap PCs, corporate PCs, and so on. Most of those companies did not survive. Most went out of business. Some got acquired, then went out of business. Some still survive in some form.

The Windows PC world is constantly working to fill new niches, either real ones dictated by the real market, or artificial ones dictated by their marketing departments. What can we talk people into buying today? Most of these efforts fail. Tablet PCs in the late 1990s, for example. Some work out, but settle into their limited market niches; Wacom-style drawing tablets, for example.

Microsoft is working on the Surface line because it’s an area where Apple doesn’t have a comparable solution. Notice MS hasn’t taken a stab at the straightforward Macbook Pro-style notebook. The Surface Pro is a shot at the iPad and the Macbook Air (Apple’s ultraportable). Because you can draw on it (which you can’t do with the Air) and you can run Photoshop (which you can’t do on the iPad). 

Instead of confronting Apple head-on, they’re coming at them from the side, solving for a niche in which Apple’s not actually interested. Because of that, MS has gotten a bit of traction there, and boy are they running with it. But again, they’re shooting for a market position Apple isn’t even solving for. The question is why isn’t Apple interested, and will that change?

Personally, I think it’s because the actual real market for people who will buy a Surface for the reasons MS wants you to buy one is relatively small, and Apple recognizes this. A niche market for PCs can still be viable in terms of sheer unit volumes, whereas it might not be for Macs.

Consider the total PC market. It’s big, but the Surface isn’t for everyone. It’s for creatives, mainly (otherwise you just get a cheap PC subnotebook, right?). Creatives are a small percentage slice of the overall market, really. A few million people worldwide. Let’s say 10 million give or take (about the population of deviantArt, most of whom can’t afford a Surface anyway but we’ll leave that for now). A viable market if you can reach it, and with a few dozen manufacturing partners around the world selling to regional niches, like MS could have, you might just be able to saturate that over a few years.

If you’re Apple, though, the equation is different. The total addressable market is smaller, say one tenth the size. But let’s say that this segment would be more likely to buy Mac if they had the option. Let’s be generous and say they could sell maybe 2-5 million units over time. 

Apple’s success is spread across iPhone, iPad (still selling viably even if it’s down over time), services (iTunes, AppleMusic, etc.), the App Store, and Mac. They have an iOS empire to maintain and distinguish. If they made a MacOS tablet it would put them in the position of supporting two devices with similar hardware; a Mac tablet and the iPad Pro. Physically, as hardware, they’d do pretty much the same thing. And they'd have to re-write MacOS to be tablet friendly, and so forth. An expensive way to create a lot of confusion and split one of their key market segments. They are better off supporting their distinctive ecosystems separately to get the most out of each one as specialized experiences.

Microsoft on the other hand ONLY has the desktop left (yes, they have XBox, but that’s not part of this discussion because it’s not really part of the same ecosystem; it could be but MS is protective of it in kind of the same way that Apple is protective of iPad). They don’t have a mobile business to threaten. 

It’s in their best interest to try crazy stuff on the desktop because that’s the only market they have to work with. Apple does their crazy stuff with iOS and iPhone, and stays conservative with the Mac, relying on third parties to niche-ify the Mac experience for specific subsets of users. 

Don’t get me wrong. If they did make a Mac tablet, I’d be in line for it already. But I just don’t think it’ll happen. Even if they would like to, I just don’t see how it makes any sense, financially.

For the record, I don’t think MS is going to sell that many Surfaces, either, Pro or Studio. I suspect the actual, real market for them is smaller than anyone thinks. But as a reference, I also expect it will inspire other PC manufacturers to chase after that market, so who knows?

I know it’s got the creative pro community in a tizzy, if my Twitter feed is anything to go by.


* Before people start to call me out on these numbers, yes, they’re mostly out of thin air. Well, educated guesstimates, really. Intended to illustrate the point more than be a serious academic statistical analysis. I’ll leave that sort of thing to Horace Dediu. Even if they’re wrong, they’re probably not wrong by orders of magnitude, which is the scale needed for Apple to have a market they could sell to.

** Incidentally, this is also why Apple doesn’t make gaming machines or upgradable towers anymore. It isn’t that the overall market for this problem is small, but that Apple’s addressable segment of it is too small for them to expend the resources to solve it. Though the gaming segment is large in pure numbers, it’s still a small slice of the mainstream market for which Apple excels at providing solutions, regardless of how some PC gamers have convinced themselves of their own self-importance. Personally, I think it was a mistake for Apple to get rid of the towers in favor of the cylinders. They had a good market segment going there - people loved those towers - and all they needed to do was maintain it. Ah well.