Breaking our own rules, and self-doubt.

When we started The Nudge, our vision was to do something here in Melbourne that was as good or better than what we’re all so keen to consume from abroad. It’s the idea that started us on the road to creating Hookturn.

Over time our thoughts have matured, and we’ve spoken with people from around the world – most notably when Josh went to the United States and interviewed Debbie Millman, Jeffrey Zeldman, and Ethan Marcotte. But up until now, our rule has always been that we needed to speak to people face-to face. It’s a large part of why we created the Hookturn studios.

This week we broke that rule. We’ve just released a special episode of The Nudge where Josh Kinal and I talked with the incomparable Merlin Mann about self doubt.

We think it was as worth it to break the rule as it was to make it. We hope you enjoy the episode.

This week on ‘This Australian Life’

I grew up in Australia in the late seventies and early eighties, so it was natural for me to think that someone else’s culture was more valid than mine: The TV shows we saw were mostly imported; The local content was news or soap or procedural cop dramas; Australian children’s television was always solid, but as kids we were already given the sense that things that were made for us were of less consequence than things created for adults; And shows for adults that had a sense of quality came from the US and UK.

Is that how you remember it? It’s definitely the way we, as a culture, talk about it—especially when we have the inevitable "Why can’t we produce good comedies" discussion we love to have.

To believe that requires excluding the comedies like Auntie Jack, which led to Norman Gunston, without which we would have never had Let the Blood Run Free or The Games.

There were also the Kennedy-Miller mini-series, the way for which was paved by Crawfords productions, which eventually led to Simpson-Le Mesurier productions and the excellent Good Guys Bad Guys in the early nineties.

Australia is a giant country with a relatively small population. Our two most populous cities (only the second smallest distance between two capital cities in Australia), are almost as far apart as Paris and Berlin. We feel isolated from each other as well as the rest of the world, and as a result there is an insecurity in our actions.

Recently a friend told me he wanted to start a podcast festival in Melbourne. His intention was to invite Marc Maron and John Hodgman, and their presence would encourage other big names to come.

He never mentioned an Australian podcast he would like to invite.

So, why do we look externally for validation?

When I went to my first Webstock conference (realistically one of the best-run events I’ve ever had the pleasure of attending), I was disappointed that a New Zealand-run event didn’t have any antipodean speakers.

I thought about this for a bit. Should we blame the organisers? (They are lovely people and work very hard.) Maybe they had evidence to show that local people weren’t a big enough draw card. That’s definitely what other attendees had suggested to me.

If this is what attendees think, based on just attendee-to-attendee discussions, then it’s probably true enough market research.

But this problem doesn’t happen with other countries or cultures. The aforementioned US and UK both host plenty of web-design conferences that draw huge crowds.

Do we just accept out cultural cringe and live with it, or do we fight against it?

This is a design problem. This is a problem of getting people to accept something they unconsciously reject. Its a problem of changing minds and behaviour.

But is it a problem worth solving? What are the costs associated with building antipodean pride?

There is a very real possibility that we fear realising our already perceived irrelevance—that, despite everything we have already given the world (wifi, bionic ear, ova freezing techniques), we still never think we’ll be listened to when we talk. And there’s nothing worse than an irrelevant body pretending it has validity. How embarrassing!

There is, however, the contrary position. If we are supportive of our own work and push ourselves to produce better products, then maybe it won’t matter what others think. Maybe we will develop a confidence to be content with our own attention.

This is not about local design for local people. It’s about holding our own work to an international standard, supporting it when it reaches that level and encouraging efforts to surpass it.

We can only do that one step at a time. It’s going to be tough, too, but relevance is demanded, not requested, and that takes grit.

Raising the conversation

Or, how we gave birth to Hookturn

A couple of years ago, a few months after I started working with Ross, we were talking business over a gentle beverage. We agreed about a lot, particularly the state of the conversation in our part of the world.

At the time we specified our part of the world as Melbourne, Australia, but also as Design.

We had noted:

  • a deficit of nuance in argument and people not being able to defend their work or position
  • too much reliance on affirmation, attention or examples from colleagues in the Northern Hemisphere
  • a lack of pride or exploration of the quality of work being produced here
  • a general reluctance by people to do the extra work it takes to make something really good instead of just getting the job done.

These were implicit issues in our society and it would take a lot of work to make any difference. We started by keeping the goal of improving the way local people spoke about their work in mind when making all business decisions.

This led to us starting The Nudge: an evening in which we interview someone else’s client to find out why they made the decisions they did about a certain design.

Soon we started releasing the events as a podcast so more people could enjoy the conversations we were having.

Then we realised that we needed more conversations.

That’s how Hookturn was born.

We created a label under which we could release podcasts and publications that would help lift the tone of conversation. We had some simple rules:

  • Everything released must be planned.
  • Recordings must have all main voices in the same room.
  • Everything released must be edited.

In addition, we wanted to curate a feeling for the product under the label. All the shows force us to look at the world in a way we haven’t before.

We’re really proud of the work with Hookturn. We encourage you to take a look and download some of the shows. Have a listen and let us know what you think.

It’s part of our desire to be better designers and make our part of the world a better place.

Let’s move away from Photoshop

Static visuals fail by definition.

Andrew Clarke

Designing static Photoshop comps, or even wireframes may not be the most efficient way of producing a website. This top-down, waterfall process fails to accurately investigate the needs for a website design.

Read more

Goodbye Bivouac

We are sad to see you go…

Sadly, we are no longer supporting our iOS Basecamp app ‘Bivouac’.

We created Bivouac before the launch of Basecamp’s mobile app, or even their mobile website. We needed a clean and concise list of our upcoming tasks to refer to when not at our desks, or even at our desks without the need to stop what we were doing on screen.

With the launch of 37signals Basecamp app, and their mobile website, our product’s usefulness has been outlived.

We’d like to thank everybody who used Bivouac for their support, check out Basecamp Mobile for a fully featured alternative.