Clarity First Newsletter, June 15, 2018

Clarity First
A notebook about how we work, and learn, and love and live.

The week has been so surreal that only my friend and neighbor Jesse Duquette can make sense of it. To remind you, since Trump took office Jesse has been documenting every excruciatingly painful day with a drawing and commentary. Somedays he draws two. His ability to name the bizarre disorientation that Trump conjures provides at least a reassuring magnetic north.


He posts them all on Instagram, #the.dailiy.don.

If it wasn’t obvious before, Trump has officially defined his doctrine: “We’re America, Bitch.” His play date with one of the worst dictators in the world followed was just one day after he embarrassed America with his double-talking, back-stabbing behavior at the G7. By Wednesday he was naming the mainstream media as America’s worst enemy, again. I’m reminded of the old bumper sticker: “If you’re not paranoid, you’re not paying attention.”


Meanwhile, liberalism with its calm search for the truth, remains the best hope for humanity.

“In December 1951, British philosopher Bertrand Russell wrote a piece for the NY Times Magazine titled The Best Answer to Fanaticism — Liberalism with a subhead that says ‘Its calm search for truth, viewed as dangerous in many places, remains the hope of humanity.’ At the end of the article, he offers a list of ten commandments for living in the spirit of liberalism… #1: Do not feel absolutely certain of anything. #2: Do not think it worthwhile to produce belief by concealing evidence, for the evidence is sure to come to light….”
Article: Ten Guidelines for Nurturing a Thriving Democracy by Bertrand Russell



Won’t you please be my neighbor?

In March, I told you about the first full-length documentary about the life and work of Fred Rogers. That film – Won’t you be my neighbor? – opened last week. Now those who worked with him are speaking up about his genius, and effect. His “placidity belied the intense care he took in shaping each episode of his program. He insisted that every word, whether spoken by a person or a puppet, be scrutinized closely, because he knew that children—the preschool-age boys and girls who made up the core of his audience—tend to hear things literally.”
Article: Mr. Rogers Had a Simple Set of Rules for Talking to Children

Happiness, resilience, connection, and kindness are skills that can be taught and developed over time—with practice.

“That’s why UC Berkeley’s Greater Good Science Center, in collaboration with HopeLab, launched Greater Good in Action. Synthesizing hundreds of scientific studies, Greater Good in Action collects the best research-based methods for a happier, more meaningful life—and puts them at your fingertips in a format that’s easy to navigate and digest.”
Website: Greater Good in Action. Science-Based Practices for a Meaningful Life.

In 2004, the architect Rem Koolhaas proposed a design for the European Union’s flag, based on barcodes. Credit2018 Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York / c/o Pictoright Amsterdam


Artists put out a call for rebranding proposals. They’ve asked for ideas that communicate “the advantages of cooperation and friendship amongst people and nations.”

“With populist politicians across the Continent attacking the European Union and negotiations underway for Britain to leave the bloc, the very idea of a unified Europe seems to be under threat. Some artists feel the union needs to rethink its public image and refine its communications strategy to combat these attacks. In other words: to rebrand Europe….”
Article: The European Union Is Under Threat. Artists Say It’s Time to Rebrand.


Design process

Start by listening.

I know, I know. I sound like a broken record. Your brand isn’t about what you think it is, it’s about what your customer – user, donor, subscriber – thinks it is. And the only way to learn what they think is to ask. And here’s the thing: asking is the hardest part. Integrating what you learn makes everything else easier. “Start small. Even an informal study with 1 or 2 people is better than not doing any research. It won’t take as long as you think.”
Article: Most Common Excuses for Not Doing User Research



An unusually compelling Craigslist ad that makes a 19-year old car sound like a must-have.

Know what? Nobody but nobody wants to read what you’ve got to say, unless you speak in a language that is direct, authentic and relatable. But, when you speak in a voice that others can relate too, you’re in. Like this online ad. It promises only a cheap car that will run forever, no matter what. The car sold long ago, yet people are still taking about the ad. Funny. Direct. Relevant.
Article: Now This Is How You Sell A 1999 Fu*king Toyota Corolla




Some of my favorite comfort music was recorded in the 90s. Hearing the infinitely interesting songs recorded by Nirvana, Sonic Youth, Dinosaur Junior and Pavement et al makes me feel like all is well in the world. So, I was really thrilled to hear that one of those great bands, Belly, has just released their first new album in 23 years, Dove. Fans will notice that they seem to have simply picked up where they left off. Critics are noticing that the work refines the band’s sound to reflect half a lifetime’s worth of change.

After formally disbanding in 1995, after their second album, King, did not meet their record company’s expectations, they reformed in 2016 for a reunion tour.

Here’s a great video of their performance at San Francisco’s Great American Music Hall in August of that year. (The reason this video is so much better than most that are shot from the crowd is that it wasn’t shot on a phone but on a Canon HFG30 with a Rode Video Pro Mic.)

The tour went really well. “Along with great joy, ridiculous grins, and a few (happy) tears, there was just an incredible energy and excitement in every place, every night we played.” So, they returned home to Providence, RI to crowd fund the making of their third album. Here’s the whole album on Spotify. If hearing the “indie” rock of the 90s makes you say “They just don’t make music like this anymore,” I’ve got good news. Belly just did.



Images of the Week

The smaller of the two images of the week is a photograph of an installation at a cemetery chapel in Stand Orte, Dreieich (Germany) called Grass Works, 2002, composed of stones, iron, earth, and grass. The larger is called Passage, 2007, constructed of iron, steel cable, and branches on a forest border at Centre d‘Arts et de Nature, Domaine de Chaumont-sur-Loire (France), it marks the start of a walking trail. Both are by German artist Cornelia Konrads.

Cornelia Konrads au Domaine de Chaumont-sur-Loire, 2015 – © Éric Sander

About her work the artist says: “What I’m most interested in is order and chaos. The visible and invisible. The material and immaterial. And I don’t see them as contradictions. They’re like poles that are in everything. I like moments of amazement and irritation. On the whole when we look, we don’t see. We wander in a sort of monologue with ourselves. This irritation and amazement shake us out of this mental drowsiness.”

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