Themes

Themes

Christopher Murphy · 1 November, 2020

I'm working on a set of core themes that will help ground my writing as I develop The School of Design's journal . In the past – writing at The Standardistas and Tiny Books – I spent some time upfront establishing a low friction editorial policy for focus.

The School of Design is a new venture so I’m thinking through the content strategy here. (I have a slide deck that explains this, which I’ll add to The Library shortly.)

For the first time in a long time, I'm excited about the future. I'm looking forward to writing again, sharing my thoughts a little more widely and making the connections that writing inevitably uncovers.

I wouldn't normally share this kind of document, but I'm teaching a number of different courses which have content marketing elements so I thought it would be beneficial for others to see.

Themes

At a high level, these are the themes around which I plan to write. They'll form the backbone of the content for my website, newsletter and social channels:

  • Design: Design is Everything
  • Business: Pricing, Positioning, Promotion
  • Life: Purpose, Values, (Mental) Health
  • Beacons × Interviews

I've taken the above themes and broken them down into a set of indicative content below, with sample essay titles and summaries. On reading this, you should get a feel for the kind of content I'll cover.

Finally, I believed this when I wrote 'Start!' and – in the midst of a pandemic that is rewriting the rules of the world – I believe this even more forcefully. Brands that are driven by purpose and meaning will ripple out everywhere.

They will survive and ride out the storm.

Thought-Provoking

This is thought-provoking reading: I hope that essays that will challenge the reader. In terms of the level of the reading, amongst others, these – design × business × life – publications feel right:

  • Design
    • 99U
    • FastCo Design
  • Business
    • HBR
    • Farnam Street
  • Life
    • Superorganizers
    • Ness Labs

1. Design: Design is Everything

Design isn't ‘the icing on the cake’, an add-on or an afterthought and when companies treat it as such, they miss the point. Design is everything.

$1,500,000,000,000

It's no surprise to me that the first $1.5 trillion company in the world was AAPL. Design sits at the heart of Apple's culture. It's not an aesthetic layer applied on top of engineering.

When Steve Jobs died, his legacy was the articulation of a culture, a way of looking at the world that placed design at the heart.

Apple's culture fuses design and business and, thanks to its unique position – hardware × software × content (increasingly) – it's able to do things that other companies simply cannot.

Throughout the hardware, software and content sits design. Design is everything.

Designing Design

I have a considerable number of thoughts on new models for teaching design.

Anyone that knows me, will know that – at the heart of that model – is a multidisciplinary approach, similar to what was taught at the Bauhaus and Ulm.

Designers look at the world and see connections when others often don’t. It’s time for designers – embracing a human-centred design thinking approach – to rethink not just products or services, but the entire world.

This pandemic has taught us that a great deal needs to change, fundamentally, and designers should be leading the charge.

I’m about to embark upon reading Kenya Hara’s Designing Design and weave it into my thinking.

2. Business: Pricing, Positioning, Promotion

Business is often a blind spot for designers. We need to fix that. This theme expands upon business-focused content, for example: iPhone Pro as Veblen Good; Betting on Red

(I realise that the above titles are a little abstract, I'll be publishing them and writing summaries in due course.)

The Next Patagonia?

Patagonia is a useful beacon, it can act as a template for design-driven and future-focused companies that want to change the world.

Today's customer sees through the empty application of 'change the world' slogans to marketing materials. They dig deeper and they want to see evidence. If you don't have that evidence, be prepared to be called out.

3. Life: Purpose, Values, (Mental) Health

Work isn't everything. I made a mistake early in life thinking work was everything, I was wrong. This theme explores being a better human: self-actualisation, reading, psychology, time…

Beacons, Interviews

My 'A Dozen Questions…' interviews, meets profiles of Beacon companies. So far, I have…

Uncategorised

At the early stages, when you’re defining your content strategy and overarching themes, this category is important. If something doesn’t fit into one of the themes above, list it here. Do that and you may see themes emerging in the uncategorised posts.

The Grain of the ________

________ could be: web, operating system, application, wood, leather…

Finding the grain and cutting with it, not cutting across it.

A ________ Designer

I’m a designer, not a graphic designer, not an interaction designer, not a digital product designer, ‘just a designer’.

There is no need for qualifiers.

I think it's interesting that Dieter Rams, The Eames Partnership, Kenya Hara… don't feel the need to add a qualifier. (Bauhaus, Ulm, Black Mountain…)

A Bias to Action

Designers – to varying degrees – have a bias to action. Explain.

A conversation with…

Frank Chimero, Aaron Draplin, Craig Mod… What would an imaginary conversation between these designers look like? (Or sound like.)

Knowing the terrain.

We need to know the terrain – at varying scales (1:100, 1:10; 1:1) – and we need to know how to navigate it.

What are the pieces of the jigsaw?

What pieces are you moving around the board. (Sorry, mixed metaphor.)

1–1,000–1,000,000

Beyond 1,000 True Fans: 1×, 1,000× True Fans, 1,000,000×. This is all about building a product mix:

  • 1× High
  • 1,000× Medium
  • 1,000,000× Low

In terms of an over-arching theme that ties everything together, my focus is design × business. I passionately believe that design and business should be taught (in schools) and executed (in industry) hand-in-hand. Neither is a 'bolt-on', added at the end.