Tell me about yourself and your new book.
I’m Andrew. I’m a designer and writer and well-behaved troublemaker.
I’m focused on experience design in the digital realm and have been working a lot on mobile experiences, hence my new book: Big Design, Small Screen will be about mobile experience design.
I’m also brewing the idea of writing a book on digital marketing for automotive, having worked in that realm for many years. But that’s a very specific interest and I’m not sure I want to dive back into that hornet’s nest. I’m also contemplating writing a short (possibly just digital) book on in-car digital design. That’s a pretty big field that’s dominated by science journals and usability nerds, with no real designers getting involved. I also continue to toy with the idea of publishing a magazine about UX / Experience Design.
My first book, Purposely Irregular came out in spring of 2012 in paperback and for Kindle. It was all DIY, down to creating a publishing imprint to avoid the dirty business of traditional publishing and to retain all rights (and revenue).
I run my own design studio and try to stay busy writing, spinning records, and training in Krav Maga.
How long have you been working on your next book?
Well, I wouldn’t say I’ve really been working on it. I planned to have a new book since the beginning of the year. I had ambitions to have it out May 15th, the date of the last book, making it a yearly thing - but I’ve obviously missed that date.
What’s your usual writing process look like?
I write using the lazy bastard method. It’s really not like most other writers I’ve met. They seem to have a work ethic about writing that I don’t. This isn’t to say I haven’t been productive, I just can’t sit down and write if I’m not ready to.
So if there was a real process it would include:
- Decide the book is real
- Write bits everywhere
- Do a Shiva (destroy and create over and over)
- Decide it’s done
I do a lot of dictation into my iPhone’s built in dictation. So I accumulate a lot of thoughts and am in the process of putting them together like Tetris.
A lot of the time, new content appears from my brains that doesn’t fit the outline or theme I set for the book. Sometimes I integrate it, other times I just put it aside. This book is meant to be a bit more instructional than the first, so keeping tangents to a minimum is important to me, but very hard to do.
This isn’t your first book. How does that process differ from that one?
My first book was written in the span of 3 months, mostly on Sunday mornings when I didn’t have many distractions. I put on some music, usually on the turntable so I’d be forced to get up every half hour or so, and write. Once I had a lot accumulated, I printed it out and begin crumpling paper. My first drafts looked a lot like garbage dumps - I’m scribbling notes, tearing pages, and putting big X’s through content.
Once I had it in a state I liked, I got a bit more ruthless and start scrapping things again. I tended to move things around a lot, and having control of the final output let me make changes at my own whim and on my own deadline.
What tools do you use most when writing your book?
For the mobile book, I’m seeing how much I can do on mobile devices. So between my iPhone and iPads, I’ve done about 90% of all the writing. I use Drafts for most initial input, it’s a fabulous tool. I save from Drafts to Evernote, where I’m keeping the main galleys of the book.
For the print version, I use InDesign (which is horrible) and for the .mobi version I used a hopelessly ugly program called Jutoh. It’s probably the best app I’ve found for creating Kindle-compatible output.
Your first book was available in print. How did you go about publishing the print version? Do you plan on sticking to print-only for this book, or are you going to make it available digitally, too?
My first book was available in print and for the Kindle. I chose not to do multiple formats for the digital version just to keep things easy.
The print version was done using a service called CreateSpace, which incidentally is owned by Amazon. They have a lot of really streamlined tools to get content into print format, which I promptly ignored.
I had a really good idea of what I wanted the book to look like, the shape and size I wanted it to be, so I did all the hard work myself and used CreateSpace to publish the book.
Were you happy with the final product? What would you change about that first book?
I’m very happy with the results of the paper copy. It’s pretty much exactly how I wanted it, even down to the custom size. I have a bit of an issue with .mobi files in general but I can’t complain about the digital version too much.
A lot of eBook publishing is letting go of a significant amount of control.
As far as changes, I wouldn’t fix anything. There are a couple of typos that slipped through, some under-written sections, and some clumsy sentences here and there, but I love them.
At the end of the book, there are three things I put down, cribbed from smarter or better writers than I. One of them is “All errors are to be treated as hidden intention.”
That’s a quote from Brian Eno’s Oblique Strategies, which is a deck of cards with a simple phrase meant to take creative thought in new directions. I think that one is fitting for anything I do.
The other two are both from David Bowie. They are: “To be played at maximum volume” - which was the instruction on the back of the Ziggy Stardust LP, and “Let all the children boogie” from the song Starman, which is just great advice however you look at it.
How has writing and self-publishing a book changed your career?
I like to think my career is always moving like a drunk wanders, so it’s hard to say. I do get some recognition from the UX crowd and was invited to speak at a really high-profile design conference because of it. There’s definitely a group in the UX community that dislikes the book, which makes me very happy.
As far as having a book that shows expertise in a specific realm, it’s a fantastic device for getting work closed. If someone is considering a few designers and we all have portfolios but I also have a book, chances are good I’m getting the project.
I think more than anything, writing the book, starting a publishing company all in a DIY method gets me more notice than the content of the book. Book publishing still seems an arcane art to a lot of people, and having broken through the perception of unattainability gets me some bonus points.
Working on side projects can be very time-consuming. How do you manage side projects with full-time work and spending time with family and friends?
My work is part of my life, so the idea of work/life balance is not something I struggle with.
I also, thankfully, don’t have a job where I’m a piece in a big machine, which gives me a lot of flexibility to manage my own time and productivity.
A side project to me is less of a burden than it is an opportunity to try something new. It doesn’t always work, and a lot of projects like my UX podcast fall by the wayside despite my best intentions. But, if I’m in a rut, nothing gets me out quicker than trying or creating something new.
How do you avoid burnout and lack of motivation when working on your books?
Motivation is a tricky thing for me. I tend to have long periods of not being productive followed by a flurry of activity.
This seems to bother some people as I look like I’m not doing anything, but in that downtime my motivations are different. I gather a lot of thoughts and play a lot of ideas out in my head and I’m always capturing bits of things that will prove valuable later.
Also, having total ownership on the finished product means I only answer to myself. I never got into writing books to make money, so there’s no stress level associated with writing in that regard. I’ve been lucky to continue making a bit each month since the book was released, so thanks for the beers everyone who bought a book.
By not tying any stressor to my writing and publishing, (other than my own damn self-judgement) I can deal with any motivation issues better.
What has been the hardest part of working on your book?
I have two main goals for my books:
- They be the type of books that help people learn and do
- They are read from front to back
So for the mobile book, I’m pretty comfortable with the first goal being covered as I’ve been demoing a lot of the practical parts in talking gigs for the last year.
The second goal means I want to write smart, concise books. It’s easy to crank out a 300 page tome of uselessness. I find most books on UX to be like that. When you write a book of that size, with such self importance, I have doubts it ever gets read. I used to buy a lot of design and UX books and know how many look good on shelves vs. have great content.
If I have one concern about the mobile book, it is letting it get too weighty to be valued. I also try to make my books as entertaining as they are informative.
Everyone takes things so seriously, I want a lighter spirit in my books.
Lastly, I believe mobile is moving way too fast for any authoritative tome to be written right now, so a quick and direct guide to get peeps working in a mobile context might be pretty valuable.
What has been the best?
Writing is good for the soul. Most people are scared of writing, scared of that act of creation that immediately gets judged by everyone who reads it.
Putting a piece of your mind out into the world is scary, and unlike design there are very few unbiased writers. What one writes is typically what they believe.
I’ve done an amazing amount of thrilling things in my life, but the first time I looked at a book I created is way up on the “awesome shit of my life” list.
Who do you look to for inspiration when working on your project?
Not really a who, more a lot of whats. Music, art, movies, design, stories, kids. Inspiration is everywhere if you know how to connect the dots. I don’t seek inspiration so much as I try to be open to the world and let things find me.
I know you’re an avid record collector. What are your favorite records for getting the blood flowing when working on projects?
That’s a huge question. I added a playlist to the back of my first book, which was really a reflection of the ideas I had inside and also was a sizeable chunk of what I was listening to a lot at the time. I’m a huge Bowie fan and love punk rock of all eras. Depending on the mood, the time of day, and the weather, my musical choices change, but they always serve to inspire me.
For the new book, there’s been a lot of Frank Turner, Laura Marling, The Clash and Frightened Rabbit. If anyone has interest, I started using Last.fm again but still can’t figure out a bit of magic to have it track my vinyl listening.
What words of advice would you give to someone just starting out on a new project?
Kick some ass if you want it, but quit if you don’t believe in it. There are too many unhappy people in the world to continue failing and struggling with things they think they should be doing.
I want to tell everyone starting their own project one thing: you are doing ten times what most people will ever do. There’s enough mediocrity in the world, go forth and be amazing.