What is Energy Star?

Screenshot 2016-07-14 12.37.07Been doing research on sustainability and climate change and I got to talking talking about Energy Star with a friend. I had seen the logo on products for a long time, but never really knew what it was. Turns out, it’s the most successful voluntary energy conservation movement in history (according to their website), and is the most recognizable brand for sustainability.

What I didn’t know was that you can get Energy Star Certified for your home and your business. Why do it? Lowering utility bills saves you money, more value for your company (and by default, your brand), and of course it’s the right thing to do for the Earth.

I’m learning that preventative measures are the most efficient ways of preventing climate change and protecting the environment. Here’s a goofy video if you’re interested… I definitely learned something.

The Food Desert Cookbook

street-art-food-2Wren, Carrie and I came up with what we think is a great idea for a cookbook and we’d love to get your feedback. Do you know what a food desert is? A food desert is when you only have a McDonalds, a convenience store, and a gas station within 10 miles of you. Access to normal and nutritional food can be tough, even in the suburbs and major cities. We were brainstorming and Carrie Heinley, who is now farming at Urban Roots, said that there’s all kinds of access to edible and nutritious plants that people could use as well. Wren had ideas on how to take fatty (but good) foods and use them to maximize nutrition.

So we came up with … The Food Desert Cookbook. The idea is to make a recipe book of meals, snacks, and methods that people can use with limited options and resources. A snack example would be a side plate of canned tuna, Saltine crackers, found dill, and some Tabasco. $1.62. We’d add up the calories and rate the nutrition with some common bar graphs/charts. Might even do a suggested weekly/monthly diet. Would definitely note what to avoid, etc.

What do you think? We’d love to hear your thoughts. Would anyone buy this? Should it be a book? Blog? Stapled Zine or pamphlet? Good for crowdfunding or no? Feel free to comment below or over on Facebook, where I’ve reposted this article.

Final Note: I want to be clear that this would be different than so-called ‘ghetto food’ (not my term) which would be like mixing Kraft Mac n’ Cheese with Cheetos or something; possibly tasty but ultimately not that nutritional.

No Ads Test

The goal of this page is to have no ads and no suggested videos.

I’m still looking to be able to strip out all linking out of the embed, including the little YouTube logo in the bottom right, etc. Thanks!

Here’s the original

Pink Elephant

Pink Elephant

A couple of years ago I was in Wiggy’s, a local wine and liquor merchant, and noticed an interesting neon sign that was normally lit wasn’t turned on. I inquired, and the shop owner told me it was old, and he was going to have another one made to replace it. Fast forward 2 years later… we struck up the conversation again, and boom… this awesome dude was in my possession! I took the piece to a guy I know here in Austin to give it some rehab … and this is the result! It’s an amazing and vibrant pink (the picture doesn’t do it justice), and am stoked to have my own pink elephant!

According to the internet … the standard meaning of a pink elephant is ‘hallucinations caused by excessive alcohol intake’, usually used in the phrase “to see pink elephants” meaning ‘to be very drunk’. Once defined in terms of hallucinations, the origin is clear: if you’re so drunk that you’re seeing pink elephants before your eyes, you are quite drunk indeed.

The earliest example for a related usage is found in the late 1890s, where the hallucinated creature is pink giraffe. In this case, it is used in the way you describe it: “pink giraffes following me all around.” The elephant becomes the beast of choice by the 1910s, when Jack London wrote about “the man…who…sees…blue mice and pink elephants” in his autobiography.

Also, the animated sequence of elephants blowing pink bubbles, set to Ponchielli’s “Dance of the Hours” in Walt Disney’s Fantasia (1940), may allude to the expression.

The State of Taxes (for Designers in Texas)

Repost from Jan 14, 2011

According to the Texas state comptroller, Graphic Designers, artists, photographers, illustrators and the like do have to charge taxes to their clients, but UI/UX professionals do not. If you do designs for anyone whose bank account happens to reside outside of Texas, then you don’t have to charge tax.

The Short Version

Graphic & Website Design = Yes, tax the client (seen as products)
Design Consulting, UI / UX = No, do not tax client (seen as designs for products)
Out-of-State = No, do not tax clients if they are out of the state.

The Long Version

The kind lady at the comptroller stated it like this: ”We don’t tax you for your opinions. Not yet.” … by this, she meant that you can design the specs for a website (opinions/consulting), but when you hand those specs off to a design and development team who realizes the results of the opinions, then it technically becomes a product, a thing… and things are taxable.

I mentioned to her that I thought that all of design was more or less the opinion of the designer. She commented, soberly, ‘It’s not about how you define the law, sweety, but how the State of Texas defines it.’  

I had to agree. Not sure why State of Texas gives a break to everyone but other Texans.


Taxable (web pages, photos, illustrations, designs) and Non Taxable Services (consulting): (link)

More specifics on the graphic arts being taxable (link)

I was given this page too, but not sure if it pertains. Figured I’d include it anyway.

SXSW 2013 Talk / Fight for the User (Or Else!)

This is my offering for a talk at SXSW 2013. If you don’t mind, please do me a favor and vote it up for me here: http://panelpicker.sxsw.com/vote/3723

This was quick and dirty.. done in an hour or so. I was under a very tight deadline, so take it easy.

It’s a talk on real world interfaces that I’ve been chewing on for several years based on my experience building Verde Camp and abroad. I’ve been collecting images and resources for it for a while. I’ll giving the talk a few times over the next few months.. to work out my timing, etc. Would love to hear your feedback on the topic or if you have ideas. Thanks! -BJ

Clients from Hell

From time to time, fellow designers ask me advice about clients and getting paid. I contributed some information to an article originally published on October 15, 2010 at Open Forum by Josh Catone.


No one wants to be immortalized on a website like Clients from Hell, which documents the worst of clients from the web designers’ perspective. Partly because no one wants to be that guy, but mostly because happy designers will produce better work. While some of the things you’ll find on that site defy logic and should be easy to avoid, there are a few general rules you can follow to keep the designer-client relationship harmonious, productive and conducive to getting good work done.

I spoke with a few designers to find out about their worst client experiences and what could be learned from them. Below is a series of anecdotes and lessons that can keep you from becoming labeled a disaster client.

1. Honor Your Commitments

“The worst client experience I can remember,” recounted freelance designer BJ Heinley, was a person trying to build a local website. “I had a few concerns early on after the client (a) balked at my hourly rate, (b) promised much more work later if I could give him a killer deal now, and (c) offered me a ridiculously generous offer of equity in his company. This seemed like a great deal, some would say too good to be true.”

It turned out to be just that. “I worked really hard for this client: I bent over backwards several times to ensure success, introduced him to people in my network, took time away from my family to meet sometimes unreasonable (and arbitrary) deadlines, and essentially did everything I could to help the company succeed,” said Heinley. But in the end, the client try to renege on their written agreement because he had introduced Heinley to other work. “[The client] told me that he felt we were now ‘paid up’ because, after all, he had delivered a new client to me! Of course, this was ridiculous. He was trying to get out of paying me.”

The lesson: The clear lesson for clients is to always honor agreements and pay on time. “Don’t be surprised if a designer doesn’t deliver final assets unless your checks are clearing,” said Heinley, who also warns designers not to work for stock unless you’re certain it will have real value (or it already does).

2. Always Communicate Clearly

“I’ve had a few experiences with ‘bad’ clients,” said designer Niki Brown, who said disaster clients are usually just uneducated about the design process — they’re not bad people. “One in particular was just a hound about money. I quoted the project at XYZ hours at $XYZ price. This included several rounds of revisions and plenty of meeting/discussion time before the design phase started. My contract states that anything outside the defined ‘scope’ of the project will be billed extra at an hourly rate of $XYZ. After the discussions with the client defining their brand and their objectives they had a ‘freak out’ and decided to take the project down a different path than what we defined in the scope. I informed them that this would cost extra (because we were basically starting over) — which they didn’t take very well and canceled the project.”

The lesson: The lesson here is to always communicate as clearly as possible. Brown said she always tries to keep clients in the loop about how the project is unfolding. But clients should also be communicative through the design process — if you have a problem, say something. “Contracts aren’t always set in stone and you can usually work out something in the end – but they are necessary as a starting point to define cost, scope and price of a project. Clear communication can solve or prevent most ‘client-designer’ problems,” said Brown.

3. Establish Clear Roles

“Going way back to one of our first clients, I can remember being such a yes-man that I’d failed to establish any boundaries along the way,” said Trent Walton, the founder of design firm Paravel. “When a few to-do items on a punch list turned into 30 non-billable tasks and I found myself on the phone troubleshooting e-mail and printer setups,” Walton knew that he had to end the relationship with the client.

The lesson: “Needless to say, we don’t work with the client anymore, but I quickly learned how important it can be to hash out relationships and boundaries with clients from the get-go,” said Walton. “Sure, their expectations were probably too high and they weren’t willing to pay for the amount of time the project required, but I have to believe that a few extra favors on my part here and there compounded the problem.”

Walton’s advice should be heeded by clients as well: determining roles before beginning the design process is a smart way to avoid headaches down the road. Designers should be clear about what roles they expect to play and how much that will cost, and clients need to be equally clear about what they expect the designer to do. Deviating from those definitions will necessarily incur added time and expense, so both clients and designers should be ready for that.

4. Let Designers Design

“One time, I had this client that wanted a website made; the deadlines and expectations seemed reasonable for the size of the site, and all seemed to be going well,” designer Daniel Waldron told me. “The client then stated that they wanted to see progress throughout the [design process] just to make sure things were on track and on course with the look and feel that they were trying to achieve. I was totally okay with that since this was the first time we were working together.”

Yet, as the project went on, the client started asking to see daily progress reports. “I then realized that the client was expecting finished elements on every mocked-up page that was being shown. I tried to express that this was a work-in-progress and achieving the desired effect often takes a lot of tooling around and experimenting,” said Waldron. “The client was looking at the works-in-progress and making changes and critiquing what was unfinished and not really ready for client eyes, in my opinion. ”

As a result, the design process ended up taking twice as long.

The lesson: “The lesson here [is] to let designers design. That is why you hire them in the first place,” advised Waldron. Deciding on a deadline then asking to see updates every day or before the designer feels comfortable showing you the work is not a good idea.

“It creates unnecessary stress for the designer,” Waldron said, “and it results in an end product that is not up to par. Take time choosing a designer whose work fits with the style you are looking for, and let them do their thing. If you feel you cannot trust them to do so, it might be best to not do business with them at all.”

5. Don’t Refuse Criticism

“One of my most memorable nightmare clients was one that considered themselves a jack of all trades (master of none),” said designer and illustrator Pasquale D’Silva. “It was a two-person company that was trying to do too much poorly instead of one thing well. It was the type of mediocre that was so mediocre it hurt. Since they were friends at the time, I bit my tongue and just worked on the project.”

Over the course of their working relationship, D’Silva tried to convince the client not to use the same outdated font and color scheme as part of a refreshed company image and not to use a poorly lit photo as their company logo. However, as D’Silva explains, his client was one of those people who “decided that one day he’d just be an art director.” In other words, the client wanted D’Silva to essentially follow a blueprint to the letter, without much creative freedom. In the end, D’Silva lost that battle with the client.

The lesson: You hired a designer because of their expertise — that’s why you should just let them design — but that also means that when offered, you should allow and seriously consider their critiques of what you’re asking them to do. “Direction is usually always welcome to provide a good base and generality of style,” said D’Silva, but your designer knows design, and clients should cede some control to the people they hired to design. Trust their judgment and listen to their criticism.