One of the Brexit faces

Graphic Design, Inspiration

I am in love with Noma Bar’s work and I have showcased some of his illustrations before on the blog here. He is using very cleverly the negative space and symbols to bring forward the intended message. Once again he did it with a current topic of discussion, the Brexit, through a cover for the British daily newspaper “The Guardian”.

Cover by Noma Bar for The guardian publication

Cover by Noma Bar for “The Guardian” publication

This seems to express the disappointment for Great Britain leaving the European Union. First you see that the eye is shaped as a tear falling on what it seems to be the cheek of the British people, created out of the negative space of the EU flag. Then there are the curves of the face drawn in such way as to give the impression of an open mouth in a shout, which can be a symbol of the voices that voted to remain in the EU or the desolation felt after the results. With minimum elements, he manages to create a very powerful effect, don’t you think?

Interview with Tomm Moore


A very inspiring interview with Tomm Moore, an Irish director of the animation studio Cartoon Saloon with two Academy Awards nominations for The Secret of Kells (2009) and Song of the Sea (2014). What is really amazing is that both animations are entirely hand-drawn: The Secret of Kells is done on paper while for the Song of the Sea it was mostly used TVPaint.

He announced that the next film is called Wolf Walkers and the first images have been released on his tumblr. I am SO much looking forward to this one!

Creative confidence by David & Tom Kelley


“Creative confidence” is the first book I listened to instead of reading 🙂 I think it was a good choice to opt for an audio book this time as walking through the process seemed a bit more personal, which is in line with the topic.

We are reassured from the beginning that creativity lies within us all, despite the belief that only the “chosen ones” (aka talented people) can be creative. The book is about fighting this preconceived notion and achieving creativity confidence which is, as the authors state, the base of innovation.

You can find a preview of each chapter here and you can read below my over-detailed notes 🙂



Chapter 1: FLIP – from design thinking to creative confidence

The human-centered approach is at the core of the innovation process, therefore understanding people’s needs, motivations and beliefs, is part of the design thinking process along with examining the technological feasibility (technical factors) and the economic viability (business factors).

There is no standard recipe for bringing new ideas to life but many programs include a variation of the following innovation steps:

  1. Inspiration: seeking new experiences, connecting with people, looking at other industries to see how the issues are addressed
  2. Synthesis: translating the research into actionable items
  3. Ideation/experimentation: generating countless ideas and creating prototypes for the most advanced ones
  4. Implementation: refining the design through an iterative process

It’s important that during the process you keep a growth mindset, the belief that we can expand our capabilities through effort and experience. Combined with focused intentionality, which refers to not leaving anything to chance, it can work miracles or at least, great accomplishments 🙂

Chapter 2: DARE – from fear to courage

We all should be familiar with the fear of failure, fear of being judged, fear of the unknown…

And most of us try to keep away from failure but it seems that what brings you closer to success is to be prepared for more failure. Or on short, failure sucks but instructs. There is no magic potion, creative people just do more experiments as innovation is a trial & error process. What seems impossible in a giant leap, it is manageable in small steps through incremental change by taking one small manageable step at a time.

Designing for courage:

  • Be a fly on the wall in an online forum by paying attention to customers’ feedback, pain points & latent needs
  • Try your own customer service by pretending to be a customer in order to live the experience by yourself and find gaps or improvement opportunities
  • Talk to unexpected experts (receptionists, medical assistants, repair persons)
  • Play detective and pursue insight by observing how people interact with your product and/or service
  • Interview customers, tell them you’d like to ask a few questions and follow-up with questions like “why?” and “can you tell me more about it?”

An interesting feeling that I believe we all experience when playing a game is hoping until the last moment that victory can be ours even if the situation is not looking always bright 😐 Apparently this is useful in the creative process (so keep it active!) and there’s also a name for it: urgent optimism! 🙂

Chapter 3: SPARK – from blank page to insight

In this chapter, we receive a long list of things to do in order to cultivate our creative spark:

  • Choose creativity: even if it sounds a bit silly, attitude is important so like any other thing that you want to accomplish, you first need to decide that you want to make it happen and put efforts into it
  • Think like a traveler: pay close attention to the environment around you, expose yourself to new ideas & experiences, see the world with fresh eyes in order to rediscover the familiar, think of it as a treasure hunt.
  • Take a class in a creative discipline
  • Read magazines & blogs of your interest
  • Listen to different kinds of music
  • Look out for new ideas from different countries, companies, industries
  • If you are stuck on a problem, get away for 20 minutes (you can take a walk)
  • Engage relaxed attention: allow your mind to make new connections with seemingly different ideas by daydreaming
  • Empathise with your end user by observing the users interacting with the product or by interviewing them
  • Do observations in the field. This is a powerful compliment to interviews as you can find latent needs, not so obvious in an interview. When you notice a discrepancy between what you see and what you expected to see, dig deeper. It’s not what you know that gets you in trouble but what you know for sure and it’s not quite so.
  • Ask questions starting with “why” and/or “what if” to understand the motivations behind
  • Reframe challenges. Before searching for solutions, step back and reframe the obvious question in order to address the real problem.
  • Build a creative support network. You don’t have all the answers and you don’t need to generate ideas all on your own.

Now, go get sparkling! OR, if it still feels like a big challenge, you can read some tips about how to get moving 🙂

Chapter 4: LEAP – from planning to action

Two words: DO mindset. Meaning that you need to minimise planning and focus on doing quick prototypes followed by numerous iterations. Translate thoughts “wouldn’t be great if” into deeds and you can even keep a bug list to come up with ideas for improvement.

Action catalyst:
  1. get help: involve someone
  2. create peer pressure: have someone else in the room to get started
  3. gather an audience: talk your ideas through and get feedback
  4. do a bad job: just get something out there
  5. lower the stakes: give less importance to the events

Chapter 5: SEEK – from duty to passion

You can see work as a job, career or calling. In order to have a rewarding professional life, you should be asking yourself 3 questions:

  1. What are you good at?
  2. What would people pay you to do?
  3. What were you born to do?

The last question is usually the hardest to answer so you can try a few tricks:

  • Watch out for the activities where you are completely immersed, when you find your flow
  • Write down each day what made you feel best and gave you satisfaction
  • Jot down the things that you love and explore the key elements that make you happy, then commit time daily to experiment with something in the area
  • Experiment with all kind of activities by enrolling in side projects

Chapter 6: TEAM – creatively confident groups

Besides building an individual creative confidence, innovation in an organisation requires collective change.

5 guidelines to build an innovation culture:

  1. Keep your sense of humour
  2. Build on the energy of others
  3. Minimise hierarchy
  4. Value team camaraderie and trust
  5. Defer judgment

Chapter 7: MOVE – creative confidence to go

This chapter is full of exercises to help you unlock the creativity inside if you. I will summarise only a few, to get a taste of it 😉

Push yourself to think divergently

Tool: mind maps
Time: 15 min
Materials: pen & paper


  • Put one big challenge in the center of the page and look at it as an opportunity for innovation.
  • Add related items and if one seems to need a mind map of its own, then put a rectangle around it to emphasise it.
  • Use each connection to spare new ideas.
  • Keep going: you are done when the page fills with ideas. If that happens and you still have more to write, then reframe the challenge to give it another perspective and start over.
  • Choose the ideas worth implementing.


  • The first set of ideas will always feel clichés, then your mind will open up with interesting associations.
  • Mind maps help to generate ideas, hence should be used early in the creative process when you want to create something new. You can then use lists to select the best solutions.
Increase your creative output

Tool: 15 sec of brilliance
Time: 10 min/day
Materials: paper & pen or digital means to take notes


  • Capture your ideas right away.
  • Use the technology that fits your life style (for example, I am using Evernote!).
Jump start in ideation session

Tool: 30 circles
Time: 3 min
Materials: pen & paper with 30 identical circles


  • Turn as many blank circles as possible into recognisable shapes.
  • Check out the quantity and the diversity of the ideas.

A very fun way to spend 3 minutes of your time!

Learn from observing people behaviour

Tool: empathy maps
Time: 30-90 min
Materials: whiteboard, flipchart, post-notes


  • Draw a 4 quadrant map with the following sections: say, do, think, feel.
  • Populate the quadrants with post-its by using one post-it per idea: do in the lower left quadrant, say in the upper left quadrant, feel in the lower left quadrant and think in the upper left quadrant. Colour code your observations by using green post-its for positive things, yellow post-its for neutral things and pink or red post-its for frustrations/pain-points.
  • Look at the map as a whole and draw insight with conclusions.

Chapter 8: NEXT – embrace creative confidence

The best way to gain creativity confidence is through action. Practice leads to small successes which lead to creativity confidence. Focus on a project for half an hour each day before/after work. Network with like-minded people interested in design thinking. Explore open innovation platforms and communities. Take action!

Hope you enjoyed the reading and if you are not yet convinced that creativity is not something you are born with but an ability to be developed over time through practice then pick up the book “Creative confidence” by David & Tom Kelley, you will surely change your mind!

Song of the Sea, the most magical animated film

Graphic Design, Inspiration

Song of the Sea is a unique animation, directed by Tomm Moore and nominated for Best Animated Feature Film of the Year to the Academy Awards 2014. It wins you over through stunning visuals in a way that at the end of the movie, even if you liked the plot or not, you can’t feel anything else than mesmerised by the amazing artwork with deep roots in the Irish mythology and folklore.

Animation style

A nice surprise is that Song of the Sea is a traditional animation made up of hand-drawn illustrations. It strikes by its simplicity of execution with attention to symmetry that flows from natural lines and geometric patterns. As Tomm Moore states in an interview for Vox:

2-D for me just has a timelessness. It doesn’t age the same way that CG does.

Character design

The mythological creatures are as beautifully drawn as the backgrounds. An array of emotions is captured by geometric designs in clean lines. The characters are all built to showcase the legend of the selkies, that are living in the sea as seals but also on land as humans, similar to the mermaids. How not to be fascinated by eccentric and quirky characters that reveal stories of their own and bring emotions in flasks?


The palette of colours is wide, from pastels to vivid hues of blue and green to paint the sea. It is present the warm feeling of watercolours that draws you more into the story, making it feel “a bit mysterious” like Tomm Moore puts it, ending by saying that “it has a dreamlike feeling”. Dreamlike it is also the genius use of light that creates an even more magical, mesmerising atmosphere. All nicely embellished by the patterns on rocks and tree barks and the textures used on surfaces.

If you’re still not fully convinced, here’s what Tomm Moore himself says about his lovely animated film:

open yourself up to a gentler, modern fairy tale, to see something that’s more organic and handmade and full of heart and not so much of a commercial endeavour

Full of magic and emotion, this tale is visually incredible! Must watch if you haven’t already and please let me know your impressions!

Visual Design in Action by Ladislav Sutnar

Graphic Design, Resources

Ladislav Sutnar, born in 1897 in Czechoslovakia, is called by some the father of information design, which is a discipline of graphic design.

Following his country occupation by the Nazi in 1939, he emigrated in New York where his contribution to American graphic design brought him an AIGA medal in 1995, almost 20 years after his death.

He was the one adding the parentheses around the American telephone area code numbers when they were first introduced by Bell Telephone Co. and as such, most of his work focused on communicating information by making it clear and accessible to the users.

Without efficient typography, the jet plane pilot cannot read his instrument panel fast enough to survive.

With the same objective…

A designer’s aim is always to intensify comprehension.

While he was the art director of F.W. Dodge’s Sweet’s Catalog Service, he wrote two books together with Knud Lönberg-Holmin on the information flow in industrial catalogs: “Catalog design” (1944) and “Catalog design progress” (1950).

He is though best known for the book “Visual design in action” published in 1961 and considered an iconic book of the mid-century, really informative and still relevant today. It reveals Sutnar’s directions on how to use colours, typography, scale and repetition based on his approach to graphic design:

resolution of the polarities of function versus form, utility versus beauty, and rational versus irrational

And now it can be yours 😉 as Designers & Books started a campaign on Kickstarter for reprinting this wonderful book, which has been successfully funded a week after the launch. Therefore, if you make your pledge of $62 by June 4th, a facsimile edition will arrive at your door this October, yay!

How do you feel about this project? Excited about the opportunity of having your very own “Visual design in action” by Ladislav Sutnar on your bookshelf?

Chineasy: The new way to read Chinese

Graphic Design, Inspiration

Developed by ShaoLan Hsueh and illustrated by Noma Bar, Chineasy is a visual-based learning system that teaches Chinease in a non-painful way and even more, quite creatively!

ShaoLan created a system of building blocks, compounds and phrases where the building blocks are basic characters and the compounds their derivates while phrases are formed by putting them together, side by side. Each building block is represented by a simple illustration that makes it easy to remember and the same illustration is adjusted in a way that makes sense to bring to life a compound. Below you can find some examples of the concept and also of the brilliant graphics that enhance the learning of one of the most difficult languages in the world.

I have learned about Chineasy last year at Design Museum in London where it was part of a 6-month exhibition following the nomination received for the Best Design of the Year.

It all started one year earlier in February when ShaoLan Hsueh gave a 6-minute TED talk to prove that even though the Chinese language seems to be to an outsider “as impenetrable as the Great Wall of China”, you can still “learn to read Chinese with ease”!

She then launched on July 23rd a project on Kickstarter that got funded in 10 days for £75.000, reaching 200% of the target in day 16 and raising in the end £197,630 from the contributions of 5,475 people that believed in this great idea. That seems like a successful campaign! 🙂

The Chineasy products consist of the Chineasy Book (physical and ebook), 60 Flashcards and 100 Postcards that can be bought from various online locations including Amazon. A second book will be released in Chinese New Year 2016 and I am sure that ShaoLan will come with many other surprises in the future given the fans that Chineasy gained during the time.

Have a look on the Chineasy Facebook page as it is daily updated with quizzes and new phrases, building a strong community of learners. You’ll be welcomed if you’d like to give it a try and you might catch up in no time!

As learning and visual communication are my main interests at the moment, I could not be anything but deeply fond of this project that makes so obvious the role of visual communication in the learning process.

What is your opinion: do you find this a strong example of innovative design?

Clever works by Noma Bar

Graphic Design, Inspiration

Born in Israel, Noma Bar is an artist, illustrator and graphic designer that studied graphic design and typography at the Jerusalem Academy of Art & Design. He moved to London in 2001 and he has exhibited worldwide, winning various design awards.

His graphics are very flat and constructed from geometric shapes with bold colours, conveying powerful messages through exquisite simplicity or as he states:

“maximum communication with minimum elements”

Cleverly using the negative space, his work is always thought provoking. You need to look at his graphics more than once because each of them is telling a story usually by hiding an image into another image. He talked about this in December last year at The Culture Show – France 24.

“I’m trying to create a story, I’m taking the viewer from one point and he evolves with my work and people see things, they change their mind, they go back, they discover more, there is a mini-journey, a mini-script.”

Therefore, his work is all about exploration and discovery, enticing to looking closer and searching for clues and meaning.

“I’m trying to find the spark, when something is there and it’s not there”

Very impressive is his project entitled Cut the conflict for which he engaged the social community to contribute with materials from countries living in conflict. These have been gathered by the artist and brought together in works that embody both war and peace, finding with this concept a way to make them live together peacefully.

One other project I am absolutely in love with is Chineasy by ShaoLan where he contributed as illustrator. This is a project meant to teach Chinese characters in a fun and easy way through simple illustrations that Noma Bar created with his brilliant clarity.

He is also the author of two books: Guess Who? The Many Faces of Noma Bar and Negative Space, the first one presenting witty caricatures of celebrities, political figures and cultural personalities and the other the dualism between negative and positive space, a dominant in the artist’s work.

See more of Noma Bar’s work on his Facebook page where he regularly uploads new graphics to feed your mind and soul. And let me know what you think about it, aren’t you wondering how does he do it?! 🙂

Free Skillshare class the week of April 20


Become a better blogger: Content planning

An easy to follow class with specific actions to help you create a 3-month editorial calendar by carefully writing your blog statement, searching for inspiration and creating the calendar template.

An Online Skillshare Class by Andrea Goulet Ford

You will learn how to identify your audience, define your writing style and set goals that are SMART (specific, measurable, appropriate, realistic and time-bound). All these compiled will take the form of your brand statement which is actually the base for planning your content.

The next step is sourcing your inspiration and you will do this by defining your content pillars and digging into a variety of source libraries. Lastly, you will be handed out a template for the editorial calendar to complete with elements like:

  • date
  • category
  • topic/title
  • content details
  • keywords
  • status
  • publication channel

There are 10 videos summing up to a bit under 1 hour and each has an action item to walk you through the process, so do your homework and see you in the project gallery!

Well-designed objects: Chemex coffeemaker


Chemex coffeemaker strikes by its simplicity, being considered one of the best-designed objects of all time, and it has been invented in 1941 by Dr. Peter Schlumbohm, a German chemist that immigrated in the United States in 1935. His straightforward statement is just delightful.

“A table must be a table; a chair must be a chair; a bed must be a bed. When, in 1938, the personal desire for coffee came up, my aspect simply was: A coffeemaker must make coffee, and then I applied my knowledge of physics and chemistry.”

The object is part of New York’s Museum of Modern Art’s collection where you can find another 22 inventions out of the 300 patented by Schlumbohn. Its form is inspired by the Erlenmeyer flask and it is made of glass, wood, and leather.


It continues to be manufactured today by Chemex Corp. with prices ranging from 35 EUR to 100 EUR so having a work of art and, dare to say, a piece of history in your very own kitchen can easily be a wish fulfilled 🙂

If there is any doubt on how to use it, you can check out below a very nice and handy video with instructions.

Also worth mentioning is that James Bond was cool enough to use it, as the coffeemaker has been featured in several movies including “From Russia with love”, as well as our friends from “Friends” and the promiscuous Don Draper in “Mad Men”.

What do you think? Do you agree that this is a good example of functional design?

Free Skillshare class the week of April 13


Productivity for Creatives: Turning Ideas into Action

A 72-minute online class with insights on making ideas happen by identifying your drive and putting in place daily habits. I bet you’ll find some good advices in here to avoid procrastination if you have decided to start learning something new or to work on creative projects.

An Online Skillshare Class by Tanner Christensen