Tonight Will Be Fine

Up late last night, as I listened to ‘You want it darker’ I thought of the simple beauty of the melodies and kindness of his voice.

I fell asleep with ‘Steer Your Way’ playing in my mind, and it was the first thing I woke to this morning before I read the news.

A good friend gave me a copy of ‘Best of’ when we were teenagers, over twenty years ago. After Dylan, there wasn’t anyone we listened to more.

I remember the first time I heard his later recordings, and couldn’t believe how his voice had changed. A voice now so iconic.

As I explored his back catalog over those two decades, I focused more on the poetry behind the music.

Often an insight, often an inspiration, and more often than not a comfort and a friend.

He was perhaps the one person who could bring spirituality to those who had lost, or never had. Delivered to us to use as we needed.

I had the great fortune of seeing him on his first return tour, at Radio City Music Hall in New York.

It was an opportunity I never expected and remains one of the highlights of my life.

Rest In Peace Leonard Cohen.

Designing with contrast

When an appetite for aesthetics over usability becomes the bellwether of user interface design, it’s time to reconsider who we’re designing for.

Over the last few years, we have questioned the signifiers that gave obvious meaning to the function of interface elements. Strong textures, deep shadows, gradients — imitations of physical objects — were discarded. And many, rightfully so. Our audiences are now more comfortable with an experience that feels native to the technology, so we should respond in kind.

Yet not all of the changes have benefitted users. Our efforts to simplify brought with them a trend of ultra-minimalism where aesthetics have taken priority over legibility, accessibility and discoverability. The trend shows no sign of losing popularity — and it is harming our experience of digital content.

I’ve written about design and accessibility, published on 24 ways.
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All change ahead

The train journey to the Home Office in Croydon lasted longer than the sum total of my registration, biometric recording and application review. As “116” flashed on the screen, I was certain the case worker required more supporting evidence or intended to raise an issue. I stood dumbfounded as they handed me an approval letter. Gathering evidence and preparing the form for application spanned two months.

The in-person application process was authoritative but reasonable and efficient. A token reward for years of the UK Border Agency’s indifference, incompetence and peddling of shoddy technology; grossly overspent solutions handed to them by monolithic consultancies.

For the UK Border Agency’s many faults, recent government reforms are producing slow but tangible results. Unfortunately, the UK Border Agency — now UK Visas & Immigration — is only the ends to a draconian, anti-growth immigration policy pioneered by Conservatives in government.

The reforms are little consolidation to the individuals and families whose lives the government’s heavy-handed crackdown on immigration put into upheaval. It’s one less lash for those of us still here.


The long-term implications of settlement — or “permanent residence”, “indefinite leave to remain”, call it what you like — aren’t immediately obvious or pertinent. I am now eligible for public funds (e.g. unemployment benefits) and I can practice as a sportsperson or doctor. Neither terribly appealing.

There is a bigger realization still coming into focus. Separation of oil from vinegar, a layer still unsettled from the mixing process. Relief that in two or three years there is not another visa renewal. Nor the anxiety of rejection, or the months of evidence gathering: providing excuses for every absence from the country, collecting a year of bank statements and pay slips, writing letters, studying for patriotic exams. I will not plan to stay — and plan to leave. Relief that the small hole of doubt in the bone marrow at the base of my neck, eager to heal but kept open by the vitriolic pandering of politicians, will begin to close.

The restrictions around work seemed reasonable at first, and in many ways prevented impulsive decision-making. In the design and tech industry, stability and long-term employment are little prized. To the extent that individuals move from organisation to startup to self-employment and back again is startling in comparison to traditional service and manufacturing industries. We love the intangibility and serendipity of it. By discouraging risk, my visa limitations kept a firm hand on my shoulder.

A grant of leave served as a ticking clock. I made some decisions mindful of this, some decisions regardless, and a few were doubtlessly made with it as a crutch.

Yet, as my life became rooted to London the deadlines simply became tedious.


When years in your life are judged by comparing the scale of variation to those prior, a stable and otherwise enjoyable year risks becoming stagnant when it is anything short of a sea change. At the end of two-thousand-twelve, I wrote:

What of next year? I intend to stay in the same job, the same flat and the same city. A year of potential firm footing? I am not naive enough to believe these things are not prone to upheaval. If, however, I keep to the ground a bit perhaps smaller, more interesting treasures are to be found.

Two thousand twelve

Perhaps to my delight, twenty-thirteen didn’t quite live up to such dull expectations. I have no similar prediction for this year. Everything is new again.

In January, both the founder and manager of Sidekick Studios moved to focus on their own ventures. This left the rest of us to decide two things. The first, whether to take ownership. Then whether we try and hire talent to both manage client relations and pursue business development. Agreeing to not take ownership was a decision not made lightly. Despite accepting that perhaps everything has its time and place, it was a sad end to a good thing.

It’s the second time an organization made me redundant, and both have spurred activity aching to be tried and tested.

The so-called Highly Skilled Migrant (Tier 1) visa offered me many opportunities, and I will always recognise how extraordinarily fortunate I was to receive the first grant and subsequent renewal. Yet while providing opportunity, it discouraged risk, healthy or otherwise. With a twelve month qualification period before each renewal, the expectation to meet salary requirements kept me from attempting self-employment.

Having these limitations lifted one month to the day from moving on from a full-time job then, is no small change. If the last five years were a river journey to outside the walls of the city, this is the gaping sea on the other side. The real prize of settlement is the choice to make a choice. Indeed, every choice is now mine and perhaps that’s far more daunting than before.


After three consecutive sets of five years in a city, is that pattern broken — or has time, experience and a confluence of events provided enough flexibility for a new arrangement? Exploding growth in the digital sector and gradual maturity of its economy provide a landscape — albeit privileged — where I can live and work divided across nations and cities.

Five years ago, I never could have predicted that I would stay. Visa renewals were a measure to keep things as they were without confronting long-term decisions. A year before my first visa renewal, I wrote:

I have lived in this country for two years and already have a sincere appreciation for my work experience, my friends, the culture, this city. I understand how difficult it could be in one year to leave all of that behind. The same decision three years on is a choice I would hope to earn…

Immigration and settlement in the United Kingdom

I think it will be some time before I understand what the real benefits and responsibilities of earning that place are.

Paul Soulellis: Resistance

Designers, marketers, branding experts blindly grabbing clients and opportunities in the name of clarity or bottom line or good design. In the end we produce a lot of surface and clutterstuff to promote and sell our clients, most of it irrelevant, unsustainable or both.

And when we’re not promoting stuff, we’re busy promoting ourselves.

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Snakes and ladders

Overworked exhaustion or idle boredom.

The unwanted but frustratingly familiar consequences of an often deliberate way of life. Drawn first by provocation to the exciting potential of a project, then to the privilege and prize of cultural education, we slip into a narrow chasm just in between.

Slow seasons, scorched days

Eyes blurred and hands folded through tangles of hair, tongue in a tangle staring at the bottom of a pint glass. Or. Back against the wall, sprawled and staring out the window at the rising (then setting) sun, mind anesthetized.

The idea of a work-life balance is a bit of a misnomer. What we do for work is what we do for life. We’re still surprised someone pays us to do what we love doing.

Sudden and unexpected leisure time is terrifying. The shimmering mirage — we spend all of our time chasing it. Daring to dream of a Saturday afternoon exhibition; the languishing chapters of a partly read novel, the digital stack of photographs that need just a few hours of care and they’ll be ready. Then! it arrives! — a sideways free fall towards a cushion of bricks. Leisure that follows burn out is not comfort but a banana rotten pillow.
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I board a train; I have no destination. The station of departure is not entirely at random, only best fit for the criteria. Within walking distance, with weekend departures, and a destination outside of Greater London. I choose the 14:29 train to Bishops Stortford, arriving at Hackney Downs with a minute to spare.
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A day of reckoning

On the 26th of March, 2013 Home Secretary Theresa May announced to parliament that the Home Office will abolish the UK Border Agency (UKBA). The agency will be split into two operations dealing separately with visas and law enforcement, under the auspices of the Home Office. The Border Agency has faced intense scrutiny from government officials for several years, and condemnation from immigrants subject to its ineffective, often Kafkaesque visa system. A search of the news over the past three years reveals an astonishing number of failures:
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Designing Design Jam, Pt 1

For the last quarter of two thousand twelve, I worked with the founders of Design Jam to design and build a website to replace the organization’s existing, partially sewn-together wiki platform. The team was lovely to work with: Joe Lanman, Johanna Kollmann, Franco Papeschi and Desigan Chinniah all contributed their personal time and effort to realize the project.

The project brief was all-inclusive in regards to the design and development of the website, but left out formally considering a revised or new brand identity for the organization. This was intentional, for sake of budget and time. Historically, event organisers had the creative freedom to craft a local identity, which might occasionally use basic visual elements of the parent group.

The identity, so to speak, was a slightly haphazard application of Sketch Rockwell (often substituted with Cabin Sketch).


The initial visual designs for the website used an uppercase application of Cabin Sketch, with a bit of kerning and resizing of individual letters; a small attempt at connecting the new website with the existing material.


The client approved the designs with this logo, and we moved forward.

Except, it bothered me.

The new website was a real step on the founder’s part to bring the impressive collective of events they started two years ago to a wider audience. The group is entirely non-profit, and as such any promotion comes from the founder’s own pockets. I saw a gap in between the serious (paid) effort of the website and the brand they stood behind. The existing font felt uneasy and frail in the new context.

The catch being, of course, that it was out of scope.

The titles, quotations and taglines of the design are set in Quatro Slab. I considered a version simply using this face in the Ultra Black weight.


The team weren’t keen on the idea. They, quite validly, preferred to keep the casual, hand drawn and essentially unprofessional typeface as it — I speculate — better represented the democratic nature of the events.

I wondered, was there a middle ground?

After a few poor trials trying to fuse the sketch lines of the original with the slab serif, I had a go at it by hand. With a few printouts of Quatro Slab as reference, I penned the nine letters in my sketchbook (my luck to work with a title without repeating letters).


I scanned the sketches and overlaid them on the computer with the precise machine letters. With a bit of manipulation in Photoshop, I extracted rough outlines: texture cut-outs. I then converted each letter to a vector object in Illustrator, with a bit more custom refinement.


The result is a mix of the clean, mechanical lines of Quatro Slab Ultra Black with the digitized sketch and shading lines. While it isn’t likely to find its way into a design hall of fame, I believe it is a suitable balance given the time and monetary constrains of the project. The client agrees, and it is finding its way into new configurations, as seen on their Facebook and Twitter profiles.


Two thousand twelve

Christmas Eve is ambient lighting and colored lights: an empty loft in a hushed and peaceful city at any other time teeming with the sounds of buses and trains, sirens and drunken wails.

This was a year of challenge and opportunity. A year of travel and learning. As it goes, everything changed then changed again.

I don’t have much use for New Year’s resolutions. If something needs fixing or an opportunity lies in sight, best to get to it. That said, I started the year with a list of outstanding aspirations: change jobs, move house and neighborhood, and submit the paperwork for a visa renewal. Incredibly, all of these challenges were sorted by the beginning of Summer.

The year began in Las Vegas: a trip wrought with the confusion and disruption of maintaining a role at one employer whilst negotiating the next – amidst a great deal of alcohol and emotion. The months followed in limbo, an object in motion suddenly aimless and still as I awaited for government approval to stay in the country. Held within borders without a passport, every new decision a massive gamble. Plan to leave and plan to stay.

Then, suddenly — release! into the current. A grant to say yes. Within days an opportunity to move handed to me, to an incredible residence in a borough I begrudgingly left three years before. A summer of events, of friends, of discovery. The marriages of two beautiful couples, an invitation to witness that I am very grateful for.

And — travel, a ticket to ride! Bath to Brighton, Somerset to Cambridgeshire, Oxfordshire and Rye. Berlin, Amsterdam, Bologna, New York, Washington DC and Belfast. Vienna.

A good year, an exciting year, but not without turmoil.

The last eight years of my life have seen continuous, tidal change. Jobs, homes, cities, countries. Though a few years stand back as unremarkable, change is the constant. I long for stability but shy from it, towards the gleam of possibility. Often, this leads to great things. However, if not balanced, these wax wings are bound to burn in the approaching sun.

What of next year? I intend to stay in the same job, the same flat and the same city. A year of potential firm footing? I am not naive enough to believe these things are not prone to upheaval. If, however, I keep to the ground a bit perhaps smaller, more interesting treasures are to be found.