Never stop learning

cropped-shutterstock_463036361.jpgWhen I started this blog many years ago my focus was on explaining the principles of design in plain English. I had just enrolled in a graphic design degree and I was really at the start of my learning journey in relation to design. I didn’t actually finish that degree, but it didn’t matter as I wasn’t planning to be a graphic designer and I already have quite a few degrees, so it wasn’t as if I needed another qualification.

My motivation was that I was developing presentations and I felt that my design skills were lacking. The subjects I completed were pretty good and helped me to understand all of the basic principles of design. It all fed my ongoing interest in clarity and communication. I still feel a bit bad about ditching the course, but on the bright side I’ve never for one moment stopped learning. In my view there’s nothing better than learning new things.

Happily, there are lots of opportunities to learn more about your area of interest and many of them are cheap or free. One way to learn about design and communication is to read blogs about website design. An example is this great series by the lovely WordPress people about design principles in relation to blogging. Whilst I’m clearly not a web designer (I’d have a much more whizzy website if I was), I think that these principles can be applied to any kind of design work that you do. You don’t have to be a blog owner to take these principles on board and use them in your next project. The latest installment is about designing for clarity, just up my alley.  Check it out!

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Hopelessly addicted to grammar

As a follow-up to my last post about ditching my accountant on the basis of poor punctuation, I’d like to share an amusing post from the Grammarly Blog which will appeal to a lot of my friends (and family) who love language and who champion the proper use of grammar.

I freely admit that I am one of those people who likes to point out the mistakes of newsreaders and radio announcers to anyone within earshot and I fully appreciate that it can be very annoying. It’s nearly as irritating as me correcting the spelling on my husband’s shopping list.

However, those of you who do share my passion and interest in grammar will really appreciate the Grammarly blog. Think about signing up for their weekly newsletter, it’s fun and informative and a great way to learn.

Another great blogger and podcaster is Mignon Fogarty, also known as Grammar Girl. Grammar girl posts short articles on various aspects of grammar and punctuation. Here she is doing a TED talk on why language changes.

Where does this love of language come from?

I’ve had a lot of discussions with my sisters over the years about where our love of language comes from and we all agree that we should thank our mother. Although she left school at a fairly young age, both she and my grandmother were great readers and they passed this on to all the children in the family. We all think it’s normal to visit the library at least once a fortnight and come home with an armful of books. I get slightly anxious when the pile of unread books on my bedside table dwindles to less than two.

This doesn’t explain why we are passionate about grammar in particular. Many avid readers don’t know or care about proper sentence construction and modern writers are much less concerned about the rules of grammar. To be honest, I couldn’t really tell you much about the rules of grammar either. Most of what I know has been learnt by being constantly corrected (thanks Mum) when I was a child. This is the way all the children in my family learnt that it wasn’t okay to say “I been to the shops”.

Good grammar = clear communication

I think that grammar does matter and I’d like to borrow these words from the author William Bradshaw to explain why.

Grammar, regardless of the country or the language, is the foundation for communication — the better the grammar, the clearer the message, the more likelihood of understanding the message’s intent and meaning. That is what communication is all about.

I couldn’t agree more.


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Why I ditched my accountant

I recently decided to give my accountant the flick. There are a few reasons, all of which seem a bit petty in isolation, but together they represent some of the things which work together to give you confidence that a business is well run and can meet your needs.

New brand

A few months ago the business changed their name from CFS Accounting Services to GrowUp Group. The new name really annoyed me. Even though CFS Accounting is a boring name, it’s what I want from an accountant – reliable and conservative. The new name struck me as not very well thought out, unappealing, and slightly offensive. I’m already grown up thanks very much. I’m assuming that they wanted to convey the idea of growth, but it really missed the mark with me.

New location

The business also moved offices and they’re now located behind a coffee shop. There’s nothing wrong with this, but for some reason I find it slightly weird, as if they are hiding. Again, not a very comforting thought. They sent an email to say that they were a little hard to find but they were definitely there, located somewhere in the backroom. They didn’t give any reason why they had moved and I think it’s the third move in the last four years, so that wasn’t very confidence building and I can’t for the life of me work out exactly where they are located even though I know the area quite well.

They can’t write

The final straw was the email they sent me last week along with their newsletter which I haven’t read. I know that I’m a pedant but really, a business should be able to do better than send out an email that reads like this…

As we head into the New Financial Year, we look at the top Small Business 20K deduction questions, the nation are asking. We also show you why it’s not easy financially, being a foreigner, in Australia.

The random commas made me laugh (I’m not as mean as I sound), but the poor writing was just one more reason for me to lose my confidence in them and take my business elsewhere. I’m sure they won’t notice that I’ve gone.

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Time for a refresh

I’ve recently become a bit addicted to listening to podcasts. I’ve got quite a few favourites which I plan to share in upcoming posts. Over the past couple of weeks I’ve been listening to a series called 31 days to build a better blog by Darren Rowse of ProBlogger fame. I like listening to Darren because he’s Australian and he’s very down to earth. The series is aimed at helping people like me to improve their blogging practices. You can listen to an episode here.

Take a peek

In a recent episode Darren suggested that we conduct some user testing of our blogs to see what a new visitor really looks at when they arrive and how long they stay. You can get a real live stranger to do this via a free service called Peek. It’s really awesome and a bit confronting at the same time. You simply pop your website address into the box and a couple of hours later you get a recording of someone visiting your site for the first time.

Good advice

The result was not quite what I expected but also not too awful. I’m also mindful that this was just the view of one person and that another visitor might have had a completely different response. Their main criticism was that my blog was in need of a bit of freshening up. In other words, it was visually quite boring and a bit dull. On the upside, they liked the writing which made me happy. Since the whole point of starting this blog four years ago was to practice my writing, I was pleased to think that I might be improving.

The result

So here we have a fresh as a daisy new theme and a few new features such as my favourite posts. Let me know what you think. I’d love your feedback.

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How to make your short report more interesting

stephanie everygreenToday I thought I’d share this blog post from Stephanie Evergreen. She has a business (and a great blog) where she teaches people how to display information in meaningful ways.

This particular post is about short reports. We develop a lot of these at my workplace and we try to make them as interesting as possible, but I’m not sure that they always hit the mark.

Check out Stephanie’s advice and see what you think.


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Is PowerPoint evil?

Fresh SpectrumA colleague recently sent me yet another article about how PowerPoint is inherently evil and should be banned. I’m familiar with these articles. They usually point out that the templates are rubbish and encourage people to develop endless and meaningless lists of dot points which are not helpful to anyone, especially when you are not there to provide an explanation.

I always feel a bit silly defending PowerPoint, but I really do believe that PowerPoint is an awesome tool. It has its limitations, but it also has a lot of good points.

Things I like about PowerPoint

  1. It’s really easy to share. Remember the olden days when you couldn’t share your documents with someone unless they were also using a Mac? (Or windows as the case may be).  It was an absolute nightmare to continue working on a document at home after you’d finished work. By contrast, everyone in the world seems to be able to open a PowerPoint file these days, even Mac users.
  2. Most people have a basic understanding of how to use PPT. You don’t usually need to give people instructions about how to open and screen the slides. Most people can manage the three options of slide view, slide sorter, and normal.
  3. You can change the orientation of the slides. Actually not every knows that you can work in portrait view with your slides. I do this all the time to create documents. I don’t have any other options at work for creating documents with the words and pictures just where I want them. (Word is hopeless for this).
  4. You can create quite nice presentations if you put your mind to it, use a restrained and thoughtful approach to the design of your slides and you are clear about your messages.

I love the cartoon above which I have reproduced from a wonderful site called Fresh Spectrum. You should check it out.


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Writing in the dark

I’m writing this by lamplight. Yes literally. I have taken a photo to prove it!

blogging by lamplightJPG

We have been without power for five days and I know that won’t seem very long to those of you who live in challenging climates where power failures are a regular event, but for us it’s an unusually long period to be off the grid.

We had a big storm five nights ago and over 2,000 homes were left without power in our local area. The fact that a giant tree in our front yard fell over and took out the neighbours power lines just added to the drama. Our two cars were miraculously saved from destruction, but they were trapped behind a very large tree trunk that was laid across our driveway. Fortunately a kind neighbour lent us their car and I have been able to travel to work without too much drama.

I have really loved going to work this week – there is so much electricity there! Not just hot showers, but microwaves, fridges and power points to charge your devices. We got a message to say that our partners could come to work and use the showers, but that they needed to be accompanied ‘at all times’ by an employee. That made me laugh. I’m not sure that the other people using the men’s amenities would really appreciate me lurking about in the men’s room watching my husband have a shower, let alone accompanying him into the shower.

I am trying really hard not to write a post about how difficult it has been to live without power, as I’m acutely aware that many people in the world don’t have the same amenities that we take for granted. I don’t want to whine about a situation that is after all, temporary and fixable. At some time in the next few days a nice team of workers will come and fix the power pole that has been flattened down at the corner of our street. They’ll reconnect the wires and our life will return to normal. This is not the case for refugees in so many parts of the world and for people who struggle daily with a lack of food and other basic amenities. I think we are really lucky. We still have a working toilet and the local shops are open and doing a roaring trade in hot coffee and BBQ chickens.

So instead I’m taking the time to think about all the good parts of my life. For example, our lovely neighbours who have been kind enough not to complain about our big tree making a complete mess of their front yard, cutting off their power and partly demolishing the dividing fence. The arborist who came today commented that he had been to many houses where falling trees had destroyed the relationships of previously friendly neighbours. I’m hoping that this won’t happen to us as we have the best neighbours in the world and I would hate to have a situation that is strained and difficult. I’ve been in that situation before and it’s truly horrible.

I’m lucky enough to have some internet access on my phone so I’ve been able to keep in contact with the outside world but it’s strangely quiet in the neighbourhood. We have one battery-operated radio that we found in a cupboard (thank goodness for olden days equipment), and quite a lot of camping gear that has been hauled out and put to good use. I’ve also discovered that it’s easy to read on the iPad when there’s not much light around. I’m not sure if I’ve mentioned this before but I am a tiny bit addicted to downloading sample chapters of new books from iTunes. Last night I was so bored that I read all of the sample chapters that I’ve downloaded,but never actually read, over the last few months. So now I have new list of books that I simply must read, and quite a few that I thought might be good but are actually rubbish.

All in all, it’s been an interesting an educative experience. People have been kind and generous and we have survived quite well but I am quite looking forward to catching up on some telly and having a hot shower at home, by myself.

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Verandah update

front verandahThought you might be interested in seeing what finally ended up on our front verandah! It’s an odd mixture of items. The bench is new, but the tables are a ‘side of the road’ effort.

We have done a bit more painting since then and I’ve become more confident about deciding what I like and don’t like. I think that maybe when you start to renovate (or in our case, freshen up) you probably should start in a small and inconspicuous place, rather like when you iron a new garment for the first time and you’re not sure if it can actually be ironed. We started at the front of the house and my husband left the colour choices up to me because he said that no matter what colour I chose, I wouldn’t like it when it was done. He was right!

In my case, I wanted nice dove grey paintwork and it ended up being quite purple. It’s not what I intended at all, but I’m getting used to it. I didn’t check what was going into the tint (largely red) and if I had it would have been obvious that it was going to come out purple or blue. But hey, you live and learn.

One of the things I found out in the course of this little experiment is that it’s a largely a matter of trial and error before you get the result you really want. It doesn’t just magically come together without any effort and there will always be some mistakes along the way. I know this sounds really obvious, but I had expected that if I thought about it long enough, I would make perfect choices.

In retrospect I should have realised that when I’m designing a presentation or a brochure I make thousands of changes and tweaks before I’m happy with the result, so choosing colours for the house is no different, it’s just a bigger canvas.

I’m thinking of re-painting my study now. It’s a smaller space and I think it’s going to be fun.



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Choosing new chairs

New paint
We’ve just had our front verandah re-painted and as a result I’ve been obsessing over purchasing some new outdoor furniture. I’m beginning to realise that:

a) I don’t really like outdoor furniture very much, and

b) the pieces I do like are very expensive (which is very unfortunate).

In my travels around the internet I found a couple of beautifully designed chairs which appeal to me for reasons that I can’t easily articulate. There’s something about them that is very attractive. I think it might be the fluid lines.

I particularly like this funky chair (known as the 45) which was designed by Finn Juhl, a Danish architect and interior and industrial designer.

Screen Shot 2015-01-05 at 9.21.26 pm

Finn Juhl was a pioneer in Danish design. In 1945 he designed this fantastic armchair which was one of the first to break with tradition by freeing the seat and back from the frame. The result was an elegant chair that came to characterise Finn Juhl and make him world famous as an unrivalled designer. See more of his designs here.

Another one that caught my eye is this ladderback chair, designed by another famous Dane, Hans Wegner.

Wegner ladderback chair

According to Wikipedia, Wegner (April 2, 1914 – January 26, 2007), was a world renowned Danish furniture designer. His style is is often described as Organic Functionality and in his lifetime he designed over 500 chairs, 100 of which were put into mass production and have become recognisable icons. I’d quite like one (or two) on my verandah or maybe in my study if I ever finish tidying it up!

What do you think would look nice on our verandah? Any suggestions?




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And so begins another great adventure

TidyI’m always a bit ho-hum at this time of the year. Part of me is brimming with hope and expectations for the new year ahead, and part of me is filled with a sort of ennui which I assume is caused partly by the heat and humidity.

It’s summer here in Australia and we are having a hot one. Luckily for me, I live in a cool and shady house with ceiling fans in nearly every room, except for my study (unfortunately).

One of the things I have done over the holidays is cleared out my filing cabinet, so I’m feeling a little bit pleased with myself in that respect. Heaven only knows why I thought it necessary to keep every electricity bill and rate notice for the last ten years! Anyway, they have gone now so it’s too late to worry that I might need them for something.

My filing cabinet is looking very tidy, but the rest of my office needs some attention. Oh well…

I’ve also updated my blog theme, so you might like to check it out and let me know what you think? The eggs don’t represent anything in particular. I just like them!

I hope that the new year finds you excited about where your life might take you.

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