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.



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?




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.

Is grey the new black?

Like many women of my age, my hair is rapidly becoming greyer by the day. I was looking at some old photos recently and my husband commented on the fact that over the past eight years we had gone from having brown hair (or black in his case), to having significant amounts of grey hair.

Unlike most of the women of my age I have resisted colouring my hair for reasons that I will try to explain…

I’m too lazy

The idea of having to ‘touch up my roots’ every few weeks is a boring and tedious task. Once you go beyond a little bit of grey at your temples, you really need to keep on top of the grey roots. One of my friends calls this ‘controlling the skunk’ because she has a tendency to develop a stripe down the centre of her head where her hair is parted.

Older and wiser?

Whilst I am only too well aware that my grey hair makes me look quite a lot older than my colleagues of the same age, I am reminded of a dear friend who once told me that in her country of origin (Thailand), grey hairs are regarded as a symbol of wisdom and the more grey hairs you have, the more you are revered. I don’t need to be revered, but it was a good reminder that being older (and maybe wiser) is not necessarily a bad thing.

It’s the real me

Another reason that I haven’t dyed my hair is because I think it encourages other women to embrace who they are and not be afraid of showing their true selves to the world. I realise that this sounds a bit pompous. I don’t think of myself as some kind of feminist role model, but I do often have women say to me that they wish that they were brave enough to just be who they are, grey hair and all.

The downside

The unfortunate part of going grey is that the lack of hair colour really drains you and can make you look rather drab. I was reminded of this in a recent article about choosing colours to decorate your home. The writer was quick to point out that a lack of colour can make a room seem lifeless, and this is the same for women. Interestingly enough, this does not seem to apply to men who are usually described as distinguished if they go a little bit grey at the temples.

If you you’ve been dying your hair for a long time, it’s quite hard let your it revert to its natural colour, be that brown, grey, or a salt and pepper mixture of the two. It takes at least six months to grow out the colour, during which time you can look pretty dreadful.

If you are thinking about letting your hair go grey, it’s worthwhile thinking about other ways you can add colour to your life. A touch of lipstick, a colourful scarf and some bright earrings can add a bit of zing and be very effective.

Grey is sophisticated

Grey and silver are incredibly sophisticated, but they require the careful use of colours and textures to make them work.

Here are some design tips that work equally well for women and for graphic design work.

  1. Keep it simple – eliminate items that don’t contribute to the overall effect. A simple approach to design always looks sophisticated.
  2. Think about textures and shapes. An absence of colour helps you concentrate on other aspects of design. For women, this means having a really good haircut. For graphic design, this means using a range of textures and shapes to create interest.
  3. Use colour to highlight the most important things. In the examples below you can see that colour has been used wisely and to great effect. There’s nothing boring or lifeless about these websites.


Website for Echo Capital Group
Website for Echo Capital Group designed by ‘Truf’ (Creative Agency)
Product website designed by 'Below Enemy Lines' (Agency)
Website designed by ‘Below Enemy Lines’ (Creative Agency)

Looking classy

I’m not here to persuade you to let your hair go grey, it’s a personal thing and none of my business, but I would encourage you to consider the elegant simplicity of grey. It can be classy and beautiful.


The opposite of simple

Many people think that simplicity and complexity are natural opposites, but nothing could be further from the truth. You can express  very complex ideas in ways that most people can understand if you make your explanations clear enough. You don’t need to dumb down your ideas to make them understandable, you just need to present your ideas in a logical order that people can follow and use examples that people understand and are familiar with.

The opposite of simple is disorganised

When ideas are poorly organised, they look jumbled and confusing. Things can seem a lot more complicated than they really are. Think of a drawer full of stationery all mixed in together. It’s hard to know what’s in there, let alone find the pen you really need. It’s the same with ideas. When they are organised in a sensible way, people feel calmer and are able to absorb ideas more easily.

Use headings to get your ideas in the right order

Getting your ideas sorted into a sequence that makes sense is perhaps the hardest part of writing a document or developing a presentation, but it’s the most crucial step. I suggest drafting a high level plan before you start writing, so that you can get your ideas in order first. This will make the writing easier as you will already have your headings and you wont need to sit there thinking about what to write next.

Try it next time you embark on a new project and let me know how it goes.


Simplify your life

cat ashtrayThere have been a lot of articles in the paper lately about how to simplify your life. These range from helpful suggestions for de-cluttering your home, to articles about being less connected to our digital devices. All of these resonate with me because I have reached that age where my elderly parents and in-laws are needing to move to smaller accommodation more suited to their needs.

This means that they need to divest themselves of all the memorabilia that they have collected through their lives and many of these items (some lovely, some less lovely) are making their way into our home. It’s quite a challenge because my husband and I are also going through a phase where we would also like to get rid of a lot of the things we no longer need, but they are being replaced by things that our parents no longer want or need. It feels like there is an endless stream of stuff that no-one really wants or needs that is insinuating itself into our lives. The problem is that it’s not just stuff of course. Every item has a story or a childhood memory attached to it, so whilst its easy for me to say ‘we don’t need that in our home’, it’s less easy for the person to whom the memory is meaningful.

I have read a few articles about how to deal with the problem of too much stuff, and the solution I like best is to take a photo of the item as a keepsake, and then divest yourself of the actual item. Another suggestion is to keep one representative item from a whole batch. For example, keep one teaspoon from a whole collection. Keep one linen tea-towel from a pile of a dozen. This can feel a bit less like you are being ruthless and uncaring.

I am only too aware that it is not the stuff that’s the problem. It’s the emotions that are attached to things that trip us up. We are human and need to recognise that our attachment to things is natural but we also need to recognise that there is only so much stuff that we need to remind us of who we are and where we have come from.



The elements of good design

The Characteristics of a Typeface (for widescr...
The Characteristics of a Typeface (for widescreen displays) (Photo credit: arnoKath)







We all like to create flyers, documents and presentations that are easy to understand and don’t confuse people. Luckily, there are some simple ways to achieve this. The main elements of good information design are:

  1. Clear and appropriate typography (you need to be able to read it easily and the font needs to match the message).
  2. Lots of white space (you need to avoid TLDR –  too long, didn’t read)
  3. A clear message (this is the hardest element as it requires you to actually think about what your key message is).

There are lots of other things that contribute to good design, including colour, but I think these are the most important.

Clear typography

This one is fairly self-evident and doesn’t require a lot of explanation, but it really surprises me how often people choose totally inappropriate fonts for their documents. Typefaces have their own personality and should be chosen with care. If you are looking for something whimsical or handwritten by all means use Bradley handwritten, but don’t even think about using this for a board report.

Lots of white space

Even a very long email or report can be made more consumable by using white space to break up your text. Use spaces and headers to avoid large clumps of text and people will be more likely to read to the end. I recommend using this technique in emails as well as other documents. Using white space makes people feel less overwhelmed and more able to read the important parts of your message.

A clear message

This is the hard one. Sometimes we aren’t at all sure about what our key message is, and as a result it can get lost in a forest of words. We can beat around the bush and confuse people by not stating the obvious. I strongly recommend writing your key message out in a nice concise sentence and actually including it in your document somewhere, preferably near the beginning.

If you are starting from scratch with a document or even a simple email message, you should put your key idea at the top. If you want someone to respond to your email, why not tell them at the beginning that you expect a response, instead of at the end?

I know these ideas don’t sound very hard or radical, but you would be surprised how much difference using these simple principles will make to the information products you create.


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Instructions for life


Like many people, I am a bit of a sucker for reading ‘Instructions for life’. You know the kind of thing I am talking about. They usually include things like being kind to yourself, trying new things and being kind to others. The other day I read a list which included having some lemony water every morning before breakfast. I’m not sure exactly what that does to your body, but I’m guessing it wakes up your mouth.


Instructions are very appealing. Just being called ‘instructions’ gives them a level of importance and authority. They are much more impressive than mere suggestions . The underlying message is that you just need to do exactly as you are told and all will be well.


So I was quite puzzled by the instructions printed on a new garment I purchased today, which read “Think climate cold wash and line dry”.  I misinterpreted this to mean that in a cold climate, one should wash and line dry the item, when of course it was actually an instruction to use cold water and a washing line instead of using hot water and a dryer.


I know that not many people would have misread this instruction, but it did make me laugh when I realised my mistake. I also know that a simple hyphen would probably have helped.




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What skills does an information designer need?

All of the people in my family are quite good at criticising other people, and that includes me.

It’s not our intention to be mean, we are just really good at noticing things. We’re especially good at pointing out spelling errors and the misuse of words.

The downside of this is that my comments can sound a bit harsh, especially when I am marking assignments or reviewing the design of a website which someone has been lovingly creating.

This happened to me at work last week. I was so busy giving the person good advice (to be fair, they did ask me for my honest feedback)that I forgot to be sensitive to the fact that few of us can really tolerate criticism unless it is delivered with gentleness.

I’m often asked to review or comment on other people’s work and I try to remember that my job is to help people improve their work, rather than leaving them feeling like it has been chopped to pieces. But sometimes I fail and I need to work on this.

So while designers need to know about typography, colours, fonts, visual hierarchy and plain English, they also need to be good communicators and that’s a skill that requires endless practice.

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What is information design?

I’ve recently discovered that nearly everything I’m interested in can be captured under the title of ‘INFORMATION DESIGN’. Apparently this is now recognised as a field of knowledge in its own right.

Why is this exciting?

It’s a bit hard to explain. It’s the same feeling you get when you have a mystery ailment – an odd collection of symptoms that seem to have no connection – and you discover that this is actually has a name, for example, arachibutyrophobia (the fear of peanut butter sticking to the roof of your mouth). It’s oddly comforting to find that something has a name. It makes it more legitimate somehow.

Three reasons to celebrate

I like the fact that information design is a recognised field for three reasons:

  1. I am interested in a lot of different areas and it pleases me that these are all connected and that I am not just finding it hard to concentrate.
  2. It means that there are a number of good books on the topic that I can read and learn from.
  3. It means that there are conferences and websites where people exchange ideas about this very interesting topic.

What do information designers do?

Information designers turn complicated concepts into things that are less confusing and easier to comprehend. They help people get things done. They design forms that people find easy to complete, they write clear instructions for new products, they help people find their way around shopping centres and universities.

They also design:

  • Websites
  • Maps
  • Reports
  • Slides
  • Signs
  • Packaging
  • Menus
  • Infographics

 Why does it matter?

If you are trying to find out how your new coffee machine works and the instructions aren’t very clear, it’s hardly a life threatening situation, but it can be annoying. If you are trying to find the entrance to the emergency centre at your local hospital and the signs aren’t clear, it could actually be a matter of life and death. What both scenarios have in common is that they leave us feeling confused and anxious and we often blame ourselves for our failure to understand. We shouldn’t do this because more often than not, the problem is that the information itself is poorly designed.

People come first

Information design matters because it puts the focus on the people who are going to use the information, not on the information itself.

I think it’s a fascinating field and over the next few months I’m planning to learn as much as I can and extend my skills.

I hope you will share my journey.


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