Wood&Faulk

I came across Wood&Faulk through the Made by Hand store (which is awesome – I suggest checking it out!) and I love everything they do/he does. Especially the journal section of the site. I really quite admire the detail and depth that goes into the little projects (especially in the documentation of them!) and it goes to show just how passionate you can be. The quality of the goods in the store looks awesome, and if it’s made anything like the little projects in the journal section, then I’m sure it’s fantastic! I’m really quite tempted to order The Littlest Northwesterner after reading the journal article about it. The leatherwork is inspiring and I really want to start getting into making great things with raw hide. I just wanted to share this, and put it out there so other people can see some of the fantastic stuff being made and documented.

Micro-documentaries

Recently, I’ve been noticing and really appreciating these little micro documentaries that are being put out to promote products, processes or even little coffee shops. They’re not that new in a lot of cases, but I think they’re an absolutely fantastic way of showcasing what you love to do and presenting it in a wonderful and eminently sharable light.

I’ve tried to collect the few examples which I feel showcase this style the best. If you can think of any more that would be well suited to the list, then by all means contact me and I’ll add it in.

First off, I think a shout out has to go out to Field Notes. They make these wonderful videos almost as part of each design of notebook. Not only do they produce fantastic ledgers, but they make some mean documentaries on the process behind them, showing you their small-town made-in-America roots and the wonderful über old school printing processes behind them.

Secondly, I happened to come across Made By Hand through Daring Fireball or maybe another twitter link, but it’s wonderful. Made By Hand is a mini documentary series highlighting the very personal work of some skilled crafters based in Brooklyn. The films are immaculately produced and directed by Keef and a new one is released every couple months of so. Above is my favourite so far, about the knife maker.

Now time for some coffee based documentaries. For some reason some really quite kitsch coffee shops tend to make the best little videos showcasing their mad barista skills, or their bling new Kees van der Westen espresso machine. Maybe the care and attention that they give to coffee making lends itself very well to documentary producing. Anyway the first example above is from Cup Speciality Coffee in Brisbane.

The second coffee based documentary is less self explanatory, but in essence it’s a fantastic visual of the morning opening of the shop. With the best music (Why? Why Not? by Cachao) to go with it.

Finally, a small documentary on brewing and his personal history behind his company—Kernel—produced by eatbigfish. It’s much more informative I feel, and far less ‘arty’ but it gets the point, and most importantly the passion, across in such a great way which is why I’ve included it. Perhaps a mashup of this and the original Made By Hand video on The Distiller would make for a great intro/launch video for a small drinks company, combining process intuition with artistic flare.

Betabrand

Disclaimer: Betabrand, I love you.

Rarely do you come across such amazing companies created with such a humourous vibe. Their concepts in marketing are spot on — not taking themselves too seriously, creating wonderful limited edition/limited volume clothing, and just the most fantastic descriptions (“Unlike vertical corduroy, which produces friction that can heat your crotch to uncomfortable, even dangerous levels, Cordarounds’ horizontal wales mesh evenly, lowering the average wearer’s crotch heat index (CHI) reading by up to 22%”). And the social integration with the Model Citizen gallery, where you upload a photo of yourself with Betabrand clothes to receive a 20% discount, or Betabrand ‘glasses’ to receive 10%. Amazing. It’s like the chatty Crumpler marketing, but turned up far past 11. I just gotta purchase some of those horizontal cords.

p.s. I also love the judicious use of Helvetica.

eightpointnine coffee

So I came across this little fairly new coffee by post service on Facebook the other day. It’s called eightpointnine (the number of grams of coffee required to make a good 160g cup) and it’s essentially a mash up of Graze (the people who make the cool little snack boxes delivered to your door), and some of the coffee-by-post subscription services offered by the likes of Has Bean and Square Mile Coffee Roasters. They had (and still do) have a free trial thing going where you get the first box for free, so I figured that I should give it a go. Here’s what I thought.


I received this box in the post yesterday morning. My first thought was how ‘graze’ of them. It’s almost the same dimension packaging. I guess because it does fit elegantly through letterboxes. Though considering this is coffee, perhaps all this packaging, for just 150g of beans is maybe overkill. Would a more rigid bag with similar dimensions not suffice? It just seems like a lot of waste.

Opening the box reveals a bag of beans and an info card hidden under it with the details of my blend. The general aim with eightpointnine is customisation of the blend of beans, and I think they attempt to do that well. You can choose how you like your coffee on a scale of spicy to fresh and another scale from light to rich. What I perhaps have a issue with, is that focussing so exquisitely on the blend is a losing proposition. There are obviously other factors, that probably outweigh this. Namely the beans, and their origin/background and the roast.

There’s even a blend date?! What conceivable difference to the coffee is blending on a different date going to do? Old beans blended with old beans are still old beans, even if they were blended yesterday. Roast date is what you want to be focussing on. Ideally you want the freshest beans possible, and by freshest, I mean those with the most recent date of roasting. Perhaps changing the focus of the product to reflect this could be beneficial. I would prefer having a single origin coffee with a recent date of roasting than a personally tailored blend roasted an indiscriminate number of weeks or days ago.

And the price too. I’m not wholly convinced. You’re paying £5.89 a box normally, for 150g of coffee. At Has Bean you’re paying between £4.00 and £9.00 for 250g, and £1.96ish for shipping. That’s pretty much the same price for more (definitely fresher) coffee at the cheap end of the scale. Square Mile goes for £7.00 to £10.00 for 350g, and £2.45 shipping. This is again pretty much the same price per gram, and it’s likely to be fresher. If you then factor in the subscription coffees that these companies do, then you’re likely to save even more.

So overall, I do think the idea of having a custom blend appeals, and the manner of the subscription service is great, but there are far more fundamental things that they could focus on. Ahem, roast date. And perhaps the packaging could maybe be redesigned and reduced.

I really shouldn’t have a pseudo review of coffee without mentioning the actual coffee. It’s quite dark roasted (especially as I chose light), it doesn’t smell amazingly fresh, and it’s just distinctly average brewed as espresso through my La Pavoni. Sadly (and I mean that honestly, I would have liked to like this), it’s nothing on Artisan Roast’s Janszoon, which I really rather enjoyed.

A Spotless Future

So I had a great day today, one of those days where I get a chance to catch up with myself, and get down to some reading. Getting a better understanding of life (mainly other people’s)…

So I managed to finish off both Delivering Happiness (Hsieh), the book on Zappos, and Let My People Go Surfing (Chouniard), that on Patagonia. Don’t I just love corporate autobiographies? I also made a sizeable dent in The Checklist Manifesto (Gawande) and Walden (Thoreau) (just to read something different).

Anyway, they’re both great books, and I feel like I should put forth some take home points that I enjoyed from them. Firstly, from Delivering Happiness:

  • There’s a point in the book where Hsieh is talking about how he goes about giving talks and presentations and that after giving up the strategy of writing a script and reciting it, he essentially freestyles, and reaches what he envisions as a state of Flow as Csikszentmihalyi describes in the book of the same name. I’ve read a little of Csikszentmihalyi’s work, I’m halfway through Creativity, after seeing it recommended somewhere (the New Yorker?) and it’s fantastic. So this is a new book for my list.
  • There’s a great list of ‘Top 10 Questions to Ask When Looking for Investors and Board Members’ that Hsieh goes into when looking for new people or new companies to get involved it. I’d check that out.
  • Finally, after toasting ‘Infinity and Beyond!’ to the takeover/marriage of Zappos and Amazon, there’s a lovely little quote, not attributed to anyone which reads:

No matter what your past has been, you have a spotless future.

What a great way to end.

And then from Let My People Go Surfing I noted this particular points:

  • Look into a book called The One Straw Revolution by Masanobu Fukuoka, about the careful ecological use of land.
  • I also really like the definition of wilderness as “a place that is more than a day’s walk from civilisation”. This however leads on to the fact that there are few such places left. It almost explains going into the wild.
  • I also made a note to look into the book Confessions of an Eco-Warrior. And that reminded me also to check out Abbey’s The Monkey Wrench Gang. Two more books I guess…
  • I really rather enjoyed reading about the section where they looked into where the chemicals that were used in their dyes came from. Entirely reminded me of Cradle to Cradle (a book that I wholeheartedly adore). I was later then unsurprised in the book to come across mention of William McDonough. Fantastic work on the behalf of Patagonia though, looking into the origin of chemicals in their products.

I guess I now just have to read some more. I might even re-read C2C.

Onward – reflections…

Well after outlining the list of books to read/the ones I’m currently attempting to get time to read, I managed to finish Onward, Howard Schultz’s (of Starbucks fame) second book.

Fittingly I sit here writing this in Starbucks, but nonetheless there are some wonderful take home points from this book that should be brought up. Firstly, I did not realise how bad a state Starbucks was in back in 2007. Literally had no idea it was that bad. This book explains them wonderfully, and Schultz’s writing style is fantastic, super accessible, but more importantly ultra informative. The lay-off and cuts sound terrible, real shitty, but at the end of the day they’re necessary for the business to survive and prosper in the long term. Which gets me to my (or at least the one that I discovered from Onward) first take home point:

…growth for growth’s sake is a losing proposition.

This book (and the company) is a wonderful example of why. Expanding on that point, and very much related, is the second take home point that I perceived:

From day one, I knew we could not transform the company if we did not excel and lead in our core business, and so a goal that began with Espresso Excellence Training evolved into innovative products and practices that continue to improve the quality and delivery of our brewed and espresso beverages.

Understand and build on your core competencies is probably the best way to put that. It’s so true.

Finally, the brief mention to the concept of Lean, affectionally put as:

…a nontraditional way of managing and working that claims to reduce redundancies and waste while making conditions easier for employees and improving products and service quality for customers.

is a fantastic little section, spearheaded by a guy called Scott Heydon. It outlines beautifully what programmes like this can achieve, or at least how they can be worked into practice. I’ve started reading Ries’ The Lean Entrepreneur, and i hope it will be as interesting!

A few more books have appeared on my radar, and they’re being added to my Kindle ever so soon, so expect an update on the reading list. Meanwhile, Michael Lewis has a great new(ish) Vanity Fair article.

A talk I discovered a while back on design and freelance work, and the role of lawyers and contracts is also very worth watching. F*ck You, Pay Me is the title, Mike Monteiro is the speaker, and it’s available here.

Businessy (sic) Books…

So my recent readings on my Kindle, and my plans for future readings on my Kindle have all currently been strangely in the topic of business-like/entrepreneurial books. Many of them autobiographical in the sense of the business being talked/written about. I find these fascinating, mainly for the inspiration and enthusiasm that they ignite in me. I figured I should probably compile a list at some point of the ones that I’ve read, and how great they are, and the ones that I’m yet to read and so on, just to keep a record of sorts. If you think of any obvious titles that might be missing, then let me know. I’m always eager to discover new reads.

  • The Four Hour Work Week, Tim Ferriss – I discovered this through his profile in the New Yorker (which, by the way, is fascinating and can be found here). It’s great to read, as is his 2nd book, The Four Hour Body, and I’m totally looking forward to his new one, which will be the flagship of Amazon’s publishing venture.
  • Losing My Virginity, Richard Branson – This was mentioned in the New Yorker profile on Ferriss, and is in my to read list, currently waiting on my Kindle for some attention.
  • Let My People Go Surfing, Yvon Chouinard – Again, from the same New Yorker article, but I’ve pretty much finished this one. It’s a great read, exciting and insightful.
  • Rework, Jason Fried – I’ve been recommending this book to friends after using some 37signals products and reading how great a company they are (and how great this book is), despite never reading it. Suffice to say it’s on my list and it’s a matter of time.
  • The Lean Startup, Eric Ries – I read the intro to this in Inc. (which I would wholeheartedly suggest keeping up with), and then picked it up once again in the Harvard Coop book store, began reading it, and then wondered where I’d read it before. It’s a pretty great book, I’m about halfway, check it out.
  • Delivering Happiness, Tony Hsieh – It’s all about Zappos, and the tales behind its founding and culture. Really fun stuff and particularly enjoyable.
  • In The Plex, Steven Levy – Google. Enough said. I enjoyed his book on Hackers, and his pieces in Wired. This is on my to read.
  • Pour Your Heart Into It and Onward, Howard Schultz – being a former Starbucks employee I should really have read these, I’ve read the first 1/3 or so of Pour… and I like it so far.
  • The Rare Find, George Anders – It’s a pretty new book, I only really heard about it today, but as with others, it’s on the list.
  • The Design of Everyday Things, Don Norman – It’s really fun and appeals to my engineering mind. Not the newest book, but it’s still very relevant.
  • The Big Short, Michael Lewis – He’s pretty much my favourite author (along with Gladwell), and this book is part of the reason (though not anywhere near as much as Moneyball or The Blind Side). His articles in Vanity Fair on the European Economic messes are spot on, and his new book will be on my Kindle soon.
  • A Book Apart books, Various authors – These cover a range of topics, primarily web design and strategy, but they’re concise, useful and there’s always new ones appearing. Have a look.

Beyond this, which is only a limited selection so far (prepare for it to expand in the near future), then I read Inc. magazine, Wired and (if I have time) Harvard Business Review. There’s a lot of good ideas hidden in there.