(synthesised music) - Thanks John, thank you everybody.
How's the event been from where you're sitting? Pretty good? Yeah, oh that, I'm sorry John that was a pretty underwhelming response.
You might not have heard me.
How was the event? Pretty good? (cheers and applause) As the last speaker I'd just like to personally thank John, and Rosemary, and Sue, and everyone else on the Web Directions team for both having me here, but also putting on what is again, a fantastic event.
As John said, I've spoken at a few of them. I've attended a few others I think.
I recall kind of volunteering a little bit in Atlanta as well, I mean it's just.
For a very, very long time Web Direction's set a very high standard, and this year is not exception. So thanks for having me all this way.
It's also great to be back in New Zealand.
(laughter) Sorry, I couldn't help it.
I'm always getting asked where I'm from.
What's funny is, in the United Kingdom everyone just guesses American.
Sometimes they guess Canadian.
'Cause if any of you know Canadians, are there any Canadians here? Right, one, there we go.
Okay, being from the US and the UK is kind of like being Canadian I guess.
It's kind of stuck somewhere.
What's funny is when I travel around the rest of the world, people guess Australian. Which is very strange to me.
Maybe it's just because you travel all the time. Everywhere.
But I'm honestly not trying to put on an accent, ever. The last time I was back here actually was, well about three years ago.
But the first time I was here was when I spoke at Web Directions.
(squeaking) I'm not gonna stand there.
When I spoke at Web Directions South as it was called back in 2010.
I was speaking on design and CSS and HTML.
And I was able actually to pull this up off the internet archive funny enough.
I was curious if I could.
And it worked, even with all the images.
All the images.
It's interesting to kind of look back then at what I was doing, what my life was like, just seven years ago compared to what it is now. I spent all my time working and thinking, and living and breathing professionally.
Design and front end DEV, and kind of product design on that side of what was being built for the web. And when John asked me to speak back in December, it was a long time ago.
I told him I wasn't actually certain about what I could talk about.
He explained a little bit about our conversation back then but, I really wanted to come back, but I was in the middle of a lot of different things. A lot of transition.
And we started talking about all those things that I had my fingers in.
And as John said, what came from that is kind of that the story itself sounded really interesting. I didn't know where I was going to be in that journey, in that story of mine come November. But I knew it would be interesting because it already was. I was already kind of letting a number of things unfold at that point.
And I was also at the start of an experiment that I'll share a little bit later that was inspired by kind of a mixture of intentional and unintentional happenings last year. And in a bigger sense, things that have been happening my entire life until that point. Before I talk about any of those experiences and what I've learned, and what I hope you can learn from it.
I figured I'd start with how I got here in the first place. Now I'm not gonna go all the way back.
But, I love this.
My mom pulled this out of a drawer a little while ago. And I love it for two reasons.
First of all that's not me five years ago.
Just in case you're not clear.
It's more like 40 years.
I like it for two reasons.
First of all the photography aspect of my life, which I'll get to in a minute, involves in a lot of ways, it wouldn't have happened without Polaroid cameras. And this is, back then, when you're this old, they took a Polaroid of you at the hospital when you were born.
So I loved when my mum pulled that out just a few years ago. It's like, ah, this is really cool.
But I'm not gonna tell my entire life story from there. But I will get to it.
But I'm gonna focus on my life on the web as the title implies, my life on the internet. And all of the things that kind of come along with that. Now I've been online a very long time.
And I'm sure some of you have as well.
John probably slightly longer than me.
How many of you, we're gonna do a quick show of hands. And what we'll do is, if it applies to you, keep your hands up, and put your hand down when the year doesn't apply to you.
We're not gonna do a tonne of this but.
How many of you have been online for at least five years. Okay a good percentage of the room.
Keep your hands up if you've been online for at least 10. God, not many hands went down there, that's cool. At 20? I'm just gonna skip over 15.
Okay we lost like half.
How many of you have been online for 25 years? Okay we've still got, it's actually pretty impressive.
I didn't know they had the internet in Australia back then.
(laughter) (laughs) What, no.
As quickly as I can I'm gonna tell you a story about my history with the internet and the world wide web.
It starts around 1990 or so.
Now for perspective, I was 12 in 1990.
I'd been home schooled.
My mum had been homeschooling my brother and me. My mum's the English side of the family.
So I grew up in Miami, Fort Lauderdale area. And my mum after me being in school for like a year, not even a full year, in public school.
She said, this isn't right, this isn't good enough. Her standards were higher than the US school system. It's not hard.
Any Americans in here? Yep, you ran away for a reason didn't you.
But one of the downsides perhaps, of being homeschooled is the lack of access to some of the things that I might have otherwise had access to in the public school system. Namely computers.
My mum and dad were on the older side.
So they weren't into computers at all.
We didn't have one actually in the house until I was 12. And that only happened through the most random chain of events that a neighbour on our street, who was very, very into his technology.
He was a Vietnam vet and just kind of super into tech and other things.
Didn't have kids of his own.
And we were the only family that was homeschooling in the entire, entire like area code.
I don't think anyone else was back then.
It was barely even legal.
And so everyone knew that we were at home.
And we had a lot of neighbours who would kind of, very generously share their access, and their information, knowing that there were certain things that we might not have access to ourselves.
And this guy, Bob Patterson gave our family a Macintosh Classic, which was a pretty big deal. So when I was 12 I got a computer out of nowhere. And it was this.
And I still have it in a closet somewhere.
It still boots up.
And it's amazing.
It actually boots up really, really quickly too. Technology now is so slow.
It's kind of depressing.
But this was my introduction to technology, to computers. Didn't have access to the web or the internet yet. The web didn't exist yet.
But I was right there.
Or actually, technically the web did exist, but no one really knew about it.
By the time I was 14, a couple years later, I had access to internet and email.
Both through the public library and through this neighbour Bob who had a satellite dish. It was probably 10 or 12 feet across.
And he had an ISDN line.
Does anyone remember what those things were? He had one in his house when no one had them. And through an agreement with my mother.
I would have like supervised time on the internet. There wasn't a web browser yet, that anyone had access to.
And so at 14, I actually still know.
This was my library email address that I had. That was the first email address that I ever had. I still have it in my address book for some reason. And I'm so glad I do.
I haven't checked it in probably 20 years.
So from 14 I've been online and doing things. Whatever they happen to be.
It was a very natural part of my existence because I was caught right at that time where I was just inherently curious about everything. Just getting into my teens and throwing myself at all sorts of things, because I was able to, I was allowed to.
My mother encouraged that because I wasn't at school. Like anything could potentially be a subject. Fast forward a little bit to 1994.
This is a big year.
My parents granted me internet access at home. Now I was 16 in 1994.
This was the same year the W3C was founded. It's before AltaVista.
Does anyone remember AltaVista? And Yahoo, and Google even existed.
And my parents, as old as they were, compared to my contemporaries, and as non technologically aware as they were, they could have very easily been like all the other parents back then, and been scared of the internet.
But primarily because of our neighbour Bob who had been very educational about what this thing was and what it could be, they understood. And so when I asked, can I have a modem, can I share the house line? They said yes.
Back then it was a 14.4 modem.
Which was pretty fast at the time, if you don't know. Then it was followed over the years by 28.8 and 33.6, and then finally, finally the Holy Grail of the US Robotics 56K.
And then of course ADSL which was, oh my God fast, so fast.
But 56K was so fast.
Enough of you held your hands up that you remember 56K and what a big deal it was right. Yes.
You also know this don't you? (modem dialling and laughter) Yes, yes.
The most annoying and nostalgic sound in the history of anything.
You can turn that up too.
It's great you can just bask in it.
(phone modem connecting) We're not online yet.
(phone modem connecting) It's still happening.
(phone modem connecting) Sill going.
Ah, there we go.
And then you wait for a page to load somewhere. (laugher) I also was very lucky back then to have the opportunity to house sit for some friends who, and this might seem like either strange or normal now.
But to me it was just kind of another normal everyday thing. But they were friends of the family who ran their own web hosting company.
And they went out of town.
I was nearly 17, it was like in my 16th year. And they went out of town.
Knew I was interested and involved, and kind of just tech, and other things, and trustworthy. And they had me house sit for a week, to make sure that if there were any kind of, anything went down they could call me, and I would just be there during the day to reboot something.
Nothing, nothing happened.
So what was I doing? I was sitting at this bank of kind of computers in a shed in someone's backyard, figuring out the internet.
I was on the web then.
This was before there were many things that we now know as search engines.
So you kinda had to go on Usenet and look up, you know, basically, they weren't even URLs. You know you looked up IP addresses and sub folders that linked to interesting things. And they were all interesting.
It was just suddenly, suddenly the world became very, very small and large all at once for me.
And being 16 back then, and having that kind of access, suddenly between that and being able to be online when I was at home as long as my mum wasn't using the phone. So basically at night right.
Suddenly I'd gone from only a few years earlier, not having the same access as any of my contemporaries, to now having way more access, to both tech and information than anyone I knew. No one knew what the internet was.
No one knew what the web was who was my age. And I was just immersed in it.
Which being in Miami, Fort Lauderdale was a pretty special thing.
Because that's not a really tech centric place. It's a beach centric place.
And so I spent a lot of my time not at the beach during those years.
Go to 1995, 97, I managed to wrangle myself a job as the assistant to the curator at a museum that was about to open.
Now this wouldn't have happened if I hadn't been in Boy Scouts, another tangent that I won't go into.
But it was being built for the Seminole tribe of Florida. And one of my advisors in Scouts was the curator. So instead of having to have at least one university degree to be a museum's curator's assistant, suddenly here I am, 16, 17 being given all sorts of responsibilities. And those, I was getting interested in graphic design, and typography back then. Separate from kind of tech, but because I had access to a computer that could do these things.
Aldus PageMaker does anyone remember that? Freehand.
Ah, it was good years.
I miss those.
And I was experimenting with them at the museum whenever I had an opportunity.
But I was also kind of playing around with other things that I was given the opportunity to kind of grow into at the museum.
Because I was the only one on the staff who knew anything about tech.
Suddenly being a 17 year old kid who knew about tech was a really, really cool thing.
I'm not sure if it's still is a really cool thing. It never kind of qualifies as that.
But for me it was.
I got to play with exhibition design, video editing, and most importantly for the rest of my kind of career, interaction design. Because the curator asked me if I could build an interactive exhibition.
And of course I said yes, right.
Because that's what you say when you're asked to do something like that.
I lied through my teeth.
But I knew I could.
And what was interesting about that.
The museum opened in 1997.
So I was building it before then.
Turns out, after the fact, I realise now.
It was only the second interactive exhibition at any museum, at least in the US.
It could've been worldwide.
The only other one was one at the Smithsonian. They had one computer at it.
And it was really bad, and that's the one the curator had seen, because he knew William Sturtevant who was the curator of the Smithsonian.
He said they have it, we're gonna have it.
So I built this thing, I speced it out.
They gave me an insane budget, and all the books that I asked for.
And I learned about interaction design.
And that was using Macromedia Director.
Who used that? Great.
Oh cool, a lot of you.
We've got a lot of old people here John, (laughter) Skipping over a bunch of years all at once 'cause otherwise you're kinda looking at your clock going, are we gonna end today? So kind of at the end of that, when the museum opened my kind of contract there was done. That's also how I ended up working for myself. I had to be a contractor.
I couldn't work for the tribe and be white. That was just their rule.
So you had to be an independent contractor. So a friend of the family's was an accountant, and said yeah, you're a sole proprietor, great. So at 16 I was working for myself without knowing what that meant.
Or knowing whether that was better or worse than working for anyone else.
I just didn't know any better.
So I never stopped actually.
I still haven't to this day.
And during these years, I started freelancing first.
Doing a mixture of design, and then playing around still more with the web. Which I'd started to do at the museum a little bit. No one really knew, there wasn't a term for web design. You were a web master.
Who was a web master? Yeah.
We were cool.
(laughter) But no one knew what web design was.
I was doing design and typography and kind of print related stuff on one side, and playing around with designing, like writing HTML tables right.
And slicing images, and using spacer gifs and all that fun stuff.
Just because it was fun, and I could.
There wasn't really a market for it yet.
I was just kind of playing on that.
And playing around with it.
My brother and I started a little studio.
He's a software engineer.
He's now kind of grown into a really, really good software engineer.
And we kind of played around back then.
In 1999 we started our little studio.
And we're taking on jobs, whether they were print or digital.
It started to grow more and more over the years. And the more we told people about what we did, the more people asked for it.
We worked with a lot of clients, big and small over the years.
Some of them you might recognise.
It's pretty cool that we got to work with people like that. I also coauthored a few books along the way. Signed up for Twitter in 2006.
2006, that's when it came out.
My Twitter anniversary is next week.
It's really, 11 years, it's very odd.
I'm so glad Donald Trump didn't know about it back then.
(laughter) It would have just ruined it.
Started public speaking, nearly 10, 11 years ago now as well.
All the while being very involved with something. Another tangent I won't get into, but it's a curiosity that does fold back into the story later on.
A thing called barbershop harmony.
You know what a barbershop quartet is? Yep, I did that.
For a long time, 25 years of my life actually, all told. But all of that stuff was going along on the side. I was doing tonnes and tonnes of stuff that I don't have actually time to get into today. But it was all interesting.
I was involved in all these different things that were all running in parallel to knowing more, and more, and more about the web, about design, and about technology. Oh, I also blogged.
It seems a very long time ago now.
I still look back on this blog design fondly. It was actually, there was a, the year after Twitter was released at South by Southwest there was a competition every year that had loads of different categories. And microblogging was one of the, was what Twitter was called back then.
So it got entered into the event.
They entered themselves into the blog design category. I got beat by Twitter.
But I was a finalist.
There were like five of us.
And we all got beat by Twitter.
So that was kinda cool.
So there were loads of things that happened. And you fast forward to the end of that time period, 2011.
Have any of you heard of MOO down here? I know it's a long way away.
But MOO does ship here.
In 2011 I actually took on MOO as a client. As an opportunity to be inside a company.
And this happened, again, because of loads of connections that all flourished and were born from the web. So I was the Creative Director of MOO for a year. Had a team, was based in the US and the UK. Kind of worked from their offices one week a month. It was kind of insane.
Again they were a client.
I was an embedded Creative Director.
It was really, really cool.
And it gave me an opportunity to work inside a company. Which I'd never done.
And this wouldn't have happened without the web. And that leads, that leads up to nearly when I moved over to the UK four and a half years ago. But we can't get into that story without rewinding a little bit first.
So going back to 2008, right in the middle of that. Something very important happened.
Which I didn't know, I didn't know how important it was back then.
And we all have these experiences right.
How many of you in hindsight can point out the most important times in the last kind of decade or two decades of your life, that you didn't know were really important back then. Yeah, nods, a lot of nods.
You didn't need to raise your hand.
I know you're tired.
It's the end of the day.
If you keep doing this it's like callisthenics. It's horrible.
How many of you don't like to raise your hand in public. (laugher) Ah, sometimes that gets a few.
So what happened back then.
Again another connection born of the web, and design, and all these things.
A friend of mine who was a designer.
You might know his name, Jason Santa Maria. Blog, he was doing these wonderful little art directed blog posts back then.
Which just no one was doing then.
This was a really big deal.
And they were all beautiful.
They were all done differently.
It was kind of a really nice post CSS Zen Garden, which was something else I was part of.
There's just tonnes of stuff in those years. But this was a really interesting one because I'd never seen this thing before.
This thing, I get to use the laser pointer once. This thing right here, it's also over there. This is a camera which is probably obvious, it's a Polaroid XS70, that's the model of it. And Jason was talking about it because Polaroid very recently, back when he posted this, the end of 2008 had announced they were discontinuing their film. I'd never shot Polaroid.
Not that I was aware of, I wasn't a photographer.
I'd never, whenever I'd picked up a camera prior to this point, it just never resonated with me. So I'd been a painter.
I'd done oils and watercolours.
I'd done all sorts of graphic design.
Was a visual artist in addition to a musician and all these other things.
But photography had just never.
It wasn't a thing I could do.
It was like tennis.
I couldn't do tennis.
I didn't play tennis.
Photography, I couldn't do photography.
So I didn't do it.
But I saw this, and I thought, that's a beautiful thing.
And I wouldn't mind having that on my shelf. And I'd hate to miss the opportunity to take some pictures on Polaroid before it goes away forever.
'Cause of course I knew what it was.
You know my parents had had one.
And you know when I was growing up, they were always, it's this iconic thing.
And it was iconic even back then.
So I picked up one of these cameras.
Found it on eBay.
Bought a couple of packs of film.
And this also, completely separate from photography it's also kind of reignited my interest in physical product design.
Something I'd been curious about when I was 16 17, but then got distracted for 15 years by the web.
I'd just never seen anything like this, and it was older than me by five years.
And it was just this amazing thing.
And I bought a few packs of film.
And started shooting it.
And the images that came out of it were unlike any images that I'd been able to create with a camera before.
Namely I thought they were beautiful.
I was making things that I liked and enjoyed. This was a real surprise to me.
Because I'd picked up cameras before and produced shit. That's the kind of spectrum we're talking about. Just in case you're not clear.
It wasn't I was being hard on myself, no no no, I'd produced nothing of any artistic value prior to picking up this camera. Which is interesting for a number of reasons including the fact that that's exactly what Edwin Land, who created it, wanted it to do. That's what he made it to do.
Was to be this thing that inspired people to be creative. And it still did it decades after its creation. So that happened in 2008.
Then we get back to 2010.
And by this point two years later.
I'd actually thrown myself at photography as a hobby. To the point where, when I was speaking at conferences, and kind of travelling around the world as a design and tech kind of person, other people who are in that world who knew about cameras a little bit.
Who had cameras and were into photography came to me at these events to ask questions about things. And I was running kind of photo walks at South by Southwest in 2007 and 2008.
And you know it was a, it was a really interesting and fun time for me because I'd found this thing that got me away from the screen where I spent all my time.
And actually kind of got me interested in something new and creative, that I could fold back into my design work too. But in 2010 a cryptic Tweet from a friend of mine. Gina you know him, Patrick Haney, who at the time worked for Harvard.
He Tweeted out an icon.
And it looked like a Polaroid camera.
I know I said I wouldn't step there, but I'm still stepping there.
How loud and annoying is this to everyone else or is it just me? It's pretty bad isn't it? (laughter) So it was the icon of an app.
And I'd already been beta testing some apps at the time. It was something I really enjoyed doing.
Kind of getting to be involved in that feedback cycle. And he said he was testing something really cool. And that was it.
Just the icon, and it looked like a Polaroid camera. And it was pretty cool.
I knew it was going to be something photography related. I said, I don't know what it is, but I need to get in on that.
And he sent an email to the founders of this little app. These two guys, Kevin and Mike.
And said you gotta get Dan onboard.
Like he really, he's a great designer, but he also really knows what he's doing with a camera. And so two months before the world knew about it. I got invited to Instagram.
Which is what kind of, in a lot of different ways, leads to this insane kind of audience thing that John mentioned.
And Instagram was another one of those moments where my life changed in a big way, and I didn't realise it at the time.
I'd kinda been telling people around that time that I wanted to be doing some sort of photography for a living, because I was a freelancer.
I ran my own agency at this time.
I mean I could do different things.
I was liking my photography.
Other people were enjoying my photography on Flickr and other places.
And I kinda said, I'd like to do this, you know, 20% of my income in like five years. That would be great.
And people would always ask, how.
Didn't matter to me.
That wasn't the point right.
It was just that I wanted to.
Instagram came along, and I didn't realise it at the time, but this is what opened a lot of doors for me and let that happen.
So from beta testing an app, to very quickly being like written up in the Huffington Post as one of the most followed non celebrities, like six months in.
It was a very, very strange thing to see this grow. Because I wasn't doing photography for a living. I was just kind of focused on design and living between countries at that point. That bled over into my time at MOO.
So over those next couple of years, kind of 2010 through 2013 or so, this audience was building, and it was not something that I'd had before. But it was also kind of this very reaffirming response to my photography.
To this thing that was a passion of mine.
And after moving from Miami to the UK in the middle of 2013. And now most people know me because of this. Which is very, very strange.
Because like it's happened in such a short period of time. And people don't, people who know me as a photographer, as John said, someone he knows that has nothing to do with any industry that we're in knows how I am, and follows me on Insta.
That's very, very odd.
And it's led to all sorts of odd things.
But no one knows about my design background which I've spent way more time in.
By comparison I mean.
And in these kind of four years.
When I moved to London.
'Cause Miami again is very beach centric.
There's some agencies, there's some creative people. But it's not like a creative hub in a lot of different ways. Unless you do things that are very kind of beach oriented or related to the industries, especially tourism that are down there.
In these last four years I've managed to take my experience running an agency and dealing directly with brands and use that to my advantage.
Working with tonnes of agencies and brands directly in ways that photographers, even photographers who have been shooting for a lot longer than I have, can't.
This was the start of me realising that there was a lot of experience that I had, that I'd build up, that was portable in ways that I'd, I hadn't ever thought of before.
Suddenly the conversations were the same.
The agency people were the same.
And the brand people were the same.
Talking about creative direction and art direction was exactly the same.
But instead of talking about products and timelines that lasted six, nine, 12, 18 months for making a thing.
You were talking about hey, are you available next Tuesday to do a shoot? Which is kind of insane.
And it still happens.
Don't ask me why people think that that my calendar or anyone's calendar would be open enough that in two weeks I could go to Norway.
Right, but I got asked things like that.
And the answer is always, almost always no. I've got things to do.
So I've managed to build up a really, how do I say, I can't say this without seeming like I have a big head.
It's an impressive list of clients right.
But it's almost kind of a false thing.
Because I didn't start from scratch.
I've got this background of decades of experience working with people that on all this stuff, came and unfolded from the web.
Right all the contacts at this point that I had with these companies, agencies all came through email, all came through the web, all came through Instagram which rides on the internet and the web.
So this transition, this transition got me thinking.
What other things that I've been interested in my entire life, but never explored professionally. What other portable skills did I have? And as a designer I've always been kind of a non scientific fan of the scientific method. And just experimentation.
I think we all probably have that in us.
And I've always been impressed when I read stories about scientists when they experiment on themselves.
So whenever it comes to kind of life experiments, and trying to learn something that might have a bigger impact I wanna play with my own experiences first.
But I'll get back to that in a little bit.
Because what this is all based on is this idea of untapped potential but also unexplored kind of connections.
The web is all about connections.
The web is named after a spider's web.
It's like this thing.
This entity that is all interconnected.
So that something that happens over here affects what happens over there.
Spider webs make for really, really shitty diagrams though so instead I'm gonna use something that we're a little more familiar with.
How many of you think this is a Venn diagram? By the way, I thought it was a Venn diagram. It's a Euler diagram.
Am I the only one who's just figured this out? (laughter) We've all been calling them Venn diagrams incorrectly. I still don't understand it.
I was reading up on it and that's what Wikipedia told me, so it must be true. When we're young we all have a lot of varied interests. Right, it just kind of naturally happens as we're feeling out the world.
We're exposed to a lot of things.
We're exploring the edges of our world.
And we're figuring out what we like, what we dislike. And thinking about what we might wanna do when we grow up.
How many of you wanted to be a dinosaur? Astronaut? Fireman? Police? Accountant? (laughter) How many of you wanted to work in the web when you were a child? Children, all of you.
Three, four people put their hands up.
Really? Ah, that's depressing.
It's not depressing, it's actually really cool. That that an happen now.
But for the mot part, how many of you are doing what you dreamt of doing when you were still in single digits? I so wanna talk to the seven people who just put their hands up, because that's amazing. Unless you're under 20 in which case, shut up. (laughter) So my, when I was in my, let's my kind of early to mid teens, right around this time, that I've explained to you, I was discovering the web and kind of exploring all those edges of technology and everything else. So there were no guides to.
I couldn't talk about this with any of my friends 'cause none of them knew what the hell it was. They barely even knew what AOL was, and not all of them had it.
And to them, for a long time, that was the internet. I was involved in scouts which didn't really kind of coincide with anything else except it did lead to me havin' that museum opportunity which was great.
Design, I was 16, 17, especially, my mind was just full of it.
I had shelves of books.
Whatever I could feed into my brain, I did. And was playing around with it.
Music which was like this huge thing, that as I said, it took up nearly 25 years of my life. And I started when I was 12.
So it was a massive thing, that the rest of my life got built around.
All this singing stuff.
And then I was a competitive swimmer all through my teens as well.
That takes up a lot of time.
The international swimming hall of fame is actually based in Fort Lauderdale.
I was lucky enough that that was my home pool. So a lot of hours in the pool.
I don't actually know, when I'm looking back. 'Cause this isn't anywhere near actually representative of all the things I was interested in. I don't know how I'd fit it all in.
Because I mean, there's all of this stuff.
And like loads of other things that I'm not putting up there.
And then of course, you know the, girls.
(laugher) All encompassing.
How I had time for anything.
How I slept.
I have no idea.
I don't think I slept.
So my young years, and my teen years, like it was all about this playing and exploring. And I feel like that might not have happened to such an extent had I not been home educated either. Because my mother and father just kind of encouraged that behaviour.
I could go to the, pre internet I could go to the library whenever I wanted to.
My brother and I would request trips to the main library so we could go and get books out and research, and just read stuff.
And it was fantastic that we would hop in the car and go.
And that was normal.
And there were a lot of things like that that were normal. And I think this is true for most of us in some way, or at that kind of balance.
A lot of things that we're probably not doing now, but we were throwing ourselves at more things than we can understand right now.
At some point, as we get older the concept of focus is introduced.
I find this really, really interesting, for a number of reasons.
But it's introduced to our vocabulary by our elders. And by that I mean that to be a successful adult. Which you need to either put in quotes, or a trademark afterwards.
You need to pick one thing.
And then just do that thing.
Right, possibly forever.
And that's just this kind of overall idea is that that's what we gotta do.
We've got all these interests, but we gotta kinda focus.
We've gotta whittle everything down.
Especially as we head toward university.
So what that looks like, is all these things that we were interested in, and all these like potential overlaps of our interests and passions disappear.
And we end up with just a thing, that we kind of picked to do, maybe because we were interested or maybe not. If we're lucky we're interested in it.
And for many people this is the start of a path where many of our interests kind of fall by the wayside. Some of them become hobbies.
If we're lucky, something that we love doing becomes our line of work.
I'm getting the impression that most of you in here fall into that last category.
And we are very, very lucky.
But I wanted to challenge this.
So in these, this kind of four, three four years ago I started thinking about this.
I wanted to approach life and work with the same kind of openness, and the feelings of connectivity and collaboration that I'd always felt from the web, and from childhood. That I'd always had those things.
But they'd kind of fallen away a little bit I felt. One of the things that really weighed on me a lot was that even I with all these opportunities that I had growing up that my family was so encouraging. I'd forgotten about the possibilities.
And I wanted to get back to that.
And this led to kind of an experimental year or so. Let's call it a year, 18 months.
Where now I'm kind of at the 18 month point. So I was looking at all this experience that I'd had, transitioning as a professional.
Not fully into photography.
I'm still doing design.
I'm still doing a lot of things.
I'm about to get into a bit of that.
But at the start of this year, after last year kind of, things had happened that'd really opened my eyes to even more possibilities that I hadn't acknowledged.
I made an intentional decision to explore.
And to not chase paying work.
I'll get to that in a minute.
But I decided that one of the things that was holding me back.
That was causing me to not explore as many things as I could've, was this idea that it had to, if it was gonna be professional, it had to pay something. Now a lot of us do side projects.
And I'll talk about that in a minute.
I wanted to see what happened if I just threw myself at everything I was interested in, and like I did when I was in my teens, and even younger. And what might come from all of these connections that I'd built up, up here, and also in the real world, over all of these years of living a connected life. So this meant that I had to trust that a certain amount of requests for work would actually come in, if I wasn't gonna chase them.
And usually if people ask you to do something, it's for stuff you've done before.
And this is another, this is a very key point. I wanted to focus my energy and attention on things I wouldn't get asked to do.
Things I was really interested in.
But if someone was gonna ask me to do it, and pay me to do it, they would have had had to know that I would be able to do it.
I hadn't been asked in years to do something I didn't know how to do.
Or that people didn't know whether I did or not. That experience from the museum where I was asked to build an interactive exhibition, and I said yes. Right, that happened a lot in my teens and my early 20s. Because for whatever reason, when you're not known for anything, this is an interesting point as well. People ask you to do all sorts of things you don't know how to do.
But once you start getting some sort of reputation. Whether you've built it yourself, or you're working up through promotions in a job, and switching to another job.
Now you're kind of, you're focus is narrowed and everyone else's focus on you and what you can do is also narrowed.
So they start asking you to do the same kinds of things. Or at least in the same domain.
So I wanted to try all these new things.
Some people refer to these explorations and endeavours as side projects.
Alright how many of you have side projects that you work on, that either have nothing to do, or very little to do with what you would do in your daily life.
They might be hobbies.
But they're things you spend your time on.
Okay, just a smattering.
Really raise your hand if it applies to you. All at once.
Okay, actually that's a better percentage.
You made me not sure about it.
I wanted to throw myself at these projects as if they were the only thing.
So I did.
This was my balance.
This was the key that everything hung on.
That they would be driven not by income, but by interest. As long as I was interested in it, I would find some time to spend on it as if it were the only thing.
As if I were only doing one thing.
So I was applying this idea of focus, not to one thing only, but to everything I was gonna do. 'Cause honestly we don't really multitask do we? Especially not men.
And that means that when you are working on something whether it's a project or anything broader than that, you are focused on that thing.
So what I was gonna do was see if I could, how many things I could focus on basically. Which is kind of the reverse of what we're all taught. The result is a year that I've taken on way more projects than I have ever had access to. They're more varied as well, than I've ever attempted before.
Happy accidents have become the norm.
Because all these connections are actually where I'm living, in all the overlaps in that diagram. And miraculously I'm not living under a bridge either. Which relies a lot on very good budgeting and cutting all your expenses as much as you can. But it has worked.
So I wanna walk you through a few of those things that have happened in the last kind of 12 to 18 months just as an example of things that have happened because of connections that are built on the web, but also on the life that's built on the web. One of them was this book called Koya Bound. I published my first photo book last year.
My first book ever for anything.
I wanted to design a book for may entire life as a designer. But I had never had a client ask me to do it. So I never did it.
I happened to know this guy named Craig Mod. Some of you might be familiar with his name. He and I have known each other on the web for years. But we met in person in Sydney seven years ago here. Kind of hung out for a couple of days.
Talked about cameras even back then, and about design. Flew back to LA on the same flight and chatted for about half of it.
And one of the things that came out of that was this kernel of an idea that one day it would be amazing to kind of work on something together. And for years that kind of continued to kind of just sit in the back of our brains. Didn't see each other in person after that. But I got an invite last year, the beginning of last year to go hike with Craig. He lives in Japan, he's based in Tokyo.
And a couple times a year he invites a handful of people, two or three people at a time, max. To go do these seven, eight day hikes through the Kumano Kodo, this ancient pilgrimage path in Japan. So he invited me to go.
And it was Craig, and me, and Matt Mullenweg, he made a thing.
He made WordPress.
Matt's a really cool guy.
All three of us had cameras.
And Craig and I talked about it ahead of time. We kinda went, well we know we're gonna spend eight days like slowly hiking and breathing in the mountains and taking lots of pictures that we're never gonna do anything with.
And Craig and I are both very interested in finding out where the edges are of digital and physical. And where all these overlaps are.
Craig's been a book designer among other things for years as well.
So I said why don't we make a book.
We've wanted to do a thing.
Let's make a book.
And Craig countered with, that's a great idea. Why don't we make it as soon as we're done with the hike. Let's turn it into, let's turn it into an experiment to see how quickly we can get from digital camera to physical tangible object.
I said, yep, that sounds great.
I'll spend five more days in Japan, sure.
So that's what we did right.
We did this hike.
And it was amazing, it looked brilliant.
And then we immediately went and camped out in this 150 year old house for five days.
Ordered, bought a printer off Amazon, and a bunch of cheap toner and paper.
So we could print things out in black and white. Just like, there's Craig in this house and we're examining all our photos and kind of curating down.
And through another chain of events that happened over the summer last year.
We realised that we didn't wanna, we didn't wanna print it digitally.
We wanted to print it offset.
Oh God, that's gonna cost money.
Oh well, I guess we're gonna do a Kickstarter. And so that turned into a Kickstarter.
Which Craig had done before, six, seven years prior. I'd never done that either.
So we designed this book.
We turned it into a thing.
We put it on Kickstarter.
It became a real thing.
And it won an AIGA cover design award this year. Which is kind of amazing.
We've just about sold out of the thousand copies that we created.
Like we're over 200% funded on the Kickstarter so it was a kind of a successful thing from that point of view.
And it's been in bookstores that we're both very proud of. And you know this all came from meeting in Sydney and having a chat at a web sign conference. And knowing each other, and being connected for years after that.
We even signed, whoops, let's see will that play? Oh, I hope it plays.
'Cause it's so cool.
There we go.
We signed 1,000 books.
In case you ever get the opportunity to do something like this, don't.
It took us four days of like six hours a day doing this. (laughter) Sounded like a good idea at the time.
Everyone got, everyone got a signed book.
(laughter) Another brilliantly random thing.
I connected with Twitter.
And then, actually this is where music kind of folds in. This singer songwriter in London, Emily Denton. I'd found clips of her music somehow.
And loved it as a musician, as a singer.
She had beautiful intonation.
Just stuff on SoundCloud, and some clips on YouTube. But she was based in London.
And I started following her on Twitter.
It was about a year ago.
And as happens, randomly in the timeline popped up a Tweet from her one day that said she was practising with her manager, getting used to being in front of the camera. And this happened to coincide with a decision I'd made a couple months earlier.
I wanted to do a lot more portraiture.
I've done some over the years.
But never kind of thrown myself at it.
I wanted to do more portrait work.
So I was suggesting shoots to people, and she was one of them.
We ended up having a couple of meetings, talking about art direction as well.
Talked a lot about music.
Which she was really excited that I'd had all this kind of vocal experience.
We did a shoot back in February for her kind of BBC introducing.
She was just starting to plan kind of her first release. And starting to work with producers on things. And again through random chains of events, random or not so random, she ended up ditching her producer, as we're kind of working on the cover art for her single and some other things that I was just art directing and designing at that point. And photographing.
And so I said, eh, give me the source tracks. I'd love to have a play with them.
Which she did.
She trusted me at that point.
I'd become one of her musical confidants.
And she gave me these tracks.
Fast forward a few weeks later, we were having a meeting on what was then gonna be her actual new single because she'd thrown out the other idea.
She wasn't happy with what the producer she was working with was doing.
And somehow, I became her producer.
Because I said, yes.
And because she said, well I think I found my producer. And instead of saying, oh no no no, I don't know, I don't know how to do that.
I've spent loads of time in the studio.
I've been a choral director for 10 years.
I know how to direct things.
It's very much like art direction, musical direction. But I've spent loads of time doing it.
Didn't matter to me that it was not the same field. Not the same style of music.
It was music.
Music is kind of universal in that way.
And I trusted that I could do it.
Again the same reason that I said yes back when I was 16 to building an interactive exhibition when I had no idea what that actually was.
So I said yes.
And we ended up in the studio.
We were recording all the instruments.
I helped arrange the strings.
I don't play any instruments.
But guess what.
When you're in front of amazing musicians who play by ear. And I'm someone who sings by ear.
You can sing them something.
You can sing the cellist something and say how about, can you do a harmony like this. And they go, you mean like this.
And I say yes.
So I was arranging the strings for the violin and the cello.
Then we decided that we had to have a music video. So I brought in someone who I knew as a director and a cinematographer to come in and direct the film.
And I ended up being the assistant director and the art director on this.
So now I'm getting kind of video credits to my name. Which is very, very cool by the way.
And all this stuff by the way is about to launch. Like while I'm in Australia this is gonna all be actually hitting the radio, and YouTube, and all these kind of crazy things. We had art directed this fun kind of Polaroid based long exposure cover art. I directed a secondary video for the lyrics with her. And did all sorts of other photography.
Like it's turned into this major thing.
Which no one would have ever asked me to do. And they might not ask me to do it again.
But she's so happy with it.
And so is her recording engineer, that we're actually already planning the next two singles and her first LP for next year. And as far as I'm aware, I'm the producer for all of it. And I know, because of past experience that once this gets out in the public, and that's actually played on BBC, and it's a thing. Once people know you do a thing.
They start asking for it.
So what's interesting though.
Is that these are two projects.
Right, that I've never done before.
Book design, it's kind of similar, but like it's design right, it's print.
But there are conversations that I've had with other photographers and other artists about designing their books for them now.
Right, because they saw this other book.
This is probably gonna be the same.
I do a lot of teaching right.
And not just related to design, which I've always done. Well, always for the last 10 or 11 years.
But as soon as I could, in the world of photography I started teaching photography.
Because I just really enjoy teaching.
I taught music.
I teach bad design.
I teach photography now.
So one of the things I did was this kind of test workshop. A travel workshop in Alaska with this company called Moment that makes lenses for iPhones and other smart phones. With the idea that we would actually build this into a bigger company.
So actually next year, right, this isn't so different, but how did they find out about me? They found out about me because of all these connections on the web and Instagram.
How did they know that I was a good teacher? Because I'd been teaching these other workshops with people. I taught a workshop in the Faroe Islands, and in Iceland over the last few years with two guys who I met in the web who are both developers who also were fantastic photographers.
So that led to teaching.
Which led to a big company asking me to teach. Which then led them to ask me if I could help them start a new travel company next year.
We're gonna run like 18 workshops around the world. And I'm gonna train the teachers and help art direct and curate all the cities that we go to. And I just wanted to show pictures because this is pretty cool.
We got to climb in ice caves.
And all sorts of stuff.
And there's also a video.
This might be loud.
(dramatic music) It's pretty cool that I get to do stuff like this. It's like, it's dumb luck, but it isn't right. I'm not tryin' to, by the way, I'm not tryin' to rub anything in.
I'm gonna skip over that.
Because it's like ah, epic music, and it's great. I didn't film that.
I can't take credit for that at all.
That was one of our attendees.
But it's another example of these kind of amazing things that have been happening because I'm just kind of saying yes to things. And also starting conversations that no one's gonna start for me.
I'm also digging into physical products finally. MOO didn't quite count.
It was paper, it was print.
It was fun, we did some packaging.
But it wasn't really the itch that I wanted to scratch that had been reignited in 2008 by picking up that Polaroid camera.
So I'm doing more collaborations.
Actually everything that I'm doing.
You'll find a pattern here.
It's all collaborations.
Rather than just freelance.
Someone doing work on their own.
Whatever that happens to be.
I'm aggressively hunting and searching for collaborations. So one of them.
This is a fun little tiny thing.
I'm making these camera and smartphone straps out of leather.
I'm not making them.
I'm working with a leather maker.
We started by designing a camera bag two years ago. And that kind of didn't really go the way we wanted it to. And then we messed around with some straps. And went oh, we've got a thing here.
That's gonna be a product we start selling next year. And it'll be a high margin, low volume product that all I have to do is brand and market, and promote and I get to help design it with this incredibly talented woman who just works with leather all the time.
And oh, that's a Moment case.
So I'm also kind of selling the straps back into the company I'm doing the travel company with. Because their cases have straps on them.
This is way more fun than you might think it is. It's tiny little thing of leather right, and some stitching and whatever else.
But it's actually branding, and packaging, and product design, and we're working with materials. Even though it's on a small scale.
It's actually fantastic.
And no one would ask me to do that.
And it will lead to other things.
Because it already has.
The number of conversations I've had with various merchants for things like packaging, and leather, and even twine, waxed twine. I would never have had those conversations if I hadn't kind of thrown myself at this.
Hiut Denim, any of you know about them? Have you heard of the DO lectures? Either, no.
Okay one or two people.
Hiut Denim makes jeans.
They also, the folks behind Hiut Denim in Wales, the run the DO lectures on this farm in western Wales. Not too far from where Andy and Sue used to live. Or kind of do live still, in addition to Sydney. Or at least Sue does.
I spoke of the DO lectures two years ago.
I spoke about kind of photography, but also a bit of the same kind of meandering how did I get here story.
And then ended up having these long conversations with David Hiut who runs the DO and Hiut Denim. And he was fascinated by my design background as well. Because he didn't know about it.
He found out about me as a photographer.
And we started talking about this idea that he kind of had in the back of his head to do collaborative jeans.
And I said well whenever you're ready for that I'd love to either help out, or connect you with other people.
Or do one myself, you know, whatever works for you. This summer, two years later, he comes to me and says, so you know that idea.
I think we'd like to do it.
Are you still interested.
I said yes.
I hoped a train to western Wales.
And we started talking.
This was a couple of weeks ago, making my latest prototypes.
Making, I'm designing jeans.
What right do I have to design jeans? Am I a fashion designer, no.
Do I have any background that specifically tells me how to do this? No, but yes.
Because looking at all of the portable skills. When you get to collaborate with people who are skilled at a specific domain of knowledge. Actually I know everything I need to, to help design a pair of jeans.
In fact this is one of the latest prototypes. And they're really, really comfortable.
These'll be going on sale in the beginning of the year as well.
So I've got these two completely different categories of physical product that I actually never would've thought I would be involved with.
But I can guarantee you as well that once those are out they will lead to more things. 'Cause I've got so many things that I could kind of run down that are like this.
These stories that have happened just over the last couple of years.
Just from allowing these connections to be real. Not to just exist up here.
And looking at everything with the kind of curiosity that I did when I was six, seven, eight, 12 years old, and didn't worry myself about whether that was a waste of time or not.
If I wanted to do it I would throw myself at it. And I had parents who would kind of support that interest. So now I've just been supporting my own interests. And I mean there are too many things to actually list. If any of you wanna talk to me about all of this stuff later, I will happily talk. And I know that times up, but we probably started a little bit late.
But I've just got one little thing to kind of wrap up with here.
One of the things that John and I talked about in our Skype calls earlier this year is kind of this idea of the importance of being human in a world that's continually more and more dominated by tech, by AI especially.
But that's a completely separate topic unto itself. And it's actually been covered earlier today and at other times in these days here.
But there's something, there's something from my story and my experiments that directly ties into this.
Everything that you do as a human, right, is connected by an obvious, I think obvious, but overlooked common element in our kind of what used to be called Venn diagram. You, everything you're interested in, is connected even if it doesn't seem like it's connected. It's connected because you are at the centre of it. Because you are the thing that connects those two interests that might, even to you seem like they're unrelated.
They obviously are related, because you are interested in them.
Work, hobbies, books, interests, travel, film, music, whatever it happens to be.
Our preferences make us who we are.
Those aspects of our individuality are always greater than the sum of their parts. If we know how to look at the connections and the spaces between them.
One quick reference.
This is something for you to look up and listen to later, it's only about 10 minute long. A TED talk.
But this fantastic talk by David Lee.
It's why the jobs of the future won't feel like work. Perfectly dovetails with this.
He tells a story in this talk about working at a large bank a few years prior. Trying to bring innovation to the company culture. This is a very typical, large, corporate goal. They designed a prototyping contest and invited anyone to build anything that they wanted. And what they found was that when people weren't limited by their job titles, by that idea of focus on a thing.
They felt free to bring all their other skills and talents to the problems that they were trying to solve.
This also made people a lot happier.
They found that the people at the end of this kind of prototyping contest.
They'd worked harder than they felt they usually worked in their normal job.
But they were so much happier than they normally were. And that was this big kind of takeaway for him. And he talks about a lot of other things including kind of AI and robots, which is really interesting, so you should watch it. But this quote that I took away, whoops, one more Venn diagram, here we go.
This quote that he had resonated with me for this topic. "When you bring your Saturday self "on Wednesdays, you'll look forward to Mondays more." This idea that we aren't just what our job titles talk about.
We aren't just this idea that we have to focus on one thing. And I think this, this is actually a very outdated mode of thinking.
It's probably directly born from the industrial revolution. This idea that we are task based people.
And it's amazing actually that it's kept going this long. Because we are now in a world that it connects all of our interests equally. And connects us with other people who have those interests immediately even if they're not physically present.
So going back to our kind of general overlaps in our lives.
If you can connect the dots between your interests, however tenuous those connections may feel.
It can help you explore and achieve more than you realise. And the one thought that I'd like to leave you with, is that the most exciting discoveries happen in those intersections.
Not just in our life, but just in the world in general. All of the exciting discoveries happen in the overlaps between things.
The unexpected places.
So I hope that your takeaway from this is that you all go forward and explore all of those intersections that you have in your own lives and see where they might take you.
(applause) And before they turn my mic off.
Do send any thoughts or questions if you don't have a chance to actually chat with me at all and you have them.
That's Twitter, @danrubin.
And I do read everything and I reply to everything, that isn't you know, a smiley face.