Category Archives: Miscellaneous

My New Pet Project: “Please, Stop By!”

A few weeks ago, I complained on Twitter that one of the things that really bugs be about Vancouver is that people don’t seem to drop by each others’ places nearly often enough. In any other part of the country that I’ve lived in or visited, people seem far more likely to make unannounced (but entirely welcome) visits to their friends and family.

I wish I understood what it was about our city’s culture that makes these brief, casual, and unannounced visits generally unwelcome. As I’ve started putting questions to others about this phenomenon, I’ve been surprised at how many people that are horrified at the idea of unexpected visitors. The more I think about it, the more I realize it’s one of the things I dislike about Vancouver; we’ve got a gorgeous and desirable city, but we’re not known for being particularly friendly–it’s almost like we have control issues with our interactions with others.

I’m under no illusions that I can single-handedly change the culture of this city, but I’d like to try a little experiment. To that end, I’m starting a little project for myself called “Please, stop by!“.

From now until the end of June, I intend on trying to drop in on Vancouver-area Twitter folk, if they’ll let me. My goal is thirty “stop by’s” by the end of the month, mostly during evenings and weekends.

I’m not talking about long onerous visits, just a pop-in for a quick cup of coffee, tea or water and a quick chat. If you’d care to show more hospitality than that, by all means, but it’s not at all necessary. Also, I promise not to show up empty-handed. Of course, I will call before I show up at your door so that I don’t show up at a bad time.

If you’d be willing to move past your (likely) reluctance and would be willing to help me out with this project, I need a few things from you:

  1. An open invitation to come over
  2. Some guidelines on when are better and worse times to come visit. (I want to respect your schedule, so need some guidance, but please don’t leave me with a single time slot–the whole point is not to make “appointments” ahead of time.)
  3. Your street address and phone number

If you’re willing to participate, please send me an email at with the above information.

I will likely write a little about the experience, but I promise not to violate your privacy or talk about your priceless spoon collection without your permission. I also promise to hold your address and contact information in the strictest of confidence.

So, who’s willing to ask me to “Please, stop by!”?

To keep my regular Twitter account uncluttered by this project, I’ve set up a new twitter handle: @plsstopby. I encourage you to follow it to keep track of my progress. and, yes, there will be opportunities to “stop by” on me… additional info on that part coming soon.

Anabel’s Wine Song

This past weekend, I was invited to speak at a fantastic food, wine and social media conference in Penticton called Eat.Drink.Tweet. The conference was filled with amazing highlights and wonderful people –and more than a little wine!

I’m sure I’ll be writing about the people I met, the conference shenanigans and the topics I presented on, but there’s one thing I have to share right away.

At the conference, I met Sarah, who had offered to give me a tour of Hester Creek Estate Winery. Near the end of the tour, her family stopped by and I was lucky enough to hear (and record) a little impromptu song from Sarah’s five-year-old daughter Anabel, who apparently knows a thing or two about wine:

Audio MP3

If this adorable little girl and her tune doesn’t melt your heart, you clearly need more wine in your life.

If you like this song, be sure to let Sarah know, she’s @winejellysarah on Twitter.

The “ethics” of a design contest

Every day you learn something.

Today’s lesson? Apparently, professional designers feel that design contests are unethical–I’ve discovered this because of a couple separate emails I’ve received in the last few days concerning a contest we’ve just launched at work.

While I appreciate that a professional association needs to advocate on behalf of its members and protect their interests, I take real issue (philosophically) with the anointed/unclean distinction implicit in this sort of “guild” thinking… but that’s not the main issue here. Instead, it revolves around the concept of “speculative design”, something this contest is accused of being.

I’ve not yet asked for permission to post either of the original emails, but in the interests of being fair, here’s about the strongest statement I can find against speculative design. (Also be sure to check out the AIGA link in the letter below).

Professional designers rightly feel threatened by the easy access to some of the tools of their trade (like Illustrator and Photoshop, or their free cousins Inkscape and Gimp) and the growing number of businesses willing to pit desperate underemployed designers against each other, taking advantage of their situation. I guess we’ve just become the most recent target of that frustration.

After receiving a nice “educational”  note from the Society of Graphic Designers of Canada, I responded with the following note. I’d love your feedback in the comments below;


Thank you for taking the time to write, although for a profession that prides itself on communication and the importance of relationships, sending what appears to be a boilerplate note is a perplexing choice. Starting a real dialogue would be much more likely to achieve your educational goals and protect your industry.

As far as ethical standards relating to our contest, we strongly support AIGA’s newer position on spec work and their ethical reasoning for supporting such a position—we’re not naïve to these considerations. Although we’ve called our contest a design contest, it is not meant to replace potential paid work or lead to paid work, it is not meant to engage professional designers and it is not, at its core, even a design contest. Clearly, you don’t understand our motivation or objectives if you truly believe this is a lose-lose situation.

This contest has been set up to build awareness for our volunteer-driven organization and encourage people to become involved in our affairs in a personal way. Having a few extra ideas, beyond what we would have generated in-house, is just an added benefit. It’s already met that objective, as you and other graphic designers in your discussion boards are now aware of our existence. That’s clearly a win for us.

We’ve also made clear that those who don’t win will likely get their intellectual property back; you can’t get much more ethical and up-front than that.  We also recognize our own risks and have (and will) make reasonable attempts to manage those risks appropriately.

Truth be told, as a non-profit organization and registered charity, we believe that different rules *do* apply to us. We’re not a company asking professional designers to undertake spec work in the hopes of winning a contract, there’s no promise for more in the future, and there is no reason that anyone should feel otherwise. This is not an instance of “we could pay for it but we won’t”. This isn’t even really identity work and doesn’t fit into our overall identity/design strategy, it’s more a part of our community-building/social media strategy.  Sometimes you need a professional designer, and sometimes you don’t.

We have worked with excellent design professionals in the past (both for paid work as well as pro bono work) and have been very pleased with the results. It does not cheapen your profession for us to run this contest, but it may leave people with a negative opinion of the GDC that you feel the need to comment negatively on a small charity’s community-building exercise when there are much bigger fish to fry.

I welcome and encourage you to post this reply to your community discussion board or anywhere else where we can be a part of a genuine conversation on this topic. We have a deep appreciation for the design process and although our resources are limited, we pay for that expertise when we need it.

Unfortunately, sending out “educational” boilerplate does nothing to further your cause, at least in our minds.


Chris Mathieson

Do you think the contest amounts to spec work? Do you think it’s unethical? Any thoughts on how we should handle these sorts of concerns in the future?

Tap..tap.. is this thing on?

I could agonize for hours about what brilliant insight or witticism to use for my “first post” but you wouldn’t be impressed if I tried too hard. So I won’t.

I’ve always loved the latin phrase “coram publico”, which means “in full view of the public”. I’ve chosen it as the name for this new blog because I believe we would all benefit if we shared more of our thinking and deliberation in public, with our friends, acquaintances and even strangers.

Without the church, the pub or the market serving as a mixing pot of ideas and opinions, we seem to me to have become a society of polarized points-of-view, often without any obvious ways to bridge the gaps between believers and non-believers, conservatives and liberals, or rationalists and empiricists. We seek out confirming facts while ignoring ones that contradict us; when we surround ourselves with those who agree with us, we are all poorer for it.

Since my waistline can’t afford to go regularly to the pub for these discussions, this’ll have to do. (Still, grab a beer or pour a dram if so interested.)

Let the discussion “coram publico” begin.