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Week 205

Posted by linda on December 21, 2011

So we’re done with the year, Keela’s off to fly all around the world.  Tom, our crazy contractor has left the building for colder weather.  Damien is hush hush about his plans. Maria, the intern, is off to warmer weather and sandy beaches.  And me, I’m going to bounce around locally and reflect on all the great events that made 2011 spectacular. As a relative newcomer to Central I don’t have a lot of Central history to reflect on.  Instead here are my predictions for 2012.

  1. First and foremost I’m declaring the Cute Kitten Project Management system un-Central-tutional and therefore a project tool that we can no longer utilize.
  2. The Toolkit will be completed and ready for public consumption.
  3. Damien will announce he is quitting espresso once every quarter.
  4. 67% of the office will be getting married in 2012.
  5. Central will have projects that result in solving problems in the areas of…well… everything.
  6. The Squiggle T’s next color combo will be a teal shirt with a lime green squiggle.
  7. My new commute vehicle will be a 1974 Vespa Rally.
  8. Germany will win every match in the 2012 Euro Cup Tournament and lose the only one that matters. Random but true.
  9. The HVAC unit will work whenever I want it to.
  10. We’ll have an office cat named Squiggle. I love him already.


Happy Holidays and a safe, happy, joyful start to 2012!


week 202

Posted by linda on December 01, 2011

Really? We have only 2 weeks left before the holiday break?  Crazy doesn’t even begin to explain what our to-do lists look like.  The Toolkit took a holiday break but now it’s back and in need of attention, year end accounting wants some love as well, early next week we have Tinkering Monkey coming in to install what should be an awesome railing system for our foam core boards, I need quotes for a mini remodel project, we’re all researching for different projects, I’m grant searching on another, working on the operations manual and I still have to make my holiday cards!  I know my mind is racing and looking over at Keela she’s so busy her eyes remind me of a Kit Cat clock. But we’re getting things done, checking them off our lists slowly one by one.  But this week is different, this week we are plus one!

Monday we welcomed Maria to the team as our new Central Intern.  We are so excited to have her with us. She’s settling in nicely by buying Oreos and drinking espresso, but she’s also a mad researcher. I mean it, she’s currently glued to the monitor not noticing anything around her.  Oh and another great quality of hers is that she’s a great tree scout.

Look at this perfection.  Marvel at the great lines.  Envy the fine craftswomanship of the ornaments.  On a randome note: Maria and I learned how to maximize the holiday smell that comes from a tree.  Since the smell originates from the sap one can score or break open the sap bumps.  The tree will “weep”(now this sounds sad) and emit a strong tree smell. Instant holiday warm and fuzzy feeling.

Since my to-do list is getting longer I need to get back to it.  But after last weeks introduction to the new (morbid) project management tool I want to leave you with another warm and fuzzy feeling. Warning you might need to have tissues nearby. It’s the story of Lab Pups getting their first taste of freedom .  I hope this some how counteracts our new Central Project Management Tool.

Have a great holiday.  2012 is going to be amazing.


Week 199

Posted by linda on November 10, 2011

I love this time of year, for me it’s birthday, anniversary and holiday season neatly wrapped up into three months.  It also means wearing layers to go anywhere.  We live in such a unique place, the mornings are cold enough to wear gloves but by 2pm you’re down to short sleeves and the fans are turned on.  I really love the colder moments of the day – it’s a good excuse to make hot cocoa.  Once I find the base to our Nespresso milk frother I can get a little fancier with my chocolate hazelnut cocoa concoctions.

I’m a year older this week and feeling quite disconnected with this new number assigned to me.  In celebration there was a weekend long Vespa repair session.  Media blasting, sanding, bondo and welding, almost 30 hours of work.  Next year I want a party. Next year I want a pony.

At work it’s been 24/7 toolkit.  It’s more heads down and less outwardly frantic then it was with the design challenge however the blinders are on and everyone is focused.  I’ve been doing a considerable amount of grant research for our client.  It’s amazing how many foundations there are; the work is in making sure the non-profit aligns with the foundations mission or issue areas.  The Foundation Center is an amazing resource for finding applicable grants and for the novice a great starting point.  If you are starting to search for grants I highly recommend starting with the Foundation Center.

We’re also working on a few internal processes to kick off in 2012.  One of them is a Studio Manager’s Guide.  You might be asking yourself why is there a need for a guide if I’m here?  Well if for some reason I disappeared, or if I’m hit by a MAC truck, I would want someone able to jump in, find things, understand what I do, umm did, and do all of that quickly.  There are a lot of moving pieces and it’s beneficial when explaining this role to a new comer to offer a visual supplement.

Before I go back to sketching I want to say Happy Veterans Day and thank you to all that have served and continue to do so.  Morning Golden Gate Bridge commuters should keep an eye out for a parade of veterans, give them a supportive honk, thumbs up, or join them.

Week 193

Posted by linda on September 29, 2011

My Autumn decorations are out so where’s my Fall weather?

The last few days included copious amounts of spread sheeting, making sure our contractor doesn’t melt, ordering supplies, errand running, furniture moving, assembly, and repair.  The plants that needed it have larger pots and one in particular is much happier now that I know it needs more watering.  On Tuesday there was a scheduled fire in the Marin Headlands.  We didn’t hear about this so naturally Keela and I went into emergency evacuation mode, we didn’t evacuate far, just to the front door.  It brought up the question of whether or not we should have a Central boat.  I think we should.  It took awhile but the office no longer smells like a campfire.

Everyone is heads down, busy mousing and typing away on projects.  At my desk, I am once again diving into the world of twitter.  It’s been over 2 years since I’ve logged into my account and apparently I have forgotten how to speak the language.  At times it’s exciting but it’s similar to driving a race car one can’t get too comfortable or the car can get away from you, you have stay alert.  I’m sure my other half will enjoy me staying plugged in more than normal.

I’m also excited to be ordering more squiggle tees.  We’re ordering a limited amount in navy blue with an orange squiggle.  Hopefully I can figure out how to add them to the website next week.  In the meantime check out the store, we still have a few sizes available.

This weekend is the Hoe’s Down festival in Capay Valley.  There will be camping, a farmer’s market, a giant hay maze, farm animals, tours of the farm and much more.  I’ll be camping for the weekend in their walnut orchard and sneaking a few giant heirloom tomatoes before I go!  If you love local food I highly recommend visiting the farm.  Farmers from the Capay Valley will be in attendance not just Full Belly, it’s a great opportunity to see exactly where your food comes from and personally say thank you.





Week 24 or Week 187.2

Posted by linda on August 25, 2011

I love celebrations!  Lately I’ve had a lot to celebrate, getting engaged, moving to the North Bay, Kathleen’s birthday today (see above: delicious cookies and a rose from Keela’s garden), and my new role as Central’s Studio Manager.  Not quite 3 weeks in and I feel right at home. There’s a lot to do and I’m looking forward to helping Damien and Keela with their to do lists and making things as easy as possible within operations.

It’s my Friday today.  I’m off for a three day weekend to do restoration work on my engagement ring, a 1974 Rally Vespa.  It’s been in the design community for quite some time, handed down to me by a former IDEO colleague and renamed “Poppy”.  The intent was to drive it a year and then restore it but once I took one piece off I couldn’t stop. Now we have 5 boxes of parts and one frame ready for metal work.  Another plus to the long weekend is driving my other baby, a ’76 Stingray, for one last road trip before she’s stored for the next year.  Side note:  I’m working on getting a company field trip to Laguna Seca for a Skip Barber day of racing.

I’m very excited to be here.  I look forward to more birthdays, more cookies, more laughs, more debates on whether or not we should remove the espresso machine and many more posts!  Now back to the bills!



Posted by Damien on August 02, 2011

No it hasn’t been that long since you last visited. We did jump from week twenty to over a hundred and eighty. Its just that I stopped to think about how long it has since we’d been in business. And in 2008, The Central Office of Design received a business license from the city of Sausalito and we’ve been trading as Central ever since. All a hundred and eight four weeks since.

The week is busy. But really quiet.

Jonathan has been in Korea. And since we’ve not read anything in the news about him, we’re assuming he’s back in the office on Monday. Emma is likely in Africa now. Perhaps torturing the three people she’s with, of stories of her awesome internship here in Sausalito. Perhaps.

Keela has been working on… everything. The Toolkit. The Picturebook. The Web site. The contracts. The performance. The banking. The bookkeeping. The numbers. The Ride. The event. The call. The machine. And likely more.

Conference Call

One of the things she did was arrange a conference call between ourselves, Amy Benziger from SOCAP, from COMMON: Alex Bogusy, John Bielenberg, Rob Schuham and Sarah Brooks from Hot Studio. Only two couldn’t make it. The rest of us brewed up some ideas for the upcoming SOCAP 11 in September. It should be pretty interesting.

Which reminds me, I should be preparing my stuff for speaking on the Design for Social Innovation track. Which is being curated by the above mentioned Sarah. It looks to be a very interesting set up for the four days. I’m honoured and thrilled to be going this year.

We have a couple of projects in what might best be called ‘development’. Many of our projects evolve through development to become long-term engagements. In a traditional consulting practice a client comes to you, explains their needs, or you help the client define their needs and then you write a proposal to meet those needs. Proposals become easier and easier the more you write them, as they tend to borrow from prior versions as you do more work. However, in our case, the people that tend to pay for the work aren’t the ones who are actually impacted by it, or perhaps even the ones who suggested the work be done in the first place. So business development works very differently. Which is a fun distinction between the two worlds.

In our consulting practice, we have to develop the projects, the funding and the stakeholders. Even if someone brings it to us. So much like the film industry, we get a kernel of an idea, perhaps from an outside person who brings to us an area of concern we might not have considered and we begin to pitch that “around town” to see if there is any interest. We develop the basic materials to explain what could be done, or why we think there’s a need and start to meet and talk to people about the overall concept. Because we don’t really know any precise details at this point. We’re likely just dealing with a huge overarching issue like, fish populations are in serious decline, and we have to get to grips fast with what design can do for this issue. It takes a lot of meetings, many interviews. Lot’s of research and we slowly get a good idea of what kind of story we can tell about the value of running a large-scale design project might be for the huge-critical-thorny-seemingly-intractable problem we’re interested in. Typically by now our development team comprises of actual experts in the space. Whether they’re scientists, researchers or practitioners. And we start to write our version of a script. Which is our project proposal.

A few years back it seemed that philanthropy was the best funding partner to have in situations like these. And back then it was. But today the opportunities seem to be different and the mix of funding partners is much more varied. Which is good in some regards. We now can have partners who are seriously invested in the outcomes and in the performance of our process. Or in areas where philanthropy can work is when the outcome of a particular phase of work could be shared with the entire community. The foundation then would be able to market the work throughout their relevant program areas. So the mix of funding is important. It can help to accelerate a phase of work, as well as create the perfect conditions for another phase. And when a project is in development, you’re trying to figure out where the best source of funding and partnering is for the right parts. Because not all funding is equal, and if you have the chance to get an incredible partnership, that’s the goal to go for.

Once the proposal is written, it really does live much like a Hollywood script. It gets rewritten again and again. It gets notes from different people its shopped around to. It gets tailored to the audience we’re seeking. And along the way we end up creating a kind of brand for this project, an ideal scenario for what we want to achieve which now exists within this new community and our studios. So we act as producers. Shaping the story we’re telling and engaging a community in the vision of it. Finally, when the right funding mix is achieved, we then do the dealmaking to get a full green light to proceed. Contracts signed, kick-off, well kicked off.

Like the film development process, we can easily stage our version of development. And it helps to manage multiple development projects and deal-flow. Yes, we typically do development for free. Having managed ourselves on prior projects to have the freedom to spend a serious amount of time in development on the projects we most want to do. It seems like the development cycle lasts between three and nine months, depending on the sheer audacity of the goal. The smaller the scope, often the simpler the process. But I wouldn’t say there’s not often an exception to that rule.

So we have two major projects in development right now. One year long engagement, and the other is a Future of… project which would be three or more years. This is a fun part of the process. Driven mostly by passion and the belief that these projects are truly worth doing because of the communities and the amount of the environment they’d impact positively. As much as I enjoy the development process, I also can’t wait till they begin.

I think if Nike came to us and asked us to work on supply-chain solutions to alleviate labour-rights issues and said they’d happily pay us to do so, I’d still have a hard time probably understanding that and suggest we spend six months looking for someone else to pay for it. We work best being extremely creative around large complex problems, so finding a sustainable resource for funding these projects is part of that challenge for us, which we very much enjoy. Sometimes the money is to last beyond the project is over, for the ideas that have been implemented and need to run for some time.

But what really topped the week off was an incredible gift from the guys over at Tinkering Monkey. Completely unexpected. If you’ve not visited their site- do so, and feat your eyes on some delicious woodmaking skills and products. And then buy something. Like I just did. Thank you both – Mike and Paula (and congratulations on the engagement!).

I’m out for the next week to ponder my age and make plans for becoming XL. Until then I have a XXXIX year ahead of me.

Week 18

Posted by Damien on July 08, 2011

It’s one of those amazing Bank Holiday weekends here, where it reminds you why it is so special to live in the Bay Area. 67 degrees when waking up, and slowly getting warmer. Here at the office, people have been piling into the parking lot getting ready to sail, canoe or hang out on the small beach right here. Le Garage Bistro is going to be slammed. And while everyone is out there, I can get some serious work done.

I just read this in a paper my father wrote:

Dumb ideas have to die first. That’s why progress takes time. First, new ideas have to evolve, then the bad ideas that stop progress have to die.

(Lammers, 1986) by Charles Simonyi. The pioneer of the first word-processor.


It’s now Thursday morning. There hasn’t been a moment to stop moving. Sometimes that’s a good thing but I’ve learnt that it is quite important to have frequent small moments to take a break. So I have two minutes here before the next activity. We’ve been trying this new thing of making meetings and working sessions fit inside 45 minute slots. It works. For some time now I’ve started most of my meetings at quarter past the hour. For me, I did it mostly to increase the likelihood the meeting started on time as if the earlier meeting ran the full hour then it was hard to move straight into another one on time. But the effect has been that the meetings are shorter, easier to manage and I tend to use the fifteen minutes before it begins to make notes and think about what I want from it. My next meeting, which begins about now, is all about Efficiency. How we as humans develop strategies in density to be efficient and what are the evidences of that. This morning, my strategy for efficiency is coffee and many small breaks.


So you must by now know I’m a big fan of Berg in London. And of course, I’m eagerly awaiting my shipment of their latest publication SVK, which is a new comic.


Here are some quotes I’ve recently come across, which all have a common theme to the work we’ve been focused on lately.

Ideally our cities become exciting, sexy, and profitable places to live, play, and work – that’s the most important part. When people have no investment in the places they play or work or live, they act accordingly.

 – David Byrne

“Place matters. The kind of environment you create for yourself makes a real and tangible difference in your level of happiness, health, and satisfaction.”

– Malcolm Gladwell

“Cities have the capability of providing something for everybody, only because, and only when, they are created by everybody.”

- Jane Jacobs


I just had one of those conference calls where, as one of the people said it best, “The conference call Gods were not with us today”. We kept stumbling over each other, interrupting and talking over the other person inadvertently. In spite of that, we ended the 50 minute call with an inspiring combination of Prototyping in the field + SOCAP ’11 and COMMON. I look forward to sharing more about that soon.


I just saw this tweet from Jason Fried, quoting someone:

“As a designer, there are no “dream projects” handed to you. It’s up to you to make shit great.”

Which I disagree with. In part. We get plenty of dream projects handed to us. Which is incredible. Though – yes, it is up to us to make shit great. It is in our hands to mess it up completely. Or to create something better. I wonder what type of designer Mig Reyes is? Oh, a Graphic designer… that might make sense now. Wouldn’t a dream project be any project that was handed to you, that asked of you to do something great?


Thursday is wrapping up now. The studio has a silence to it at 6.26pm that smacks of people trying to wrap up things before leaving with a clean conscious of having achieved everything they wanted to do today. Some of the things that I saw happening today were, Emma built a table. Jonathan spent the day reading research and academic papers on things such as value driven design, or the design of educational materials. Keela ran two working sessions with the client. I need to go an summarize the Future of Fish project now, so that I can kick-start a new “Future of…” project.


Earlier this week we decided on the office Christmas break. Yes, I might be the first person online to have mentioned Christmas 2011. Sorry. It is strange to have to do these kinds of things so far in advance, but then retailers who manufacture goods for Christmas or national holidays often have to plan much further in advance, so I don’t feel that alone. We’ve decided to close the studio for three weeks and one day this year. Which is a tough thing to swallow when your business largely runs on billable time, seeing all those potential billable hours slipping away. But I have to say, I’ve found that personally, if you don’t find a way to close the business for a considerable amount of time, then it can be incredibly difficult to pry yourself away for any decent length of time. The Christmas and New Year’s Eve period seems to be a perfect time to shut up shop, rest and restore for a considerable time, and come back in the New Year (on Friday the 13th) ready for anything. Because typically, it’s almost impossible to take off two or more weeks at any other time of the year. This way everyone has a forced, mandatory, real vacation. We don’t have any vacation policy here – you take the time off you need – but knowing it is so hard to do so throughout the year, perhaps this 3 week closure is our policy. Back up policy. I’m looking forward to my 3 weeks off already.


Finally, a photo of Keela and Emma taking a fancy car out for a spin. Emma, the further away in the photo, is an intern from Harvard, who is working for our incubated client. We’re sad that she’s only with us for another two weeks, and so we’ve begun a campaign of trying to keep her with us, which includes fancy cars, and trying to convince her to quit school.

Keela + Emma