Virginia Roberts

Help me make a closet look cool

Recently, all our closet shelving came crashing down in the middle of the night. It sucked. But I’m taking the opportunity to install a way better system than the cheap janky poorly-installed one that the previous owners had put in. And I need help!

After some useful Facebook input, I opted for The Container Store’s Elfa system. Even though it’s kind of expensive compared to some other systems, it’s worth it to us to buy the system that can be installed by someone else, since the main blunders we’ve made in home ownership involve attempting to mount things in the wall and failing. Boo. So we’re doing Elfa in platinum. Here’s an example closet that’s hilariously perfect looking!

Hey, but it sort of matches my blog, right?

I’m sort of tempted to take the opportunity to turn our closet into some weird glam corner of seductive mystery (probably in part because I’ve been looking at pictures like this one; it doesn’t help that half their stock photos have like an overstuffed armchair and a lamp and a fucking birdcage inside the closet). After all, this may be the only time since we moved in that I’ll completely remove everything in it, leaving the walls open for some sort of design revamp, you know? And a walk-in closet feels like a safe fun space to go a little design crazy, since it’s not as prominent as any other area in the house. And who doesn’t want a little fun when they get ready in the morning?

Daydream in Red by Hygge & WestMy first thoughts leaned towards wallpaper. I love the idea of wallpaper *right now* somewhere in our home, but I’m sure that my desire to trend-proof will mean that I’m regretful of it down the road. A closet seems like a less regret-prone space than, say, a bathroom or hallway. So I was thinking this Hygge and West pattern, that’s super cheery and fun and bright and on clearance! Great, right?

But then I asked Grant about it and he summed it up well that this is something that looks like a very specific era (i.e. like 2008, my guess not his) and that we’d be sick of it in ten years. Which is totally true, and while not tragic, it’s kind of annoying, right? I mean, I’m not going to want to strip and redo it then. And it DOES read as something incredibly au courant as of like four years before we even bought the house. Already dated; move on.

I don't know the source for this. :(My next inspiration was Nina Campbell’s Perroquet wallpaper, which while stunning is probably insanely expensive and way too girly for Grant’s taste. I mean, he’d let me steamroller him into putting this up, but I’d always feel a TINY bit guilty about it.

Screen Shot 2014-10-09 at 6.18.27 PMA close runner-up in the “vaguely avian Chinoiserie” category included this Anthropologie paper (one of their less expensive) which I love but has similar girliness and timelessness concerns, plus I dunno about the yellow.

For some reason it looks way better in this image (which I got from bossy color).And then there’s something super Asian and saturated, like Schumacher’s Chiang Mai (inspired by bossy color). But then this is ALSO probably ungodly expensive, and I don’t like the knockoff nearly as much. Even though it is more masculine feeling (at least to me, dragons over birds) I still suspect Grant will find it a) too Asian, b) too busy, and c) too bright.

sheila bridgesIf I had all the money in the world, I would get some Sheila Bridges stripey wallpaper in this orange color and install it everywhere, walls AND ceiling, and be done with it, because our master bedroom is already orange and black and white and JUST LOOK AT THIS AWESOMENESS. (Sheila Bridges is, like, Domino fancy—I first learned of her via her Harlem Toile de Jouy design in their magazine/book/somewhere, and some silly part of me loves having a *recognizable designer something* in our home even though I logically know that’s ridiculous for non-rich people.)

I just can’t spend $175 a roll right now; sorry Sheila. It’s a stretch to even do the Elfa system given that in the space of one month, our car broke down, our closet shelves crashed, our washer leaked so we need a new one AND we need to spend money repairing the damage we can’t DIY from that, AND we took two trips to see two friends get married which involved paying for two hotel stays. Sigh. No badass bold stripes for moi, nor any other designer elements. Those Hygge & West and Anthropologie wallpapers are probably my only viable options price-wise, which made me start leaning away from paper since those are my least favorites.

PLUS, the walls and ceiling in our closet are full of crazy cuts and angles, which make it insane to wallpaper, AND I realized that I’d be covering up most of the walls with clothes, which sort of makes wallpaper cost and effort pointless, unless I only did the ceiling, which is an option since it’s huge and sloped and prominent, but is still maybe more work than it’s worth and maybe more expense too since it’s hard to get smaller quantities of nice wallpaper.

SO. Now I’m thinking painting. But not, like, painting the whole room, because a) I’m lazy (I can rope my mom into helping with wallpaper but not necessarily paint although I haven’t tried that hard yet, see “lazy” above) and b) I can’t think of a single specific color that I would want to do. BUT I saw this weeks ago in my RSS reader, and I kind of love it.

hallway

It’s this super organic pattern that Shauna from Beautiful Matters did by hand, and I think it has a cool bold organic yet modern vibe and would be some work, sure, but actually seems less annoying than actually painting the room—I could leave the blah contractors’ beige in there and even do the stripes in a metallic that would play well with the platinum shelving.

But I showed this to Grant and this is what he said:

I think that idea is much better than the execution.

Like, I don’t think it looks bad, but if I went through that much work I would want it to look much better.

This room is by Mary McDonald but I have no idea where the pinner got the source image.I totally get what he’s saying, but I’m not sure I … care. I pressed him and I think it mostly means that his taste gravitates towards a more regimented, taped-off intentional stripe look. But, like, Shauna’s project seems WAY easier than taping and painting bold stripes. But then maybe I’m crazy! Maybe tape WOULD make doing stripes super duper easy! And I’ve always loved this one green stripey room by Mary McDonald; maybe I should try to paint THAT!?

Should I paint weird hand-done vertical stripe thingies like this in the closet? Should I tape and paint (or free-hand) a more graphic stripe like that Sheila paper I love so much or this Mary room I love so much? Should I just leave it blah beige since it’s JUST A CLOSET? NO I can’t do that, not when I roped my mom into assisting me in transforming it.

Please assist me in making a decision so I can make my closet punchy and fun, people! I welcome your ideas. :)

Notes to self about buying tech

Always spring for the biggest hard drive possible. On any device. Yes, even if it costs several hundred dollars more than the option you think is big enough. It’s not.

Always get AppleCare now that it covers screen breakage and water damage (at least sometimes; non-binding; consult your local annoying Genius for details; not a Genius).

Always get the most RAM possible.

Always get the best processor possible.

Always check the MacRumors Buyers’ Guide in case they’re about to release an update to whatever you’re about to buy.

Always set up as a new machine instead of importing old machine stuff, even though it’s 2014 and this probably shouldn’t have to be on your list at this point.

Always get at least one extra charger/charging cable. Always buy them first-party. Quit wasting time with the Amazon Basics cables whose heads are too big to fit elegantly into any port ever. Also quit wasting time with the cheap no-brand ones for a dollar that wear out in 1/10th the time of the expensive first-party cables (which do eventually wear out right around when your normal warranty expires).

Always set a calendar reminder to check your hardware including cables before your warranty/AppleCare plan expires, leaving enough time to schedule an appointment via the proper Genius channels to demonstrate your frayed cable.

Always be careful when unplugging stuff from cables (hahaha yeah right).

Always follow up on said calendar reminder, even though we all know it should have been an OmniFocus task with a due date instead.

Always buy all software via the developer site instead of the Mac App Store version that then can’t be upgraded except for an insane fee. (Even if the blog post you’re typing is peppered with affiliate links for the Mac App Store version of software.)

Always turn off the thing that automatically adds apps across multiple devices.

Always leave on that annoying “launch iPhoto upon plugin” setting because otherwise you will forget forever and run out of space because of pictures you took of your cat.

Always actually plug in your iPhone whenever you sit at your computer because you need to remember to offload those cat pics so you can take more cat pics unencumbered even though you have very little space left because of all those apps you accidentally synced to your phone.

Always remember not to plug your iPhone in during any important conversation or process because the launching of iPhoto will crash whatever task you’re currently urgently doing.

Always put off sorting your photos until the collection has taken up so much hard drive space as to become untenable.

Always pay for the pro plan of Dropbox and don’t think about it again, just use the shit out of it because you cheaped out on hard drive space so now you’re beholden to the Cloud Gods to store all your shit for recurring monthly fees because there’s no way you’re going to be able to safely upgrade your hard drive now.

Always pay for the recurring monthly fees of reputable online backup services like Backblaze even if it seems hypocritical given how much you resent paying for Dropbox.

Always be nice to customer service people because you feel bad about that time you bitched the Dropbox CSA out because he wouldn’t give you a refund after you misunderstood that it wasn’t compatible with Time Machine* and you ended up needing a different service on top of the service you got from Dropbox but then it turned out to be really useful to have a giant paid Dropbox account after all.

Always read the specs before you pay for software assuming specific and critical functionality exists when in fact it doesn’t.

Always pay attention when Backblaze and Dropbox start to yell at you that they can’t fully update your shit because you have too little hard drive space left. Pay more attention when Mac OS starts yelling about it too. Pay even more attention when every single podcast suddenly simultaneously has CleanMyMac as a sponsor as if the entire technosphere is yelling at you. Always listen and buy the goddamn software you clearly need at this point.

Always pay for the full version up front.

Always run it immediately.

Always delete what it says.

Always explore deeper ways you can leverage it to free up more hard drive space so you don’t run into this problem again next week.

Always spring for the biggest hard drive possible.

 

 

*Always wonder why Apple puts a space between Time and Machine but not between Apple and Care. But mostly just get bigger hard drives, dummy.

Pinterest iOS bookmarklet workaround

Ages ago, I was annoyed by how irritatingly hard it was to pin images to Pinterest on my iPhone. I was essentially pissed that iOS 8 extensions didn’t yet exist. I hacked together my own bookmark link that was a combo of Marco Arment’s Instapaper bookmarklet-adding instructions of yore (something like this), plus whatever code the native “Pin It” bookmarklet generated.

The URL code for my mobile bookmarklet is:

javascript:void((function(d)%7Be=d.createElement('script');e.setAttribute('type','text/javascript');e.setAttribute('charset','UTF-8');e.setAttribute('src','//assets.pinterest.com/js/pinmarklet.js?r='+Math.random()*99999999);d.body.appendChild(e);%7D(document)));

This code works better than most native “Pin It” buttons on most retailer websites, in my experience. It lets you pick any image on the page instead of forcing just one. I never did bother trying to figure out how to strip stupid retailer default text, but my hope/expectation was that retailers would get less shitty about this over time with increased Pinterest fluency. Ha ha.

I’m only posting this now because I’ve found that so far, Pinterest’s new iOS 8 extension is a bunch of janky bullshit. Here’s hoping that changes soon, but blogging it out there just in case! Let’s all cross our extra 6 Plus long fingers that Pinterest cleans things up before you actually wind up getting frustrated enough to implement this solution. :)

ᴡᴀᴛᴄʜ Unicode madness

*Disclaimer* Unicode is not well supported in some browsers, especially on mobile. This is tricky since this entire post is about Unicode. I’m sorry your eyes might have to see ugly unsupported squares or blank spaces instead of the proper pretty entities I intended. If you’re interested in reading, soldier on; the characters in the actual list at the end are better supported than the letters that spell out the Apple Watch in the first paragraph. You can do it! Harass your favorite web dev about this today; they’ll *love* it!

Hey nerds! The recent iPhone and ᴡᴀᴛᴄʜ announcement has most people in my Twitter feed geeking out over how to write “ᴡᴀᴛᴄʜ” all fancy like Apple did. (In fact, my live tweet during the event explaining how to make the  character is my most popular tweet yet. Crazy, eh?)

For years I’ve been rocking an increasingly lengthy Special Characters note, which syncs across all my ᴅᴇᴠɪᴄᴇs. A few of these can be accessed via native keyboards like the Japanese one, but with iOS 8’s new keyboard capabilities I find it much easier to just stick the useful characters (mainly just the empty and full stars for fake review snark) here and delete the Japanese keyboard I never use for actual kana anyway.

Note that these Unicode characters aren’t the same thing as Emoji (that’s a whole separate ranty post) so I find they’re usually more annoying to obtain via typical channels such as an emoji app or keyboard. Copying and pasting from the note has been a pretty good solution for me so far.

The second most recent (penultimecent?) Overtired episode  made reference to writing ᴡᴀᴛᴄʜ out all fancy-like, so I thought Christina and Brett might appreciate my little list. (Heck, maybe Brett will decide to make a cool tool for it.) But then I was like, wait a minute… I send this list to tweeps and coworkers and clients about three times a year. I finally realized that maybe I should just blog it (duh).

Here are my favorites with my use case annotations, followed by my semi-exhaustive list and a Unicode smallcaps converter link I stumbled upon. I’ve added and removed things over the years to try to keep it mostly useful; I keep paring down different styles of arrows.

What characters am I missing? What would you add, or what do you constantly use and hate fiddling around to find? I’d love to know!

My frequently used Unicode characters

‽ = Interrobang
Marco Arment used this in a tweet at me once (I forget what about) and it inspired me to start up this doc. I also have a keyboard shortcut turning ?! and !? into ‽, so I don’t have to keep track of which one is valid, haha. (Nerds who are nerdy enough to know the difference but not nerdy enough to implement the Unicode shortcut surely exist and might set me straight.) This character is great for expressing baffled wonderment and the like, but I really wish Apple knew how to enforce an initial capital letter following it. Anyone know a hack for THAT?*

∞ = Infinity
I use this all the time as character-saving hyperbole. Like this tweet about my first babysitting experience in about a decade, to estimate the number of diapers changed. (Better than a smiling poo pile emoji, right?)

® ™ © = Legalese
I like using these for snarky fake product, company, and slogan jokes. Maybe you like using them to actually respect trademark guidelines, or ironically imply deferential respect to a brand you hate (or genuinely imply it to one you actually like but if that’s the case I’m not 100% clear as to why you enjoy reading my blog tbh).

∴ ≠ ≤ ≥ = Logic and Math Stuff
I like these (therefore, not equal to, less than or equal to, and greater than or equal to) for character-saving shorthand when making a point on Twitter. Remember, kids, don’t actually argue on the Internet if you enjoy your life. Jokey arguments only.

I just thought of this one

♯ = Sharp
I’ve never actually done this, but I just realized you might be able to use this instead of a hash character if you want to shorthand numbers or ironic hashtags or something without it converting to actual hashtag syntax in social media environments. So I’m adding that here in case it solves some weird problem you sort of had. I can’t believe I gave it a <h3> section either.

The list

Just copy from “Special Characters” through the URL, omitting the snarky footnote inelegantly implemented at the end of this post. I’m sorry/you’re welcome.

Special characters


®

©

ᴡᴀᴛᴄʜ

°




·




¢


























α
β
Ξ
ξ
Γ
γ
Δ
δ
Π
π
ε
ζ
Σ
σ
ς
η
τ
Θ
θ
ι
Φ
φ
κ
χ
Λ
λ
Ψ
ψ
Μ
μ
Ω
ω
































http://fsymbols.com/generators/smallcaps/

 

*If the answer is 26 individual keyboard shortcut hacks for each instance of it plus a letter, or 52 for each instance of !? and ?! plus each letter if you can’t stack two shortcuts together, then congrats! You are officially nerdier/more patient than I am. Come type them in on my giant 6 Plus that I hope to obtain soon and I’ll give you some free online dating advice in exchange. Look, I don’t mean to profile, but it’s possible you need it if this is how you spend your time. Single 20s Me can totally relate.

Initial iPhone 6 Plus impressions

Make no mistake; I don’t actually have my 6 Plus yet. But I went out of my way to try and get one early in line Friday morning. When I found out for sure that the store wouldn’t have the stock to accommodate my order, it was only half an hour before they opened their doors. I decided to stick around and get my hands on the demo 6 Plus as a sanity check.

The manager was kind enough to take this pic of the phone (and my ass and my ill-conceived skinny jeans, but let’s stay focused). He also let me put the demo model in my purse so I could make sure it fit in the internal pockets. Even with the annoying security dongle thingy, it was very helpful to get to do this. And I decided there’s nothing to worry about, size-wise.

My use case

I have super severe tennis elbow in both arms. This means that I’ve gotten used to mostly typing two-handed since halfway through my usage of the very first iPhone, when my RSI injury occurred. It’s annoying, but I’m way faster and more accurate when I use two hands anyway. Yes, I do occasionally poke around one-handed, but that’s totally when I drop my phone or introduce typos or what have you. For me, “significant” one-handed use (like furious text entry) has long been a bad habit I needed to quit.

As for storing the device, I’m a lady who usually carries a purse. Even if the purse pockets that seem to be dedicated for cell phones are too small to accommodate a 6 Plus (not as problematic in recent purses), there’s usually this other larger zippered pocket opposite the “cell phone and pens” side. The 6 Plus fits (always in portrait, sometimes in landscape) in this zippered pocket in all my existing bags. My main concern is actually minor scratching/screen damage from touching said zipper, since I’m not sure any reputable screen protectors have shipped yet. In past years I’ve been inconsistent about screen protector usage, but I’d plan on using one specifically because the 6 Plus’s size means it’s more likely to knock into internal purse hardware.

I had no trouble fitting the 6 Plus poorly into my back pocket. I don’t tend to deliberately carry my iPhone in most pants pockets; front pockets are annoying for me (and often too small in lady pants, sigh) and back pockets have always looked weird and felt like a potential security risk (from pickpocketing to accidental toilet dropping). Back pocketing my iPhone has always felt like something ill advised, like a bad habit I wanted to quit. A larger form factor will force me to quit being lazy about securing my giant, expensive, blingy mini computer, you know?

The phone itself

The camera bulge is barely noticeable. I mean, sure, it’s more obvious than before, but it’s no big deal. Quit whining, tech Twitter. :) It’s NOTHING like the giant bulge on, say, a Nokia Lumia, and the pics do seem stellar. (Didn’t get to test the OIS in a low light setting, but it seemed even better than my 5s, as was expected.)

The screen is lovely. Didn’t notice anything janky with older apps, but everything on the phone appeared to be a special demo version so I doubt they had them loaded with shitty scaled-up apps. (Fun note; there was a copy of Threes on the demo phones! Nice plug, right? Pardon my terrible surreptitious pic.)

IMG_9299

The body style may be reminiscent of the original iPhone, but the 6 Plus’s external build quality feels nowhere near as nice as the first iPhone. The glass has a weird curved edge where it meets the body (can you kinda see its reflection in this awkwardly snapped shot?) and it actually seems to cheapen the whole look; it makes the screen seem like it’s made of plastic to me. The metal on the back isn’t as great as that first gen iPhone; again, it feels oddly plasticky, like when they try to trick you into thinking an appliance is stainless steel with a shitty layer of bullshit that inevitably peels within weeks. The buttons don’t have the same feel of incredibly sturdy and expensive materials. This phone feels great, don’t get me wrong, but I’m clearly super nostalgic for v1 of this thing, and the 6 Plus doesn’t really scratch that itch in person.

Oh, and Gruber is totally right! It’s super, duper weird to have that sleep-wake button on the side. That’s seriously going to mess with me, haha. I’ll fail to silence calls speedily for at least a month after I get it. I’m annoyed I didn’t also test the stronger vibrate motor that Gruber mentioned, but I forgot in my hurry to not block other customers who were actually going to buy something that day.

The gold is surprisingly tacky looking. Specifically, the whitish plastic accents on the back of the 6 Plus look terrible with that champagney gold. I had no space gray (also known as “gray”) model against which to compare, but I feel like black plastic accents will be subtler. It was like the white ones were sort of transluscent, which felt like a mismatch with the design vibe the rest of the device was going for. And of course, with black I’ll get the better contrast to make the screen look even better. (I still wish that the gold and black model Siracusa once theorized about existed; I’d totes get that.)

Screen Shot 2014-09-21 at 2.57.38 PMEdited to add: this helpful view on Target’s website actually shows me that the back of the Space Gray model still has ugly whitish translucent plastic on the back. I still think I’m going with this model, though, which I definitely wouldn’t have decided sight unseen.

The ordering process

I was at an out of town wedding during the night preorders went live, so I wasn’t timely about it. When I got home later that night, I tried placing a pre-order (at maybe 12:30 PM) and it was a train wreck via every Apple channel.

After some dogged research, I determined that the issue seemed to be that AT&T had a rule that they would only let me preorder and have it shipped to the address associated with my wireless account. An AT&T rep later confirmed this; they don’t permit ANY in-store pickup preorders. This seems insane to me since their competition clearly does permit in-store pickup preordering—and their shipping estimates even half an hour after launch were several weeks out. Such a crappy customer experience, and that seemingly random rule    is so poorly communicated to both customers and AT&T/Apple employees. (It took three escalations to get a clear answer.)

Anyway, I decided to try my luck at waiting in line, partly because I thought it might be kind of entertaining. (I’ve been an iPhoner on alternating years since the first gen, and I’ve never once waited in line.) So I got up at 4 and drove to my local Apple Store… where some 300 folks were already camping out. A confusing awkward encounter with an ex Apple retail employee (he thought he knew me, I thought I knew him, we were both wrong) convinced me to try my luck waiting in the nearby AT&T line instead. I did, and it  wound up being much more friendly and low volume. (Didn’t actually get me a phone though; d’oh!)

As we waited, I wound up explaining a bunch of AT&T features and options to many people in line, as well as loaning out pens for these stupid survey checklist things the employees handed out. It was a little hilarious. Their “Next” gimmick to get you to pay buttloads was very poorly understood. I also hadn’t realized that they would let you pay full retail price to avoid a two-year contract lock-in; I think that option is new for them. Us old time iPhoners theorized that AT&T would eventually cut the unlimited data plan into which many of us were grandfathered; if/when they do, I will probably jump ship since I find them to be an unpleasant carrier in so many ways.

I had actually looked into switching our household to another carrier  last year for my 5s purchase. I was deterred from T-Mobile by many reports of lesser network coverage in rural areas where friends and family live; I was reluctant to consider Verizon because they didn’t used to allow voice and data usage at the same time. (I haaaate talking on the phone without being able to multitask in email or with navigation on.) Verizon now seems to have solved that, but I’m not sure it’s worth bothering since they’re another “expensive” carrier. Still, if I do get kicked out of AT&T’s remaining $30/person unlimited data tier, I fully expect to jump ship somewhere.

After all this kerfluffle, I think we plan to order my 6 Plus at the same time as a new MacBook for Grant sometime next week, so we can finance it interest free. By the way, if you’ve never considered Apple’s financing option via Barclay, I highly recommend taking a look at it—most laptop purchases by people with decent credit will yield either 12 or 18 months of no interest, which is ample time to pay it off via reasonable monthly payments with no extra expense (unless you’re buying the $10k Mac Pro. And actually, I kinda wonder how this will work with gold ᴡᴀᴛᴄʜ models, ya know? Hm.)

Obviously, don’t be cavalier about opening up lines of credit, especially if you’re trying to qualify for something bigger like a home loan—but I love this option and I’m glad to use it every couple years or so. The Barclay reps will even help you figure out the exact payment amount necessary to perfectly zero out at the end of the term.

So I won’t actually *get* my 6 Plus for several weeks, unless I manage to snag one at a store and decide to just pony up for it. Which I might. We’ll see. I’ll be in NYC soon; maybe I’ll buy one at the 5th Ave flagship store and then immediately get mugged before I’ve set up Touch ID.

Oh, and that reminds me: when I was chatting with a guy at Target after failing to buy one there, he said the 6 Plus is even bigger than [insert name of giant Android phone whose name I forget] and that that Android thing was his most commonly returned item because “it’s just way too big.” To him and his whiny customers, I say this: suck it up and get a purse! <3

Jackal Interview

Hey y’all! Fans of the podcasting network 5by5 have been mostly lovingly coined “Jackals” for their sometimes helpful and sometimes heckling input in the network’s live IRC chatroom. One motivated jackal, Mike Beasterfeld, has been conducting a series of interviews with other jackals.

My episode aired today, should you care to listen! And you can subscribe to the show if you want to get to know the rest of the geeks who form Jackal Nation. :)

Apparently, I care a lot about swag

Tina Roth Eisenberg (aka SwissMiss) recently asked her readership about swag, on Twitter and her blog.

I was surprised by the strength and length of my opinions on the subject in the comments. I think it’s due to the fact that, while I’m a hippie about our earth and a minimalist design snob in theory about possessions, I’m a complete sucker for free stuff. So rather than rail against swag as wasteful, I think companies can strive to make it awesome in all the right ways:

Useful or solves a problem.

The only swag I’ve ever enjoyed is stuff that’s well made and useful even if you wouldn’t think to buy it. I’ve seen several customized Field Notes notebooks; those are amazing. Expos like Penny Arcade often have people giving away enormous sturdy reusable bags for people to cart around their swag in—I like that model of being helpful and solving a problem. I’ve also received custom etched pint glasses that bore the logo of a fictional pub in the game I was working on; that was cool. I much prefer a glass I can pour beer into over a poster or a stuffed animal.

Be careful, though—most of us have an excess of cheap free water bottles and mugs and commuter coffee cups and such. I feel like you’ve got to make sure your useful product is actually better made than the industry average if you want people to appreciate it and use it—which of course you should, because why else are you creating it? So no cheap BPA-laden leaky water bottles. Make it count with quality materials and an attractive base design.

Fancy pens never lose.

Everyone needs a pen, right? I mean, at some point in life. Pharmaceutical companies make the BEST free pens, with gimmicky weird tricks when you click them or twist them, etc. They always have playful design even if the playful element is pointless—and they’re usually well-made pens, sometimes in metal and usually refillable. I had a student in Mexico City who was a psychiatrist specializing in ADHD; he used to save up pens for me from ADHD drug makers because they so delighted me. Little tricks like if you clicked them the colored dots exposed under the brushed aluminum would change from gray (sad?) to yellow and orange (happy?) and such. It was delightful to have a toy embedded in a pen. (Doesn’t hurt that it was a really nice well-made pen with good heft, a metal body, and smooth ink flow.)

Legal services/conferences follow closely behind in Pen Swag Awards—my favorite pens to this date are ones from ten years ago when my law student roommate snagged me Lexis Nexus pens with integrated tape flags, and even this one pen that has a light in the nib for taking notes in a darkened room during a presentation. (Annoying to your neighbors, perhaps, but I’m still a sucker for a gimmicky pen.) They’re again well crafted, ergonomic, and they usually pack some kind of extra-useful feature beyond that of a standard pen. Can’t lose being useful.

Quality materials that show good taste.

I also love swag made from lovely materials—a Korean video game conference yielded a pen made of bent wood veneer. So cool. I’ve gotten swag made of glass or wood or even concrete once or twice; interesting high-quality materials set you apart.

And of course, a decent sense of aesthetics matters. This is more subjective to define, but I usually see decent overlap between people who choose natural materials and people who have an excellent product design aesthetic. And natural materials can sometimes even elevate mundane items, IMO.

Make it a true gift with minimal branding.

I also think it’s thoughtful and respectful when your swag’s branding is minimal. It’s more “generous” and less “transparent and borderline desperate marketing attempt.” I think more kindly of a company if they just made me something cool but didn’t force their company name down my throat in the process, you know? It also allows for a longer tail.

For example, a business card holder is nice conference swag, but it’s more likely to be used at OTHER conferences if it doesn’t say ADOBE in huge letters on the back. A small mark in the corner is more in keeping with the theoretically generous gesture of giving someone a free little gift, if you ask me.

One exception is when the overall look is custom, even though the branding is minimal—XOXOFest gave out awesome hot pink Field Notes notebooks; when I see someone else writing in one of those I basically know we share the Secret Code of XOXO. (Full disclosure; I was not an official attendee but I was in town visiting with folks who attended. They gave me pity notebooks, I suppose, haha.) Recognizable traits like that are OK if you pulled off good taste and subtlety in the actual brand name being stamped somewhere.

Everyone hates pointless cheap tchochkes.

Stuff like buttons, patches, glasses, keychains, and cheap plastic cups or tchotchkes are what I think it’s best to avoid. Those are all ugly and disposable feeling; they just seem like an utter waste. You’re better off doing nothing than spending money on crap.

No paper products.

Any paper products (fliers, brochures etc.) are an even graver utter no-no. It’s like you missed the memo about what swag is supposed to be, and it’s purely harmful to the environment without the redeeming “fun” factor of swag as a gift-like object.

My only exception to this was in Tokyo, advertisers often gave out packs of toilet paper with ads printed on the outside, because many public toilets there don’t have paper available. I never actually wound up using it, but I respected that idea and count this as more “useful/problem-solving” than “paper product” in my mind.

Don’t overspend

I’ve never actually been to the kind of event that gives away crazy spendy swag like free iPads or headphones or battery cases, but I see a bunch of mixed/disappointed reactions from people on the receiving end of higher-end swag. It feels wasteful; the gesture of having spent $200 per person on bulk Microsoft Surface pricing is crazy. People start thinking, “Couldn’t they have just lowered the ticket price, or let me at least pick my specs, or donated this to charity, or ___?” It’s such a personal thing, choosing what tech we spend hundreds of dollars on. When someone else makes that call for you (and engraves it to diminish potential resale value, heh) it just feels, I don’t know, like that generosity is misplaced and telegraphs poor judgment.

Maybe I just know a bunch of ingrates, but I think everyone would agree that it seems like the money could have been put to better use. So if you offer something pricey, make it also a problem-solver—like Tina’s commenter Daniel who said his company gives out mobile battery packs because people are always stressing about battery life at conferences. THAT is the right idea!

Internet’s Prayer

Get on that, Internet.

Design getting in the way of content

I’ve had a recent epiphany about website design. I’m blown away by how much I’ve fought usability in order to shoehorn in certain design quirks or trends or ideas that were utterly out of sync with the goal of delivering a useful and easy to navigate website. I’m hanging my head in CSS shame here.

Anyway, don’t freak out. New site coming soon, which will involve a new look. It might go through a few new looks. It’s still me, though! <3

« Older posts

Copyright © 2014 Virginia Roberts

Theme by Anders NorenUp ↑