Institute for Exceptional Growth Companies website launched

Institute for Exceptional Growth Companies websiteBlue Mouse Monkey is excited to announce the launch of a new logo design and new website for IEGC, the Institute for Exceptional Growth Companies. This project is from the big-data folks behind (another Blue Mouse Monkey project) now at the University of Wisconsin Extension’s Division of Entrepreneurship and Economic Development.

We’re thrilled to help this cutting-edge group of researchers make their data and insights accessible to economists, governments, and businesses. IEGC is the national leader in business growth research, and they provide data about the US economy that has the scope and power to help us see our complex financial world in new ways.

A look at Design Thinking – and how it’s not a milk cow

Vitruvian ManThe phrase “Design Thinking” is getting bounced around a lot, and for a while I found it a bit puzzling. I didn’t understand how it differed from regular thinking. Then today I read Rick Wise’s succinct (if perhaps oversimplified) definition in the FastCompany blog and realized the reason the phrase puzzled me was because is regular thinking. At least for me.

“At heart … it is about fusing the creative and open-ended with the analytical and operational, combining very different ways of thinking and acting. This is, of course, easier in theory than in practice. How do you get children’s book authors and chemical engineers to click into something greater than the sum of the parts–rather than devolve into warring camps?”

Like Rick Wise says, “Everyone’s a bit of everything.” Few people are all creative or all analytical. But I have been lucky enough to build my skills in both realms to a point where they are balanced and integrated.

Mostly from being in the right place at the right time, I’ve been blessed with abundant opportunities for education. My first degree was in visual art, a BFA from the Corcoran College of Art + Design in Washington , D.C. It was a marvelous experience that I still treasure years later. But after that first degree, I was too curious to call it quits on tertiary education. Next up I studied philosophy and linguistics at the University of Auckland, and received rigorous training in analytical reasoning. It was sometimes difficult and dry, but I knew I needed the skills. Then after that experience, I went back to art, and did an MFA at Portland State University.

Now, as a business-owner and strategist/designer, the combination of inspired+creative  and rational+analytical is an enormous asset. I am able to help clients strategize their brand and website to fit their organization’s goals, I’m able to meticulously plan timelines and budgets, and I’m able to maintain big-picture perspective during a project. In this analytical realm, decisions get made based on looking at premises, and following them to their conclusion. This is what we have now. Over there is the outcome we want. This is what will happen if we change what we have by doing X. Will that give us the outcome we want? No? Return to the premises and start over. Maybe? Tweak the variables until an acceptable level of probability is achieved.

But during the project, I will switch gears and be the designer. It’s a new set of decisions to make, but they mostly happen on the visceral level. Color palette? Hmmm. Uh. Er. Oooh…. Ah!

Choosing photos? Too gloomy. Too cute. Too green. Almost, but too wide. Will it crop well? No. But this one will…nice.

Creative decisions are made split-second fast, and it’s later that I go back and find reasons for them — which I need to do when presenting design decisions to clients.

Client: Of the three color palettes you’ve shown us, which do you think is the best for our organization, and why?

Me: Option three is the best. The intensity of the palette visually supports the vibrancy of your organization. You fund organizations that educate children in energy-intensive ways. However, your website audience is adults, not children, so while the colors are bright, it’s a sophisticated adult palette, not a play-school or candy-bright palette.

Client: “I see what you mean, yeah…” 

The FastCompany post focuses on how Design Thinking is done at a particular firm, Lippincott, which is much larger than Blue Mouse Monkey, with eight offices worldwide. Design Thinking impacts not just client strategy, but how their whole company is structured and how staff are coached, and how they are paid. I can only say as a creative and as a business-owner, am inspired by Lippincott’s priorities and strategies.

However, Design Thinking has its critics. When taken as not simply a vague label to describe the ability to blend “left-brain” and “right-brain” problem-solving (over-simplified terms in themselves) and is used instead to mean a specific methodology or process to “get more value” from staff, then it can become a mere trick, applied externally to people situations to provoke them to be different from how they are. A type of provocation that can easily fail. Bruce Nussbaum, also in a FastCompany blog post, outlines his criticisms of Design Thinking, and calls for a new conceptual framework he calls the “Creative Quotient.” His recent book is Creative Intelligence: Harnessing the Power to Create, Connect, and Inspire.

I have not read the book so can’t comment. But all this talk of finding the right way to “harness” creativity makes me a just a tiny bit queasy.

As Thomas Frank says in his article, TED talks are lying to you, “The creative class has never been more screwed. Books about creativity have never been more popular. What gives?”

He goes on: “Those who urge us to “think different” … almost never do so themselves. Year after year, new installments in this unchanging genre are produced and consumed. Creativity, they all tell us, is too important to be left to the creative. Our prosperity depends on it. And by dint of careful study and the hardest science — by, say, sliding a jazz pianist’s head into an MRI machine — we can crack the code of creativity and unleash its moneymaking power.”

Creative minds, says Frank, are treated like they can be “harnessed” and then are supposed to “do their nonlinear thing” and out of that flows “epiphanies and solutions” that make corporations rich.

Thing is, creativity doesn’t work that way.

Not to say that corporations haven’t gotten rich from epiphanies and solutions arrived at by creative people. As Frank says, “Spend a few moments on Google and you will find that the tale of how Procter & Gamble developed the Swiffer is a staple of marketing literature.”

But it can’t happen by applying a formula. What the writers on creativity fail to mention is the role of intuition. And that intuition can’t be forced. Sure, it can be encouraged and developed, but it can’t be imposed. It simply doesn’t work that way.

The corporations that get rich from some creative insight are lucky. They had the right people at the right time. Other corporations might have the right people at the right time, or they might not. When it works, it’s not because of the application of a formula, it’s because of a serendipitous set of circumstances. As much as corporations want to control variables, and “harness” intangibles, there is no way to reduce the creative process to a repeatable formula. You might invent the Swiffer, or you might not.

Keep trying, sure. Don’t give up. But don’t expect to corral the ethereal, evanescent, weightless nature of creative inspiration like you might a cow that you expect to give milk at will.

Net Neutrality at risk: the Internet as we know it will change

What’s about to happen will affect us all in ways we can’t yet imagine.

The current nondiscrimination principle of “network neutrality” forbids phone and cable companies from blocking or even discriminating between or entering in special business deals to the benefit of some sites over others.

For example, as Suzanne succinctly puts it on “Net neutrality is the idea that all information is created equal, therefore, it should be available to all users of the internet without the interference of big companies stating what can or can’t be viewed. For example, if there was not net neutrality then Google could choose to not allow any Gmail users to receive emails from Yahoo accounts and vice-versa. Also, wireless carriers could sell tiered services that would allow some people to get information faster than others.”

I found this image uncredited on another blog. If you know the author, contact me via the main Blue Mouse Monkey site.

However, net neutrality is “dead man walking”, because the DC Circuit Court is about to rule probably in favor of Verizon.

As Marvin Ammori writes in Wired, “Despite eight years of public and political activism by multitudes fighting for freedom on the internet, a court decision may soon take it away.”

“The implications of such a decision would be profound. Web and mobile companies will live or die not on the merits of their technology and design, but on the deals they can strike with AT&T, Verizon, Comcast, and others. This means large phone and cable companies will be able to “shakedown” startups and established companies in every sector…”

Read the whole article on Wired »

Oregon First website launch

Oregon First real Estate Website home pageBlue Mouse Monkey is proud to announce the launch of a new website for Oregon First. Oregon First is the largest independent, locally-owned real estate brokerage in Oregon. Their new website combines a RMLS data feed with unique customized design (rare for real estate sites!) as well as two blogs (one for agents, the other for the general buying-and-selling public) as well as individual pages for each of the 300+ member agents. Built in WordPress, the site is now easy for Oregon First staff to keep updated.

Your Economy website re-launched

Blue Mouse Monkey is thrilled to announce the launch of the new website. Your Economy is an interactive resource center where you can explore and analyze economic activity in your own region and nationwide. YE houses more economic data than the U.S. census bureau, and it depicts the dynamic journey of jobs, sales, and establishments evolving through time.

We were particularly happy to work with Your Economy to improve the website, as we had been engaged in the first redesign in early 2012. Since then the needs of the project changed, and to take advantage of evolving web technologies, we decided to redo the whole site from the ground up. The result is a highly interactive, javascript-rich solution that enables you to dive deep into complex economic data in a matter of seconds. The YE website is designed to be user-friendly to a wide range of audiences, including the White House, state governors, economists, industry analysts, economic development experts, and the media.

Short term greed is killing us all

An excellent article by Henry Blodget  (CEO and Editor, Business Insider) examines the implications of a tweet by a Twitter user who lashed out against his suggestion that McDonald’s should increase the wages of its restaurant workers and pay for this by making a bit less money. (Blodget was arguing that McDonald’s employees should not be treated as “costs,” but instead as valuable members of a successful team who shouldn’t have to work that hard and still live in poverty.)

The tweeter responded:

offensive tweet(The tweet is quite articulate for Animal from the Muppets.) But as Blodget points out, this is not a unique opinion, and many senior managers think this way.

And it never ceases to shock me. I’m a business owner, but I’m also a human being, in fact a human being first. Strip away my business ownership and I’d still be a human being. And the people who work with me, for me, and for whom I do work are all human beings. Each one of them carrying a birthright that means they deserve to be treated with fairness, respect, honesty, and as people with hopes and dreams of their own.

I have never understood hope some people lose site of this. It’s just so obvious. It’s a given. In fact, it feels strange even to write it out, like I’m writing something obvious and unarguable like, “The sky is blue except on cloudy days when it is gray”.

To my mind, a person would have to be psycho to think of other human beings are merely “costs”. That’s not far from thinking of other human beings as less-than-human. As expendable. And we know where that kind of thinking can lead.

And guess what? ALL employees of a company are “costs”, including the higher management. Including the CEO. If you wanted to look at the structure of workplaces this way, you could argue that ALL employees are trading their labor for money. Even the CEO is laboring as a CEO. And her salary is a cost on the company’s books. She’s laboring with her head rather than her hands, but she’s still spending dedicated time in service of the company.

My company, Blue Mouse Monkey, Inc., is a corporation. My project manager’s wages are a cost to the company. My salary is a cost to the company. My subcontractor’s fees are costs to the company. If I hire a temp, that’s a cost to the company. We’re all costs. And we’re all much, much more. We all depend on each other. Without my employee and my subs, I wouldn’t be able to serve my clients. Without me (as the founder of the company), my employee and subs wouldn’t have the money my company provides in exchange for their labor.

We’re all valuable members of a successful team, and like any workers, we shouldn’t have to work as hard as we do and still live in poverty. (Which we don’t).

Now I’m not arguing that the work of a McDonald’s employee is equal on the marketplace to the work of a website developer. I understand that the level of skill and education and life experience necessary to be a good McDonald’s employee compared with that needed to be a a good developer (or copywriter or UX designer, etc. etc) is very different.

But no one should have to work that hard, give over than many hours of their life, and still live in poverty. They should make a living wage. Everyone should make a living wage. The alternative is a dying wage.

As Blodget points out,

“The real problem is that American corporations, which are richer and more profitable than they have ever been in history (see chart below), have become so obsessed with “maximizing short-term profits” that they are no longer investing in their future, their people, and the country.


“American corporations can afford to pay their employees better, hire more employees, and invest more in their future and the country’s future.

But American corporations aren’t doing that.

Instead, American corporations are choosing to divert as much of their value as possible to their owners and senior managers.

Doing this is not a law of capitalism.

It’s a choice.

And it is a choice, unfortunately, that is destroying America’s middle class, robbing American consumers (a.k.a., “employees”) of spending power, and, ironically, hurting the growth of the same corporations that are making this choice.”


Considering it doesn’t have to be this way, it’s a real shame that’s the way it’s turning out for so many many people. The best I can do, personally, is be a fair and honest employer.

.    .    .    .    .    .    .    .    .    .    .    .

A side note: the tweeter’s use of “full stop” instead of “period” strongly suggests he is not from the United States. An interesting detail, considering Blodget was talking about American corporations and American workers. But many American corporations are also multinationals, and economic neoconservative attitudes are international in scope and spread, so it’s perhaps not all that surprising to see the non-Americaninsm in such a virulently capitalist response. (But it casts doubt on the veracity of the tweeter’s photo — I always thought Animal was American.)

Boxy but good

Remember Dudley Moore, the ad man who goes crazy in the 1990 movie, Crazy People? He switches to using honesty, and comes up with campaigns like, “Volvos. They’re boxy but good.”

Parisian design collective Maentis is doing something similar in their reimagining of famous logos with a dose of added honesty. Check out their Universal Unbranding portfolio. A couple of examples are copied below to whet your appetite.

BP oil soaked bird




Ikea kitset logo

Big changes, and life goes on

Shelise Gieseke and Fara Heath

Shelise and Fara, with Blue the Blue Mouse Monkey

We’re sad to see her go, but happy about the reason: Blue Mouse Monkey’s studio manager Shelise Gieseke has left to have her baby! Shelise has been with Blue Mouse Monkey for almost three years, and we could not have done it without her. THANK YOU, SHELISE!

We’re thrilled to welcome Fara Heath as the new studio manager. With her background in entrepreneurship, communications, and the performing arts she’s going to be a great addition to the team. WELCOME, FARA!

Bridgetown Printing website launched

Bridgetown Printing websiteBlue Mouse Monkey was pleased to partner with Subtext to create a new site for one of Portland’s leading printing companies, Bridgetown Printing. The original Bridgetown site was a single page placeholder, so everything in the new site was created from scratch, including new information architecture, look-and-feel, and content. We’re proud to participate in the growing trend towards responsive design with this website. Check it out on any device such as your iPhone, Kindle, or large desktop display, and the layout will rearrange itself to fit the context!

Medium-Sized Companies are the Economic Engine

Blue Mouse Monkey wants you to learn about your economy through a new lens! Did you know that existing, expanding companies contribute most to U.S. job creation? Not startups and not big companies, but medium sized-companies. In fact, from 1990 to 2008 existing companies generated 71 percent more new jobs than startups. And from 1995 – 2009 Stage 2 companies (those with 10-99 employees) represented only 10.9% of all establishments but they contribute a whopping 33.2% of total job expansion. The website has a larger dataset than the US Census Bureau, and they are able to crunch the numbers and come up with these previously unknown facts. See Blue Mouse Monkey’s case study and visit the website.