1 tank per month challenge


with the month of april wrapping up tomorrow, i’m able to review how my first 1 tank / 300 miles per month challenge went. i’m happy to report i came in at 240 miles this month, and while i thought it would be lower, i did take some luxuries, and had some emergencies that reminded me every month is going to have ups & downs and not to worry about them. i’m already driving a lot less, and even doing errands far less frequently.

the two main things i’ve learned are these:

+ i subconsciously allow myself to run a bit late, and only when it’s too late for other options do i confront driving. when i didn’t have a car, i didn’t really do this, so this is the fine line i have to watch.

+ i don’t mind the act of driving, but negotiating with bad drivers is infuriating, and happens a lot more often than i realized before i scaled back. the main times i was irritated this month revolved around driving.

the main thing now is to keep it going, and find new and exciting excursions to take. i still used my guidelines for making errands walkable and my on-the-go lessons of carless travel to get by. i’ve learned to run for busses [you catch them more often than not] and check ahead on my metro app for which options are arriving when. currently, i’m working on utilizing the amtrak surfliner, which allows bike walk-ons, for trips to bike-friendly beach cities. we’ll see how it goes!

what i learned in my month without a car

here's something that rarely happens: a ride in an empty bus!
here’s something that rarely happens: a ride in an empty bus!

it’s been a month! it kinda flew by, but lo, i am dropping my car at the mechanic today. i learned a lot about transitioning to transit this month, and as i found myself planning my day, strategically combining a few lessons i grossly failed at mere weeks ago—all excited about how perfectly it would work out and how i would challenge myself to even walk the last leg rather than ride a bus to my stop—my epiphany became clear: i am hooked on avoiding driving!

but i can totally see how hard it is to make the transition. i’ve gone through periods of more transit and those virtually without, and it takes a different mindset. as timing would have it, our city’s pro-pedestrian ambassador, alissa walker, just wrote this piece for LA magazine, better off ped, with tips for living this way. i love her suggestions for success, but i found myself making far more novice errors, so i thought i’d take it from a much-more-recently behind the wheel stance.

thoughts on adapting to transit

travel light. whether you’re walking, bussing or biking, you’re not going to take a giant shoulder bag with everything you need. you’ll want something that carries your accoutrements [a book or notebook? a water bottle? a snack? anything you’d keep in a purse?] without killing your posture. you might eat out strategically rather than carry a lunch, or switch to a backpack on the days you need to carry extra cargo home. this is true for shoes, too. i got some cute sporty shoes that work well and stand up to a good walk.

get the lay of the land. locate your local bus stops, take note of the busses that stop there and look up the routes on metro.net. you can download pdfs online, or store them in ibooks on your phone. load up your tap card so you don’t have to worry about change. you can download the metro LA app to get info on maps, stops & next arrival times on your phone when you’re out. after your first few trips, you’ll find yourself at new stops with new connections. you’ll learn a lot more about the possibilities as you go.

you’re going to mess it up a few times. it happens, you look up a trip and it seems to work out, but one of many things go wrong, and now you’re late—only you can’t do anything about it. this is a great opportunity to learn about acceptance and the inability to control a situation. the lesson i’ve learned about control is that we often distract ourselves in thinking we’re controlling something that we’re not. like stressing out about being late? call ahead and explain what happened and move on.

plan weeks, not days. when i drive, i do errands all in one day, they are all off a main route and it makes sense to do them all together. it seems that transit is better geared to smaller clusters and more simple destinations, lest you end up on a marathon trip or carrying too much. i have learned to generally arrange the next week in my head, figuring out appointments first, clustering any errands that make sense with them, and deciding what is a priority of what’s left to do. which day will i walk, when should i commit to a transit trip? it will also help you place the more critical time-sensitive trips so you don’t run out of cat prescriptions without rearranging your whole day at the last minute.

understand that some people are going to feel sorry for you. i got a lot of shock and dismay at the idea that my mechanic was booked for a month. it didn’t bother me, but to some, it was an outrage. i also got a lot of insistence at accepting a ride home when it was found out that i took the bus to my destination, in the way you know a person wants to help you but it sounds like they’re suggesting you should never have to do something as lowly as public transit. sometimes it feels weird to have people pity you for something you feel good about. the complicated feedback loops at work here are not about you. you can comfort them that you are okay and the bus is okay and everything is okay.

but some people are going to offer you the much-needed ride home! there were lots of times that i wasn’t exactly going to ask for a ride, but when one comes up that keeps you from waiting around at night for a 3-legged trip, you take it graciously! this might be the ultimate lesson in acceptance, but it also got me wondering how i’m really living without a car while in someone else’s car. i didn’t wonder about this too long though, because a carpool trip is a great time for conversation.

you will become more comfortable all up in everyone’s grill. you will see the best and worst of people. it will be a barrage of fashion, attitudes, fragrant discoveries, conversations, exercises in avoidance, all kinds of hilarious and treacherous first-world urban survival skills will surface. some new shit will come to light, man! you will learn about yourself, and people, and about more acceptance, and it will all be okay. i try not to dwell on this, because it’s mostly not a big deal. then every once in awhile something jarring happens. some guy will not want to stand next to that other guy. someone might want to talk loudly about racism, or jesus, or share their paranoia or ask for money or suggest you are a scoundrel for refusing to loan them your phone. great social upheaval will happen! and then it will resolve itself. nothing jarring happened to me this month at all. everyone was cool. thank you, everyone, for being cool this month.

what’s the cost breakdown of this experiment?

the truth is, unless you completely ditch your car, benefiting from maintenance & insurance savings, if you don’t drive much, you are trading gas expenses for transit fares and conveniences. a week metro pass is $20, and though i don’t quite ride often enough to need one, my week would sometimes max out right at $20 on the tap card. a tank of gas in my car right now runs around $50, and i was doing 1-2 tanks per month. so my gas money would go to mostly transit fare and little snacks i’d buy along the way unless i was a daily commuter who stood to cut high mileage out of my life. however, like many things, the cost tradeoff alone shouldn’t be your only guide. on how many normal days do you just sneak in 2-4 miles on foot? or get to relax and enjoy the scenery? my body just caught up with all the exercise last week and i started to lose weight, so …!

what happens when the car comes home?

keep it up! so, last night when i was planning my day and realizing i wanted to walk part of my trip, the big takeaway is that i am going to keep walking as many trips as i can. i’m also going to keep taking the bus to all the daytime destinations i’ve been doing. the times i’m going to make exceptions are for 1 weekly run to an inconvenient errand of my choice [basically, the ones with heavy cargo] and any inconvenient night events.

drive 1 tank or less of gas per month. when i did my taxes recently, i noticed i was averaging 500 miles per month. my car gets 300 miles per tank of gas, so my first measure is going to be to drive only 1 tank of gas per month. considering how few times i would have used the car if i had the choice this month, i think this is going to be easy. the next discovery will be, exactly how little can i get away with driving below that tank? and how soon before something jarring challenges my comfort zone?

these are the mysteries that await! in the meantime, i got myself a pedometer app and i’m going to start tracking my trips. time to start measuring a different kind of mileage [i just walked 4 miles home from the vet after dropping off my car, cat meds in hand well before we run out this time! thanks myfitnesspal pedometer app!]

alissa has a follow-up to her LA magazine piece on her own blog: awalkerinla.com: better off ped full of resources for making your transition. share any you have here!

how to choose the right designer for your business

in an effort help more people understand how to get the most out of design services, i offer these helpful primers to demystify the process of hiring a graphic designer and getting prepared for your next project. if you find yourself here with a head full of questions, 2 other pieces to read are how to prepare a for a design project which will give you the tools to narrow your design objectives into a creative brief, and process & design project timeline which is a rough outline of all the phases of production i use with my clients.

follow these steps to find the right designer for your business

it’s a bit of a toss-up between whether style or industry is the more important place to start. obviously, some businesses will be more concerned with insider sensitivity, while others will want a designer whose style clicks with their creative direction. in my opinion, both of these factors should be weighted equally, and let some of the subsequent factors help tip the scales in your top choices:

industry focus

if you’re in a niche that has a lot of specifics attached to it, or want someone who understands the history of your industry so they can help consult on key ways to differentiate you from your competition, look into creative professionals that specialize in your slice of the market. i am a strong proponent of getting referrals, either from colleagues or trade organizations, where you can search on specifics and see linked portfolios of work samples. you can also do research on who your competitors are hiring by looking at their web sites for a design credit and following that link to the firm’s portfolio. to get a feel for the breadth of options, add “design” to any of the keywords for your industry and see who’s doing what all around the world. once you get a sense of who is doing it well, you’ll be ready to look for…

individual style

every designer worth his or her salt will have an individual style that is evident in their work. whether you search online, get referrals from colleagues, or go to a trade association, go straight to the portfolio and look at all their work. do the pieces in their portfolios show clever design solutions that work well in your opinion? if their work resonates with you, can you also see your clients & target market receiving it positively as well? the key here is that you are hiring a visual translator. every designer sees a unique “best avenue” for translating your message, so the major consideration in individual style is to see what this particular designer has done with the information in each piece to appeal effectively to the viewer.

customer service & transparency

once you’ve narrowed it down to excellent talent and experience, take some time to notice how each firm’s site introduces themselves, how much information do they put forward about how they work and what they value? how much of a sense do you get about what they’d be like to work with? it’s smart to be a bit wary of any firm that seems vague about what you’ll be getting. the best of us realize that you have your own businesses to run and perhaps aren’t familiar with the design process or don’t know what to expect or how to get started, and we do our best to anticipate your questions and answer them. it’s the beginning of a relationship and we’re all looking for compatibility. if you’re feeling good about a designer’s approach, take the next step and…

ask questions!

we are service providers, and the best we can do is educate people whenever they are curious. designers that follow best practices will be able to provide you with a clear explanation of what you can expect from working with them. if you have the parameters of your project outlined, [use this system to prepare a creative brief] you can ask for a project proposal, which will give you a good idea of the costs involved as well as the production timeline.

plan ahead

or rather, plan ahead to plan ahead. we do understand that sometimes you’re looking for a designer because of a looming rush deadline, but in ideal circumstances, you won’t want to make these decisions in a day. you’ll also run the risk of not getting a slot with your designer of choice, because they’ll already be booked out. the best marketing efforts take careful planning and projection far before they are put into action. if you’re in business, you’ll eventually need marketing materials, so look for someone you want to work with early on—long before you’re ready to start a project. this will give you a chance to meet them, see their work, have lunch, meet up at a mixer, read their blog, and google their online presence so you get to know them and how they work for the most critical ingredient in the mix: peace of mind that you’re working with someone who is right for you.

if you think that person might be me, let’s talk!

how to prepare for your next design project

when you’re not in the business of graphic design, it can be hard to know the best order of operations in getting a project started. what i often end up doing for clients who need a little strategy clarification is summed up in this article so anyone can follow it, consider all the preliminary factors, and end up with a great starting point to bring to any project initiation. while it’s not a final blueprint, having these questions answered before you start makes it easy for both parties to deliver on the same goal.

use these guidelines to prepare your next project and write a general creative brief

define the goal of communication for the project

before you decide on the format of the communication, it’s good to think about the general messaging going into it. what are you trying to tell your market? in the best-case scenario, what do you want them to do in reaction to this piece? a good place to start is to write out a company description and include any mission statement or boilerplate for reference, then indicate what the immediate goal is and how this project will work toward it.

define the audience

this is where you define all the types of people the project should speak to, and describe for your designer their typical lifestyle choices, interests, and availability to similar services. the purpose of this information is to inform your designer on how to communicate with your audience while differentiating you from your competition. if you can, provide sample profiles of typical individuals who would use your products or services. some questions to answer here are: what should the target market think, feel or do in reaction to this piece?

keep consistent with your brand objectives

if you have a brand brief or style guide in place, you will want to use it as a guideline for every project so as to stay on message. if not, the first step is to collect as much of your previous collateral as possible and bring it to your designer for reference. whether you are sticking with an ongoing messaging plan or trying to break from the past, the over-arching narrative of your business should inform all your marketing efforts. submitting these materials to your designer will allow them to work within the context you’ve created, or create context for you if need be.

define your budget

budgeting for a project can be tricky when you’re working with an industry with as wide a fee range as graphic design. there are all levels of firms out there, and as with anything, you generally get what you pay for if price point is your first concern. be realistic about what the value of the project is to you, and what you expect it to do for you. do research with the design firms you’re interested in and ask for a range of what similar projects have cost in the past. be honest about what you can afford, and be open to advice on what can be done within your budget, or perhaps what can be done if you put the project off for now and save a bit more for a bigger impact down the road. an experienced designer will be able to scale a project to fit your budget, so you may not get all the bells and whistles you originally dreamed of, but you can get the materials you need from the designer you want to work with, at a price you can afford.

define your deliverables

some clients have logos, taglines, photography, illustrations, charts & graphs or copy that will be used in creating the final piece, and some will be looking to have any applicable elements created specifically for the project. if you have a set of non-negotiables, make your designer aware of them from the beginning. bring any style guide you have in place that specifies how these materials are to be used, if applicable.

define success

similar to defining your goals, you’ll want to put together some measurable success markers so you can track what your marketing efforts are doing for you. be realistic here, every piece is not going to convert to new business, but if you have a percentage return of new interest in mind, desire noticeable positive feedback from existing clients, or if you would like to break ground in a specific way with a new market, these are things to list from the outset and track as your efforts are put into action.

the designer you choose to work with will ask many more detailed questions to draft a creative brief that will address the your project-specific goal. in the meantime, clarifying these thoughts will allow you to communicate your needs more clearly, and will take a lot of the guesswork out of the discovery interview. if you’re not currently working with a designer and need some help in choosing one, some good starting advice can be found in how to choose the right designer.

if you’ve got everything ready to go, let’s get started!

notes from caveland, part 2

breakfast salad

so, i’m back on more of a paleo diet lately, and while some of my favorite snacks from my first round with it are still mainstays, i’ve been adding new regulars to the mix and thought i’d share them. by far my favorite is breakfast salad, above! i discovered breakfast salad on a trip with my sister, but all i had to do was eliminate the cheese to make it paleo [though, i don’t have a huge beef with cheese, and i will still eat it sometimes]. i’ve added smoked salmon and drizzled with olive oil and vinegar in this version, but i’ve also enjoyed a spicy tapenade over the eggs too. the basics are poached eggs over greens, but you can make it your own.

almond flour crackers

if breakfast salad has become my favorite meal, these almond flour crackers have become my favorite snack. i was just looking around one day and found elana’s pantry where you can find great cracker recipes using blanched almond flour: sesame, walnut, herb, mixed seed & nut, fig & rosemary…! the basis is often the same ratio of almond flour, egg and salt, and then use the ground nut or seed and oil of your choice. mine look just like hers because rolling between 2 parchments and pre-cutting really does make a uniform cracker. these are a great go-to when you need a little salty crunch, or if you need a substrate for your smoked oysters. unlike normal crackers, you can eat just 5, because they are far more filling.

paleo granola

to be honest, i didn’t think i cared much about granola. certainly not enough to develop a recipe for it, but i was thinking about it one day, and then looked up paleomg’s granola, and tried it. it’s pretty good, and definitely got me to the point where i knew i could modify it to be just my style. i decided to try processing all the larger nuts into a uniform crumble to mix with soaked flax and chia seeds, and then incorporate the smaller nuts and seeds as their own texture. though it dehydrates for a long time, it totally worked, i got clusters that don’t fall apart in milk and a texture that feels like the granola i like. now i have to actually measure it so i can post it.

hemp-coconut milk

while i’m not exactly anti-dairy, i’m off it for the time being, so what kind of milk would i eat cereal with? for me, the easiest to make is hemp seed milk, because there is no pre-soaking necessary. unfortunately, i wasn’t wild about the taste, so i set out to improve it. my favorite blend so far is hemp and coconut milk sweetened with 2 dates and a splash of vanilla extract. if you’re trying to avoid sugars and emulsifiers in commercial alt-milks, this one is pretty easy to make. i’ll post the recipe with the granola once i sort all that measuring out.

it’s funny, once you get going on this stuff, it seems like there are endless food tricks to share, but these are the highlights for now. happy eating!

friday fun: branding links

a round-up of branding links

if you’re looking at that parking sign and thinking it looks a lot friendlier than any you’ve seen recently, it’s probably because it’s a typographic breath of fresh air. pentagram has been asked to help redesign new york city department of transportation signage, and i like the samples that have been released. see more of the collection here.

as a tea drinker, i noticed the new tazo packaging in my market’s tea section as soon as it was stocked. i always thought the designers who did tazo did a nice job with it, even though the type styles ended up looking dated [mostly due to overuse of typefaces like émigré’s mason in the 90s]. thedieline.com gets the whole scoop here. i think it’s a refreshing look with just enough historic reference.

two different blogs take a look at what happens to some global american brands when they go overseas. one gets nicer while another gets a lot cooler:
mcdonald’s new global packaging
7-11 goes to sweden

more in-depths on brand strategy

“farm-to-fork” drives consumer packaging
5 classic strategies for growing your brand equity
boost your freelance brand 100 percent with your expert status
helicopter branding: why it’s bad and how to avoid it

how i made my errands walkable

there’s a post i’ve been itching to write for a long time, but it wasn’t quite finished yet, so i left it on the back burner. recently, a talk by alissa walker, which included the suggestion to make 1- and 2-mile radius maps, completed the puzzle for me and i decided to write the whole thing. funnily enough, my car needs a repair and my mechanic is booked for a month, so i get to put all this information into practice immediately!

awhile back, i decided to integrate walking a lot more into my day, and figured if i was exercising while doing errands, taking an hour to walk an errand loop would no longer be seen as taking too long—it’s merely displacing an hour workout. in my determination to do as many errands as i could on foot and within my 1-mile neighborhood, i mapped out as many businesses as i could and replaced further / driven errands with places i could walk to, or pass on my way home from the bus.

echo park landmarks

1. cookbook: small, organic market with fresh produce and specialty foods.
2. blue collar working dog: it may be primarily dog supplies, but they have high-quality cat food in single cans, for times when i’m between the larger packs i buy elsewhere.
3. house of spirits: the local liquor store with the biggest variety.
4. beauty box / sunset beer co: beauty box is an excellent local hairdresser i’ve been using for years. next door is sunset beer co., a specialty beer store that doubles as a comfy bar.
5. friday farmer’s market: we have our very own weekly farmer’s market right here in echo park on friday afternoons, 3-7pm.
6. echo park & lake: a great place to take a walk or run around the .88-mi path around the lake. we’ll have to measure the new path after the rehabilitation is complete.
7. the echo: we have one of the coolest night club & venues [there are 2 on-site] right here in echo park. being able to avoid parking and have a few drinks without thinking about driving is invaluable!
8. edendale library: i’ve been trying to do all my reading on borrowed books. combine the library’s online book request system with a walkable library and you have reading material at your fingertips within a couple days.
9. mohawk bend: not just the local watering hole with the most taps, but also a client! i do a lot of meetings here, so the walkability is key. it should be mentioned, though, that there are tons of places to eat all over echo park, and mohawk bend is maybe the furthest from my house, so there are plenty of choices anywhere in-between.
10. vons: i don’t do much market shopping, but there are times when i do need something in a pinch, and vons is the only market that carries our preferred cat litter, so i go there to get that, and withdraw cash on my atm transaction to avoid any bank visits & foreign atm fees.
11. rite-aid: i currently don’t use rite-aid, but after walgreens [on sunset & echo park] stopped working with my insurance, i figured i’d see if i can fill prescriptions here. currently i’m at CVS and the walkability is much lower.
12. edendale post office: i do a fair amount of mailing, and this post office allows me to get some secret stairs in on the way over.
13. yogala: a great yoga studio a 10 minute walk from my house, with 2 alternatives: the longer / flatter route, or hiking up a hill and taking the avalon stairs.
14. elysian park / dodger stadium: when walking purely for exercise and sight-seeing, the beginning of the portola trail is just steps from my front door. dodger stadium is just through elysian park via academy road.

BUS, glendale blvd: there are a few convenient 92 and 603 bus stops at points on glendale blvd. that i use. taking it north, i can get to atwater village, where i also shop, take sewing class, exercise at heartbeat house, or visit my mom [this bus also goes to downtown glendale & burbank]. my new use of this bus will be to avoid biking over glendale blvd so i can more easily get to the river bike path. to the south, this bus goes downtown.

BUS, montana st.: the 200 bus takes alvarado and hoover streets to meet up with the expo line going to culver city. on its way, it crosses wilshire, which is a great way to catch the 20/720 west to LACMA or other points in mid-city.

BUS, sunset blvd: at sunset & echo park, i can pick up the 2/302 or 4/704, and take them anywhere downtown, to meet up with the trains at union station, or travel west to hollywood, anywhere on the west side, or the beach!

last year, i made a rough draft of this map to see how much was covered within echo park. i think it’s pretty impressive! there are very few things i can’t do on an afternoon break / errand walk. i should mention, i have alternative solutions to the bank [mailing deposits / cash at atm transactions] and some i’ve gotten lazy about and reverted to driving. jason has chosen to hold a premiere amazon account, so sometimes we order inconvenient items on free shipping as well.

what alissa put into perspective was mapping 1-mile and 2-mile radius terrain around my home and trying always to walk the 1-mile routes. i didn’t realize i had already done this [or at least figured it out, if i didn’t always stick to it]. the challenge then becomes, will you walk to the 2-mile destinations? here are what mine look like:

1-mile radius

looking at this map, i’m right on track with my errand plan—even the dreaded CVS / pet store walk, which is only a pain because that stretch of glendale blvd is busy and has scary tire tracks where people have clearly driven up on the curb as they speed toward the 2 freeway entrance. i’ve decided that’s too clear a sign of danger, but maybe i can take the 92 bus instead.

2-mile radius with 1-mile overlay for comparison

this map makes me cringe when i think about walking this far anywhere that’s not sunset blvd or through elysian park via stadium way into chinatown. those walks are direct and i’ve done them with predictable turnaround times. however, anywhere directly east or north outside of glendale blvd. is not really a clear path. hills and dead-ends north of sunset rule out those routes, and the length of the walk if i go down to sunset and back up north makes it a trip i’d more likely bike. similarly, to get over the river in the quadrant directly north to east, the only through-way is stadium way, which is not safe to walk due to low visibility by speeding commuters. when i want to get there by bike, i have the choice of glendale blvd., or the roundabout trip through the park to chinatown, north on broadway to where it meets figueroa in cypress park. that works on a bike, but i’d never walk it if given the choice.

interestingly, in both cases, i didn’t realize just how much is covered in 1 and 2 miles of my house. it’s more than i thought, and a great reminder that there’s almost nothing you can’t do with the combination of walking, biking and using transit. now i have to figure out how to cart things that don’t fit in a backpack or pannier bags. since i’ll have no other choice for the next month, i’m going to strategize and put it all into action. i expect to learn a great deal, so i’ll share the unexpected surprises

aiga’s blueprint: freelance

i’m both honored and excited to be a panelist in aiga’s blueprint: freelance on march 28 at nextspace in culver city! we’ll be talking about running our business and share the realities of what it’s like to run your own show. this panel is full of great voices in the los angeles design scene, and best suited to designers or related creative professionals who have been curious about starting their own firms and want the scoop from a range of professionals spanning 5 to 20+ years in business.

if this is YOU, register TODAY!

in the meantime, i’ve talked about freelancey stuff before, and if you’re into that sort of thing:
freelancing 101, 102 and 103
creative freelancer blog’s interview with heather parlato on freelancing

recent work: skift

skift.com 13 trends that will define travel in 2013

It’s been exciting to watch Rafat Ali launch his latest startup, skift.com, a news source on the business of the travel industry, reporting on everything from airline mergers to niche travel apps. For their 1-year anniversary, we created this interactive trend report for distribution at the outset of 2013, a collection of articles with full click-throughs to citations and resources. They reported very positive feedback, and I’m very happy with how it turned out. Interested in what these 13 trends might be? download a copy here.

Interactive pdfs are a great alternate tactic to direct traffic or email marketing, since you get the chance to reorganize information in a different way than you might have it online, creating new value for the reader. Also, there are those who prefer to read a 15-page report over sorting relevant items in a blog, though now with the information arranged as a trend report, these same readers are far more likely to visit your site through the relevant links provided. With InDesign, these documents offer total design flexibility and look far better than something whipped up in word, or [gasp] a presentation deck standing in for its presenter.

see more of our recent work here.