Pixel art

I am no designer. But I wanted to do something design-ey. After browsing a lot of Reddit I discovered that I really liked ( some ) pixel art

As with anything creative it takes a lot of practice to produce good pixel art. One of my biggest reservations I had about starting was that I would not be instantly good at it and the gap between ability and taste would be too much to overcome given the amount of free time available.

I was given a day to dedicate to the development of my pixel art skill and this is what I produced.

The editor

Choosing the right tool for the job is the only real preparation that I did. There are lots of options when it comes to choosing an editor to make pixel art. My considerations were that the software should be simple, specific to pixel art and a low cost ( free if possible ). So I settled on Aesprite for the job. In celebration of this decision the first thing I made was the Aesprite mascot.

One pixel at a time

I followed lots of tutorials and painstakingly placed every pixel where I wanted it to be. Click … click … click. Very therapeutic.

Practice, practice, practice

It didn’t really matter what I was actually drawing, I was trying to get as much practice in as possible, trying out as many of the techniques I was reading about. Shading, borders and limited colour palates.


After quite a lot of time just shifting out work, I was starting to feel a bit lost. I did seek out one of our designers who gave me some good advice. Do not delete work. Keep everything. This means that you can take something that you did before and develop it later on. I tried focusing on one character and trying to develop it whilst keeping the various stages that I went though. Each of these mushrooms is me trying to play with shading and borders ( or no borders ) to produce something which remains simple but has more character about it.

Putting down the pen

I knew what I wanted to achieve when I started this project. I am little embarrassed to say but I really wanted to produce Vivi, a character from Final Fantasy IX. It takes a lot of inspiration from images found on the internet except that every pixel was carefully placed with great consideration.


Job Done. A day well spent.

Social media – friend or foe?

Social media for a business is a game that not many of us willingly want to play. Users are constantly striving to not only outwit the platforms to get their content seen but also ensure their content is better than their competitors. Recently i've been exploring the world of social media a little more, trying to get my head around how we use it and what it can do for us. Is it just a case of sharing pretty things as and when we feel like it?  


Time vs morals

Getting social media right is a complete minefield that most of us don’t have time to navigate. Our social feeds get a little TLC from time to time when we have a gap in our day or we stumble across something that seems share worthy. Social media accounts are setup to show a presence in the market, but a lot of small companies just don’t have the resource to give it all the attention it needs.

It’s a case of chicken and egg. Should you share good content with your small audience and hope it brings you followers? Or do you wait until you’re audience if sizeable before you share the good stuff?

Growing your followers first is easy, if you’re willing to flex your morals. There are apps galore to help you grow your social media audience. You can buy followers or likes, you can swap a follow for a follow. You can download apps to tell you who isn’t following you back and remove them from your feed. With a little time you have an instant and sizeable following.


“Social media is changing the way we communicate and the way we are perceived, both positively and negatively. Every time you post a photo, or update your status, you are contributing to your own digital footprint and personal brand”  Amy Jo Martin, Author and founder of Digital Royalty


Growing your audience naturally takes a little more time and effort. It’s finding accounts through accounts and researching influencers in your field. It’s shamelessly contacting clients and friends and asking them kindly to follow your page, to like or share your post. You can research hashtags to see which are most popular, you can carefully select the times you post and tag everyone you know. Generating amazing, share worthy content will help, but it’s still playing the long game.

If you want a large audience as quickly as possibly, download all the apps you can and spend a good few hours a day swapping and buying followers and likes, but you have the underlying knowledge that for a while any engagement in your content is necessarily genuine. If you want a better quality of audience, who you have a genuine interest in your content, then it’s worth taking the time to try and grow your following slightly more organically.


My conclusion

Social media is something I don’t think I’ll ever be able to stay ahead of the curve on, but I feel I know my opposition slightly better these days. I think the most important thing is that you’re happy with the content you’re sharing, that it reflects you and what you’re trying to achieve. A genuine, organically growing audience with an interest in who we are and what we do is preferable to a large instant following. If you get a few likes and shares along the way, that’s great. It’s nice to know that people like what you do, even if it’s only 15 of them.


Some links that might help you find your way with social media:

Social media frequency – Industry benchmarks 

How to gain followers on Instagram

The small business guide to Facebook

Jab, Jab, Jab, Right hook

50 things I learned at Venn

Instead of writing a blog post about my time at Venn, I decided to list 50 things I learnt over my time as part of the team.

  1. Filming at night
  2. Litho printing
  3. Animation tricks
  4. Working with projectors
  5. Packaging artwork
  6. How to make Proper coffee
  7. Illustrator shortcuts
  8. Web Dev. terminology
  9. How magazines are bound
  10. Indesign tricks
  11. File organisation
  12. After effects
  13. Presentations for clients
  14. Filming with water
  15. Everyones drink orders
  16. Working in Cornwall
  17. Grid systems
  18. Origami
  19. Surf lit.
  20. Idea generation with other agencies
  21. Working with printing budgets
  22. Venn design process
  23. Litho plate process
  24. Indesign Shortcuts
  25. Stages of building a website
  26. Colour palettes
  27. Origin of surf
  28. Editorial design
  29. Communicating with clients
  30. Experiments with ink & water
  31. Film landscape
  32. Gold foiling
  33. Electricity on the beach
  34. UX/UI
  35. Colour themes mood boards
  36. Film photography
  37. Pantone colours
  38. Art-working
  39. Folding paper
  40. Working with web dev
  41. Printing ink magnified
  42. Brockmans grid advice
  43. Teach myself code
  44. Illustrator tricks
  45. Editorial design
  46. Sketch more
  47. Inventive wats to package beer
  48. Freelance projects
  49. Working as a team
  50. Introduction to Sketch



Tattoos, pretty, painful pictures or something more? I went to the tattoo exhibition at the National Maritime Museum Cornwall in Falmouth to find out.

There are two new exhibitions to see after the Vikings have left. We have Captain Bligh : Myth, Man Mutiny and Tattoo : British Tattoo Art Revealed. The Bligh stuff is ace but I went for Tattoo in the hope I would be exposed and educated to different types of design.

The show was fantastically interesting, featuring model arms with real tattoo designs, snippets of text explaining the history and quotes from the business. Quotes like this:

It is not about fashion. (fashion changes. A tattoo is on your skin for life. You must be proud of it for life. It is about tradition that stretches back thousands of years. – Tihoti Faara Barff

Being as upfront as I can be, I went there expecting to see some pretty pictures and nice illustrations. I thought that maybe there would be some content that would make me squirm a little and potentially a situation that would be a definite nope.

Image: National Maritime Museum Cornwall / visitcornwall.com

Points of interest

Turns out it was ace all round. The intended route is to start at the earliest occurrence of tattoos in Britain ( Spoiler alert: it is **not** Captain Cook ) and end up in the present day. The walls are littered with fantastic quotes and stories from those most involved in the art through each decade. There are interesting accounts of women applying permanent makeup in the 1950s and explanations of why Tattoos have become associated with the rough working classes.

What struck me most about the stories I was reading was the attitude of the artists and their canvases. They saw themselves as part of the tradition of the art. It was so much more than pretty pictures to them and this was evident to me as I observed more of their work. Their tattoos were impressive for sure but it was their connection to the past which is what left a lasting mark for me.

Most striking

I am told that there were some contributions from some private collections to showcase the Tattoo scene in Britain. Donations from Willy Robinson, Paul ‘Rambo’ Ramsbottom and Jimmy Skuse, many of these objects have never been on display before. There were recreations of artists studios which were the highlight for me. One in particular was tiny, wide enough to sit two people side by side and not much longer. The small amount of surface space was covered in inks, drawings and tid-bits in equal measure. There was something about seeing someone else’s creative work space that was inspiring. I am not sure I could put my finger on it precisely, but the space seemed to radiate character and a commitment to the practice.

Image: National Maritime Museum Cornwall

An unexpected realisation

While the Tattoo exhibits were clearly the focus of the space, there was a creativity which seamlessly sat in the background to facilitate this. The curation was an unexpected source of design inspiration. There were scenarios involving glass cases of hanging tattoo guns forming a cloud of mechanical instruments. There were sound effects and lighting simulating historical environments and creating an immersive atmosphere. Lots of little details working together to produce a singular experience.


All in, an inspiring trip to our local tourist attraction.

Image: National Maritime Museum Cornwall / visitcornwall.com

Hi Alice!

Meet Alice, our newest intern. Having graduated from Illustration at Falmouth University earlier this summer, Alice is with us for three months. To help us (and you) get to know her a little better we asked her a few questions.

Q: As a Cornish person, what made you want to study in Cornwall?

A: People always think there’s not much going on in Cornwall but I disagree! Cornwall has a huge amount of design and creative industries based here. Just look at Venn Creative! I think that Woodlane campus is one of the prettiest places to study, not many people can say their university is amongst tropical-like gardens. I did visit other universities but decided to stay in Cornwall as the quality of the Illustration degree course is really strong here. Also as a Cornish born student, there’s loads of help and incentives to stay in Cornwall, such as chances for scholarships, which are always helpful!


Q: The best piece of advice you were given for life after uni?

A: I was very fortunate that in my last year at university we went over to New York with our portfolios to design agencies, newspapers, children’s book companies etc. It was actually at the New York Times when being shown around, that the art director gave a small inspiring speech that really struck me. He said to not set yourself up in your head that you are going to have a particular job in 5/ 10 years. Instead make the most of available opportunities now and don’t sit in a mediocre job waiting for this one chance of having your ‘dream’ job. He also said that no matter what you’re doing job wise, you need to make an effort to do something creative every day– even if its just twenty minutes before bed, if you’re going to make it in the creative industry you need motivation to keep creating!


Q: What are your plans now you are graduating?

A: Make the most out of opportunities! I’m still not 100% decided what I want to do, so I’m keeping my fingers in a few pies. I’m making a few pieces of quirky illustrated ceramics in my spare time, as well as other odd jobs designing CD covers for friends etc. I’m still keeping in the possibility of doing a Masters in the back of my mind – something to do with art history or design. At the moment my dream job would be an editor for a creative magazine, or running my own business of illustrated ceramics.


Q: Who or what inspires your creativity?

A: So much! One of my earliest memories was sitting in my Aunts house with my dad, looking through a book on Dalí that was on the coffee table. I’ve been obsessed with his art ever since, the fact that his realistic looking paintings are of unrealistic landscapes and things that turn into something else when you stare at them for long enough is ‘the bomb’, especially for my four year old self. I also watched a David Hockney documentary, which was super inspiring at the time. I was suffering with the pressure of ‘finding my style’, which as an illustration student was something that was quite heavily encouraged. Watching Hockney go through life, not sticking to one style of medium, and just constantly doing what he wanted was so inspiring to watch. It’s also telling that although he didn’t focus on his style, each piece of art you can tell is created by him.


Q: Favourite film?

A: I have so many and it’s constantly changing, but I’d have to say Amélie. It’s just quirky and odd but oh-so-cute.


Cool Fact

Alice had a book published in her first year at uni. Her children’s book, called Armstrong and the Polyphony, was a limited run of 1000 that were sold across Truro Waterstones, Falmouth Book Seller and other local independent stores.

To see more of Alice’s work you can visit her website here.

Meet Rebecca

For the next few months we'll have a new intern in the studio, so we thought give you the chance to get to know Rebecca Rickards just a little better.


Q: What’s been the best part of your four years studying here in Falmouth?

A: Living in Cornwall is definitely a highlight, I’ve really enjoyed living somewhere completely new and by the coast (its going to be hard to leave!). I will really miss places like Kynance and Cadgwith Cove. As well as living in Cornwall, both courses I did at Falmouth really opened up and completely broadened my horizons in design, I’ve learnt so much in the last four years.


Q: The best piece of advice you were given for life after uni?

A: Do what you love.


Q: What are your plans now that you’re graduating?

A: I’m here ’til the end of August and I’m planning to go Canada in September, then back to London/Bristol for internships.


Q: Who or what inspires your creativity?

A:  Lots of designers and artists inspire me every day, illustrators and designers such as Emma Block, Timothy Goodman, Owen Gildersleeve and artists like Chuck Close have always inspired me.


Q: Favourite film?

A:  This is hard… I watched a film the other day called Brooklyn which I loved, its right up my street!


Rebecca has just completed her BA Hons in Graphic design with a first.

During her degree she’s been racking up the placements, including spending time at Frugi, Big Fish and The Space Creative. She’s also just recently won a YCN award for her take on the cards that come with Bear’s fruity nibbles. See that, and more of her work below and on behance.

Getting organised

Having an organised and easy to use notebook shouldn’t be difficult- it should just be the standard. That’s why I started using the bullet journal system.

The bullet journaling system uses a combination of icons to visually show what you’re adding to your notebook; notes are lines, tasks are squares, events are circles and appointments are triangles. The basic system use these as a starting point and then they can be checked off by being coloured in or changed/cancelled by using scoring throughs, crossing out and arrows. This is all regarded as ‘the key’ for the bullet journal system, although it can be customised and tailored to your needs.

So why did I start using the bullet journal system? This year one of my main goals was to get better organised and to think about what I could be doing differently to be more productive and motivated. Ironically, I didn’t keep this momentum up in January as the method I was using then didn’t keep me engaged or inspired to keep going. Flash forward to the end of February and that was when I decided to start using the bullet journal system.


Within the two months or so of using it, I have been better on top of my to-do lists (everybody agrees it’s incredibly satisfying to tick something off a list, right?), I’m better organising my time and can reflect back at the end of the week to see why something may have went awry. Introducing “spreads” helped me to organise countless other things, including any books & articles I’ve read, shows I want to watch when the new season starts and plan things for my social media accounts, #CBloggers community and personal blog.


It’s also been great to plan out other creative ideas I have such as planning concepts for #The100DayProject including quotes or ways I want to explore typography and to keep track of how my freelance commissions are coming along with any notable dates or information.

I’ve used it a lot during this internship too- writing down project tasks and deadlines for things I’m working on and using the key symbols when I have been brainstorming ideas. Added to this, I’ve been taking the time to list things I have learned or experienced from each day too. In doing all this, it has helped me really consider how to get the best from this internship and think about how it can help me develop as a designer.

If you fancy having a shot of using a bullet journal yourself, here some links to get yourself started:


Learn more about Bullet Journaling

Leuchtturm1917 A5 dotted notebook

Tombow pastel coloured dual brush pens

Paperchase multicoloured gel pens (pack of 8)

30cm Ruler




My Internship at Venn Creative

The three weeks I have spent as an Intern at Venn Creative have been a whirlwind of cookies, hand rendered lettering, and the occasional Bowie (studio doggie DJ) tummy rub.

They welcomed me with open arms and continued offers of tea (and shock once they discovered I’m not a tea or coffee person), when I arrived on Monday morning. The only other time I had ventured so far south was years ago for a drizzly week long camping trip. Needless to say I did not know what to expect in the slightest, so the fact that my experience here has far exceeded what I could have hoped for is amazing.

During my Internship I have learnt so much, but one thing that has stayed with me is a studio’s relationship with a client. And it should be a relationship, there should be clear communication, compromise where necessary and trust on both sides. This way the most successful designs can be created, which fulfil both the clients requirements and desires, but also the studio’s creative ambition. This is something I will take with me throughout the next stage in my creative career, as I think this is so important in creating a successful and enjoyable working environment.

In my free evenings and weekends I have had the chance to explore Falmouth, Plymouth and Perranwell. I’ve spent an evening wandering in and out of Falmouth’s amazing array of independant shops, eating fish and chips by the harbour, and drawing inspired characters and patterns on Gylly beach. I’ve walked up to Sheepstor on Dartmoor and admired the views of the reservoir, watched fishes, sharks, and turtles at Plymouth’s National Maritime Aquarium, and eaten my first Cornish (or Devon) pasty on Plymouth’s Barbican waterfront. I’ve discovered the best running route round Perranwell, through fields, under railway bridges, alongside babbling streams (no exaggeration), enjoyed every part of my commute to Venn Creative, walking alongside fields and through Penryn campus grounds, and took on and defeated the Trelissick ParkRun.

The time I have spent here at Venn Creative and in Cornwall has shaped my future ambitions immeasurably, as I am now aiming to move down here after graduation, having been so inspired by the area, the people, and the way of life.

Being involved with creative communities

When studying, working and meddling in a subject that’s creative you end up surrounded by creative and like minded people, but the community feel doesn’t just stop when you leave university and all the teams and societies you’ve joined behind. The need to be part of a group, instead, grows when you leave that environment so that you can continue to have support and input from a variety of people

In our digital age there are so many opportunities to be part of exciting and innovative groups that are filled with creative and inspiring minds. Online groups such as #CBloggers (a creative community group that speaks about how creativity affects their lives), the SeanWes community (a community that encourages others to commit to and set goals) are great for interacting with a wide range of people at a click of a button. You can usually get feedback on a project pretty quickly and there are numerous ways to be able to pick the minds of people you are inspired by. These are just a couple, there are groups spread across the internet and social media groups that will suit anyone.

But as great as online interactions can be, there are times when you need a real life personal connection with someone in order for it to make it’s real mark on you. Whether that’s at a festival, exhibition or even just meeting at a coffee shop – the impact that being in the real world can have on your mind is completely different to how it does via the internet as you aren’t continuously filtering what you say and conversations can develop more organically.

So as easy as it is to be interactive with others on your phone, tablet or computer, make sure to give yourself the time to go out and be involved with creative communities face-to-face. Having a drink while staring at your phone is never going to be as exciting (and at times, hilarious) as it is when you’re with a group of other people.

To get you started on connecting with other creatives, check out these resources:




Some extra reading with advice for networking and creating connections:


“Something to think about”

Everyone has those ‘something-to-think-about’ tasks on their todo list. You know what i’m talking about; they come from your family, friends, colleagues and sometimes even strangers. They come in all shapes and sizes and need various levels of consideration. blogimage

For the most, these tasks get put to the bottom of the list, completely unconsidered, until someone next prompts us to revisit them.

These particular tasks can be difficult to find the time to actually think about, more so if they lack a deadline to be ‘thought about’ by. It’s hard to set aside a portion of your already busy week to stop and think about them, especially if they’re particularly abstract.

“How did it get so late so soon?”

Dr. Seuss

I found that as the new year started a few of these ‘something-to-think-abouts’ appeared on my to do list at work. For a couple of weeks they remained there as more tasks with more immediate need took precedence.

With a feed day due this seemed the perfect time to visit some of these tasks. (at this point it’s worth noting that due to my work days, I split my feed into two half days) The opportunity to work from home with no distractions seemed perfect, along with the fact that I didn’t have to do all my thinking in one day alone. I purposefully didn’t give myself a tangible goal for the time, I wanted to see what naturally occurred when I had the time to stop and think about this list.

With my list of ‘to-think-abouts’, I started by making a few quick notes on each one. My brain seemed to naturally focus on one point in particular. By the end of the two days i’d been able to read and research without having to dip out of it to talk to someone or quickly see to another task. I had the time to write it down, then write it up again in a more cohesive way before preparing an idea to share with my colleagues the next week.

Having the time to sit and think about one particular thing, with no time pressure or interruptions was a real luxury. A brisk 5km walk and a lunch with an encouraging friend and peer over this time gave my brain some down time when needed.

There’s not always the opportunity to have this quiet time away from the office and other responsibilities. But I’ve found that you can and should provide yourselves with snippets of thinking time throughout the day if you need it. If that list of ‘something-to-think-abouts’ gets neglected and built upon, there are a few things you can do.

David Laubner, from ThinkingPhones, a company that creates communications apps, carves time out of his day for thinking  “I typically dedicate the first 15 to 30 minutes of each workday to nondigital thinking and planning. No meetings, laptops, or smartphones allowed. I pull out a plain old piece of paper and pen, and work through the issues required to make each day successful.”

It may be that you need to schedule this time in rather than waiting to see if you find yourselves with a spare 15 minutes (which for most never happens).

For some, getting out for a walk or a run (something that is repetitive) can provide you with the peace and calm needed to give something your consideration.

You can find some ideas on places you can find time to think here: https://timemanagementninja.com/2015/03/10-places-to-find-time-to-think/


“Thinking is the hardest work there is, which is probably the reason so few engage in it.”

Henry Ford

The Circle – A Book Review

The Circle is just a book about a mega company which seems to be a cross between Facebook, Google and Apple. Facebook - All knowing and sharing; Google - The monopoly and always present internet presence; Apple - All the new must have shiny tech.

Not wishing to spoil the plot for any potential readers I will warn now that there may be some minor spoilers ahead. The story mostly revolves around the main character, Mae, as she starts a new job at The Circle, the most prominent tech company on the planet.

The Circle was originally a small start-up of three which has grown into the giant it has become by the time Mae gets her first job there. While fictional, there is a clear intent to make the story recognisable. It’s set not all that far in to the future and, though the technology described doesn’t really exist, it is all definitely plausible and most likely more of a prediction rather than an imagination of where the industry is going.


Initial thoughts

What struck me most whilst reading through this story is not what was being used by The Circle, but how. Everyone on the mega campus is called together in one big auditorium for the great reveal of the next latest product which is soon to be released to the public. There is a Keynote style presentation as the audience (employees) whoop and cheer in excitement for a tiny, portable camera which is always connected and the battery lasts a decade on one charge. Throughout the whole book I couldn’t help but feel uneasy about what I was reading. The question of privacy is ever present in everything that occurs, which on the face of it is deemed a breakthrough revolution in social interaction and technology. Peeking out from underneath all this is the flip side which I believe the reader is expected to be aware of – the dark side of these advances if you like, the Big Brother effect.

My favourite character is the ex-boyfriend who has rejected all connection with the tech scene, having only an old website for his business which was reluctantly acquired. He provides the voice of the minority in this future society, defending his belief that The Circle is not good at all. He does however come across as a little unbelievable ( as do 90% of the characters ) and quite patronising, which is not so fun.


What I reckon

To be honest, I didn’t really enjoy this book all that much. Mostly the story was dull as the main character describes her office job, but perhaps this was intentional as the author tries to highlight the tedium which surrounds our social interactions online.


The parallels to our own experiences are apparent, we are distracted by meaningless numbers associated with our online lives – likes, followers, friends, posts and so on. The goal of increasing these numbers and the struggle to consume all the content which drowns us every day distracts us from the chipping away of our privacy or ownership of personal information. We trade in our privacy for online services and those companies which provide these services are making a fortune off of it. Free services seem to have a hidden cost which when pooled together is worth a LOT of money.

Closing thoughts

So while this book was a little tedious and underwhelming to read, it sparks up this privacy debate to the reader (well this reader any way), which is important. After reading about The Circle you can decide if that is the future you want or if you want to take steps to prevent that from ever happening.


There is also a parallel with a shark which came from the Mariana Trench which the author uses to explain where The Circle is heading. Perhaps it is worth reading just for that!?

Experimenting in fabric printing

With a 3 year old son, you would think that I would be full of ideas for things I’ve always wanted to do, ideas or jobs that i'd been putting off. Yet when my first feed came around and I got to choose what I did, I drew a complete blank to start with.  printing1  

I’ve always enjoyed sewing and textile crafts. My projects have always started with a pattern which promptly gets thrown out the window and I find my own way through ( which doesn’t always work) But i’ve always used shop bought fabrics (shopping for beautiful fabrics is often the best part) which makes your creations instantly less unique. So I finally decided that I would use my feed to print my own fabric and then make something from that.

Not having a garage full of screen printing tools I decided to try out some more basic printing methods– cue Pinterest and a bag of spuds.

After drawing up some ideas of shapes of various levels of detail I transferred some of them over to Potato stamps, foam and lino cut stamps.

Now my stamps were cut i needed to decide what I was going to print on. I chose 4 different fabrics, one a normal light weight calico, a bleached calico, a poly-cotton and a linen. As this was my first attempt I went for white/off white colours so that I could use the stamps to introduce the colour.

I found some old fabric paints in the depths of a draw which I decided to use, as they were primary colours I was able to mix them to make my own colour pallet.

fabricsTo start with I tried each variation of stamp on each fabric to see what would work best. The lino stamps worked better on the bleach calico and the poly-cotton. Whilst the potato stamps worked well on all the fabrics.

The first piece of fabric I printed was the pineapple on the calico. This went on nicely but in hindsight the foam needed to be deeper as the paint caught on the edges of the card leaving marks around the main stamp.

Next I moved on to the cactus on the poly-cotton. This one was time consuming having to paint on two different colours each time I used the stamp.

Whilst the lino stamps let me add more detail than with the potato stamps they didn’t hold the paint as well which meant that they are a lot less intense colour wise on the fabric.

Before I knew it I had used all my fabric, paint and arm strength. The fabric was left to dry for a couple of hours before being ironed to fix the paint. The finished pieces of fabric came out well, I was pleased with the result that such basic tools could create. The hand stamping is a rhythmic and slightly therapeutic way of printing, but for any bigger lengths of fabric it would take a while.


Once the paint was fixed I started about using two pieces of the fabric to make some cushions, I used a relatively simple pattern to show of the fabric and not detract from it.

The pineapple fabric was used to make a book bag with a nice bright lining. I also made a fabric storage box out of one of the smaller pieces

Looking back at the day, what I enjoyed the most was the uninterrupted time to be creative. To start and finish something was hugely satisfying. I documented the day through an Instagram story which got some great feedback. I don’t get much time to be creative these days, it was nice to remind myself that I can do these things. I think potato stamp christmas cards are next for me…

Whats in a Keyboard ?

Did you know that keyboards come in all shapes and sizes and it is possible to spend upwards of £200 on a professional one?

The first thing that made me aware of high quality keyboards was a blog post by Steve Losh. After that it was only a matter of time before I started asking myself a series of questions about what I wanted from a keyboard.

Know Thy Self

Its not like I am unhappy with the keyboard I have in front of me. Its the pretty metal one which comes with all Mac computers. I intentionally went with a wired one as dealing with batteries feels a bit like living with a nuisance, a wired keyboard very rarely loses connection in my experience. I also very rarely need to use my computer from up to thirty feet away.

I spend the majority of my working day tapping commands on my keyboard, favouring keyboard use over the mouse in almost all situations. Having a professional keyboard won’t make me a professional coder but it might help me to enjoy the experience of writing. Can you hear me trying to convince myself?

The question is , what do you want from your keyboard?

The Quest begins

Mechanical keyboards are raved about by the people who use them and rarely given a second thought by those who do not use them. Part of the problem which I have experienced is that I have never managed to actually have a go on one! Recently I upped my game to try and have a go with a fancy keyboard. The options are limited. I visited both PC world and Maplins. I asked the sales assistant at PC world and got the blankest look you have ever seen in your life. Maplins were fantastically enthusiastic and showed me several boxes and even offered to get me a physical one of any that I fancied.

This now highlights the second problem. Variations and choice. Mostly Maplins had gaming keyboards, as I understand it they behave slightly differently than a keyboard you would chose for typing words with. The travel of a keypress on a gaming keyboard will be the same all the way down to when it bottoms out. The alternative is that the typist can feel a differnce when they reach the actution point before the key bottoms out.

If you consider the options: there are different physical shapes and sizes; different types of switches with a different feel for each one; different keyboard layouts and various options for the over all style. Blanks key caps are cool, didn’t you know?


There is too much detail about mechanical keyboards to cover it all here in this humble blog post. I would like to take this moment to mention one aspect of professional keyboard which requires consideration. The overall size of the keyboard I have found fascinating. You can get a full sized keyboard, a ‘tenkeyless’, a 60% sized one and even a 40% I have recently discovered. If desk space is not a consideration then a full sized board has all the buttons. The number pad on the right, arrow keys and all the function buttons. It may even feature an additional modifier key to sit alongside your control, alt, meta and shift. A ‘tenkeyless’ loses the numberpad usually but will have many of the other options.

It is the next category of keyboard which I found interesting. A 60% is exactly what it suggests. It will have pretty much just the typewriter keys and won’t really mess with their arrangement all that much. It probably won’t have arrow keys. These extra features can be reach by holding a modifier key in combination with a letter or number. Much like you would if you wanted to type a capital letter or punctuation. It is this behaviour which makes the 40% a viable keyboard. It works much like the keyboard on your phone. Here is an example of one.

The Quest Continues

I am still waiting to take the plunge and settle on a keyboard for professional use. On the one hand it is a lot of money to spend but on the other hand I spend a LOT of time typing. It is significantly less money than the Mac I type on. I have made some decisions though. I work in an office with other people so there are some considerations there. Maybe a keyboard that isn’t as loud as it can possibly be is a good decision and blank key caps may not help my co workers if they need to do anything on my computer.

Twice I have cobbled together a keyboard on wasd.com and concluded that I wanted silly things which require making my own keyboard layout file. Thinking back on it now I don’t really remember what those changes were. At some point all the decisions will come together and I will be able to settle on something. Then I will know if mechanical keyboards are worth the money.


I have cobbled together a custom keyboard three times now.

A crash course in digital content writing

It’s funny how easy it is to say you have good written communication skills, but when you're asked to write an engaging piece of copy, whether it be a blog post or series of social media posts you suddenly find yourself fumbling around for the right words and stringing them together becomes a brain breaking task.


The stats add to the pressure; the average reader looks at a web page for 15 seconds, 55% of people spend less than that on a page – time is a commodity that’s of limited availability in our current society, how do we grab our audience’s attention and keep it? (if you’ve got this far I’m doing well, you’ve done approx 21 seconds, stick with me a while longer).


“The best online writing is purposeful, intelligent, original, conversational and authentic.’”

Dynamic Digital Content, Anna Kiernan (published in YCN Magazine)

Dynamic Digital Writing

Last week we attended a Dynamic Digital Writing workshop with Stranger Collective. I could write you a really long blog post on what we learnt, but one of my first notes from the day was “If you can say it in less words then do” so i’ll attempt to keep this post short.

I thought I’d remembered the basics from A-level English, but in all honesty most of the time when I have to write anything outside of the day to day – I’m winging it.

One of the biggest things I took from the course was that winging it is not always going to produce the right outcome or desired results. I actually need to spend more time thinking about what I’m writing and who it’s for before I put pen to paper, or more commonly these days finger to keyboard.


“You don’t have to reinvent the wheel; you just need to share your unique perspective on why the wheel is important”


What became apparent to me during the day was that although I had an idea of how to write, I was completely failing to consider my reader and why they would want to read it; what I want them to take away. It’s less about the functionality of a product or service, but what the reader benefits from buying it. What about your product will change their life. It’s an interesting angle to remember when sitting down to start writing something you want people to read and share.

I won’t tell you the details of the course, I don’t think Stranger would thank me for that – but what I can tell you is that it’s a great course that will set you on the path to becoming a better, more interesting writer. It’s a day out of the office well spent networking, revisiting old skills and honing new ones.

If you’ve made it to the end, thank you. Something obviously went in last week!

National coding week

September 19th -23rd was National Coding week across the UK and USA. The aim of National Coding week? To inspire people to learn code and other digital skills.

Across the country workshops, school lessons and special events were held to spread the love of code.

Children are part of a confident ‘Digital Generation’ having grown up with the internet, smart phones and coding classes. However, many adults have missed out on the digital revolution and feel left behind.

The aim of National Coding Week is to give adults the opportunity to learn some digital skills ” – Codingweek.org


code week

As code is a large part of what we do here at Venn we decided to get on board with the event and take on a daily(ish) project for the week giving our social media followers an informative, definitive history of graphical rendering using code. When we say definitive, we mean barely passable.  When we say informative, we mean there are few, if any, facts in there. What you will find is some interesting experiments, some cool links and hopefully a few laughs.

Due to the daily grind rather than creating a new design each time we thought we’d play with our own branding. Over 4 days we we covered ASCII Art, Tables, CSS and the canvas, taking a day for each. If you missed it you can find it here.

Whilst we probably haven’t started many on the beginnings of a long lasting, loving journey with code – it was a great exercise for us to revisit some skills and have a little fun.

Keep your eyes peeled on our blog for a follow up from Zander, Joshua and Joe as they go into a little more depth on each of their contributions.




When everything’s an emergency, nothing is.

Stress is a natural part of life, especially when working toward deadlines. It’s something you have to let out before it consumes your entire brain and body, which is something I learnt the hard way many times throughout university. Putting everything you do on red alert isn’t helpful and makes getting out of bed a daunting task. I’ve learnt that managing stress is incredibly important.

But relaxing when you’re stressed is paradoxical.

I’ve tried exercise, yoga, meditation, angry music, soothing music… You name it, I’ve probably tried it. I even based one of my final year projects on beating deadline stress (which, ironically, caused me a lot of stress). All these methods have proved valuable in their own way, but for me what works best is turning off the brain. Turn it to goop for 10 minutes. I like to do some typography whilst slipping into a semi-comatose state. It doesn’t have to be good, and you shouldn’t be self-conscious about the standard. I do this because napping is a skill I have never been able to master. Lying down when stressed allows my brain to go into overdrive as I panic about every second I’m wasting which could be spent tweaking a final design. However, focusing on something satisfyingly simple whilst thinking of nothing else allows my brain to recharge, and after 10 minutes you’ll have a page of doodles—they might all be crap, but it loosens the grip on your brain.


Mindfulness is becoming evermore popular with the help of positive studies along with endorsements such as David Lynch, who has set up a foundation to bring the technique to schools, prisons, war veterans, the homeless among other stressed communities. The great thing about mindfulness is that it can be as personal as you want it to be; my method might only work for me but it works well. For children, it can be as simple as ‘quiet time’, which has proved highly successful for thousands of kids who take antidepressants, suffer with ADHD or have other mental disorders. For professionals, it might be simple breathing exercises or appreciating nature for a short time.

Stress is like the morning coffee. Essential to kick the mind into gear, but too much will likely burn you out.

Sometimes we like to be stressed. It seems ridiculous, but we enjoy bragging about how little sleep we got last night or how many commitments we have coming up. It makes us look and feel important. Stress gets the adrenaline pumping, and that isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Stress is essential to our mental and physical performance, but it’s also essential to manage it, and here’s why:


As you can see from this scientifically accurate graph, if you’re not under some amount of stress, you won’t perform at your best. But it’s essential to know your boundaries. As soon as you are too stressed, your performance—and, most of all, health—deteriorates, at which point you need to allow time to recover. So when you’re feeling like your brain is in a vice, don’t underestimate the power of taking 10 minutes to climb a tree or having a quiet cup of tea to yourself (green, ideally).

Keep rollin’ rollin’ rollin’…sushi!

When tasked early on in my time at Venn with finding something we could do for a team feed, my brain naturally went straight to food. What better way to learn a new skill and have some team social time.

After shoehorning all seven of us (including a new intern) into Andy’s car we hopped on the King Harry Ferry and over the River Fal to Philleigh Way farm.


A warm welcome awaited us at Philleigh way farm from Naoko Kashiwagi (our tutor for the day) and George, who is one of the two owners of the cookery school.

VENN_Sushi (16 of 93)

Following a brief history of Sushi from Naoko and a demonstration, we undertook our first dish of the day – rolled sushi with tuna and garlic soy sauce. Between us we had some interesting re-productions of Naoko’s finely finished dish – some exuding rice left, right and centre, some rolled to perfection and some a little short and stumpy.

VENN_Sushi (40 of 93)

Feeling proud and excited we sat down and demolished every trace of our efforts – something we came to regret a little later.


Next Naoko made us some okonomiyaki, a type of pancake that consisted of cabbage, grated courgette, shrimp and fish extract, these were particularly favoured by Joe who snaffled the extra four away into his tupperware.

Moving on to the California roll we learnt to tempura prawns and why the rice is on the outside (when Sushi arrived in America, the Americans didn’t like eating black food). This one was a little trickier but again tasted fantastic. Starting to fill we savoured some of our hard work and stashed the rest away.

VENN_Sushi (54 of 93)

Seared tuna with mango cooked up by Naoko came next, the lack of rice welcomed by all.

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Taking a break before our final make we walked up through the farm to see the chickens and horses, the cookery school is based on the family working farm.

Lastly the tuna nigiri, a more basic sushi with tuna resting on top of the rice. Whilst a little simpler to make this one completely defeated us – most of it being taken home for supper that night.

Back over the Fal our day ended with a debrief and pint at the Punchbowl and Ladle.

What did I learn? don’t cut your sushi pieces too big – it can make them a little tricky to eat and that actually sushi is pretty easy to make. Sorry to anyone who gets a dinner invite over the next few weeks, I’ll be wanting to show off my new skills!

You can find out more about Naoko here

Book on to a course at Philleigh Way here

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Biscuits, brews & banter – an internship at Venn

Fresh out of uni, being an intern at Venn Creative has been my first experience of anything outside of academic life. I packed up my graduate show and turned up on Venn’s doorstep where I’ve been welcomed, trusted and challenged. LouiseBlogHeader

I remember being very nervous and sure that I wouldn’t be able to do half the things that would be asked of me. Yet on my first day Joshua made me a cup of tea, Andy sat me at my desk and told me to draw some christmas birds and despite feeling weird about christmas decorations in June I started to feel comfortable and slightly more confident.

In some ways I found working in the studio at Venn similar to working in the studio at uni. We have a Monday meeting where we talk about the week ahead, we get together and discuss ideas for upcoming projects and ask each other opinions on work we’ve done, when I don’t know how to do something in InDesign there will almost certainly be someone around that does. These are all things that would have happened when I was studying but there are differences as well. At uni, you can choose any brief and do whatever you want to do with it without having to worry too much what other people will think about the design at the end. When you work in a studio there are more constraints: someone is paying so you have a client to answer to and they have to like the work that you create for them. When you work there’s less opportunity to procrastinate; dropping everything and embarking on a two hour trek to get a coffee and then jumping in the sea for good measure is definitely not on the cards for a normal working day… but that’s ok, at Venn there is never ending opportunities for hot beverages and Tom frequently requesting you have another biscuit. And the sea is always there at the end of the day.

It’s been good to see the dynamic of a design studio and how it works – how people interact with each other and clients and how they approach a new project. Venn has shared knowledge, insight and experience with me and I’ve been able to have my opinion and be treated like a peer. I’ve come out the other end of my internship feeling more open minded, intrigued and ambitious, I hope that everyone at Venn has got as much out of it as I have.

Happy National Read a Book Day

To celebrate National Read A Book Day the team at Venn have put together a list of their favourite books. From children's classics to post apocalyptic future trilogies here’s our suggestions of books everyone should read.
This book explores how difficult relationships can be whist still being an easy read. A marriage breaking down and a last attempt to fix it, the awkward relationship between a gv-centern son and his embarrassing father who tries too hard – all whilst travelling from one city to the next. It’s funny in parts and describes parts of Europe so well that I want to take off on a journey of my own. A great holiday read.


steal like an artist
Steal like and artist
Steal Like an Artist is an illustrated guide to Austin Kleon’s manifesto for creatives. It’s a quick read but filled with anecdotes, useful tips and advice on finding your way as a creative. It’s inspiring but not overwhelming, energetic but thought provoking and very relatable. It makes me want to get away from a computer and do things and is the perfect remedy when you’re stuck in a rut or creative block.


Words fail me
Words fail me
A wonderful jaunt through the eccentricities of the English language with some striking typography too. A collection of words which can be misleading, inconsistent or both – for instance how speaking bluntly can be quite sharp and how ‘verb’ is a noun – it’s a great little book to thumb through from time to time.


I enjoy all of Roald Dahl’s books but this is definitely my favourite. What’s not to love? It’s got a friendly giant that delivers dreams to children at night, a little girl that’s up for adventure, loads more giants that enjoy eating children, lots of weird and wonderful creative words and names. A classic read for young and old, and not surprising that it is Roald Dahl’s favourite as well.


wool trilogy
The Wool Trilogy is great if you like your post-apocalyptic fiction. The world outside has become toxic and humanity has been confined to an underground Silo. Their view of the outside is limited to digital screen on the top floor. Nearly a hundred and fifty floors below the ground a society functions on structure and rules. Questions about the outside are forbidden. Some questions can be dangerous, some questions can lead to the truth. Hugh Howey self published Wool with the success of this and the following Shift and Dust being down to the support of the fans.


What would happen if you could smell everything in perfect detail? If you could smell someone coming down the street? Smell your way in the dark? Hopefully you wouldn’t turn out like Grenouille, the obsessive lead character in this incredible, intense but very readable story. Perfume is a dark magical realism novel with everything; it paints a vivid picture of 18th century Paris in all its grotesqueness, has a wonderful plot, and possibly the best climax of any book ever. Plus you learn about about how perfume is made along the way. I love it.


cat hat
cat in the hat
What’s not to love about this classic? It has a man-size cat that wears a top hat with juggling skills, there’s a talking fish, loads of clever rhyming words and great illustrations. It was read to me as a tyke and one of the first books I looked for when my little ones came along.


life of pi
life of pi
The story of a young boy, on a lifeboat, with a tiger, has as much depth as the sea Pi is adrift on. How Yann Martel touches on religious and philosophical topics through the mind of a young boy is thought provoking. You’re taken on an adventure beyond the immediate danger Pi is in and guided through Pi’s thought process in a compelling yet simple way. Combined with it’s beautiful descriptions throughout, this book had me going back and reading pages over and over again. All of this can be seen in Chapter 60, which is only two pages long.

Raspberry Pi

A long time ago, for my birthday I was given a surprise gift. I remember hearing about it in a phone call and not really understanding the point. I was surprised to open the package to see a small box with a credit card sized computer inside. I remembered the phone call. 'What am I going to do with this?' I thought.

Since then I have started many projects with the Raspberry Pi and even managed to finish a few of them. It has been a game emulator, a file server, a media center and an email server to name a few. I have thrown it away twice, been banned from using it once and spent a good few hours contemplating the worthiness of my efforts. On reflection I think that it has been worth it all, just about.

Things I have learnt

The Pi was one of the first experiences I have had of the command line by learning to navigate the file system. At first this was because I didn’t know how to get a Graphical User Interface working and later it was because I didn’t like the way the default desktop looked. Part of the learning experience was finding out that you could work on the Pi without the need of a dedicated screen, keyboard and mouse by way of a secure shell over the wireless. The reality of this was that I could sit on the sofa with my laptop and hack away on whatever I was working on while my Pi hummed gently away in a cupboard. Amazing.

What is really great about the Pi is that after the initial outlay on hardware (which comparatively speaking is not all that much), there is very little cost to it other than time. It can be your own little sandbox to experiment with computers which could lead to something fantastic. It certainly has for me. I look upon my time with the Pi rather fondly, even the bad times seem to be painted in a positive haze.

Current Status

Currently the Pi is still in my cupboard, with the operating system moved to a tiny USB stick and attached to a 500GB Hard Disk acting as both a central storage unit for all our films, audiobooks and music as well as my primary email server. In the past month however I have received and sent approximately ten emails. I very much see this as a sign of success and so I am considering retiring the email side of things and potentially enhancing the media server aspect of my Pi use.

I have tried to get a satisfactory media server going for a few years now. I tried connecting it directly to the TV, using XBMC as the interface and my phone as the remote. I have also tried installing DAAP protocol to have my own iTunes server in the house. The first was alright until we lost access to the TV and the second keeps crashing and relies on iTunes which is a terrible experience. I have settled for attaching to the Pi as a regular file server, navigating the file structure as you normally would and using Quicktime to play films and TV shows.

Like the email server, I just don’t use the media enough. Not too long ago I was shown Koel which may be a possible solution to the music listening problem I don’t have.

So what to do?

The Future of Pi

I have been greatly impressed with the way the Pi has managed to remain on and functional for over a year now, surviving two house moves and having previously bricked the hard disk twice. It would be a shame to not use the thing anymore but I am at a bit of a loss as to what to use it for now. In all likelihood I will probably go down the route of making a proper media server to provide me with my music and films from anywhere in the world. Open to suggestions though.

People like to make Robots with them, although I am reluctant to invest eny more money into additional peripheries, although, I could be persuaded. The Pi is definitely one to keep an eye on though. With new versions like the Pi Zero emmerging coupled with a persons imagination we are likely to see some exciting things.

One project that I would be really excited to get involved with is the Kindleberry. Perhaps one day.

My Linux day out

I've discovered that there was this thing called 'Linux' and it would force you to improve yourself.
- Faith Arslan How I Vim


It has come to my attention that it is not immediately obvious what I am about to talk about. To clear this up, here is a brief explanation of what Linux is in comparison to what you may already know. The question, ‘what kind of computer do you use?’, can be answered in a few different ways. I have a Laptop for example. A common follow up question could be ‘is it Windows or a Mac?’ There is a secret third option however, that option is Linux. A free alternative to these proprietary software packages which is popular among tinkers and those with an enthusiasm for the technical.


I have used Macintosh computers for the whole of my life. I used a PC at my dads office once when I was younger to play Commander Keen. Other than that we have had a Mac (or two) in the house to work on. Fast forward twenty plus years and my brother buys me a Raspberry Pi for my birthday and I am introduced to Linux. It didn’t happen all at once but gradually there has been a thought which has niggled me. It was planted with the Raspberry Pi and has grown over the years. The thought was, can I switch to Linux?

Why would you switch to Linux?

A significant factor in the switch would be a financial one. Mac computers are expensive in comparison to the same sort of hardware minus the logo. Not only do you save on the initial payment but also in upgrades and repair. It is almost impossible to fix or upgrade a Mac bought in the last year or two.

On a similar thread, Linux is famous for being able to run on pretty much anything. Older computers have an easier time running a Linux operating system which can use far less memory than a Mac or Windows set up.

It is the foundations on which Linux is built which appeals to me. Community built software that is open and free (as in speech) makes me feel all warm and fuzzy inside. This post on Open Source is a good one.

What is it about MacOS which makes it hard to make the switch?

What makes the switch hard is quite simple to explain. Mac is a pretty environment, it works and it works really well. Aside from the ascetically pleasing hardware, the actual software has been well put together with all the design decisions made for you. Everything you could want is baked into the operating system with few surprises when you want to do something, like write a document or check your email. It is all fantastically intuitive.

Why would you work in the terminal

I should come clean at this point, I spend as much of my time in the terminal as possible. The terminal is essentially a window behind the scenes of your computer, it is all text and typed commands. It means that what I am looking for in an operating system could be different from what most people are looking for. A fair amount of the applications I use look like they belong in the 90s for sure. Limited to 256 colours and no mouse. I can honestly say that I flipping love it. Personally I am intersted in speed over a fancy set of graphics. I want minimalism more than I want options. It is for these reasons that the terminal environment suits me well

Command line blog writing

Listening to music from the command line

Screen Shot 2016-03-09 at 07.52.04 Screen Shot 2016-03-09 at 07.53.33

The reasoning here is that if I am going to be working under these conditions, I really don’t get much back from an expensive box which provides a fantastic Graphical User Interface when all I need is a terminal and a web browser.

A little while ago I wrote a list of things which I really needed from my digital environment and only a few of them were Mac specific . Most of them you can run on any platform you like. Great. Actually much of that is a bit theoretical. When it comes down to it, many of these applications have required a LOT of configuration before being even mildly useful.

Buying a house analogy

In our house we watch a LOT of Location Location Location. It is actually great television. The basic premise is, there are two groups of house hunters (usually couples) who have struggled to buy a house. They then get the help of Kirstie and Phil who help them get the house they want. Easy. It is pretty formulaic and there is generally two sorts of house hunter, those who are happy to do work on the house and those who are not. I can definitely see the comparison here. The MacOS is like buying a house which is completely done up, all you need to do is bring in your own furniture and arrange some paintings on the wall. The Linux choice is more like buying a fixer-upper, sometimes you will have to put in a bit of extra work before you can move in and even then it is a bit of a building site. If you are happy with this you will end up with a house which completely suits your needs.

From my experiments with Linux I have an operating system which will allow me to move in and get the job done. It is far from finished and there is a whole bunch of things which could be done to make it amazing to work in. What I have discovered is that I am actually quite happy to do the work, given the time. I don’t really mind knocking around a half finished environment making changes as I go along. This does not suit everyone though and perhaps moving straight into a finished operating system that wont need regular attention is the better choice.

Favourite things about my experience.

What has prompted this blog post is a recent opportunity I was given. I was finally given the time to dive deep into getting Linux set up how I wanted to. I was able to start with a cheap (free from my dad) laptop, wipe it and build something from a fresh start. I was able to select which apps I wanted to install. I was able to decide how EVERYTHING looked. There was a fair amount of configuration and a few tears. In all likeliness I will be starting from the beginning again some day soon, and probably never stop twaeking, fixing and improving my environment. The point is that I have learned masses from doing it, rolling up my sleeves and figuring it out.

Essentially this is my favourite thing from my experience, it is that Linux will always make you improve yourself.

Appendix 1

For those who are interested, I had a lot of help from this tutorial made by @bookercodes. Colour schemes and themes mostly come from Seoul256.

Appendix 2

Here is a condensed list of applications which I think are neat.

  • iTerm2 / urxvt ~ Terminal Emulator
  • tmux ~ Terminal Multiplexer (managing windows in the terminal)
  • ranger ~ Terminal based file explorer
  • Mutt ~ Terminal based email client
  • Cmus ~ Terminal based music player
  • Nylas N1 ~ Graphical email client
  • Firefox ~ Web browser
  • FZF ~ Terminal based fuzzy finder

Appendix 3


A Year in Review

What a year. Lots of great projects, amazing clients and a string of achievements to celebrate. Take a look at our 2015 highlights.

New website

We finally have a website – it’s only taken us six years.  You can find out more about us and our design process, view our latest work, and check out the blog for the latest studio news. There’s loads more work, blog posts and general stuff to be added over the coming months – but for now, we’d sure love for you to take a look around: venncreative.co.uk.

New work

We’ve produced some amazing work for a number of clients this year. A few (but most definitely not all) highlights include the launch of a new website for Cool Earth, a new brand identity for startup Mosevic, developing existing and new work for Worlds Apart, creating an award winning brand for CEDAR (see below…) and we’ve continued to develop the brand and online presence for Trevornick.

Joshua has joined the crew

Joshua has joined the team as our new developer. In a long line of Venn misfits, Joshua studied History before switching from dusty old tomes to monospaced fonts (though he’s not entirely forgotten his love of books). Joshua now plays an active role in the design and build of sites using HTML, CSS and Javascript. Read Joshua’s latest blog on Learning new things.

Best branding for CEDAR at MIAs

At this year’s Media Innovation Awards, we won best branding for our work with CEDAR. As well as winning the trophy for best brand, we received a nomination in the web design category for Cultshare, and a nomination also for Mosevic in the branding category.

Taking time out for inspiration

All this creativity’s got to come from somewhere! This year, we’ve started ‘feeding’ – a process where we take time out of the studio to do new things that inspire us. The idea is that every other week, one of the team takes a day out of the office to try something new. Recently, Joshua has been learning new skills in bookbinding, Andy has been exploring the world of watercolours and Tom has been screenprinting. You can read all our feeds on the studio blog.

We’re just finishing up for the year, and will be a taking a day out the office for a celebratory team day out. We are closed for Christmas from Wednesday 23rd December and will be back in the studio Monday 4th January. Wishing you a very Merry Christmas and a Happy 2016.

As a final note, for web support over the holidays, please email [email protected].
Best wishes, from all the team at Venn.

Learning new things

Starting with a blank page when writing a blog post is a bit of a daunting prospect. Starting with a blank brain and filling it with knowledge and ability is similarly disheartening.

Sometimes you have no choice, you have to learn how to do something, or sometimes it is more of a decision. Either way, you have to start somewhere.

I don’t think that there is ever a time in our lives where we actually stop learning new things, but recently I have experienced a surge of new experiences. New job with new people, new house, and with it a new route to work. My wife and I have two new babies on the way and the field of web development is FULL of new things, every day <insert joke about Javascript frameworks>.

What follows is a bit specific to me and my situation, I’ve tried to make it broader than tech in our industry, but I am very much drawing on my own experiences.


Practice, practice, practice

There is a reason why this is a tired and old expression, but it’s so true! Do you want to be good at making websites? Do you want to be a potter? Basket weaving? Then go forth and do! At first you may well be a bit rubbish at it, but you’ll get better. There is no secret about what it takes to be good at something and I don’t believe it to be so prescriptive to have a single way of learning. It is, however, an advantage to like the thing you do, and this will help when doing things over and over or returning to it after defeat or failure. It is also an advantage to have the time to invest in a new skill but these things are not essential. The important thing to practice is doing things, just have a go, there may not always be time to go back and fix the mistakes or improve what you have done, but there will be more opportunities to have another go and learn from your mistakes.

Hot tip: When faced with a big task, like learning a new skill, don’t think too much about everything, but find a starting point. Watch THE GAP by Ira Glass for a bit of perspective.


Always read the documentation

Instruction manuals. We have had (and not read) them for a long time now. Most of the time we can get along just fine with a quick and dirty start up cobbled together by the ‘what I reckon’ mentality. There can be so much more to something than what is immediately identifiable. Documentation is input from the manufacturers, they know their stuff! In the documentation you will find best practices, examples of what it should look like and details about all features available.

Here is a real world example from the weekend just gone. My wife had bought an Ikea bin which needed assembly (I know right!), after reading through the instructions I discovered a handy feature! It had a rubber hook you could attach with the lid so that you could hang the lid on the side of the bin when using it. Amazing.

Hot tip: The purpose of documentation is to take the user from complete novice to expert offering support to all levels of ability. Take advantage of this resource.


A chance to make stuff better

In a previous post I wrote about writing non-fiction, it was basically a list of bullet points. Specifically there was one nugget of advice from that course which really struck me. Here it is again:

The revision process should be treated like a great thing, a chance to make something better.

You know what? That has been a real peach of advice, so thank you Susan Orlean. I work with code a lot and am prone to making some mistakes, many of these mistakes are fixed along the way. What I find invaluable is the input from other, better, developers (and designers). Having someone else look through the work I’ve done, fixing things and making suggestions helps me learn, and the end result is better code. We as developers spend a fair bit of time editing code that’s already been written once. With the above attitude there are a hundred more opportunities to make something great. Instead of viewing the refactoring process as extra unnecessary work which you should have got right the first time, see it as an opportunity to make something great. You’ll learn from it and be happier doing it.

Hot tip: Perseverance is encouraged. The ability to keep coming back to hard tasks will work wonders in the improvement of your skills.


Take a break

Everyone needs a win once in a while. Sometimes it might be nice to do something you know you can do, succeed and crack on.

There will be times when learning is going great, it’s all going really well and your brain appears to be logging everything efficiently. There are times when this is certainly not the case. Learning is slow and unproductive. This can be frustrating and discouraging. Your brain needs time to process things, it takes a lot of effort to concentrate on new things before they get filed away in learned memory. Who remembers learning to drive? I do. It’s mostly because I am learning to drive at the moment. Even in the short space of time that I have been learning, I have progressed from having to concentrate really hard on changing into third gear to being able to achieve such a feat without any thought to the actual movements it takes to make the shift.

There is a reason people tell you to sleep on it. Even when you are not directly participating in an activity, your brain is working these things out. If it is possible, it might be worth leaving a problem and doing something else, coming back to it later.

Hot tip: I am not a doctor/psychiatrist/someone who knows a lot about brains (practice with brains is hard to come by), so don’t take my word for it 🙂


The cost of starting out

A significant consideration when learning something new is the initial cost of starting out. Sometimes there is a financial cost as well as the amount of time needed to invest in learning something new. Piano playing springs to mind as well as other musical instruments. How anyone gets in to playing the harp or church organ I will never know. There are some considerations with learning a new language, either a foreign language or a computer one. I was given a Raspberry Pi from my brother for my birthday one year, I think it must have cost him approx. £25 for the actual computer. It was for me however a window into Unix and the command line which I love now and use everyday. It was a little bit like learning to walk again at first but now feels more comfortable. I have spent many hours with that Pi to despair and back, I bricked it twice, thrown it away once and am genuinely encouraged by how far I have come with perseverance. It only cost a relatively small amount (compared to a church organ) so the initial investment risk was small.

Hot tip: Want to try something new? Have access to the internet? Then try Codecademy, you may flipping love it.


Wrap up

Here are a few final thoughts to end this ramble. First, you are always going to be a student of something and are always going to be learning something new. Keep the humility that comes with being a student and welcome feedback from those who are better at stuff than you. Being always willing to learn from other people makes everything brighter, and I personally appreciate my friends and colleagues much more for it. Second is to say that we are all in good company. Lots of people have learnt to become potters, woven baskets and written life changing software. You can learn it and you can be good at it, whatever ‘it’ is.

On Honesty

Do you remember that spark of first love? Do you remember meeting, fizzling with the knowledge that you can tell them anything - good or bad. It's truly powerful, you feel like anything is possible together. Wouldn't it be great to bring that honesty into everything you do - into your work and into the relationship with your clients. Hmmm... apparently not always.

You’d be surprised how often being too honest works against us in our working life. Let me give you an example. You’ve put a job out to pitch, you want a new website and you want it in a month. You’ve got money to spend, and a great brief. You get two tenders back. One tells you: “no problem – we can do that, it’ll be great”. The other says: “we really don’t think that’s enough time to do the job well. The chances are it’ll be because of you that it’s late – there’s input and content we need from you, and you’re probably very busy. We’d rather be honest now and deliver on time, than give you your website late”. Which would you choose?

The things is we do put statements like the latter in in our tenders, and sometimes people appreciate it. Sometimes they don’t, and we don’t get that job; we’ve actually been told outright once or twice we’ve lost them because someone else has said they could meet an impossible deadline. With morbid (and slightly unhealthy) fascination I refresh their page and inevitably the website doesn’t launch on time.

It’s no-one’s fault and I don’t think any design agency goes in thinking “just tell them yes” to deliberately mislead client – but I have been thinking about whether sometimes Venn should skirt around issues like this rather than tackling them head on. The more I think about it the more I realise the answer has to be no. Our job is all about being honest. It’s about managing expectations – not just of our clients but of their customers. Our job is to tell the truth about the products we’re designing for, to find something genuine about a business that truly sets them apart. Sometimes that means telling some difficult truths and asking tough questions.

Honesty is a two way thing too – we’ve worked with some lovely people who have been afraid to tell us they don’t like something, imagining petulant artistic types throwing pencils and tantrums. But we’re not artists, we’re designers – we make things for people to use and hopefully to be with them for a long time.

Without being told the truth we think everyone’s happy and the work is good, we submit our invoice and we see a gentle drifting off of the client, or see the work slip out of use without ever having had the chance to address their concerns. Without being told we’re too expensive we don’t get the opportunity to find creative and inventive ways to break through constraints. Without being told the truth about what you want to get out of a process how are we ever to meet your expectations?

We go out of our way to make sure this sort of thing doesn’t happen to us, we implore our clients for the truth, and give them back the caveats that they will receive the same. There may be tough truths to face, but the good news, the positive feedback, the feeling of knowing that through sharing your thoughts you’ve made something that’s right – that’s really special.

Some don’t like the highs and lows that come with that kind of frankness – and I guess we’re not the agency for them. When it works though, and you’ve got two sides that revel in sharing the truth – honestly… its electric.



Notes on non-fiction writing

This is the latest outcome from another days feeding. This time I took an online course in writing non fiction which turned out to be quite informative!

Considering my experience lasted an entire day I have attempted to pick out ten (spoiler alert : it’s eleven) points which I found particularly interesting. Some of the following points I picked out because they could be easily transferred to writing code, in reality many of them could be talking about lots of different activities. Here they are :

  1. Do not go into a story knowing too much about what you are investigating.
  2. The lede should have just enough information to entice the reader to read on, do not give away too much straight away. The conclusion should not be a recap of everything written, no story ever finishes, pick out a precious moment from the text. What emotion would you like to leave the reader with?
  3. The revision process should be treated like a great thing, a chance to make something better.
  4. One tip to make editing better is to move pieces of the text to another file rather than deleting them directly.
  5. Always be on the look out for new stories, not all of them will get there.
  6. Do not keep all of your notes on the computer, they are good at showing you one thing at a time but not for an overview of the story.
  7. Print out the notes from the previous days writing and edit them by reading them aloud.
  8. Spend some time thinking about what you have written. The thinking part of writing is often over looked.
  9. Cultivate a love of language. It is the passion in a peice of writing which will often convince people to read it.
  10. Don’t use a tape recorder, it will effect the way people talk to you about things. Use a pen and paper to take notes and type them up as part of the editing process.
  11. You know enough of a story when the learning curve flattens out.

The non-fiction writing associated with these skills was actually about writing for a magazine more than it was for writing academic papers. The information was intended to start the student on the path to writing engaging pieces of writing about an experience, either your own or someone else’s. From a writing perspective I found the role of the lede and the conclusion to be particularly enlightening. From a developers perspective, recognising the revision process as an opportunity to make better code was really encouraging and will hopefully affect the work I produce in the future.

Obviously there is loads more stuff in the course and what I have written here is very much influenced by my experience. I would recommend checking out the course at Skillshare which was called Creative Nonfiction: Write Truth with Style by Susan Orlean .

It has finally happened.

To those of you that know me, Venn not having a website is kind of a running joke. The nub of it being that now, finally, after all this time, my mum might understand what I do for a living.

Well mum, we do design and stuff – you can see some of it here. There’s loads more we haven’t put up yet, keep checking back as we’ll be adding more – we’ve got six years of the stuff.

Plus if you really want to keep tabs on us we’re going to keep this section up to date with loads of info on the studio workings. We’re going to tell you why it took so long for us to build our own website. We’re  also going to go deep into our process, how it works, why it’s relevant and why we do things the way we do. If all this sounds interesting there’s already some great stuff on here about our code culture. Ok ok, you’re probably not that interested in that – but Joe put a lot of thought into it and he’d appreciate it if you read it, there’s something for everyone to take away… ok, ok mum.

We’re also going to be telling you about our feeds. No mum – uhhh. Its when we take time out of the office to do new things to inspire us. Joshua has put one up about his adventures in bookbinding, and Andy’s exploration into the world of watercolours is worth a read. Yes I know Stranger Collective did feeding first but it’s really a great thing to do.

If you still don’t get it you can check out the about us page.  No. No just move your mouse to the top of the page and click…Oh god you’re so obtuse!

That’s it – I’m not coming home for Christmas.








Venn Creative, 59-61 Killigrew Street, Falmouth, Cornwall, TR11 3PF

01326 377 105 | [email protected]