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Published: Tue, 09 Jul 2013 14:00:04 GMT


Working with Emily

Tue, 09 Jul 2013 14:00 GMT

I don’t know why you say goodbye, I say hello Eight years is a long time. When you look at the number eight, it looks like an infinity symbol. This July would have been eight years of Lealea Design. It seems like forever. When I first started my business back in the summer of 2005, it was more reactionary than well-thought-out. I’d always thought I’d start my own business, but mostly, Lealea Design began with the realization that I am not cut out for a typical, corporate environment. I wanted the freedom to set my own hours, the pride of finding and winning my own clients, to help businesses reach their goals and the ability to choose to deal with great people. I am fortunate and proud that I’ve been able to do all of the above for eight years straight, and then some. People not only wanted to work with me, they wanted to hear me speak about my experiences, write about my expertise and teach a future generation of designers the realities of working in the industry. Throughout the years, as people tracked my career and chatted with me at conferences, they always asked me if I intend to expand or join an agency. All the time, I just said, “No, I’m pretty happy where I am at! Would just like to make more money!” And that was true: I’d pretty much built a business that made me happy, my clients happy and was earning enough money to be sustainable. Success! While all true, that didn’t mean things were perfect. The reality of being solo is that the only person you can rely on is yourself. I’m extremely independent, am the eldest of my siblings, and am used to forging my own path. That comes with its obvious pluses, as well as negatives: it meant that when I was ill, when I had a business or project hiccup, all responsibility and risk with a project still fell on me. And it meant answering emergency phone calls while on vacation in Mexico. While that last part was an anomaly and most of my clients respect my time, there are some inevitable situations that occur when you’re truly the only contact. This isn’t always ideal for me OR my clients. Additionally, being solo means doing everything. And I didn’t always want to “do it all.” But I didn’t really have a choice in the matter. So, it’s with great joy and excitement that I announce I will now be Lead Designer of Emily Lewis Design, LLC. Serendipity, or Why the Internet is Awesome Emily and my relationship began serendipitously: following each other on social media, chatting briefly at conferences and mostly admiring each other professionally from afar. It wasn’t until I had the opportunity to run The EE Podcast that our paths would merge once more, and that our podcast relationship would grow to be more than just a side project. We’ve been running the podcast together almost two years to this day. Unbeknownst to me at the time, we would end up speaking almost weekly, planning and working on the podcast, with our meetings punctuated by off-topic cajoling and updates on each other’s business and personal lives. It was during this time that I learned what a stalwart professional Emily is: punctual, meticulous to a fault, obsessively organized, and struck with a personal sense of responsibility for everything she does and touches. Then, of course, there is her quality of work, and her pride and expertise in code, always tempered with humility. On top of it all, she’s funny as hell. Personally, she’s one of the nicest people I’ve ever known and extremely honest. I don’t think she knows how to behave any other way. Long story short: Emily is a fantastic individual, personally and professionally, and I am proud to be a part of her team. I think part of my past hesitation in expansion was uncertainty whether I’d meet someone who met my exacting standards. I wasn’t sure I would meet someone who cared about the quality of their work and their relationship with clients as much I do. Fortunately, Emily meets and exceeds all my expectations. To say the decision to dissolve Lealea Design was difficult is an un[...]

EE Podcast Relaunch

Thu, 23 Jun 2011 16:01 GMT

Hello, Hello I am extremely pleased to announce that the The EE Podcast has relaunched with a brand new website, design, direction, and co-host! I’m grateful for the opportunity to co-host back in the 5by5 Network with Ryan and Dan but when they decided to focus on other projects for a while, they asked me to carry the torch and continue the show. I know some people have been eagerly awaiting the re-launch but I didn’t want to just up and record — in some ways, that’s the easy part. I like to talk and can talk web, design, and EE for hours. No: I was determined to make sure that the show went forward with renewed enthusiasm and a focus on sustainability. I also wanted to make sure that whoever I ended up hosting with was not only knowledgeable about EE, but also a great communicator and FUN, as well. So, it was almost a no-brainer to engage Emily Lewis to be my brand new co-host. All About Em While it was a no-brainer for me to ask Emily to co-host, I knew that some in the community may not be that familiar with her, so I came up with the Guess the Co-host contest, sponsored by Mijingo (Ryan passing the torch in more ways than one) and EECI 2011! In a series of clues left on Twitter, I wanted the community to speculate and commiserate amongst themselves who it might be! For those that already know Emily, it could have been a way to find fun facts about her. For those that don’t, you got to know more about her before she even said anything on the podcast. It was also fun to see who people might consider it be, which was a bit revealing, I think, over who some may have wanted it to be, or who in the community felt was prominent enough to be. There were 32 total entries and 8 people guessed Emily. We used a “Random Name Picker” to raffle the prize between the 8 that got it right, and congrats to winner, John Henry Donovan who was one of the first people to guess Emily, too! If you want a run down of all the clues and find out more about Em, read Emily’s run down of the EE Podcast experience Relaunch Details It’s taken about a couple months for us to get up and running, but I hope it’s worth it. The brand new website was truly a collaborative work: I’m responsible for the site design and new logo (Jason Nakai illustrated the cool mic for us), but Em gave a few design suggestions and tweaks. Emily did 99% of the markup and heavy lifting with the code in EE, while I did some tweaks and fixing up in that arena as well. It’s truly been a pleasure working with someone as talented and professional as Em, and I hope that translates over in the actual episodes. For now, I’m the one doing the sound editing/mixing, so if there’s any complaints in that arena, that’s me, too, hehehe. :) Eventually, we have plans on perhaps handing that responsibility over when we’ve organized our funds a bit better. We talk a bit more about other new plans we have for the podcast, as well as plotting out future episode topics in advance. Please visit and follow us on Twitter to find out more. Where I start Thanking the Crap out of People I’d like to thank EllisLab for their unfailing support for the show. They are truly a world-class company of genuine people who want nothing but the best for their community. I can’t forget to thank Nevin Lyne of EngineHosting who not only hosts this very website, but hosts EE Podcast’s site AND its MP3s in their own CDN! Very grateful for the opportunity. Ryan Masuga, despite his gruff exterior, is a sweetheart and I would like to thank him as well for agreeing to plug the podcast on Devot:ee Finally, I would like to thank our relaunch sponsors, without which, the podcast’s future would be unclear. Firstly, our major sponsor, Pixel & Tonic who more-or-less jumped at the opportunity to sponsor us. I can’t thank you enough, Brandon. Our lovely relaunch episode sponsor, Mike Boyink, of who has been incredibly supp[...]

Review: The Designer’s Graphic Stew

Tue, 03 Aug 2010 22:51 GMT

I get offers from various companies to review their apps, products, books, and services but I am mostly quiet about them unless I actually have used it and liked it. Most of the time, I just tweet about it. However, I feel compelled to write a brief review for The Designer’s Graphic Stew: Visual Ingredients, Techniques, and Layout Recipes for Graphic Designers.

Now, for those that know me well, they know I’m an avid foodie — I am addicted to The Food Network, find Gordon Ramsay entertaining, and have spent an embarrassing amount on my kitchen and its equipment. So, when I found out that the author of the designer’s bible on grids was also an avid foodie and essentially made this new designer tome a giant cookbook metaphor, it was as if he had written the book just for me. And believe me when I say the cookbook comparisons are unsubtle: the photo of Timothy Samara in the book jacket has him in a chef’s outfit, and the chapter titles all use food photography. Randomly opening the book without much knowledge, you might mistake it for a Martha Stewart volume instead of a design book.

In short, the book goes to compare creating the best designs as a “recipe” of design ingredients: dependant on the project, its goals, and the mood you are looking for, the book has chapters that explain each visual element with a thumbnail example. The first half of the book is a lot like Krause’s Idea Index and the rest of its series where it gives visual snippets and examples that follow a sort of “theme.” These are the “ingredients.” And being the grid guru, Samara guarantees a section on grid thumbnails, which I haven’t found in any other type of design compilation.

Then, the next half of the book are the full-blown “recipes” aka projects: posters, packaging, layouts. They are broken down by its key elements and cited back to the ingredient section of the book to give you ideas on how things are put together, and most importantly, why those ingredients are chosen. The explanation is brief, and sometimes whittled down to its “key message” to explain the goal, but the idea is clear.

The book is possibly targeted mostly to design students, as the intro section goes through design principles and theory (all the while using cooking analogies), and a lot of the breakdowns of imagery and why they should be put together should already be second-nature to most design professionals. However, I do think it is a great reference book and a possibly source of inspiration for starting any new project. And sometimes, even us pros need reminders of what’s, why’s, and how’s.


Surprise! I’m Canadian!

Tue, 29 Jun 2010 16:46 GMT

Well, it might not be a surprise to some of you, but despite the fact that I tweet about my hometown, prominently explain in my about page where I am based, and through several years of interaction online and offline with various colleagues, I often get:

“What? You’re Canadian?”

Baffling, I know, but in some ways, not really. The web is such a universal, borderless space, and as someone with “no accent” it might be hard to place me, or perhaps it’s easier to assume I’m American since a lot of the more prominent web workers come from there. (And, really, it wouldn’t be a stretch to assume I’m Californian considering all the friends and family I have living there and the giant Filipino-American population in the Bay Area)

Now it’s nearing Canada Day, I want to take this opportunity to declare how proud I am living in the “Great White North” and I wish more technology companies and individuals were as forthcoming about this fact. Again, the web is a global village, but since the birth of the nation I live in is imminent, I’d like to point out a few companies you may not have known are/were Canadian (and maybe some companies you didn’t even know existed!).

  • Veer – Yes, they have offices elsewhere and their printing is in the States, but their headquarters and starting place is in Calgary, Alberta
  • iStockPhoto – Ditto above (Calgary).
  • StumbleUpon – Started in Calgary by its Canadian founders
  • Bioware – Love Mass Effect? Their main headquarters and starting place is here in my hometown, Edmonton, Alberta. My husband even used to work there. His credits are on Jade Empire.
  • Investopedia – Yes, this massive financial education website (owned by Forbes) is based and is still in Edmonton, Alberta.
  • Seek Your Own Proof – This is a collaborative enterprise from both sides of the border that started here in Edmonton, Alberta by a couple of colleagues of mine. They recently partnered up with Discovery Kids. Exciting times!
  • Shopify – Hosted online stores from Ottawa, ON
  • 1password – My fave password protector is from Aurora, ON
  • FreshBooks Freshbooks handles time tracking and invoicing from Toronto, ON
  • Research In Motion – Your Blackberry was born in Waterloo, ON

Now, that’s just a snippet of some of the sites and companies that work on Canadian soil. Please feel free to add more Canadian web and tech companies to the comments.

Happy (early) Canada Day!

Separate or Together? Work, Life, and Happiness

Fri, 15 Jan 2010 20:36 GMT

Let me get this out of the way: I don’t believe in “work-life balance.” There are only work-life priorities. Sometimes work takes precedent, to our detriment or not, and other times, life takes the lead. However, we still try our damnest to get it all to gel. There are two trains of through in order to do this: separate work and life completely or integrate work into your life even more.

The former has been popularized by The 4-Hour Workweek where Tim Ferris encourages separation of purely financially-driven activity from pleasure-driven activity while the latter has been written through several blog posts, two of which were on 24ways: A Pet Project is For Life, Not Just for Christmas and Make Out Like a Bandit.

Now, I love design (of all types) and I love making money through design so I don’t necessarily want to completely separate my “financially driven” activity from what I consider fun. Work shouldn’t be a drudge! But, to me, creating personal projects that are almost directly tied to skills in your day job, can help burn you out instead of re-inspire you. I mean, one can only take so much staring at Photoshop even if one is a paid client project, and the other is a passion project. You’re still in Photoshop (or your software of choice). You’re still designing. You’re still… well, you’re still working. You’ve just switched clients from someone else to yourself, and as we all know, we’re all our own worst clients.

So what to do? I don’t want to separate work and pleasure completely, nor do I want to completely integrate my hobbies to my work. Here’s the deal: design is my passion but it sure as hell isn’t my entire life. (no offense to those who have Design is Life mandates)

My proposal? Limit the amount of hobbies you integrate into your work that may or may not make money (perhaps maximum 1 or 2) and the rest, keep it offline. Don’t even think about monetizing the rest. It will guarantee that it’s strictly in the hobby mindset because you’re not necessarily out to make money off of it. Basically, what I’m trying to say is that sometimes people on the web live in this strange vacuum where only the internet, design, and code exist and of course, trying to profit from it. Sometimes, it could be nicer for certain things to remain analog, offline, and private.

I think that might be a good compromise.

The Danger of Following Social Media Rules

Mon, 04 Jan 2010 19:13 GMT

I love rules. Like Wired magazine, I believe that some limits can boost creativity. In a broader sense, rules also help avoid confusion and chaos. Let’s also assume that most of these rules have merit, and yes, I also believe some are meant to be broken.

This post is going to talk about the latter. There are a million and one rules on how to conduct oneself online, most based on the mythical “common sense.” People have even made hilarious comics about what not to tweet. Yes, all well and good. To continue my hyperbole, there are probably also a million and one reasons why we should and shouldn’t follow certain rules. But the main reason why you should ignore these rules is this:


In my more recent Art of Self-Branding presentations I say that you’re not a unique snowflake, but your personal brand is part of a unique story arc. Your life is like a movie. There are many characters, stories, some with similar plots and personalities. 90% of the people reading this post work on the web and have similar skill sets. What makes you different and why should I work with you? Your personality, your story arc, the journey of how you get to where you are and what you’re doing right now.

Watching Why the Phantom Menace Sucked Part 1 really outlined the importance of clear and precise characterization. Even if it’s cliched, the original trilogy’s characters personality traits are thought of with a lot of affection. This is also the same online. If you follow all these social media “rules” to the T, you will just become yet another person who only a) talks about work (boring) and b) cannot be described by anyone else (forgettable). At the very least, you have to be the Star in the film of your life, not Generic Extra Looking Busy! Hence: personality. You should be more interested in learning how to speak human and increasing your whuffie factor.

And let’s not forget, the main reason for social media is to connect like-minded people or inform people of new ideas and things. Restrict what you express, and you’re possibly missing out on other people who have the exact same thoughts, dreams, hobbies, and passions as you do.

Fun fact: When I tweeted about my new KitchenAid mixer I had the most @replies, Facebook comments, and Flickr views I’ve ever had for any tweet within a 10 minute span (the only one that topped that is posting a photo of my home office). I don’t always get the same reaction from tweeting a great article about design, business, or branding. Why? Because while those subjects are interesting, useful and vital, talking about something personal that people can relate to garners immediate personal relevance. Personal relevance = engagement.

Now, after saying all this, do any of us who use Twitter, Facebook, et al regularly actually ever cared about the rules in the first place? Do some of us just “get it?”

Women in Tech: Asking the Wrong Questions

Tue, 24 Mar 2009 16:17 GMT

So today is Ada Lovelace Day a day that brings women in technology to the forefront. For a while, this post has been brewing at the back of my head but considering this is a day celebrating women in tech, my celebrating it is understood, but I want to bring up some core issues with women in tech in the first place. SXSWi is a great place to meet people and it was interesting that I had two distinct conversations about the same topic with Samantha Warren and Ariel Newland — where are the women in design. Now, we’ve been asking that question for years. In fact, SXSW has several panels about women in tech, on the web, recruiting women, understanding women, every single year and I find, every single year we’re not really much closer to any answers. At best, solutions include mentoring and starting at an early age; at worst, conversations devolve into men-bashing and stereotypes. Very recently, Ryan Carson drew some ire at FOWA because of the lack of female speakers or attendees; like almost every event organizer who gets flack for this, he sends out a well meaning tweet for suggestions of female speakers and to have them tag it with #fowaspeak Some people took that at face value and simply recommended a few interesting people, others took offense thinking that he was simply asking for speakers for the sake of their gender. To fill a quota. At a recent local event, IDEAfest here in Edmonton, people were asked to volunteer to speak. First come, first served. This call-to-action occurred several weeks before the event. After the event occurred, some attendees were annoyed/flabbergasted at the lack of women or ethnic people presenting, with a thinly veiled accusation towards the organizers. At a volunteer event. Damned if you do, damned if you don’t. A few things: Prejudice and sexism (both ways) exist The above will never be eradicated Education is key, but is not enough In many ways I think we’re running around chasing our own tail, and maybe that’s because we’ve been asking the wrong questions, and are too busy playing the blame game. Let’s stop asking Where are the women in tech? or “Where are the women in this conference?” Instead, let’s ask: WHY do SOME women find it “easier” and necessary to get out there and be active in the community? Just like with creating a user experience, personas are a powerful way to figure out what’s out there. There are a lot of talented web women out there, but there are some people whose names just jump out at you. Whitney Hess, Stephanie Sullivan, and Jina Bolton are often called upon to speak at various conferences and have a ton of followers on social media. Perhaps instead of asking where are the women, we should ask the women who are visible their personal and professional opinions on how they get active and visible. Take personality profiles of these women, their histories, their backgrounds. What’s common? What’s different? Whitney speaks about how shy she normally is: how does she break free? Why are some women afraid of being “out there”? Or is it simply that Women just don’t pimp their shit? Why are SOME women more comfortable or even blasee around men? (a reality in the tech industry) Some girls just play well with boys. But we’re not all tomboys nor want to be. This is a reality of the world. There is a majority of men in the tech industry; some are not as friendly to women as they should be. How can we make interactions between men and women in the workplace, in a web workplace, more congenial? Men are not the enemy: they have mothers, daughters, and sisters. Most decent men want the best for the women in their lives. How do we work together with those men to more naturally include women? How can we encourage women to STAY in technology? I have the fo[...]

Spelling Your Brand Name Properly

Mon, 09 Feb 2009 19:20 GMT

Can you spell every recognizable brand properly? Does it matter? Spelling properly can improve literacy, and groups like the Spelling Society (yes, it exists) and the rising profile of spelling bees means people are starting to take more notice about how words are spelled, hence the etymology (history) of the word bringing greater understanding of language. They call me, “Mr. Tibbs.” I started pondering the importance of spelling with brand recognition because of my own company name: Lealea Design. That is the proper way it is spelled. However, I’ve seen it in many other incarnations: LeaLea Design, Lea Lea Design, Lealea Designs, etc. I understand the confusion because the name is based off my real first name, despite the fact that “lealea” is an actual word with a double-meaning (happiness or pleasure in Hawaiian — and no, to clarify, I am not Hawaiian). Also, my logo has the words in uppercase, which means whoever types the name gets confused as to how it would look in a mixed case situation. Meanwhile, my CMS of choice, ExpressionEngine is often incorrectly written as two separate words: Expression Engine. In fact, they even had a small forum post addressing the proper spelling and clarification, rightly advocating consistency in brand executions. People were confused, defended their right to misspell based on SEO, and wondered if EE was being a little too uptight. However, there’s a reason why brand manager or evangelists exist: even when it’s clearly written out what rules the brand must follow, many many people find a way to fudge it up. A rose by any other name would smell as sweet Is that a bad thing? For the brand owners, it does hurt us in a way. Web wise, it lessens the our SEO web juice when people inconsistently try to search for different terms. It divides the search results. In another, it will convey the wrong idea to a new audience. Visually, it is also inconsistent. And lastly, it’s just a weeee bit annoying. :) But, as someone who has spent correcting pronunciations of her name (it sounds like that princess, not the other way) her entire life, and trying to convince people my last name is not Alcatraz, the little errors just start to roll off your shoulder and you just take it as something you just have to get used to correcting. Or… should I get used to it? In my personal life, my sisters actually pronounce my name “Lee-yah.” Mostly, because everyone around me during childhood and growing up called my name improperly and I was too lazy/annoyed/tired of correcting. I finally took a harder stance during high school (new leaf and all that), and from then on, anyone who knew me PHS (Post High School) pronounced it “Lay-ah.” However, I live a life where important people still call me by two names. And I’m okay with it. My sisters call me “Lee-yah” while my husband calls me “Lay-ah.” Is this the way we need to also address the reality of brand spelling and recognition? That, as long as people still identify you and still understand who you are, that it doesn’t matter as much if Coca-Cola needs that hyphen in between, or if it helps SEO, fine, let’s spell EE as “Expression Engine?” At the end of the day, as long as you’re still recognized, and you yourself are consistent (EllisLab has always properly spelled their own product name), then even if others mistake it, as long as they know you exist in some form, is it okay? In my opinion, yes. However, I think it is always right to correct others when you do have the chance, and not stress if others still don’t follow suit. Brand Nazi or Brand Savant? What is your stance on naming? Are you more strict or are you more lenient? If strict, how do you enforce your naming? If loose, where do you let it go?[...]

Organizing Your Project Files

Wed, 28 Jan 2009 17:54 GMT

I’m curious as to how people organize their project and client files. My structure is pretty simple; I don’t — currently — use a software system that organizes everything. Right now, I just have folders.

This is how I have it separated:


  • Client/Project Specific folder
    • agreements
    • files
    • invoices
    • comps
  • 2005,2006,2007,2008 (a folder a year)
  • Completed (current year’s completed project files get moved here — at the end of the year, the Completed gets turned into a 2009 folder)


  • huge dump of files that are general use like stock photography and icons; each have their own folder. I also have an EE folder where I place all the general plugins and modules that I’ll probably use with multiple sites

File Naming

I also number my projects and folders with this type of system: 2K9-01 Client Name. The first set of numbers represent the year the project was created, and the second set represents that it’s the first project of 2009. The next part is simply the client name. I also number all files and comps using this system. So, if I was going to send an invoice to this client, it would look like: 2K9-01_client-name_invoice.pdf. A comp would be 2K9-01_homepage_v1.jpg. That is the versioning system I use.

How do you organize your files and systems? Do you use a piece of software? Or are you old-school like me? :)

My Favourite Lealea Blogblog Posts

Thu, 08 Jan 2009 03:00 GMT

A lot of you have been loyal visitors to this site over the years, but many are also new. It’s been three years of off-and-on blogging but it still amassed a pretty sizeable archive. I don’t want my new visitors to be intimidated to get to know me, this site, and the blog a bit better. And maybe some of you old subscribers may find something new, too. So, without further ado, I want to outline My Top Five Favourite Lealea Blogblog Posts (omg, yes, it’s a list, not a thoughtful essay):

  1. The Art of Self-Branding
    Possibly the most famous article I’ve written since starting this blog. It outlines my own personal branding journey and how you can apply it to your own brand!
  2. Can you justify design decisions?
    Well, can you? Designers often struggle with this with clients and I provide examples and questions on how to move through it.
  3. Handling Rejection
    I share an anecdote while reiterating why it’s important to handle rejection.
  4. Lack of a Shared Vocabulary
    I try to define a problem with our industry.
  5. Don’t limit your visual knowledge
    I give examples of where you can find design inspiration.

Do you have a favourite from the archives? If so, let me know!