Cocoa Trees Are Like Easter Eggs

Seven times in Genesis 1 God steps away from His creation and declares that “it was good.”

And do you know what’s rad? I know the feeling. It’s that addicting rush that every artists gets when they step away from the canvas and look to see something starting back at them that they finally don’t actually hate, but are in-fact, pleased with.

Sure, when God declared this He had just sculpted Mt. Kilimanjaro rising out of the Serengeti, designed the human immune system, invented physics and made a cocoa tree and said “I can’t wait till they figure out what they can do with that.” Even so, when He created me He declared that I was made in His image and I think He knew that one day I’d grow up to love creating things.

Sure, my photographs, posters and interfaces look like a two-year old’s crayon scribbles compared to the grandeur of His creation, but like in so many things, I love that He lets me come along for the ride.

As I create, God desires for me to worship and know Him more; He is the ultimate creator and I am simply operating in His likeness. I imagine it being like myself as a child with my plastic toy golf clubs following my dad outside; we’re doing the same thing, but I’m hitting whiffle balls with plastic clubs and he’s hitting golf balls with metal clubs.

I don’t want to leave the impression that I just pray and then beauty just starts bursting forth from me, quite the opposite. As with most-everything, a God-centered approach doesn’t spontaneously make it easy, the heavy challenges still remain. The blank canvas still feels like a castle wall that I need to break through and once I’m through there are plenty of other obstacles waiting for me – self-doubt, short-sightedness, and my own limitations (perceived or otherwise) to name a few.

All that said, I don’t think God blesses us with the ability to make things just for our enjoyment. Everything that comes from above has an outward push to it, and as artists and designers, I believe God has left us with an influential role in determining what our culture deems to be good and what it deems to be bad.

Where there is hate, pride and injustice, we must expose them to the light.

Where there is love, humility and justice, we must propel them forward.

Artists and designers have the unique ability to declare good the work of others, whether it being a part of ending a war, empower communities with clean blood and water or hanging the way people bank.

While it may feel like darkness reigns, goodness still abounds. His redemption song is being sung all over the world, sometimes by people who can’t identify it yet, and the more people who hear it, see it, experience it and know it – the more who will come to know their Creator as their Savior.

These are ideals that I strive for in my work. I wish I could say every day that I wake up and work and live this out, a lot of days I just wake up and work. Grace is a wonderful thing. But I’m a huge believer that if you don’t have ideals that you’re striving for, the status-quo will only continue to reign.

Adding a Separator to wp_list_categories

In WordPress, if you’re displaying your categories list inline instead of block, odds are you’re going to want to be able to define some HTML to separate the outputted items. Since wp_list_categories doesn’t include a separator argument, you need to do a simple PHP string replace to add one in.

I didn’t see any answers to this question on the WordPress forums so I thought I’d post the code I wrote here.

$needle = '</a>';
$separator = '<span class="pipe">&nbsp;|&nbsp</span>'; // fill in your separator here 
$cat_list_args = array(
	'echo'  	=> __( 0 ),  // sends output to variable
	'title_li'	=> __( '' ), // removes title of list (optional)
	'hierarchical'	=> __( 0 ), // makes subcategories not show as inner list items (optional) 
	'exclude'	=> __( 1 ), // excludes uncategorized (optional)
$cat_list_arr = wp_list_categories( $cat_list_args );
$cat_list_mod = str_replace($needle,$needle.$separator,$cat_list_arr); // switch to $separator.$needle if you want separator inside a tag
echo $cat_list_mod;

On a related note, if you want to hide the separator of your final list item, CSS pseudo-classes makes that super easy.

nav li:last-child .pipe { display: none; }

Interlink Conference

Interlink Conference Logo on SketchbookThis weekend I flew up to Vancouver, BC for Interlink Conference. Normally what goes in my sketch book stays in my sketch book but I thought I’d make an exception and type out some of my notes from the main Friday sessions. I will post links to the videos as they’re released over the next couples of weeks. I hope this post can give people an idea of what was discussed and refresh the memories of those who attended. I apologize in advance to the speakers if these notes don’t encapsulate the greatness of your talks or miss any of your points.

Frank Chimero

Frank gave one of the the best talks I’ve ever heard about the greater meaning and purpose behind what we do. He has been on a hiatus recently to re-discover meaning in his work and part of that has been the creation of his new book The Shape of Design. He shared insightful and heartfelt lessons from his time of discovery.

Near and far – these are the two sides of the design process that we alternate back and forth between. This concept can be seen more specifically in the pairs of how / why, making / thinking and execution / strategy. In web design, these often materialize as markup / structure, responsive / context, SEO / reach and Photoshop / aesthetic.

When looking at this concept in terms of time, it can be broken into three parts:

The Message: this has an infinite length.
The Format: this is the way the message is being communicated right now.
The Tone: this is the matchmaker in the middle.

Design is not problem solving because it’s “answers” aren’t repeatable (like in math). Instead, we create responses to problems.

Frank’s new word, “The Glory Form”: the best possible response from a particular person at a particular point in time.

Culture: a target that if you hit it moves.

Final thought: we are to create designs that are good, valuable and make people’s lives better.

I left Frank’s talk with a renewed excitement to be a creator of things that people see and use that have an impact on their lives. As I do my daily tasks, I need to remember to constantly step back and see how what I am doing is helping to accomplish a larger goal. I want to be conscious of defining what that larger goal (the message of infinite length) is at the beginning of the project so that I can measure it’s success, and most importantly, I want that greater goal to be something I believe makes people’s lives better.

Denise Jacobs

Denise’s talk was a great way to start the day. She discussed tips on how to remain inspired in a lifestyle where our creativity in constantly being tapped out.

Externailize your inspiration – think “what does this design need to be?” instead of “I need to design this.”

Being right keeps us in place.

Inspiration and doing feed off of each other.

Elliot Jay Stocks

The premise of Elliot’s talk was “just because we can, doesn’t mean we should.” He showed numerous examples of websites following trends for the sake of following trends that just create a lot of visual noise. He then began to discuss how we address that.

Constantly asking why is how we break out of trends.

Learning how to educate clients is key for defending your decisions. Thinking about how to defend your decisions makes you make better decisions.

Perceived affordance: what makes a button look clickable.

A fluctuation between web and print design is good for staying inspired.

Recommended video: Tim Brown - “More Perfect Typography”

Whitney Hess

Whitney’s talked laid out a list of ten universal principles of UX design, showing good and bad examples of each in both the real and web world. I definitely recommend checking out her slides to supplement the list below.

UX is the establishment of a philosophy about how to treat people.

Universal experience design principles:

  1. Stay out of people’s way.
  2. Create a hierarchy that matches people’s needs.
  3. Limit distractions.
  4. Provide strong information scent.
  5. Provide signposts and cues.
  6. Provide context.
  7. Use constraints appropriately.
  8. Make actions reversible.
  9. Provide feedback.
  10. Make a good first impression.

The purpose triangle – knowledge, ethics and empathy.

What are your company’s principles?

Sarah Parmenter

Sarah shared resources and lessons learned from her years of experiences as a iPhone application designer, both in the native iOS format and by using web standards (this talk focused on web standards). Her slides included a lot of great tips and resources. Below are a few notes from the beginning of her talk.

ADS: Application Definitoin Statement. To make – list all features and all target users, filter through to make ADS.

Even good ideas can create scope creeps that damage good projects.

Tip for color schemes – overlay primary color 25% over all colors for a more harmonious palette.

Jonathan Snook

Jonathan’s talk was entitled “CSS Takes On The World.” His Work is on the cutting edge of what’s possible with CSS. His talk listed numerous examples of common tasks done usually now with JavaScript that can start to be transitioned into CSS. Some of these include:

  • Drop Down Menus (using CSS Pseudo Classes)
  • FAQs (using CSS Target Pseudo Class)
  • Tabs + Slides
  • Form Validation
  • Animations
  • Better Data Tables (using display:table and flex box)
  • Width Conditionals

Mentioned: jQuery Transitions + jQuery Masonry

Gavin Elliot

“A Better Process”

Gavin began his talk showing a video of a German teenager bashing in his computer. We all laughed. Why? Because we’ve all been there when Photoshop crashes and we forgot to save.

He then talked about a dance we designers know all too well, “The Photoshop Shuffle,” where you spend hours moving things around only to still hate what you’ve made six hours later. Process definitely came up a lot during the day, but Gavin’s talk covered it the most. He showed photographs of his A3 sketchbook as he was working out a layout and user experience. It reminded me of the sketches I did for my PureVolume Mobile project in school and how the Photoshop work on that project came so easily after I worked everything out on paper first.

We don’t design websites, we design systems.


Design by Decision
Design by Emotion
Design by Language
Design by Iteration

Simon Collison

“A Dialect of Our Own Design” (slides)

Simon started out going through a brief history of our visual dialect. He used lots of examples of simple shapes in relation to one another and their frame to show how those relationships establish a visual grammar that dictates meaning and perception.

In regards to semiotics:

Symbols are specific and clear.
Icons rely on shared understanding.
Indexes link to an object but don’t depict.

What’s next for the web? The web’s frame of reference is very malleable. Simon showed examples from the fine art world of artists breaking out of the rectangular frame. He then showed examples of specific sites that are pushing the boundaries of what the frame of a web experience is.

Stop thinking in pages. Responsive (or adaptive) design is the new way of showing complex information.

Simon showed a slide of a diagram from an early Macintosh manual explaining how scrolling in the browser worked. It got me pondering that perhaps thinking about the roots of your expectations in interactions is how you can come up with ways to radically change those interactions.

The day ended with a fun night in Gastown enjoying some British Columbia micro-brews with my new-found design nerd friends. On Saturday night the Vancouver Canucks were playing in Game 2 of the Stanley Cup Finals. I met up with one of my friends from Art Center who is a Vancouver local to go watch the game at a pub downtown. The Canucks won in overtime and a 2km long party of 70,000 people in the streets erupted! Here’s a little video clip of the final goal if you missed it. It was an unforgettable end to a great weekend filled with great discussions on design and hanging out with incredible, down-to-earth and passionate people.

Update: All the talks have now been posted up on Interlink Conference’s blog.

Two Big Life Events in Two Weeks

Last month I crossed two big life thresholds in just two weeks – first, graduating from Art Center College of Design and then marrying my beautiful bride Stefanie.

My five years at Art Center were incredibly challenging – in fact, there were multiple times when I thought I wasn’t going to make it; but through God’s faithfulness and the patient and tireless love and support of my family, I did. Looking back, I saw each challenge shape me into the person I am today and I’m proud to be an alumni of the school.

Below is a picture from my grad show, a tradition that all graduates participate in the weekend of graduation. The school opens up to the public and people come from all over to view the student’s work. I’d been to so many shows over the years so it was exciting for it to finally be my time.

Grad Show

Exactly two weeks later, in another whirlwind of a weekend Stefanie and I got married. Stefanie and I started dating 15 months ago and fell in love immediately (read more of our story) and I asked her to marry me in October. We had an amazing time with all our closest friends and family celebrating the beginning of our adventure together as husband and wife (which will be taking us to Grenada in August). Take a look at a few more of our photos on our photographer’s blog.


Teed: Portraits of [South] Sudan

Teed: Portraits of [South] Sudan

If you’re in the Pasadena area, my photographic exhibition, Teed: Portraits of [South] Sudan, opened at Art Center College of Design’s South Campus today. It will be up through Friday, April 1st, and the school will be hosting an artist reception this Saturday night, March 26th, from 6pm–9pm. All are welcome and I’d love to see you there!

More photographs, details and directions can be found at on the show’s website.

This is one of the most exciting projects I’ve worked on my whole time at Art Center as its subject matter is a people so close to my heart. Ever since I started at Art Center, I’ve been interested in the work done in conjunction with Designmatters. I had the opportunity to be in the USGS Wildfire sponsored studio they facilitated last term and I’m so grateful for their sponsorship of this project.

Happy New Year from the Paulsons!

Happy New Year from the Paulsons!

My Favorite Albums of 2010

It’s time for the 2nd annual list of my favorite albums of the year. Some of these are from 2009, I don’t get a hold of music as quickly as I used to. Enjoy!

Kevin Max – Cotes d’ Armor

Cotes d' ArmorKevin Max is by far the most talented former member of DC Talk. Over the last decade he’s released albums spanning genres the likes of experimental pop, emotional rock, bluegrass, brit pop, and with Cotes d’ Armor, he jumps into the realms of synth and electronica driven rock. Highlights include the bizarre yet catchy “On Yer Bike!”, the almost humorous apocalyptical “Out of the Wild”, and the deeply emotional “Walking Through Walls” and “Even When It Hurts.” He records a beautiful new version of “Your Beautiful Mind,” a song that balances deep angst and grappling with God with an adoration of Him like few I’ve heard before.

Derek Webb – Feedback

FeedbackThis was by far my favorite album to design to this year. Derek Webb abstractly interprets The Lord’s Prayer instrumentally in three movements. Stylistically, it is the next step along the road from Stockholm Syndrome, balancing a mix of analog and digital instrumentation. The album was further interpreted by a painter, photographer, and filmmaker, creating a contemporary transmedia interpretation of one of the most powerful passages of scripture.

Manchester Orchestra – Mean Everything To Nothing

Mean Everything To NothingAs much as my musical likings have expanded over the years, I still love listening to album likes this. It’s heavy, beautifully written, emotional rock done as good as I’ve ever heard it. Hull spends much of the first half of the album struggling with the fundamentalist culture which he was raised in. The album opens with Hull saying “I am the only son of a pastor I know who does the things I do, but if it was you I don´t think that it would matter.” The album moves to Hull sharing how he found meaning by loving someone who “means everything to nobody” but him and the album’s most powerful track, “The River” ends with Hull borrowing from the hymn, “Come Thou Fount of Every Blessing” and screaming “Oh God I need it, well I was wrong again, take me to the river, and make me clean again.” It’s an album that’s certainly rough around the edges, but a beautiful divine relationship shows through in the end.

Passion Pit – Manners


This album goes down sweet and smooth like a bag of Skittles. Passion Pit’s wonderful unique blend of warm guitars and synths overlaid with Angelako’s falsetto vocals is a joy to listen to. Every track brings a unique variant on their sound. I saw them play live in September, and I was pleased in how well they sound live, reinforcing how much talent these guys from Massachusetts have.

Lights – The Listening

The ListeningI make a lot of late night drives, and this was my favorite album to keep me company. Lights plays synth pop, but the kind that is rooted in a song that holds it own with just her and a guitar (proof). The album is mature yet charming, filled with meaningful lyrics and creative synth lines and programming. Oh, and she likes The Chariot too.

Honorable Mentions

Imogen Heap - Ellipse
Vampire Weekend - Contra
Deas Vail - Birds & Cages
Tyrone Wells - Metal & Wood
Starfield - The Saving One

→ Daniel’s Sudan Documentary

This is a documentary that my friend Daniel Crawford put together after our trip to Sudan this summer. He does a great job retelling his experiences in a heartfelt way. The documentaries covers day-to-day life, memorable moments, and what God taught him while he was there. Check it out!