I like trains. They take you from one point to the other in a comfortable and somewhat sociable way. You can do some work, watch a movie or even talk to strangers (although that could end up with five hours of weird silence between six uncomfortable people because someone said something inappropriate).
But that’s not the main point.
Unlike airplanes, which snap you out of your original context and deliver you to your destination in a very brief time, you actually feel that you are indeed traveling. You see the countryside running behind the window. You have to work your way to the next stop. In short, you get a sense of distance and context.
Because of that, and that could be only me, the feeling of being in a completely different setting isn’t as strong as if you just step out of a plane after 45 minutes of thinking whether you should try to listen to music over the flight attendant’s ban, even though that ban certainly doesn’t make sense.
Why do I talk about this crap you ask? Because for the last couple of days I can’t quite put my finger on this thing that I’m trying to figure out. In summer, I took the plane to Amsterdam. And what a shock it was. That city is so intense! This weekend I was in Berlin and I went there by train.
It was my second time there and I certainly cannot figure this city out. I fell in love with Amsterdam immediately – not so much with Berlin. It was kind of good. It has the international spirit, for sure. But I have yet to find that missing thing that brings all the diverse parts of the city together for me.
I’m not saying it has anything to do with how and how long you travel to a particular place. Hell, there’s probably no connection between those two things at all.
What I’m trying to say is that I don’t know what to think of Berlin; there is definitely the potential for me to love that city. Just trying to find what I’m missing.
One of the things that I love the most about design is the ability to do it from wherever you want. Bed, café, garden; sure. But Prague, Amsterdam, rest of the world too. That’s what excites me and that’s also what I guess will be driving this blog the most in the future – exploring the world.
Because I also love cities and I confirmed that feeling over the summer. Exploring a new city is great; and when you have the chance to stay there for two months and feel like a local and swear at the tourists (in your head only of course) and share the same streets as people living there their whole life, it’s even better.
I try to stay away from touristy things. A crowd of people taking photos of the same thing just doesn’t do it for me. So I bought a map and marked little places that I loved when passing by. That map is genius by the way, I already ordered two more of those.
I also wanted to share some of those places, so I used Mapbox and their extremely easy to use maps – even I could figure it out – and came up with this:
It’s at jakubfoglar.com/amsterdam – including the option to have the map locate you when browsing from your phone. If you’re ever in Amsterdam and longing for great coffee (Two For Joy) or live music (Jet Lounge), give it a shot.
But, don’t try to find all Space Invaders around the city. Just don’t.
I learned some things.
Two months ago, my cooking skills ended with pouring hot water into a cup with instant soup – now I can at least make some decent spaghetti (actually, they are far from decent, but that’s beside the point).
I learned how to make great coffee, ride a bike that’s close to breaking into pieces, use color labels in a useful way on the computer and score an unexpected goal with the offense line in foosball.
But mostly I learned that people are wonderful and helpful and fun. There, a cheesy ending, but true. Thank you Espis for having me!
Is it Sunday? Good.
Get up early. You can do your usual laziness and not-getting-out-of-bed later. Grab the frozen pizza you forgot you had in the freezer, heat it and eat it. How’s that for breakfast, right? Then pack up your things, unlock your bike in the garage and get outside.
The city is empty. You think that’s a bit weird given that at three in the morning the streets are flooded with people; now even the Red Light District is quiet and asleep. You love that contrast.
Take a picture here and there. It does look different when there isn’t anyone trying to run you over with his bike. Although, you have a bike too; you have learned your deal of Dutch cycling ethics over the summer, however nonexistent they might seem.
Some say that Jordaan is the most beautiful and livable part of town. But now you’re riding around De Pijp, if that’s how you spell that, with a latte in hand and thinking this is the place where you want to live. But deep down you would love to live anywhere in this city.
But enough of nostalgia. Go back to your apartment, take your things and get the hell out of this place. Life awaits outside Amsterdam too, and I’m sure you will be back in what will seem like a second.
- “Hey, do you have a cheeseburger fresh? I mean, is that a thing here in the Netherlands?”
- “Yeah, Yeah, of course. Two euros. Here you go buddy.”
Every time you look out the window the weather is different. Now it rains. Now it’s perfectly sunny. Now there’s a storm coming. And then it’s a tiny bit sunny again, followed by a heavy rain.
I’m not saying it rains here all the time. There is, in fact, the exact opposite of that. It goes something like this: I’m riding my bike to the park to lie down on the grass and sleep/read a book/relax.
Just as I’m about to enter the park, you guessed it, rain creeps in. It is gone in ten minutes. The grass is wet and therefore unusable for laying on. If there’s rain every couple hours or so in your city and in just the right amount that it makes your parks useless, then I don’t respect you.
Seriously though. Is this country pulling jokes on me? Well, I’m not laughing. However, the dutchies are.
When the weather finally clears after two weeks of depressive clouds, people go to the window, pointing up to the sky and exclaiming: “That’s typical dutch summer, man!”
Right. So the fact that it starts raining again an hour after that is an exception.
There’s a woman sitting next to me on the bar. Whenever there’s a good jam by the band that’s rocking the stage, she begins twisting her feet on the ground and slowly crosses over into full-on dancing two metres far from the band. Then the music ends and she weirdly walks back to her stool next to me in a bit of embarrassment.
Isn’t it just like that in real life? A moment excites you so much you step out of your comfort zone for a moment and suddenly you feel on top of the world. You can talk to anyone. Do anything you want because everything is possible now. But then something clicks and you’re back to square one, kind of embarrassed by how stupidly you acted.
But you weren’t. It wasn’t embarrassing. Nobody cared. It was just you enjoying things.
A guy just speeded by me on his bike, headphones on, providing a solo concert to the whole street. He must have had a wonderful day. Either that, or he was high.
So two things typical for Amsterdam, as far as I can tell from my two weeks here, happened simultaneously. First, the guy might have been high. Second, he was on a bike.
Compared to Prague, this city feels super relaxed. You might suggest it’s because everyone is buzzed here all the time, like that dude up there. I would disagree. I say it’s the bikes that make the difference. What’s interesting though is that if you look at people riding their bikes through the city center, you would think they have gone crazy. Cyclists posses the most respect around this town and they make it show. If you’re a pedestrian, forget your rights. If you’re a car driver, forget your rights as well. Bikes are taking over, man!
I love this. However rude the locals on bikes might be, Amsterdam still feels relaxed. I have no idea how is that possible. Maybe it’s the rustiness of the bikes. Maybe it’s the moment when you’re riding along one of those beautiful canals while passing other people’s living rooms and peeking inside. Possibly it’s the state of the buildings in itself. They will collapse you know. I’m sure of it.
For now, I’m left with biking around the city.
I was just about to make a sharp right turn alongside the canal, when suddenly a different biker appeared in front of me. This older lady didn’t seem to care about the occasional crash, so it was up to me.
That was the first moment that I actually needed to stop immediately. I was cycling around Amsterdam for a good twenty minutes, but I always let my bicycle ease out of the high speed before an intersection. However, the more I rode and still didn’t crash into anything, the more was I becoming confident that I have the skills to ride the bike like the locals.
Well, all of that went away within a second when I realized the bike had no breaks. I had to make a choice. Either take a hit from the old lady or try to squeeze my way between her bike and a guy sitting on a bench in front of a hip café. They’re all hip around here, but this one was more than the others, meaning a fall from a bike right in front of the main door would result in an embarassing fifteen seconds of awkwardness and silent looks from a crowd of hip young people. The illusion of me being a local would be lost real quick.
Just yesterday I saw a tourist walk into the path of a local on a bike. Man, that was nasty. The air was full of bad language. It was easy to know she was swearing because it was in english, but I bet I would have recognized even dutch swear words in this case.
So that’s how local people treat foreigners mistreating cyclists. I was scared.
And then I swept around the old lady like none of this was going through my head. Like a pro. Like a local. The corner was behind me and I felt victory. For the next ten seconds, this ride would be a peaceful one.
I was approaching another turn.
The important thing here is that I don’t know design at all. The more I dig into various aspects and fields of this amazing industry, the more I realize just how few things I know so far.
But basically what I believe is this: look around you and learn from that. Try to figure out how other designers solve particular problems. The important part is to look past the eye candy though. What you should take away is the behind-the-scenes thinking, not the result.
Another area you absolutely should look into is history. If you do anything with type, which you are most of the time, you should tap into the hundreds of years of typographical experience that you have avaliable at your fingertips.
Say I’m stuck on a design problem. I open one of the books on type history I have. Most of the time, the solution comes to mind so quickly that I’m left with thinking how embarassing it is to have so much knowledge in my little library.
Books are extraordinary: they carry the knowledge of the best professionals that have ever been in this industry. I am of the opinion that this is a thing the internet can never serve you in a sophisticated and distraction-free environment, at least not yet.
If you find the right books, you will often know more about the subject at page 30 than you ever knew from your online research. Some good ones:
- Thinking With Type – this one’s essential
- Letter Fountain
- A History of Graphic Design for Rainy Days
- A Line of Type – this one’s fun
Also, subscribe to magazines. Computer Arts and Computer Arts Collection are both good, but they don’t feel as nice as Codex, Offscreen or 8 Faces. You should buy the complete A Book Apart collection as well, those books are written by the brightest designers of today.
But above all, I would encourage you to just try things, see if you particularly like something and then practice it more. Buy a notebook and a nice pen and just doodle around. I’m certainly not one of those people that can go straight to the computer.
That’s how I am learning design. Maybe I can have another post in fifty years or so, once I know a bit more. Because I’m just getting started in this industry.
What comforts me a bit is what Frank Chimero said: “Everyone is just making it up as they go along.”
I don’t want this place to be only about thanking everyone, but it sometimes feels like that’s the kind of thing I should be doing a lot. After all, I’m in kind of uncharted waters here – this wouldn’t be possible five years ago, I think. Thank you, twitter.
I was in talks with people from all over the world about this summer and they offered me to work on such cool projects that I would laugh at you if you told me a month ago this would happen.
I was offered tons of freelance work. A couple startups got in touch. It was all, as Phil Schiller would say, incredible, amazing, incredible, incredible. But somehow I felt like the original purpose got a litte bit lost somewhere on the way.
Yes, it would have been so cool to be able to develop a visual language for a startup right from the beginning. To have an immediate impact on what’s coming out from the company, be it websites or iPhone apps. Plus, you know, San Francisco, Vancouver or other vibrant city.
The problem is, apart from the visa-getting hassle, I’m not sure I want to get thrown in the risky world of startups just yet. There is plenty of time for me to do that, and hopefully plenty of options as well, as I don’t think startups and generally people in need of design are going anywhere anytime soon.
I still believe an internship with a design studio is the right thing to do now. Therefore I couldn’t be happier that I’ve found a match with Edenspiekermann. I will be joining their amazing team of designers in their sunny Amsterdam office during this July and August.
Apart from having a great time in a wonderful city, I expect to gain just the experience I wanted. Mission accomplished.
You know what’s cool?
When you make a little website about you wanting to do a summer internship in a design studio but don’t really expect anything to happen and yet in the end, you get to choose whether you spend your pre-university summer in, say, San Francisco working for an exciting startup or in the Netherlands in a world-class design agency.
That’s pretty much what is happening to me right now. When I’m not on Skype hanging out with awesome people, I spend my time wondering if all of this is true. I hope it is, because I’ve already told my friends I won’t be here in Prague over the summer.
I intentionally didn’t target the website at Prague-based studios. No, they don’t suck. In fact, I believe they are among the best ones out there. However, the goal is to experience a different city, a different culture. I will definitely be sharing some of the stuff that happens to me along the way.
The thing is, I would be happy with even one studio showing interest in me. But the fact that so many people got in touch is mind-blowing to me. For a lack of imagination regarding how to accurately visualize them, I just put some pins on a map (multiple people at one location not shown):
The whole thing was to act only as a pitch to design agencies – until this tweet by Lukáš Kořínek about adding buttons for sharing on social networks. Adding social buttons seemed as kind of going against the original purpose - I didn’t want to make it look as if the goal was to get attention; no, the primary goal was to get work for the summer.
But I quickly changed my mind. The more people see this, the bigger the chance to score an internship. So I added the buttons and spammed a few designers with annoying email. This proved to be probably the most important thing I have ever done: when people like Erik Spiekermann tweet about you, you’re sure to get some traffic. Thank you guys, you might just have changed my life.
This kid knows how to sell himself: iwouldlovetoworkwithyou.com
— erik spiekermann (@espiekermann)
How many people have those tweets brought to my website? Quite a few; on the day of Erik’s tweet, the visits went from about 70 to 2800. This shows two things:
- Famous designers rock.
- The internet is a wonderful place.
I cannot overstate how grateful I am for all the opportunities that seem to be coming up for me. So what’s next? I see two possible paths:
I could do the intership in a design studio as planned. This would allow me to not jump into things too quickly and benefit from all the amazing designers around me, while working in a relatively safe environment free of the risks of the business world.
Or, I could join a startup or a company where I would be one of the few designers and therefore my work would have a more tangible outcome.
Both options have their pros and cons; both are tempting; both are exciting. What I will end up doing over the summer, I don’t know. I can say though that this has already been the best experience of my life and it hasn’t even started yet.
If this isn’t what the internet is all about, then I don’t know what is.