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What You See is Not What You Get

A few weeks ago, I was browsing a downtown boutique at lunchtime, when I saw it.

There, on a low table by the door – tucked into a cluttered display – was my next purchase: a perfectly imperfect hand-thrown mug. It was beautiful and one of a kind. The irregular shape and uneven glaze gave it just the character and charm I love in a funky coffee mug.

And to top it all off, this mug was the work of a local artist.

It was a find, for sure.

Or at least that’s what I thought until I got back to the office and hand washed it in the kitchen sink. I peeled the price tag off the bottom of mug, expecting to see the artist’s initials carved in the rough surface. What I found instead was a printed brand logo above a “made in” location.

And to top it all off, this location was decidedly nonlocal.

My one-of-a-kind mug was a scam. Just another mass-produced piece designed to look like an original.

Hey, I get it. Manufacturers are shrewd about consumer preferences. They know that people care more these days about where and how products are made. And many of us want to support our local artists and communities. It’s easy to see why a company would mass produce goods to look unique and handmade.

How can we avoid being deceived? Here’s what I learned about being a savvy shopper:
1. Shop at art galleries, arts and crafts fairs, and farmers markets – where you can meet the artists themselves.
2. Buy online at reputable websites for local shops, galleries, and artists.
3. Ask questions about the origin of a piece, so you know exactly what you’re getting before you buy.

In case you’re wondering, I do use the mug once in a while. Though not handmade, it’s still totally functional.

But I swear my coffee just doesn’t taste the same.

A Warm Welcome to Our (Sometimes) Chilly City

After several weeks of searching, we’ve found a designer we’ve been looking for – one with talent, experience, attention to detail, and a collaborative spirit. That’s why we’re pleased to introduce our new senior designer, Aaron Robertson.

Aaron hails from San Diego, where he led the web and graphic design team at a publishing house for the last several years. His family searched the entire Pacific Northwest for a place that offers the quality of life they wanted. Even without connections to Spokane, they chose to settle here in our backyard (which should be big enough for all ten of his family’s pets).

San Diego, of course, is known for its consistently pleasant temperatures year-round. Spokane…not so much. But we expect that Aaron will soon own a parka, snow boots, and a closet full of flannels. In the meantime, we extend to him a very warm welcome to Spokane and to helveticka.

Aaron, we’re thrilled to have you on our team.


Good Design Can Live in Surprising Places

Recently, I discovered good design in an unexpected place: a video game.

Yes, I’m serious. And no, gaming is not my thing. Or helveticka’s, for that matter. Don’t expect to see our team heading to the next Lilac City Comicon, dressed like characters from Zelda.

My husband, on the other hand, is a bit of a gaming nerd. Sans the costumes and conventions. A few days ago, he got me hooked on the indie game “Spiritfarer.” And I do mean hooked – I’ve already put several hours into this game.

For me, that doesn’t happen. This isn’t my first gaming rodeo. I’ve tried video games before, and they just didn’t stick. (Okay, okay. Except “Animal Crossing,” and that’s one I chalk up to early pandemic boredom and those annoyingly cute characters.)

“Spiritfarer” struck another chord altogether. It’s slow-paced and relaxing, with a bittersweet orchestral score and a surprisingly moving storyline about death and the afterlife. But what I enjoy most is the hand-drawn art and detailed animation.

They’re skillfully done.

In a video game. I had no idea.

It turns out that, not only have I been ignorant, but I’m also late to the game (pun intended). This month, MoMA opened an exhibit on video games and interactive design. You can read about it here:

You can also see “Spiritfarer” at  Just remember, you may end up hooked on it too. That wouldn’t surprise me at all.

40 Years of Inspiration

Artwork by Don Weller

We don’t often get to meet our heroes. That’s why I jumped at the chance to meet one of mine last year.

His name is Don Weller, and he lectured at SFCC in 1981, just as I was finishing my last year of design school. At the time, he was an acclaimed designer and illustrator, winning impressive commissions and receiving accolades from prominent publications. At one point, I even tried to get an internship with Don. He kindly rejected my inquiry, and I soon realized I should stick to design and leave illustration to the professionals.

Don grew up in Pullman, graduated from WSU in 1960, and spent most of his design career in Los Angeles and Park City, Utah. The latter was home to The Design Conference that just happens to be in Park City (that was its full name, by the way), which Don co-founded. Later in life, inspired by his childhood in the Palouse hills, he began painting Western art.

A couple of years ago, I purchased a piece of Don’s art as a gift for my wife, Linda. It was an older painting, produced in his heyday style using his signature Dr. Martin dyes. That purchase started a conversation with Don and his partner in life and business, Cha Cha. When I expressed an interest in seeing and possibly purchasing a few of his older commercial pieces, the Wellers graciously invited Linda and me to visit their ranch and studio in Peoa, Utah, near Park City.

Last November, we made the trip. They were gracious hosts, and Cha Cha’s home-cooked meals were amazing. Don’s stories reminded us of his lecture from 1981, revealing an astonishing career and a healthy dose of humor. The Wellers allowed us to look through their flat files, and – like kids in a candy store – we selected a few sketches and finished paintings. Those pieces have since found a place of honor in our home.

It’s a rare gift to meet someone who’s inspired you for 40 years. This one was made even more special by the kindness of Don and Cha Cha.

To see Don’s work, visit his website at
You can also read more of his story at

The Report of My Death Was an Exaggeration

Maybe you’ve heard the report that our blog is dead. Well, like Mark Twain before me, I get to correct the news.

I’ll start with the obvious – the blog has been silent for a while. That’s because it takes time to work through all the resumes, inquiries, and interviews required to find not just any copywriter, but one with the experience and talent to work at a firm that has high expectations. Where clients are accustomed to clear, concise, and engaging writing.

Today, I’m pleased to announce the addition of Denise Wilson to our creative team. She’s got just what we were looking for: copywriting expertise, strategic thinking skills, and – perhaps most importantly – a sense of humor, which comes in downright handy when you’re surrounded by persnickety graphic designers.

This means we’ve found a pulse again. And the blog lives on.

Welcome aboard, Denise.


After 6,205 days on the job, I’m hanging up my spurs. Which means this blog post (number 1,627, for those keeping track at home) is my last. Thanks for reading, commenting, and sharing.

I’m not really one for goodbyes, so I’ll just leave y’all with a little advice from the great Eubie Blake: “Be grateful for luck. Pay the thunder no mind—listen to the birds. And don’t hate nobody.”

Forget Everything You Learned in School, Part 17,593

On a flight home from grading hundreds of the 280,000 five-paragraph essays submitted for the Advanced Placement Test in English language and composition in 2007, an exhausted Edward M. White realized he’d had enough. He wrote a response—a five-paragraph essay on the five-paragraph essay. Here’s the fourth paragraph:

The last reason to write this way is the most important. Once you have it down, you can use it for practically anything. Does God exist? Well you can say yes and give three reasons, or no and give three different reasons. It doesn’t really matter. You’re sure to get a good grade whatever you pick to put into the formula. And that’s the real reason for education, to get those good grades without thinking too much and using up too much time.

Over at Aeon, David Labaree explores the “five-paragraph fetish” and how it came to be. “As so often happens in subjects that are taught in school,” he writes, “the template designed as a means toward attaining some important end turns into an end in itself. As a consequence, form trumps meaning.” Which means content and style are secondary—if not entirely unnecessary.

My Kind of Deadline

The most recent edition of the Oxford English Dictionary—the 600,000-word “Victorian phenomenon” that is, in fact, my favorite lexical record—was published in 1989. The plan was to complete the third edition by 2005, reports Pippa Bailey, but “17 years later its editors are just halfway through.” In fact, Bailey adds, “it is unlikely that the third edition will be in some way complete within many of the lexicographers’ working lives.”

Nevertheless, if you’re a writer or aspire to be one, you’ll need some form of the OED. The 20-volume second-edition can be purchased for $1,215; a more practical two-volume “shorter” version (the one I use) is practically a steal at $170—though I found mine for only twenty bucks at a thrift shop. If you’re one of those weirdos who streams music and listens to audiobooks, there’s an online option as well.

But trust me: A good dictionary—even (or especially) one that takes decades to put together—is an indispensable tool for even the most casual of writers.


Elizabeth Corey praises the slow, humble work required of true scholarship: “Though it can be fun to act as an impresario or a firebrand—to write with confidence, erudition, and verbal swagger on the hot topic of the moment—the most meaningful writing takes place when authors do not call attention to themselves, but to truths concealed beneath the busy surface of everyday life. These insights are best conveyed in language that is crafted carefully and at leisure, with the overgrowth of pride and self-concern cut away so that the prose itself stands luminous.”

John Horgan ponders the profound philosophical questions raised by derealization: “Sages ancient and modern have suggested that everyday reality, in which we go about the business of living, is an illusion. Plato likened our perceptions of things to shadows cast on the wall of a cave. The eighth-century Hindu philosopher Adi Shankara asserted that ultimate reality is an eternal, undifferentiated field of consciousness. The Buddhist doctrine of anatta says our individual selves are illusory.”

Alec Marsh explains why the English love lazy sports: “The fact remains that getting out of breath playing cricket is like breaking a sweat on the golf links: it’s your body’s way of telling you you’ve got bigger problems to think about than your batting average. It’s time to visit the GP.”

You Are What You Read

I’m no Art Garfunkel, but I have been keeping track of my reading over the last couple of years. Just for kicks, you understand.

At first I was a little disappointed: I read 24 books in 2020, 27 in 2021, and am currently on track to read 32 this year. It doesn’t sound like a lot. Yet apparently I’m some sort of superhuman super-reader, since the average American adult reads fewer than 13. One in six doesn’t even read a single book over the course of a year.

What are y’all doing in your spare time? No, really. Most of us read around 300 words per minute. The average novel runs somewhere in the neighborhood of 80,000 to 100,000 words. Which means all you’ve got to do to beat the average is read 12 minutes a day.

Hell, at that rate you could read through the entire Harry Potter corpus in a year—and still have time for The Chronicles of Narnia.

I’m not convinced that more people reading more books is going to solve all our problems or anything like that; I’m just surprised that such a low-barrier pastime—one with fairly well-documented benefits (not to mention, you know…pleasure)—doesn’t get more love these days.

@#$%! social media, probably.

Quote of the Day

From the eminently quotable Cornel West, on the subject of American pragmatism:

We can go all the way back to Plato’s Republic, one of the founding texts of Western philosophy. There we see the battles going on between Thrasymachus and Socrates. Thrasymachus represents power, the idea that “might makes right.” And the younger generation looks to Socrates and says, is this true? Is it true that history is nothing but a slaughterhouse, as Hegel said, is it true that it’s just about might and power and domination? And Socrates says, no. Justice has to do with intellectual integrity. It has to do with philosophical inquiry. It has to do with some moral and even spiritual dimensions that are not reducible to might and power.

And that is the raw stuff for democracy, right? Because democracy says, Of course there is always economic and political and military power, but there’s got to be moral and spiritual dimensions rooted in the consent of everyday people. That’s what self-government is all about.

Travel Report

Had a picnic lunch with the missus last Monday in Lonerock, Oregon. We were on our way home from Redmond, having spent the weekend visiting family, catching the Saturday afternoon performance at the Sisters Rodeo, and taking in the High Desert Museum.

That’s it. That’s the post. Just figured y’all should know. (Is this what social media is for? Asking for a friend.)

Music for Hump Day

Leo Nocentelli turns 76 today. The lead guitarist and co-founder of The Meters was born in New Orleans in 1946.

To celebrate, open up your streaming service of choice—like, I dunno, Bandcamp—and listen to Another Side, Nocentelli’s long-lost solo “roots rock” album and “a remnant of a vital culture constantly in danger of slipping into the past.”

Then marvel at what one of the greatest funk guitarists of all time can do when he’s channeling his inner James Taylor.

Oh, and maybe buy the record, would you? Septuagenarian musicians gotta eat, too.

It’s Come to This

Six years ago, when we first brought to your attention the emergence of curate as a synonym for select, I never would have imagined that we as a society could reach the point at which a chief of police would—without irony, mind you—utter the following: “I think some of us were a bit surprised by not only the level of preparation that we saw, but the equipment that was curated and worn by those individuals, along with a large amount of equipment that was left in the [truck] when the stop happened.”

It beggars belief.

This, dear reader, is why you should care about the words you use. Curate has become so embedded in our vernacular that it no longer means what it used to. And that transition—from a field of study to a pretentious way of saying “here’s a list of things”—was wholly unnecessary.

Think about it: If we remove the phrase “curated and” from the above quote, do we lose anything?

I think some of us were a bit surprised by not only the level of preparation that we saw, but the equipment that was worn by those individuals, along with a large amount of equipment that was left in the [truck] when the stop happened.

No. We lose nothing.

But if you feel so strongly that including the selection process is somehow vital to understanding the menace these knuckleheads presented, then sure, say something like this:

I think some of us were a bit surprised by not only the level of preparation that we saw, but the equipment those individuals chose to wear, along with a large amount of equipment that was left in the [truck] when the stop happened.

Is it stronger? Maybe. I’m not sure most listeners to the chief’s news conference would notice the distinction, but I could be wrong.

So why do people insist on using curate incorrectly? Either ignorance or the desire to sound smarter than they actually are. The former isn’t anyone’s fault; the latter is a choice. Here’s hoping Chief Wright just doesn’t know any better.

Nightmare Fuel

If hell exists—and I’m inclined to believe it must, otherwise the Kardashians would have no place to go when they die—then this is probably what it’s going to look (and sound) like:

Television exists to make money. Which means someone, somewhere, thought that this is what Middle America was craving on Tuesday nights in 1968. (Given that the Red Skelton Hour was the seventh-most-popular show in the country at the time, well…I guess that person wasn’t exactly wrong.)

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