Mighty Life List
Sep 3 2009

Born to Amuse and Inspire: Jean Aw of Notcot

Over the last few weeks, I’ve been doing a campaign for Gap that features profiles of other design bloggers. The interviews are an extension of Gap’s Born To… Campaign, which is about pursuing your passion. As you may have noticed, I’m into that. You can find out more about the campaign on the Facebook page here. For completists, the whole set of interviews is over here.

This week’s interview is with Jean Aw, designer and founder of NOTCOT, a network of collaborative design sites with an emphasis on smart ideas. She has a master’s in User Experience Design, so NOTCOT doubles as Jean’s design consultancy.

Jean and I met about a year ago at the CM Summit in San Francisco. As you can see from her self-styled photo above, she’s a little camera shy, but you may recognize her from a recent appearance in Lucky Magazine.


Jean grew up in Los Angeles, where she’s currently based, and her attraction to variety helped her shape a career that keeps her life flexible.

“The best thing about my life right now is that no day is typical,” she says. “Perhaps thats the reason I’ve been able to do this so long! I could be roadtripping for hours, flying off somewhere, tethered to my wifi, meeting people I’ve admired over drinks, shopping, looking silly photographing products on my pool table, bouncing between galleries… you get the idea.”

Jean says her fascination with design may be genetic. “I think it has just always been a part of my life,” she says. “Maybe I can blame my mom for impressing her good taste on me at such a young age.”

And the girl does have taste, my friends. In just the last few weeks, Jean has me coveting a Nervous System Ring, a new iPhone Case, and any number of prints by Anthony Burrill.

So what else does Jean have an eye on right now? Let’s have a look.

Jean’s Current Inspirations


Pie Pops!
Bite-sized pie on a stick.


Super Cute Ghosts

Halloween is sneaking up.


Chroma Hash Password Visualizations

A visual password indicator that helps you see if your password confirmation matches the original entry.


Porject Squadt’s Nozzell s2

Cute vinyl figures.



Fashioned from broken skateboard decks.

The Longest Way 1.0 – one year walk/beard grow time lapse from Christoph Rehage on Vimeo.

The Longest Way 1.0

A time lapse film of a guy growing a beard over the course of a year while he’s on a trek.

Favorite Artists and Designers


Audrey Kawasaki


Tord Boontje


Chris Kabel

Thanks, Jean. We’re keeping our eyes on you. You know just where to take them.

Aug 27 2009

Born to Upgrade: Larry Angell of Uncrate

Over the next few weeks, I’m doing a campaign for Gap that features profiles of other design bloggers. The interviews are an extension of Gap’s Born To… Campaign, which is about pursuing your passion. As you may have noticed, I’m into that. You can find out more about the campaign on the Facebook page here. For completists, the whole set of interviews is over here.

This week’s interview is with Larry Angell, founder and curator for Uncrate, which is a killer shopping site for guys. Of course, this essentially makes him the male me. We’ve never met in real life, but it’s probably for the best, because I think if we collided we could potentially annihilate one another, matter/anti-matter style.

Larry grew up in Ohio, where he settled with his wife Julie, and he’s been interested in design since he was a kid.

“Early on, in first or second grade, I started paying attention to other kids,” he says. “What they were doing, wearing, using. I specifically remember that this one boy, Eric, had a plastic, neon-orange supply box that held his pencils, crayons, glue, what have you. But instead of the normal label where your mom would write your name, he had a large rectangular camouflage label. Camouflage. I couldn’t contain myself. How awesome was this box? This was in the mid-’80s, mind you, so my obsession with G.I. Joe was strong. I had to know where he got this box with the camouflage label. I asked and prodded until I knew exactly what store I could acquire both the box and the camouflage contact paper used to make the label. That was the beginning of my madness.”

Since Larry is a products geek, we mostly talked about stuff. Awesome stuff:

Larry’s Favorite Shops


Homage Clothing
One of my friends in Columbus makes these handsome tees. The buttery-soft shirts feature terrific, mostly sport-inspired, vintage designs. I wear one almost every day either by itself or under an Oxford.


They’ve been churning out American-made outdoor gear since 1897, when they began as an outfitter for the Great Klondike Gold Rush. Nowadays, Filson’s last-a-lifetime bags are all the rage among the workwear posers. Buy one knowing they’ll never go out of style. And that they get better the more you break them in.


Portland General Store
With scents like whiksey, tobacco, moss, and wood, this is the manliest skincare line I’ve seen. The Maker’s Mark-infused old-fashioned wet shave jelly is just what the doctor ordered. They sell a cigar box full of samples for $25. It’s worth getting, even if you just use the bottles for decoration.

Larry’s recent upgrades


Logitech diNovo Edge Keyboard
If Jesus made an input device, it wouldn’t even come close to this thing. Not only is it sleeker than anything Apple could design, this keyboard’s laptop-like keys are so precise and silky smooth that you’d keep typing through a house fire. It’s completely wireless and has a built-in rechargeable battery that literally lasts for months between charges.


Viking Pool
This is probably the biggest upgrade I’ve ever made in terms of before and after (think plastic Kmart wading pool). They cost a little more than other in-ground pools, but these fiberglass monsters are so worth it. They come in a slew of different shapes and colors, and get delivered to you on a flat-bed semi. Your pool guy just digs a big hole and drops it in with a crane. A combination of in-floor cleaning and an automated cover keep me free from ever vacuuming. Oh, and another benefit of the fiberglass construction is having built-in seats and ledges all around the pool.


Nike SQ Dymo Squared STR8-FIT Driver
This club added about 20 yards to my drives. I’m still terrible, but this thing keeps me on the fairways (usually) and gets me that much closer to the greens (where the real fun begins). And when I’m slicing and shanking worse than usual, the driver is fully customizable with a few turns of a wrench, letting you adjust face angle, lie angle, and loft.

What’s Inspiring Larry

The iPhone’s camera and all the camera apps. On its own, the iPhone’s camera isn’t the greatest. But with apps like CameraBag, QuadCamera, and ShakeItPhoto, you can take really awesome, vintage-style photos. These apps answer the question of how do you make a crappy picture look better? By making it look crappier. With just a couple taps, your photo is instantly turned into something that looks like it was taken 20, 30, or 40 years ago. This is having a major affect on the way folks are using their camera. I’ve been inspired to turn my photoblog into something entirely new (old?) by documenting my days using only Polaroid-esque iPhone pictures, as ShakeItPhoto’s developer is doing. Some other, non-vintage camera apps I’ve been liking are AutoStitch (panoramas), Photogene (image editing), ColorSplash (cutout style photos), and Camera Genius (multi-function).

If He Could Buy Anything He Wanted?


Tesla Model S
I guess it’s only a dream purchase because you can’t buy one yet, but the Model S is exquisite. It’s really unbelievable that it was designed in the U.S. Besides the beauty on the outside, this eco-ride has crazy numbers — a 300-mile range, a 45-minute recharge, a 0-60 time of 5.6 seconds, and a top speed of 120 mph.


Cincinnati Bengals
They’ve got an inept management system that borders on tyranny. In the history of professional sports, their lack of office talent only rivals the talent they’ve put on the field in the last couple seasons. It’s tough to watch, and I could turn it around in a couple off-season months. Although a new defense this year, led by Roy Williams, Ray Maualuga and Tank Johnson, might be hardcore enough to spit out a winning season.


In-N-Out Burger franchise
What is wrong with this company? Expand east, you a-holes. I don’t go to Vegas now to gamble or ogle girls — I go for the burgers. If this (currently private) company would franchise their joints, every man, woman, and child would have access to the deliciousness of these burgers. FedExing fast food shouldn’t sound reasonable in this day and age. Those are good burgers, Walter.

Aug 20 2009

Born to Rebel: Jeremy Gutsche of Trend Hunter

Over the next few weeks, I’m doing a campaign for Gap that features profiles of other design bloggers. The interviews are an extension of Gap’s Born To… Campaign, which is about pursuing your passion. As you may have noticed, I’m into that. Find out more about the campaign on the Facebook page here. For completists, the whole set of interviews is over here.

This is Jeremy Gutsche, author of Exploiting Chaos (due out Sept. 1), and founder of Trend Hunter, which is why he can rock this Risky Business action:

I personally think the shot would have been better in tighty whities, but Jeremy has a professional image to maintain, and I guess that means pants. Fair enough.

Trendhunter is a social network for trend spotting and innovation, which means Jeremy is the kind of guy MTV calls when they want to know what’s hip with the kids these days. He grew up in Rural Alberta racing dirt bikes, and now heads up a team of editorial interns and programmers at the Trendhunting office in downtown Toronto.

“Sometimes I’m doing graphic design, other times I’m programming, and other times I’m off in another city doing a speaking gig,” Jeremy says. “I deliver keynote speeches about five to ten times a month, so I’m typically traveling somewhere new.”

The site’s goal is to outpace mainstream media, the idea being that by the time these trends reach the printed page, they’re not cool anymore. But do his eyes ever glaze over at all the hipness? Does everything start to look the same after a while?

“By definition, we’re looking for new things,” Jeremy says. “So they don’t look the same. However, after a week of looking at TrendHunter, everything in a traditional magazine does seem boring and outdated.”

After years of trend immersion, Jeremy has developed a pretty good eye for what will hit. Common themes are creativity, elements of shock or suprise, and of course, the naughty factor. “I’m more happy to see when I am wrong [about a trend],” he says. “We’re looking for all of the little sparks that could capture viral attention, and to be surprised is actually rewarding.”

What’s on Jeremy’s radar right now:

Stupidest Trends

Self-Mutilation as Art

Danger Foods

Spoiled Pet Mania

Most Original Trends

Faking Awesome

Becoming Superhero
[ed note: I'm way ahead of the curve on this.]


Aug 13 2009

Born to Build a Better Future: Jill Fehrenbacher of Inhabitat

Over the next four weeks, I’m doing a campaign for Gap that features profiles of other design bloggers. The interviews are an extension of Gap’s Born To… Campaign, which is about pursuing your passion. As you may have noticed, I’m into that. Find out more about the campaign on the Facebook page here. For completists, the whole set of interviews will live over here.

I’m kicking off the Born To… Series with Jill Fehrenbacher, founder of Inhabitat and a LEED-AP green designer. Her passion is building a better future, as indicated by her trusty hammer and power drill:

How fierce is that bob? You may remember Jill from my trip to New York, where I first met her in the spray of Dara Torres’s warm-up routine:

Jill from Inhabitat

Jill and I have friends in common, so we chatted about how one maintains a perfect bob (Japanese straight perm, genetics), and the business of blogging. Later I found out that Jill grew up here in California, though she’s currently based in New York. Over the years, she’s also made homes in Bali and Kathmandu.

Dig a little deeper, and it turns out that Jill is a traveling, karate-practicing, mini-mogul, vegan designer and parent who still makes time for Japanese straight perms. New York moves at a different pace than the rest of the world, my friends.


In 2005, Jill was enjoying her life as a designer and consultant and decided to start Inhabitat as a way to engage with the design community and draw more attention to environmentally conscious design. At the time, mainstream media was mostly mum on the subject of green design, and Jill wanted to fill that silence. As interest in greener design has grown — dramatically — so has Inhabitat’s online presence and staff. Today, Jill relies on a team of writers to help her maintain five sites:

  • Inhabitat Dedicated to sustainable design.
  • Inhabitots Green design for kids, launched in 2008 when Jill was pregnant with her baby boy.
  • Inhabitatshop A curated online marketplace of favorite green goods.
  • Greener Gadgets A conference and design competition site.
  • Re-burbia A suburban design competition, which recently announced finalists.

I know you’ll be interested to hear that there’s also a fashion site in the works. Keep an eye out for Sustainastyle in the coming months.

Jill’s interest in design started early. A neighbor gave her an easel when she was three years old, and she’d spend hours drawing. “I studied art in high school and college, and that eventually lead me to the world of design, when I realized how much more impactful and relevant applied design was than the world of fine art (sorry fine art people, but it’s true).”

In the beginning, Jill juggled her design and consulting work while maintaining Inhabitat. Soon, the site that was supposed to support Jill’s career became a career in itself. A few years later, she started publishing full time, and replaced her alarm clock with a looming toddler named Petey. She takes him along for a quick jog in the mornings before settling into her role as a publisher.

Jill's Workspace

“I typically stand in my kitchen or office all day in front of my laptop — writing blog posts, fielding inquiries from people, with an occasional pop out to the cafe for a meeting with a designer or advertiser.”

In the evenings, Jill studies karate, and returns home for dinner with her family, all of whom are vegan, including little Petey. Jill has been a vegetarian since high school, but over the last few years her husband’s eating habits have nudged her toward a vegan diet, the occasional chocolate chip cookie aside.

“He gradually converted me off dairy and eggs,” Jill says. “It isn’t tough to maintain at all — especially in NYC where there are tons of vegan restaurants and healthy food shops.”

There’s more blogging to do after Petey goes to bed. “Every day features a lot of time in front of the laptop, but every day is unique,” she says.

She hopes the work she’s doing now will make an easier life for her kids, “[I hope] we’ll be able to solve climate change, and that my children and grandchildren will inherit a decent, peaceful, and not-too-hot future.”

Us too, Jill. Thanks for the chat.

What’s Inspiring Jill Right Now


Fiberoptic Sunlight Transport Lamps

“They direct sunlight into a house, through walls and ceilings, so you don’t need electricity.”

Human-powered dance club

Human Powered Gyms, Dance Clubs, and Subway Stations

“Yeah human power!”


Shipping Container Housing

Homes made from shipping containers.


Eco Modern Treehouses

Designers Who Give Jill Hope For the Future


William Kamkwamba

“A kid from Malawi who — with no formal education or training — figured out how to build a windmill to power his whole village.”


Tesla Motors

“The Tesla Roadster — proving once and for all that eco-friendly can be sexy.”


Philippe Starck

The Starck Democratic Ecology Windmill

“Star industrial designer Philippe Starck isn’t exactly known for his humanitarian, earth-friendly designs, (he’s better known for decorative plastic chairs and fancy lemon juicers). He’s even said, ‘Everything I designed was unnecessary… and I am ashamed of this fact.’

Now, [he] has turned his eye towards renewable energy and other ‘green’ pursuits, and this gives me a lot of hope for the future, because I believe that he’ll influence a lot of consumers and designers to move in the right direction.”