Ranking the Office Food Trucks

* 1 The Green Bowl
* When I started at Mindgrub and first learned of Food Truck Fridays, everyone talked about The Green Bowl like it was a legend. It only came around every 3-4 months, and supposedly had the best bibimbap in Baltimore. At the time of writing this I have finally had this famed food truck and feel like my list can finally be complete. The Green Bowl definitely lives up to its name. For around $10-$12, you get to choose between a customizable bibimbap bowl, a “green bowl” which is sort of the same thing but no rice and salad instead, mofongo (mashed fried plantain dish), or burrito bowl. I went with the portobello mushroom bibimbap and was not disappointed. I will eagerly be awaiting this food truck’s return in another 3-4 months.
* 2 Pan Canteen
* A Thai food truck. They have a pretty customizable menu like The Green Bowl, and everything is grilled and made to order when assembling the bowls. I got the Thai fried rice with sautéed veggies. Their rice is cooked in coconut milk which gives it a good flavor, just may have been a tad too salty for me. I think they could have scaled back the amount of rice and given me more veggies.
* 3 Gypsy Queen
* Their crabcakes are solid, and you have the option to get one in a taco or even a “crab cone” which is artery clogging goodness. Crab cones are basically waffle cones filled with French fries, then topped with a crab cake followed by remoulade sauce or cheesy crab dip poured on top. I haven’t had the courage to try one yet until I can run the amount I used to.
* 4 Mindgrub Cafe
* The official food truck of Mindgrub has some surprisingly delicious food. Their black bean burger is mashed with coconut flakes which I’ve never had before, and the pickled red cabbage tasted fresh and crunchy. My biggest complaint is that for the price you pay the portions are a bit small and I wish the menu was a bit more extensive.
* 5 Pasta la Vista
* I got the pesto ravioli which had great basil-y flavor. While the sauces are super creamy, but the pasta itself was cooked a little too far beyond al dente for my taste. Probably could have done with less butter as well (shocking I know). Overall would still go back if the temp outside was below 50 degrees.
* 6 Bistro Lunch Box
* It’s good I’m just a little tired of seeing it. They’re here at least once a month, and are pretty standard as far as lunch sandwiches/burgers go. Nothing to really complain about, just kinda meh. I won’t eat their burgers, but I hear they’re very good.
* 7 Beef on the Street
* Nothing to really say about this one, just that as expected there weren’t great vegetarian options so I just went with fries.
* 8 Mexican on the Run
* How do you ruin tacos?!?! Dry, uninspiring. Too much raw onion piled on top of them.

Make a Mark Baltimore logo updates!

Been working on a few potential logos for Make a Mark Baltimore! The Make a Mark brand itself is already very well established, but the founder has left us a lot of room to play with ideas. A team of people at Mindgrub decided to do some exploration on a graphic element that would fit the city of Baltimore. The first step was to start sketching out ideas.

I’ve only been in Baltimore for a few months now, but what’s cool to me about this city it’s not perfect. It has grit to it, and I wanted to try to carry that through with a few of the concepts. It also has this wild and artsy side to it, especially with MICA. I wanted to explore a few ideas that felt like Artscape. If you aren’t familiar with it, Artscape is the largest free arts festival in the country. It’s bizarre and weird and lovely.

Here are 3 of the ideas I decided to move forward with…

This one was inspired by a letterpress feel. I’m not sure how I feel about the yellow outline, but playing with the lines in the type was pretty fun.

My “artscape” logo. I kind of liked how playful this one felt to me, it reminds me of an arts festival logo that may be more in the direction we want.

Lastly, a more industrial logo inspired by a lot of the type on old buildings around here. I rounded the corners a la Draplin because I just do that now.

Just wanted to post a quick peek at what we’ve been working on so far. More tweaks to come!

The Rutledge House Logo Progress

I’ve been working on a project for a wedding and event venue in Charleston, and thought it’d be a good opportunity to capture the branding process. I just got an approved logo yesterday and wanted to document the work that has been done so far 😃

It started out with a conversation. The Rutledge House is an old house in Charleston, SC that’s being renovated to become an event and wedding venue. The type of bride that would have a wedding there is attracted to the classic Southern feel, but in a modern day setting. However, this venue would also have events besides weddings taking place there like corporate events. For this reason, we wanted to avoid the cliche hearts, excessive flourishes, and calligraphy fonts that are so well present in wedding logos.

 After a conversation with the client, we decided to move forward with 10 different concepts. I still thought there was some elegance to the flourishes that could be brought in, but in a way that felt more representative of Southern architecture rather than lovey dovey wedding stuff.

These were the finalized concepts I ended up with. A few tweaks needed to be made at this point, but the concepts seemed to be strong enough to present to the client.

With each logo variation,  I tried putting it on place on a business card. I liked presenting the logos in black and white to still give off the idea of work in progress, but it was hard to visualize them without seeing them in use.

The one the client picked  was the one that spelled out “The Rutledge House” completely. Within the next few days I’ll be finalizing the logo and working on the website design! This has been such a cool project to work on. I’ve never worked in this space before and the idea of having thousands of people seeing this mark while they’re having a blast at the venue is so rewarding 😉 More to come, for now you can check out the coming soon page!

Facing Backlash: Defending the VT Rebrand

If you didn’t hear, Virginia Tech rolled out a new marketing campaign this week that included a new logo. They dropped the Pylons and the “Invent the Future” tagline, and instead went with a version more similar to the Athletics logo. They added a slight curve to the two letters, citing “It’s one very simple line, but it’s open, that openness is inclusion and diversity.” Needless to say, the reaction on Reddit and social media has not been very positive.
After seeing a Reddit post that wanted to start a witch hunt for the firm responsible for the VT rebranding, I felt like I needed to say something in the defense of the design team.

Now, before I get into this I have to admit I’m not a traditional Hokie. I never went to Virginia Tech, but I did live and work in Blacksburg for 6 years — longer than the average undergrad. In that time I developed a fondness for VT and even slapped a Hokie sticker on my car when I moved from the area. I consider myself an “adopted Hokie” and now have maroon and orange proudly in my wardrobe.

I’m not going to debate that the logo is perfect. Personally, I would have liked to see something different from the athletics logo because VT is more than football. But I believe in the firm that presented this direction and I don’t think the armchair designers on Reddit know the full story. As as an adopted Hokie and designer myself, I plead that you put down the pitchforks (for the time being).

The university branding is all over the place

If you’re reading this, I assume you know me or understand the importance of establishing a solid look and feel. When was the last time VT had a serious look at its current brand? I used to work on a few projects for VT, the branding was inconsistent overall and I struggled to find the right assets or guidelines to tell me what to do. Finding a correct maroon was an absolute nightmare — the existing brand guide’s was too pink and I ALWAYS had clients commenting on it.

When you look at that logo and hear “WHAT? This was part of a $1 million initiative to put together?” it’s hard to look past what was involved. There was an existing mess of inconsistencies, and VT needed to take a serious look at cleaning it up. That price sounds about right with how much it’d cost. When I worked on a UVA project, as much as I hate to admit it, there was a much clearer direction on the color palette and fonts. VT’s brand was old and took hours to decrypt for any external project. I’d honestly love to work on another VT project if it meant I could get answers on the proper colors, fonts and assets.

There was (hopefully) research put into this

Designers are used to preparing for backlash after “moving someone’s cheese,” but most of the time it’s shrugged off because you know you’ve made informed design decisions. Just look at how consumers react to a Facebook or Youtube facelift every few months. In the higher education world, the loudest people in this space are typically alumni or current students.

This is all speculation, but I’m going to assume that a $1 million branding initiative did not come into the world without some serious testing and research first. Usually, concepts are A/B tested with an audience. In higher ed, that audience tends to be prospective students. When you compare the two logos, I can definitely see the Gen Z audience picking the new logo over the pylon one.

There’s never just one concept

There are sketches, there are revisions, there is testing…it’s so much more work than just adding one little curve. 30 logos were probably presented to VT and this is the one the client picked. If you don’t know anything about how difficult it can be to get unanimous agreement from university stakeholders, I would be more than happy to explain to you the long, lengthy process that it is sometime.

We need to see how it’ll be applied first

Twenty years ago, when a company would launch a rebrand, consumers often saw those changes gradually. Business cards, letterheads, a few page designs. The rebranding was a slow process and didn’t just happen overnight.

We live in a mobile first world now. Rebranding is way more immediate and personal. Universities have to prep themselves for that reaction as not everyone responds to change very well. So far, we got a sneak preview on Twitter and the university website launch. I won’t argue that the website needs work, but I am interested to see how it’ll be applied to other things. Universities evolve, advance, and grow. There is a stale past that the previous brand had, and I encourage you to try and be open and see what comes next.

“But I don’t care about the process, I still hate it.”

Chill, rest assured VT is still listening. Besides the Reddit witch hunt and protests, I’d actually be flattered to see this much passion about a logo. This reaction is only natural. It means the student and alumni population is loyal and feels connected enough to speak out. They’re invested in this and want to be a part of the change. And maybe this logo is not the right direction — in some rare cases, logos will even revert back. But just keep in mind that brands do evolve, and a company that stands still will be left behind. There needs to be change somewhere.

I’m sorry that I don’t have an answer for you if you want the old logo back. I’d actually be surprised if Virginia Tech sticks to their guns on this one. But I hope I presented another side to the story you may not have known, and you’ll understand that starting a protest or witch hunt is not the right approach here.

Now that I have that off my chest — Let’s go, Hokies!

Updates!

Been playing quite a bit of Yonder Chronicles lately, and it’s made me realize how I need to bring back some self reflection and meditation for myself 🙂

Officially I’ve unpacked the last box (as a procrastinator this took 6 months+) and finally settled into my new home in Baltimore, MD. I’ve also been busy at my new job, Mindgrub, working on some great mobile apps. My first big one launches soon, and I’m currently writing up a blog post on what it feels like to design in an agile environment.

Additionally, I’m also working to plan a neat little event called Make a Mark Baltimore. It’s a 12 hour design and dev marathon benefitting our local nonprofits that do so much for our community. I’ve participated in it for 3 years now back in Blacksburg, but since moving to Baltimore I wanted to try bringing it here. If I can capture at least have of the energy and positivity of the events that have run before it, I’ll be happy. We’re currently set to have it on April 14th, 2018 at City Garage in Baltimore.

Last small update – I’ve submitted a proposal to hold a panel at MAGFest about the importance of UI in Video Games. If it’s not accepted, I’ll probably release the slides here on my site or make a video about it 🙂

Cheers!

How to be a Young Professional in Blacksburg

Finally back after a bit of a hiatus + trying to get rid of some spam!
This post I’d like to dive into something a little more personal: my move to a college town. I feel like lately on Reddit in design, VT, and Virginia subreddits I’ve been answering a lot of questions about what it’s like to be a young professional in an area where there’s no middle ground between student and raising a family.

When I graduated college, all of my colleagues went on to big cities and massive design firms. I moved to a small company in a town where you’re considered an outcast if you’re not a Hokie. Now, since then I’ve been adopted into cheering for VT, but it wasn’t always that way. I hated it here at first. I’ve never lived in the mountains before, let alone a town sub 50k people.
So to anyone that might feel lost in the same situation, here’s how I learned to stop moping at home and embrace the college town:

Buy your coworkers a beer

This is a bit obvious, but it starts with any coworkers you might have. If they’re cool people, go out for a beer after work. I started out in a 1 bedroom studio apartment by myself every weekend – and it took one night of going out after work for a few of my coworkers to become some of the best friends I’ve ever had.

VT Clubs usually accept non-students

I started out just joining clubs at VT that would accept people that aren’t students, I’m interested in gaming and outdoor activities (kind of a contradiction I know) so I met a lot of people that way. Being in my early 20’s at the time I looked like a student anyway so it wasn’t too weird. Gobbler Connect has helped me find clubs in addition to just showing up to things from meetup.com. I still meet up with some of the people at the Outdoor Club, which is pretty active.

Join a Gym

Gyms are good, I would take a class if you can. I starting doing Yoga over at the weight club twice a week which has helped me meet new people. I’m debating the Jiu Jitsu classes soon – martial arts makes you get to know your classmates really well.

RBTC & Tech Events

If you’re in the tech industry, it can be tough but there are some solid groups. See if you can get involved in the RBTC, the Roanoke-Blacksburg Technology Council. They do these things called “Tech & Toasts” I’ve been to where they’re like TED Talks in the mornings. There’s also the Blacksburg Young Professionals group which could be good but I’ve never actually been to one of their mixers outside of Up on the Roof.

Another tech event – Make a Mark

This is only once a year but it’s been a HUGE help to me with networking around here. If you have any sort of design or coding knowledge consider volunteering your time towards Make a Mark when that comes around. It’s a creatathon that puts you with a team of other young professionals that balance your skillset. I’ve met awesome people this way, and if you crank out good work they’ll notice you. It was held in Rackspace last year too which was fun.

Get a dog!

Unfortunately it might not be feasible for some, but for me adopting a dog within the first few months helped me build the confidence to go to new places. I suddenly had a reason and motivation to go on all these cool hikes or trails. Honestly, Blacksburg is very outdoorsy. I used to not be that way. Now, I can’t imagine spending a weekend when I’m not going on a hike or a long walk with my dogs. I also met some cool people at the dog park this way…although don’t expect to get their name or number the first few times they see them. Everyone mostly knows each other through their dog’s name 😃

Pokemon GO is making me want to be outdoors this summer

As I’m sure you’ve heard, Pokemon is coming back into the limelight with a geocaching app called Pokemon GO! Now, I avoided this thing for a while because it seemed like a super simple, casual mobile game I didn’t want to acknowledge. A lot of mobile games are plagued with micro-transactions, stupid wait timers, shit mechanics etc. Basically…I thought REAL fans are going to play the REAL Pokemon games. My fiance and I have basically gone to every midnight Pokemon release since we met so I’d say we’re pretty hardcore.

But then, we got it…and I think I spent 3 hours yesterday trying to chase down a Scyther. At the end of the day, I was at about 22k steps. I don’t even get that much activity even if I’m walking to and from work, then run a 5k. It’s insane. I’m level 8 and just craving to get back outside to catch more Pokemon.

Dude, go inside.
Dude, go inside.

It really is fantastic that this game has come out this summer. I’ve been losing motivation at the gym lately but I have a wedding dress I need to fit into in a month. Pokemon GO has given me an excuse to be walking around downtown and I’m not even tracking nor do I care about my steps. I just want to find some damn Eevees.

Not only am I outdoors more, but people are so damn friendly about this game. People of all sorts of ages have come up to me while I have my cellphone out, asking “POKEMON GO?!” and then we’ll all freak out in an eruption of nerdiness over this damn thing. A dude yesterday drove by me while I was out hunting, yelling “WHAT TEAM ARE YOU ON?!?!” Never have I been happy to hear a guy yelling at me from a car.

Clean, high contrast UI that won't intimidate beginners
Clean, high contrast UI that won’t intimidate beginners

I’m also really impressed with the UI which unfortunately I haven’t heard many people talk about. It’s clean, simple, and easily legible as I’m wandering around in bright sun. I’ve never seen such a pretty representation of Google’s API. It feels separate enough from the main games where it won’t be a turn off to beginners, but still integrated with the Pokemon atmosphere. I also love the “researchy” feel of it, like I’m walking around with a real life Pokedex.

Anyway, just wanted to share my experience with this awesome game. Nintendo was slow to embrace the mobile market but I’m excited about where they’re headed with it. Hope you all have given Pokemon GO a try or plan to before it gets cold!

How Gaming Can Make You a Better Designer

In the midst of E3, I wanted to shed some light on one of my favorite hobbies.

Outside of work, I spend a lot of time playing video games. But the more I play, the more I wonder…is it actually good for me as a web designer? Or is my time better spent doing something else? I wanted to know if it was a valuable hobby to dump so much of my free time into. The research I found is pretty persuasive:

We’re better multi-taskers
For far too long they’ve been criticized as mindless, however video games can actually boost brain performance according to this University of Rochester professor. People who play video games have improved vision, attention, and certain levels of cognition.

In tests, she found that skilled gamers will use the frontal cortex of their brain, which specializes in planning, attention and multitasking. On the other hand, non-gamers were using an area called the parietal cortex, which deals with spatial functions. Non-gamers, in her muli-tasking tests, had to think a lot more when using that part of the brain when compared with people who game frequently.

No wonder I can crank out some headers while entering in timecards!

We’re more creative at an early age 
In this study, 500 12 year old kids were asked to draw a unique picture and tell a story about it. Regardless of gender, the kids who were playing video games frequently were the ones that had the better stories to tell. By showing such creativity at an early age, skilled designers who game have probably been thinking the way they do for a long time now. All I can say about this is…I killed a lot of trees from all the stuff I doodled when I was younger.

If you play an MMO, you’re probably better at your job than non-gamers
Huffington Post reported this from Newcastle University Business School and the University of Crete. If you play an MMO, learning how to be on time for your guild raid or how to work together to kill a boss teaches people how to work in teams in the real world. And, if you’re a main tank for your guild like I am, it should be no surprise how many of those leadership skills leak into the real world as well.

Stay Young
Many designers are aware of the fact that you need to be on trend and up to date with what’s going on in the web. Video games can help that, too! No, it doesn’t have anything to do with having the latest system or the best video card. Turns out just two hours a week can slow mental decay associated with the aging process. Whether it’s World of Warcraft, a mobile game, or CoD, games are cognitively complex and require a lot of mental energy to play them. Stay young, designers!

IT’S ART, DAMN IT
No research for this, just opinion. But for me, when I need inspiration I can get a lot from a video game. Look, I get the debate. But for me personally, when a game hits all of the right notes – gameplay, graphics, story and soundtrack, it’s meaningful and it’s art. As soon as I finished Journey, I felt inspired and emotional. I’ve had paintings and stories give me the same sort of feel. 

Weekend beer haul

Happy Friday, all!

Posting what I’m drinking this weekend because it’s sunny and my projects are going well and I’m going tubing tomorrow. YAY BEER. Here’s what I’ve picked up:

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Sierra Nevada released their “Beer Camp Across America” series, so I picked up their session rye. They’re basically limited edition collaboration beers with various breweries. Usually only available at these beer camps but they’re around for a limited time.  Untapped is telling me I’ve never had a session rye before so I’m looking forward to trying one from one of my all time favorite breweries.

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Not gonna lie I bought this guy for the label alone. Wild Beer Co Evolver IPA. Kinda of thrilled with how my hot pink nail polish went with it too lol. I’m always down to try a new IPA, Untapped and Beer Advocate are leaving me wondering about this guy though, seems like a solid IPA but nothing ridiculous.

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SORRY NOT SORRY. Sweetwater Brewing Co’s Goin’ Coastal. This summer I freaking LOVE citrus flavors in beers and no one can stop me. Grapefruit Sculpin, Pineapple Sculpin, even Key Lime Pie ales. To me, they’re the perfect balance of something refreshing while not overly sweet. I love hops, but 90 degree weather doesn’t exactly make me crave a double IPA. Living in Savannah taught me to love Sweetwater Brewing Company so I’m excited about this pineapple IPA.

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Stillwater Superhop. It’s got some solid ratings on Beer Advocate & Untapped so I wanted to give it a try.  Only 6% ABV too so it seems like an easy drinking beer for some hot weather. I have no idea what a Neo-Tropic IPA is supposed to be, but I’m hoping it’s citrus-y and crisp. The label is pretty kickass too.

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Decided I wanted something more local in my 6 pack so I picked up this Good Adweiss from Brothers Brewing. I’m not really a Hefeweizen fan so this purchase was more for my fiance than me, but I’ll be giving it a taste still. After the name and distribution changes, I haven’t really seen Brothers crank out as many unique brews olately so I was excited to see they had something different on the shelf.

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I love how fucking crazy Flying Dog is. They don’t make the most ridiculous stuff ever but you gotta admire a brewery that puts Old Bay in a beer. Well, at least I do. I’ve had some good and bad stuff from them, but I still am never against trying new things from their brewery mostly because their Ralph Steadman labels are still amazing after all these years. This one is a Flying Dog “Brewhouse Rarity,” so limited release. I had to give this a try mostly because a Mint Julep Ale sounds disgusting and I oh so want to be proven wrong. Time…or um, less than 24 hours from now…will tell.

If you’re looking for my ratings on these beers later, follow me on untapped! Happy drinking!