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Collection: Online Learning Resources

We have a curious team at MJM, and we’re always engaged with learning to improve our work and ourselves. Having recently emerged from remote work lockdown, we asked our design team to share some of their favorite online learning resources.

Kirstie

CSS-Tricks: Lately, this has been the first place I turn to when I have a CSS question. I really appreciate how clear and approachable the style is and how in-depth they get with even the most fiddly CSS.

Don’t miss Kirstie’s takeaways from WordCamp Minneapolis/St. Paul

Brady

Nielsen Norman Group publishes research on a variety of design-related topics. I particularly appreciate their short explainer articles and videos on design principles. They generally explain the principle and then show it in context on an actual design.

Farnam Street publishes articles full of “timeless ideas for life and business.” There’s a definite emphasis on the importance of lifelong learning and cross-disciplinary curiosity. Their articles are rich with links to other ideas and more of their writing, so it can be a bit of a rabbit hole! The Mental Models collection is a great place to dive in.

Tim

School of Motion: Lots of great content about all things motion, delivered through articles, interviews, and tutorials. And courses, of course – it’s called School of Motion for a reason. This is one of those sites that frequently results in “Oh! That’s how I should have done it the first time” moments.

Joel

Lynda.com: A website that offers online courses for things ranging from creative software to business skills.

Skillshare: A subscription based service that provides well-produced video classes on how to do anything from photography to calligraphy.

Spoon Graphics: A website full of tutorial videos and other content created by an excellent designer named Chris Spooner.

 

How to Cultivate Lifelong Learning

Do we really value lifelong learning?

The value of lifelong learning has long been extolled. For those of us that are knowledge workers, it’s essential. But as much as we tout that as a value, our behavior rarely reflects it. It’s easy to become distracted and even complacent with our learning, more so than ever with the barrage of information from an explosion of new sources and media.

I’ve always held that staying curious and learning is a personal value. And yet I often find that even when I’m digging into a large volume of information, it can feel like mindlessly reaching into a bag of snacks. New ideas are fun and addictive. It is a thrill to encounter them, but merely encountering them does not result in knowledge or wisdom gained.

I read a large number of articles and am in the middle of several books. I listen to a variety of podcasts and watch keynote talks and interviews. All with the hope of gaining some valuable insight. But without a strategy for managing the inflow of all that information and putting it into use, a great deal of the potential is lost. For information to become knowledge, it needs personal context. “Knowledge is information in action.”

Lifelong learning in action

Feeling stagnant in my growth, I recently set about building a personal system to manage my learning. After a month or so of tinkering there are some strategies, and tools to enable them, that seem to be working well. In the process, I stumbled into the field of Personal Knowledge Management (PKM) and learned that this is a journey many have been on long before me.

PKM is about capturing information and ideas that we encounter in our lives and cultivating knowledge out of all of it. There are a few broad movements within: seeking information, making sense of information so it becomes knowledge, and ultimately sharing that knowledge with others. Keep in mind that we’re running with the idea that information and knowledge are distinct things. Knowledge is information that we have personal context for. A personal knowledge management system cultivates knowledge when it facilitates the creation of personal context around information.

A functional knowledge management system enables a set of essential skills related to information. Seven of these skills are identified by Paul Dorsey and his colleagues at Millikin University:

  1. Retrieving information
  2. Evaluating information
  3. Organizing information
  4. Analyzing information
  5. Presenting information
  6. Collaborating around information
  7. Securing information

It’s worth reading their original paper to go deeper into what each of these skills entail. All seven activities contribute to the creation of knowledge. And each skill builds upon or contributes to the others.

It’s important to evaluate the information we retrieve for both quality and intent (what we intend to do with that information). And by organizing the information flowing into our minds (and perhaps a knowledge management system), we help make sense of it, connect it to other ideas, and even analyze it in relation to other information. You can see how the skills start to build.

Learning to share

These seven skills have been helpful as I evaluate the strategies I’ve put in place to manage my lifelong learning. And they’ve opened my eyes to one other observation: that lifelong learning can often be a selfish endeavor when we leave out presentation and collaboration skills from the mix. Maybe this is what stops so many of us from living out our lifelong learning value. We don’t experience the joy of cultivating new ideas in community with others. If value is created in relationships with others, the value of lifelong learning may very well be in sharing what we’ve learned.

Remote Collaboration for Arranging Space

As our local team began planning the return to our office space, we needed a plan for rearranging our office layout in light of social distancing guidelines necessitated by COVID-19. In the past, we gathered together in a conference room or around a whiteboard wall for this task. Or we just started moving furniture around to see how it felt. This time would have to be different. This time we would need dedicated remote collaboration space to plan how we’d rearrange our physical space.

Finding the right tool

Thankfully we had been exploring some remote collaboration tools to help recreate some of the benefits of shared physical space. We recently tested Milanote for collaborative visual tasks like assembling mood boards, and Miro for facilitating remote workshop type activities. Both tools have features that allow for organizing (and reorganizing) ideas spatially. This is a key ingredient for recreating some of the magic of a shared physical space.

For our office layout, we chose to use a collaborative Miro board and run this a bit like an asynchronous, remote workshop.

Creating space for remote collaboration

To start, we created a template that had two necessary components: a floor plan of the office space, to scale, and multiple copies of desk diagram demarcated with social distancing safe zones, also drawn to scale. And we set some parameters and principles to guide the exploration. The goal was to arrive at an office layout that allowed for socially distant socializing and collaboration. The principles and goals were noted alongside the floor plan to keep them always at hand.

With the basic template created, we set up individual workspaces for each team member to test desk arrangements. We each had several days to explore on our own, playing games of Tetris with our office furniture between project work. All the layouts were visible to the team – this allowed for some cross-pollination to occur. We saw clever ideas for efficient use of space used in one layout cascade across others.

Once everyone had some time to test their ideas, we came together to share our layouts and discuss. This discussion was invaluable as we each found insights that altered how we approached our own solution to the challenge. And the collaborative tools in Miro allowed us to test some of these new ideas together during our video meeting. We gave everyone a few additional days to make some revisions based upon insights gleaned, and then reconvened for a dot voting exercise to identify the layout the team felt best achieved our objectives.

What we learned

Having a tool to capture and spatially organize your team’s ideas in a virtual setting can do a lot for recreating that sense of shared space.

Group brainstorming can have fantastic outcomes, but one of its shortfalls is it frequently doesn’t allow for individual time to think and explore. Those who prefer time to process and develop their ideas are often uncomfortable inserting themselves into live brainstorming sessions. Their ideas often go unspoken and unappreciated. Building in some time on the front end for individual processing is crucial to ensure teams don’t miss out on these ideas. And it can help inject some initial quality into the developing ideas of all members of the team.

Thankfully, one of the advantages to working remotely is the opportunity to rethink normal work activities like group brainstorms.

From our experience facilitating a remote workshop with our team, we found there is a general pattern to effective group brainstorming. Start with a group briefing, allow for individual time to think and process, then gather together to discuss and develop ideas further. This pattern can be built into remote collaboration activities – or completely live brainstorms, too. It requires some forethought and initial setup, but it pays dividends when you see the outcomes.

Imagining How Variable Fonts Could Make A More Expressive and Accessible Web

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A variable font is one font file that has flexible properties, allowing it to function as multiple fonts. Typically a typeface is available in a limited number of styles, such as the varying weights of light, regular, medium and bold, and often corresponding italics. Each style requires a separate font file. With a variable font, all of these styles and potentially infinite other instances are available using a single file. And variable fonts don’t just vary in weight – they can vary on several different axes like width, optical size, italic, and slant.

Implications for web design

Until variable fonts became a possibility on the web, designers were forced to limit the number of fonts used in a design to decrease the amount of data that must be downloaded to display a page. Each additional font adds extra load time. Waiting too long for content to load hurts the experience of interacting with a website. Variable fonts have the potential to remove this limitation. A single font file can provide the typographic expression previously only possible by loading many fonts.

Challenge the limits with variable fonts

 

Variable fonts for greater expression

Beyond the technical applications, variable fonts could also serve expressive purposes. Type used in buttons and navigation could change as the user interacts. A button’s label could grow increasingly bold the closer the user’s cursor comes. Numeric labels in charts and graphs could vary in correlation with data. Combined with natural language processing, qualitative information could affect how a font is displayed – a font could morph to visually express negative or positive sentiments. Maybe a news site wants to help readers identify “good news” and “bad news” quickly – a variable font could allow headlines that indicate how “good” or “bad” a story is.

Your mileage with variable fonts may vary

Variable fonts for greater accessibility

And there are implications for accessibility on the web as well. Imagine responsive websites and apps that adjust font size, weight, and other properties to cater to the specific needs of users or even the environment they are in. Perhaps fonts that increase in size or width to improve legibility for older users who may have visual limitations like cataracts. Conversely, a font could become more condensed to allow for greater information density for those with better vision. Some have postulated that variable fonts could help those with dyslexia, allowing them to customize certain parts of letters that are difficult for them to read.

 

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Need to relax? Let these calming waves of letters wash over you. An animation experiment with variable fonts. 🌊

A post shared by Matt Jensen Marketing – MJM (@mattjensenmarketing) on

Thoughts on 36 Days of Type 2020

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36 Days of Type is a global challenge to draw, illustrate, and letter the 26 letters and ten numerals in the Latin alphabet over (you guessed it) 36 days. Artists world-wide share their letterforms on social media using #36daysoftype, creating a massive catalogue of experimental type. Our design team once again chose to participate, you can view the full 36 days on our Instagram feed. Each character could be illustrated, animated, or otherwise constructed and each composition borrowed at least one color from the letter that came before it. The designers put together some post-mortem thoughts on the project:

Tim

This year I decided to continue to explore animation, specifically in After Effects. As a team, we decided to base the color palette for each day’s letter on one or two colors from the letter created the previous day. The goal was to unify the pieces somewhat, without giving ourselves too short a leash.

A project like this is fertile creative ground because it provides two potent ingredients for creativity: a clear objective and a time constraint. Creativity loves constraints. You can make whatever you want, but (helpfully) you don’t have unlimited time. And because you have to produce a letter every day you don’t have the luxury of becoming too precious about each piece. There’s a little bit of pressure because you know there’s an audience, but you’re also free to explore because the stakes are so low—no one cares what you make.

Joel

For 36 Days of Type this year, I dove into the world of the open-source 3D design program Blender to familiarize myself with the tool and create some distinct letter explorations. What I found was a powerful program with plenty of potential for future projects. I also discovered the unique and visceral fun that designing in a 3D space can create. Watching your work come to life with the click of a render button is just one of those things that will never get old.

Kirstie

During this year‘s 36 Days of Type, one of the most important skills I gained was not a new technique or software, it was adaptability. For reasons none of us need reminding of, this year’s project didn’t exactly go according to plan. Instead of meticulously planning out my letters, I found myself transforming an Rs into Ps on the fly and choosing ideas based on how quickly I could execute them in between Zoom calls. But, rather than being a roadblock, I found it surprisingly freeing. With the complete inability to be anywhere else, I was forced to live and create in the present moment and my work was better for it.

Brady

I love the 36 Days of Type creative prompt for the opportunity to experiment and try something new. I called in the Cavalry this year to help with my animated letters. Cavalry is a new 2D animation tool built around the concept of procedural systems. It relies less on key frames (though it is incredibly well-equipped in that regard) and more on routing values from one property into another to create effects. For example, using a sine wave function to control the vertical and horizontal position of a shape, or even random noise to change its size over time. It felt a little bit more like creative coding or generative art rather than illustration, which was a good stretch for my creative muscles. I didn’t expect to find so much joy in routing data from one property into another and waiting to see what happened, but the surprises and failures were both invigorating. And while it felt much like play and experimentation, I quickly found opportunities to use the tool for project work too, solving problems that would have required much more time and effort using other more familiar tools.

Alison

36 Days of Type is a favorite collaborative project. I love seeing what the other designers come up with, and especially what techniques, colors, and forms are appealing to everyone. When I’ve got a short time to illustrate a letter, I resort to some of my favorite tools in Illustrator: the pen tool, the zig zag effect, gradients, and the blend tool. Illustration is not a daily task for me, but it is something I enjoy. 36 Days of Type is a great excuse to get back to illustration process. From sketching to shape and color exploration, I’m grateful to have projects like these to explore the sandbox.

Check out the whole set:

Brand vs Brand Identity: Is there a difference?

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A brand is not a logo.

Nor is it just a combination of logo, typeface, and color. And it’s not just the products and services the company offers. It’s a bit more. It might seem like a silly distinction to draw, but we believe it’s an important one to recognize.

So, let’s set some quick definitions.

Brand identity is the tangible, visual component of a company (name, logo, communications, how the collateral looks and feels). And then there are touchpoints. Touchpoints are moments in time where people interact with a product or service. Touchpoints and identity are the parts we can see, touch, feel, and interact with. Every product or service ties together multiple touchpoints into what some might call a journey.

Does the sum of all this equal a brand?

Not quite.

It’s like a relationship.

The brand itself is more of an intangible thing – the gut feeling (as Marty Neumeier describes it in his book The Brand Gap) about the company that its customers have. Brands are an abstraction that exist in the minds of those who interact with them. The brand itself is not created by a company alone – it is also created by the people who interact with the company’s offering. Their gut feelings, memories, or experience will be anchored or attached to the brand identity. The visual identity becomes a symbol to hold all of that meaning. When they see the logo for the company or hear its name, they quickly recall those positive or negative feelings. Ideally that identity feels authentic and an appropriate fit for the associations it takes on.

In that sense, a brand is like a relationship between two people. The relationship isn’t a physical thing you can drop on your foot, but it’s very real and represents an emotional connection you have with another person. Over the course of time, that relationship takes on meaning through shared experiences, future expectations, and how we choose to talk about it.

What does this all mean?

You can’t create a great brand just by having a clever name or creating a cool logo. Just like you can’t develop a strong friendship by only looking like an interesting person. Branding as a discipline is more than slapping a coat of glossy paint on at the end. It takes time and intention.

You can’t create a great brand just by having a clever name or a cool logo, any more than you can develop a strong friendship just by looking like an interesting person.

Creating a visually stunning brand identity can do more harm than good. If the company is not operationally sound and is creating a negative experience for its customers a strong identity will serve as a lightning rod for negativity and brand terrorism.

A strong brand identity will make it easier to identify the good and the bad alike. Before you invest in a new identity, make sure that the experience you offer customers is a quality one. And then craft an identity that will help solidify the connection between hard-earned good experiences and your company.

The Shape of Our New Business Cards

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When we set out to redesign our business cards, we knew we didn’t want to go the standard route – we wanted something that would help tell our story. We had already been digging into the symbolism and imagery of wayfinding when we redesigned our logo. In that process we stumbled upon a fascinating shape called the reuleaux triangle – and it was perfect.

Reuleaux: /roo – LOH/

The reuleaux triangle has been used in many applications, from architecture to mathematics and map making. The overlapping section in the center of a three-set Venn diagram? That shape is the reuleaux triangle.

three-set venn diagram

Reuleaux triangles are geometrically beautiful shapes with surprising properties. They have been used as clever solutions to a variety of challenges in engineering and other fields. Its shape has a constant width – the diameter is the same no matter the orientation. It can rotate within a square while constantly touching all four sides, which allows for the creation of a drill bit that can create a square hole. How’s that for squaring the circle? Pencils in the shape of a reuleaux triangle have a couple of benefits: users often find them more comfortable to hold, and because they are not perfectly cylindrical, they are less likely to roll off tables and under your coworkers’ chair.

As creative guides for strategic journeys, the reuleaux triangle’s rich history in map making and trail signage is what ultimately captured our imagination. Leonardo da Vinci used the shape in an early map projection of the earth. It has been used in trail signage to help hikers find their way, such as along the Lewis and Clark National Trail. So it felt appropriate as the shape for our business cards, which help you find members of our team.

the cards tile into interesting patterns

We knew we wanted to feature topographic textures on the cards. But it couldn’t just be an image of topography – there needed to be some actual topography to our cards. They had to be tactile, where you could literally feel the terrain under your fingers. So of course we had them letterpressed! We are very pleased with the results.

Reflecting on Recent Experiences

It’s been said that to craft an excellent experience for your customers, you should think of a specific person and craft the experience with them in mind. The exercise helps identify the sort of things that solve pain points or create delight for real people. As a team, we often recount experiences we’ve had with brands that have been remarkable. The end of the year is a great time to reflect on those good experiences. And learn from them for the year ahead. Below, find a few reflections on experiences that provided value to our team this year.

Kirstie

Terra Shepherd

I have always loved fashion, but the actual experience of clothes shopping? Not so much. For the past 15 years, I’ve been shopping almost exclusively online for all of my clothes. But I decided to brave the IRL shopping experience when I heard about one of Downtown’s Sioux Falls’ latest boutiques: Terra Shepherd. Like me, they have a commitment to sustainable fashion and conscious consumerism, so I thought it was worth a shot. I was the only person in the store, which normally fills me with dread because of hovering salespeople, but the staff was so warm and welcoming and made me feel like I was just trying on clothes with friends. They suggested things I would like and, much to my surprise, I actually did like them! That combined with the shared values make this an experience I will be returning to.

Brady

Wirecutter

Before becoming a father of two young children, I had much more time to thoughtfully research gift ideas for family and friends. As those margins of time have vanished, I’ve appreciated the methodology that Wirecutter applies to their product reviews. And that they explain their process with each roundup of reviews. Christmas shopping this year would have been much more stressful and incomplete without referencing their Holiday Gift Guide. When I don’t have the time to do the level of research I typically would, it gives me greater confidence to give something as a gift knowing a little about the people who are reviewing the products and what makes them uniquely qualified to do so. And as it turns out, they are usually far more qualified to do the research than I!

Cindy

Amazon Prime Online Shopping

Like many working adults, my time is at a premium. I value being able to shop online from home and not have to get into my car, find a parking place, go into a store, make a selection and then wait in line to check out. However, I think there is a price to pay for this convenience.

I have to confess I do love going onto Amazon Prime, pressing a few buttons, and having an item shipped to me for free (yes, I did pay for the membership so it’s not really free). However, I am cautious about the future of big data, protection of personal information, and changes we can anticipate as a direct result of limited competition. Is it too good to be true?

Courtney

Earthscapes Landscaping

My husband and I decided this would be the year we invested into landscaping for our backyard. We received Earthscapes name as a recommendation from another friend that had used them, and after our awesome experience, I can see why. Shane, our landscape designer, was awesome from the start and put up with all of my questions along the way.

But the one point in the process that really stood out was when we were nearing completion of our project. We had an existing retaining wall, that wasn’t a part of the project scope (other than making small repairs to the existing wall), but it didn’t look amazing. One morning, he called and told me they had some left over materials from the rest of the project and he would like to put those towards replacing the existing wall. He felt it would enhance the look of the backyard, and while it might be a few more hours of labor, it would be something they would like to do for us within our current scope. Of course I said “Heck yeah!” and now we have an even more amazing backyard and I am willing to tell all my family, friends, and co-workers about this awesome company. Such a small gesture made a huge impact on the experience we had with Earthscapes and now I can’t stop bragging about them and their work!

Commonplace in Community

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A commonplace book is one central location for keeping important, interesting, or useful information. The practice of commonplace was used to keep track of ideas, concepts, facts and any piece of useful information that one might want to return to later. The commonplace book would be a fertile ground for new ideas and insights to form. Sometimes the books were kept as general collections, but were often kept on a specific topic or theme. The curators of these books found immense value in both the practice and the book itself.

These books were recorded by hand, in a journal. Over time, the practice has evolved with technology and now there is a proliferation of ways to keep a commonplace book as well as new kinds of content to keep in them. Digital apps like Evernote are a great way to keep a commonplace book, and are a clear evolution from the traditional pen and paper format.

These books were very personal artifacts for use by an individual. But something interesting has happened with the advent of the internet, blogs, and social media. Our commonplace books have become public, community commonplaces. Tumblr blogs, Instagram accounts, and Pinterest boards all can function as a sort of commonplace book. On Reddit, the community votes the most compelling content to the top.

These are all public, curated collections. And we have the ability to follow the collections of others. Your follower list is a curated collection of notable people. There’s an exponential or fractal quality to it. Or perhaps a kaleidoscope is a better metaphor. Ideas from a variety of sources are brought into friction and collision with one another, in a way that perhaps they wouldn’t if they were strictly private collections.

Commonplace goes digital

But are these collections really in the spirit of keeping a commonplace book? Keeping commonplace is a deliberate practice. It is done with care, and the entries into a book are meaningful – they are recorded for a purpose. If we are to see these public collections of content as commonplace books, they must not be divorced from intention and context. We need to understand why something was shared if we were not the ones to originally share it.

At MJM, we use Slack for internal communication, and have several channels that function as commonplace collections of sorts, curated by our whole team. #inspiration is full of articles, quotes, videos, and websites shared by members of our team who were inspired by them. Members of our team with an interest in motion graphics and animation have a channel named #timeline-chatter (after the timeline interface element common to editing and animation programs). We share tips and tricks that we have found as well as examples of animation that we want to learn from.

Inspiration endorsed with enthusiasm

The entries that inspire and engage others are those that include a brief personal note from the poster about why they found the item so interesting. These entries give context and are endorsed with the enthusiasm of someone who shares similar interests. It’s an invitation to dialogue, and helps establish a foothold for a common, shared vocabulary. The goal is not just to find the coolest thing and be the first to share it. Keeping commonplace is a constructive act. The goal is to build and expand upon each other’s curiosity and knowledge. This creation of context and invitation into dialogue is vital to a community collection that is truly in the spirit of commonplace.

This has implications for those of us who create, collect, and manage content for others as well. We should strive to be intentional and constructive with the content we create and share, and not just another distraction. And we must consider how we facilitate the creative act of curation as a unified group, not just a collection of individuals.

MJM Designers Participate in AIGA South Dakota Stamp Show

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Earlier this month, we had the opportunity to participate in a group show created by AIGA South Dakota—the South Dakota Stamp Show. For this show, AIGA asked 13 area designers to each create a set of five concept postage stamps around a topic related to our fair state. There was a lot of good work in this show, and you can still see it at the Sioux Falls Design Center for a limited time.

Here the designers at MJM talk about their process and work:

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Deadwood

Deadwood is deceiving town.If you were to visit the area today, it presents itself as an unassuming South Dakota town and (aside from some gambling and historic displays) you wouldn’t guess its rich history. With this topic, I saw an opportunity to highlight the people from a long-gone era that made Deadwood a household name. People like Poker Alice and Wyatt Earp. As I researched these historic individuals, I found myself thinking of them as more characters in a drama and less actual people that lived out their lives in our rural region. With names like Wild Bill and Calamity Jane, it’s difficult not to. Because of this, I chose to make the goal of this stamp series is to spotlight that juxtaposition of real person and western legend with a set of minimalist caricatures of some of the most famous people to reside in Deadwood.

Joel Jochim

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Roadside Attractions

South Dakota has mastered the art of the roadside attraction. Drive down any highway in the state and you’ll be bombarded with billboards advertising sites ranging from the delightfully kitschy to the straight-up bizarre. Are they desperate money grabs? Maybe. But you have to admire the ingenuity of people who have found a way to use whatever resources they have at their disposal to capture people’s attention. The kind of ingenuity that sees some old pieces of wood and turns them into a forest or sees an abandoned town and fills it with animatronic cowboys. Because, why not? In a state as vast and unpopulated as South Dakota, it  takes a little bit more effort to remind people that you exist. To honor these beacons of the prairie, I wanted to design stamps that were, above all, fun. South Dakota is usually expressed in shades of greens and browns and I wanted to bring in some vivid technicolor that screams, “I’m here! Look at me!”

Kirstie Wollman

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I-90

Interstate 90 runs through the center of the state and is the main artery of travel for most people moving through South Dakota. I-90 unifies the state, and touches on a lot of common elements of the experience of living here.

Bisontennial: 200 years ago there were an estimated 75 million bison roaming the countryside. By 1895, that number was cut to 800 due to reckless and wasteful hunting. Now, after 200 years, the North American bison is again thriving in commercial herds and roaming in both wild and protected places. The population is now estimated to be about 500,000.

Accumulation: In a state that averages between 30 to 70 inches of annual snowfall, snow (and snow removal) is a large feature of life. For every mile of interstate, South Dakota spends more than $2,800 on winter maintenance. So if you get a chance, buy a coffee for one of the 400 or so workers who are driving the state DOT’s snowplows this year.

No Services: With the straight lines created by the 1956 Interstate Highway Act, small towns that found themselves too far off the interstate gradually lost ground to those communities that were closer. Sometimes towns bypassed by the interstate saw business come to a standstill literally overnight.

Home Alone: My first car was a 1984 Subaru GL station wagon, light blue and relatively reliable. I loved that I could throw everything I needed in the back and drive wherever I needed to go. I put Christmas lights in the back windows and installed a switch by the gear shift—I’m lucky the whole thing didn’t catch on fire. My second car was a 1990 Subaru Legacy station wagon—no Christmas lights but just as great. I’ve never owned a kayak or a teardrop trailer, but maybe someday.

Share the Road: Of the 546 motorcycle accidents reported last year, 51% involved another motor vehicle.  And I drew a helmet on this guy because in 245 (or 55%) of last year’s accidents the riders weren’t wearing helmets.

Tim Murray

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South Dakota Rocks!

Rock climbing strikes me as a very physical test of strength and endurance, but also one of creativity—finding a route up what appears at first to be an unscalable rock face. So it’s only appropriate that one must also exercise creativity in naming a newly devised route—an honor given to the first climber to ascend (or “send” in climbing lingo) a new route. South Dakota’s Black Hills region features granite spires and limestone canyons that provide for spectacular rock climbing, and which give birth to even more spectacular names.

In rock climbing there are both good and bad names. Poor names are childish or in poor taste; the worst names are misogynistic or racist. A good name can put a new climb on the map, attracting more climbers and elevating it to the status of legendary. The best names describe the rock or route itself with fitting imagery or a clever reference. In that sense it can be like the task of naming a new business, or designing an appropriate logo for it. Cerberus, a climb in Custer State Park, is on a spire with three little peaks at the top—a reference to the three-headed hound that guards the gates of the underworld in Greek mythology. The name lends enough antagonism to feel like a challenge or foe to overcome, inviting intrepid climbers to try and best the beast.

Brady Holm

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Wall Drug

Wall Drug is a wonderfully weird place. It’s the ultimate American road trip stop attracting 2 million people* per year—but why is it so popular? I think some people just need to see what all the fuss is about. Hand-painted billboards advertising Free Ice Water put Wall Drug on the map decades ago and led to a national and international network of billboards that point back  to this obscure corner of South Dakota. The climbable jackalope, the 80-foot dinosaur, homemade donuts, and iconic signage are the most popular tourist photos at Wall Drug. I drew them with a brush tool that gives it some roughness reminiscent of a fading billboard. The pastel color palette borrows from that early-morning light and shadowy landscape you get on a long road trip. I, the  bleary-eyed kid in the back seat of this road trip, wakes up and thinks, “Where in the world are we?” We pull up to a parking space. The sign says “Welcome to Wall Drug” and it smells like donuts.

*To put it this number into perspective, there are less than 1 million people living in both North and South Dakota combined.

Alison Raaen