Joel Beckerman: Designing With Sound

Joel Beckerman: Designing With Sound

In this 99U talk, Joel Beckerman, a composer and the founder of Man Made Music, reveals how fundamental sound is to our everyday experiences, and why it’s crucial to think about sound design at the outset of creative projects — not as an afterthought. Joining Joel to demonstrate the power of sound is the choir from the Kaufman Music Center’s Special Music School.

About Joel Beckerman: Joel Beckerman is an award-winning composer, producer and the founder of Man Made Music, a global sonic studio. He is the author of The Sonic Boom: How Sound Transforms the Way We Think, Feel, and Buy and is dedicated to solving human and business challenges through Sonic Humanism, the power of music and sound to make lives richer and simpler.

As innovators in their field, Joel and Man Made Music have partnered with global brands such as AT&T, Disney, Deloitte, Abbott, Hulu, Nissan, QVC, IMAX, and Subway to craft unique sonic experiences. His work began in network television creating themes for Entertainment Tonight, HBO Features, CBS This Morning, and The Super Bowl on NBC, and has evolved into pioneering new musical approaches for sound in products, brands and environments.

Joel is a leader on the subject of sound, business, and the future of humanity. He has been featured on stages around the world including The Wall Street Journal D.Live, SXSW, Cannes Lions, London Design Week, C2 Montreal, Fast Company Innovation Festival, and Future of StoryTelling. For his work, Fast Company honored Joel as one of their Most Creative People in Business 1000. He is a PROMAX board member, helped found the New York chapter of the Society of Composers and Lyricists, and proudly serves on the ASCAP board.

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Ashley C. Ford: Imagination Is a Creative Superpower

Ashley C. Ford: Imagination Is a Creative Superpower

In her inspiring 99U talk, writer Ashley C. Ford explains how significant life experiences opened up her ability to expect things she didn’t previously think were possible for herself and others. The lack of imagination, Ashley tells us, is what holds us back as humans. But nurturing the superpower of imagination within yourself opens up endless possibilities for your work, life, and impact on other people.

About Ashley C. Ford: Ashley C. Ford is a writer, podcaster and educator who lives in Brooklyn. She is writing a memoir entitled Somebody’s Daughter, which will be published by Flatiron Books under the imprint An Oprah Book. Ford is working on a collection of interviews (B-Side Chats) with her husband, Kelly Stacy.

She was also the host of the first season of Audible.Com’s literary interview series, Authorized. She has been named among Forbes Magazine‘s 30 Under 30 in Media (2017), Brooklyn Magazine‘s Brooklyn 100 (2016), and Time Out New York‘s New Yorkers of The Year (2017).

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Kat Holmes: Rethink What Inclusive Design Means

Kat Holmes: Rethink What Inclusive Design Means

In her work at and Google, Kat Holmes is helping other designers to rethink inclusive design not as a remedy for “personal health conditions” but as solves for “mismatches” — moments where human interactions are hindered by an absence of appropriate design solutions. Her 99U talk takes us through her journey to this approach, and how it can help us all recognize and combat everyday mismatches in the world.

About Kat Holmes: Kat Holmes, named one of Fast Company’s Most Creative People in Business in 2017, is founder of, a firm dedicated to inclusive design resources and education. She served as the Principal Director of Inclusive Design at Microsoft from 2014 to 2017, leading the company’s executive program for inclusive product innovation.

Her award-winning toolkit was inducted into the Smithsonian Institution’s Cooper Hewitt Design Museum. In 2018, she joined Google and continues to advance inclusive development for some of the most influential technologies in the world.

Kat is the author of Mismatch: How Inclusion Shapes Design.

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Michael Ventura: Empathy Is Your Best Creative Tool

Michael Ventura: Empathy Is Your Best Creative Tool

Entrepreneur and author Michael Ventura has dedicated his career to exploring how empathy can make us better leaders, collaborators, and contributors to society. In his 99U talk, Michael explains that the practice of empathy “isn’t about being nice” — it’s about deep understanding, and learning to apply that understanding to incredibly effective ends.

About Michael Ventura: Michael Ventura is the CEO and founder of Sub Rosa, a strategy and design firm that has worked with some of the world’s largest and most important brands, organizations, and start-ups, including Johnson & Johnson, Pantone, Adobe, TED, Delta Airlines, and The Daily Show.

Michael has served as a board member and adviser to a variety of organizations, including Behance, the Burning Man Project, Cooper-Hewitt, and the UN’s Tribal Link Foundation. He is also a visiting lecturer at institutions such as Princeton University and the United States Military Academy at West Point. In addition to these pursuits, Michael leads a thriving indigenous medicine practice, where he helps patients address illness and injury of all types on the road to better well-being. A passionate entrepreneur, he also owns and operates a globally recognized design store in New York’s West Village with his wife, Caroline.

Applied Empathy, his first book, was published by Simon & Schuster in May 2018. 

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A World Class Mediator Shares 7 Ways to De-escalate Your Office Tension

A World Class Mediator Shares 7 Ways to De-escalate Your Office Tension

We’ve all been there: the tense meeting, the adrenaline-spiked email, the feeling that we’ve hit the same speed bump a thousand times before. When tensions rise at work, we tend to subsume, get passive aggressive, or maybe plain old aggressive. And then just use our fallback coping mechanism to get through the rest of the day.

What if there was another way to handle those recurring moments when fight or flight kicks in? Brad Heckman, professor at NYU’s Center for Global Affairs and founder of the New York Peace Institute, has brought a mediator’s mindset everywhere from NYPD trainings to the postwar Balkans. In between diffusing global crises and intergenerational animus between astronauts, we asked Heckman for a few of the meditation tricks that help him loosen the jam jar of stuck conversations.

From asking open-ended questions to remembering that everyone is better than their worst self, Heckman had more wisdom than we could write down. Here are seven tactics for when things get tense at the office to help you diffuse the war at the water cooler.


1. Know your brain

Our brain isn’t at its best when it’s in a conflict situation. “Our response to difficult conversations is neurologically the same response to fear: the fight, flight, or freeze response,” says Heckman. In that caveman state of mind, we resort to primitive protective behavior that sees everything as a threat. Sure, it’s natural. But you operating at five-alarm fire level isn’t going to help you navigate a nuanced conversation. When you feel that internal escalation, Heckman suggests using high-level executive functioning by thinking, “‘Oh this is really interesting, what’s happening is my reptilian brain is taking over.’ Just that awareness itself can be helpful,” he says.

2. Assume good intentions

When we’ve got our knickers in a twist, we think the other person is on a mission to screw us over. We start to read every action through that pessimistic, self-preserving lens. “When we are in conflict, our view of the other person becomes so narrow that we only see them as a disruptive jerk and not a fleshed-out person,” says Heckman. Take a beat. Try to assume that the other person is acting in good faith. That baseline assumption can get you through plenty of instances of misplaced tone and timing.  

Mandela peace quote



3. Good communication is a full body experience

Body language speaks volumes. In his recurring role working with police officers, Heckman coaches them away from nonverbal habits like aggressive gestures or getting in other people’s faces. “Yes, the person will quiet down, but more so because they’re scared than because they’re respecting you,” he tells them. “Good communication is a full body experience,” he says. “It’s how we breathe. It’s our tone. It’s our gestures.” Your body language isn’t only talking to the other party; it’s sending a message to your brain as well. Cultivate habits like keeping an open expression (Heckman says to replicate big cow eyes), avoid defaulting to crossed arms, and taking deep breaths to help change the tenor of an interaction. It’s a reflective mind game, says Heckman, because the other person will likely start to mirror your behavior too.

4. Repeat, repeat, repeat

“Every person I’ve ever met has said things they didn’t mean or in a way that didn’t match their intentions,” says Heckman. Repeating or summarizing their words back to them in a form like, “What I’m hearing you say is…” creates a feedback loop that allows someone to course correct or dial it back. It’ll save you both from a heck of a lot of miscommunication.

Dolores Huerta quote







5. Reflect, reflect, reflect

In practice, reflecting is a mediation tactic that looks exactly like repetition. But it’s doing something possibly even more important: It’s telling someone that they’ve been heard. If a colleague says they’re feeling underappreciated, don’t skip right to solutions. Pause to recognize how they’ve been feeling. It may feel dumb to parrot back, “I hear that you’ve been feeling undervalued”, but taking a moment to acknowledge tells the other person that you get where they’re coming from. “We hear from our clients all the time,” says Heckman, “that people value being heard and understood more than they value a detailed agreement. Agreements and resolutions are important, but being heard is a necessary step for that.”

6. Ask open ended questions

A mediation mindset is a place for trying to get to the root of an issue. That might mean proceeding without an agenda and just trying to learn more. In recent years, Heckman was called to NASA to help build accord between astronauts and engineers from the Apollo years, who were not getting along with the new crop of millennials. One group came from a hierarchical military background and one was birthed among the ping pong tables and bean bag chairs of Google and Facebook. “There’s a lack of understanding that translates into one dimensional stereotype about ‘old fuddy duddies’ and ‘entitled kids,’” recalls Heckman. Heckman’s approach was to use open-ended questions: “So, you want to have a fun and creative environment. How do you see that helping your workplace?” And on the other hand: “Order and hierarchy are important for you. Can you tell me why?” Keep the questions to six words or fewer. And don’t think too much. Just be curious. Ultimately, at NASA, Heckman struck the bedrock of a shared desire for a kickass space program: a common vision both parties could respect. (It’s unclear if NASA ever ordered bean bag chairs…)

7. Go towards the heat

One of the traps of digging into hard conversations is a desire to get to a copacetic place where everyone feels better. “Sometimes, we’re so afraid of going toward the heat, that we end up being falsely polite or even passive aggressive with the other person,” says Heckman. Instead of aiming for the easy offramp, head for the fiery core of the issue. “An agreement that’s reached in haste is not likely to be sticky or durable,” says Heckman. So, dig in. Find the pain points. And, before getting wrapped up in resolving, acknowledge how they’re affecting everyone. The ultimate goal of mediation, after all, isn’t agreement. It’s understanding.

Brad Heckman is also an illustrator and artist. In addition to illustrating his trainings and lectures with his drawings, he produces daily “sketchquotes” that capture the essence and words of inspiring people from across all walks of life. They have been shown in numerous exhibitions, with his self-portrait and some others included in this article. 

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Anna Pickard: How to Make Brands Sound Human

Anna Pickard: How to Make Brands Sound Human

In this insightful, funny 99U talk, Slack’s director of brand communications Anna Pickard explains her approach to giving the workplace chat app its voice, endearing it to millions of users. From finding unlikely places (like error messages) to show authenticity, to the significance of naming product features, Anna shows us why words matter in product design, and how to choose your moments to wield them.

About Anna Pickard: Anna Pickard makes up voices for a living, then teaches other people how to use them. As the first writer at Slack and holder of the voice and tone, she’s been in editorial, marketing, product, design, customer experience, brand, and communications. Because who knows where the gravitational center of writing belongs? Anyway. She now works across them all as Head of Brand Communications at Slack, working out how to create a community of practice across a distributed cross-functional writing team, in an industry and a time when people expect brands to deliver a consistent quality and voice … and to sound authentically human while doing it.

Before Slack, Anna worked in education and in games, writing dialog for pigs, trees, and evil prime numbers. Before that, she worked in advertising, where she gave voice to polydactyl cats and “the concept of butter” on social media; in journalism, where she live blogged cultural milestones for the Guardian newspaper. She trained as an actress and holds an MPhil in Dramaturgy, which everyone said could never turn into a successful career. Turns out they were only partially correct.

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Launching a Diversified Freelance Career, Thanks to Intuition and Formal Arts Education

Launching a Diversified Freelance Career, Thanks to Intuition and Formal Arts Education

Truly successful creatives know how to tap into their intuition when making decisions about the direction of their work. In a way, the path a creative career takes can be art itself.

Laura Chautin has nurtured her burgeoning success by listening to her intuition when deciding what work will make her happy. She is undaunted by the challenge of a new frontier, trying her hand at textile design, screen printing and custom ceramic mobiles. This freedom and willingness to experiment can be traced back to a structured, formal arts education where she built the tools and skills that ultimately gave her the confidence to branch out and take on a multitude of creative tasks. Her work is imbued with a playful spirit thanks to her tendency to create and experiment across mediums.

A pattern has already emerged in Chautin’s young career – motivated by curiosity and the desire to explore an idea that won’t let her go, she will initially make work only for herself without worrying about commercial viability. These experiments have been spotted by people who want in on her distinctive, colorful designs, who then commission similar work from her. That is just how several of her projects have been born, including the Bum Tees with their playful floral motif. The success that she has had with these ventures speaks to the value of respecting your ideas, listening to your creative impulses and giving them the necessary space to thrive.

Chautin has spent time working in London (where she lived until she was 16, and again for her painting degree) and New York (where she moved four years ago) and values the creative influences each city has on her process. “When I go back to London, I feel very much at home, I feel cozy, it’s the comfiest city in the world, and I feel inspired by the people I know there.” Being surrounded by artists, designers and creative thinkers has led to multiple collaborations that grew out of organic connections. Among these are window designs for Otherwild, custom illustrations for Ladurée, and one-off mobiles for clients.

Here, Laura talks about the logistics of launching a creative career, balancing creative output and money-making gigs, and the validation of recognition from the artist community.


Q. How did you get started with your art and design work?

A. I always wanted to do something creative. In high school I was only interested in art and history and that was what I was focusing on in college. When I was 18, I went to Chelsea for a foundation degree in painting at the University of the Arts London. The teachers weren’t really around and I thought maybe I wasn’t really an artist because I didn’t know what I was doing. Luckily, I had gotten into an art fair before I moved and met the people at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago (SAIC). They looked at my portfolio and kept my place for a year.

“I’ve learned through all these jobs that I love working for myself.”

London was a one-year foundation degree and a lot of people love it, but I just wasn’t ready to be let go at that point in my life, I needed structure. Being at SAIC really gave me freedom to explore things, and not be that scared of going into different realms I started to feel like I could draw and paint and printmake. And that’s especially valuable for me now because I do a lot of different things in my current career. I learnt how to stretch a canvas, paint with oils, things I hadn’t learned before.


A set of shelves with wares on them

Laura Chautin works across many mediums, including t-shirt and tote design.

Q. After graduating, you took on several assistant roles in the interior design and retail industries. What did you learn working in an assistant capacity that has been helpful to you as a freelance artist and designer now?

A. I also do assistant prop design right now, so it’s still in the creative field. The set and prop design world is really intertwined in New York, so if a friend can’t take a job, she’ll tell me to do it. I work with a couple different prop designers and set designers here, and I never really turn down those jobs, because that’s a good source of income. For example, next week, I have a full week working for Macy’s and that’s obviously super helpful.

I’ve learned through all these jobs that I love working for myself. When I first moved to New York, I didn’t do any work for myself. I was an assistant at an interior design firm, then I worked on the windows for Barneys, then another interior design firm. I thought that seemed like more of a path I should do because I’ll make money doing this. But I didn’t make any artwork and I was so sad.

My first job out of college, I was meant to work under the assistant to the boss, but she quit in my first week, and I was expected to fill the assistant’s role. I learned a lot but it was so stressful. I knew the boss liked what I was doing, but I always had this doubt, and that pushed me to say that I needed to work for myself. I was still working toward his vision. Pretty much immediately, I was getting to work early and building my own website, thinking that it was what I needed to do to be happy. Before that, I hadn’t been making work for myself and I was miserable. I was too stressed and all of my creative energy was going towards this job.


A mobile with different vegetables

Chautin’s whimsical mobile projects started out with a request from a friend.

Q. How did you sustain yourself financially while you started making art for yourself again?

A. When I quit my first assistant job and started at Barneys, I had a bit more freedom. It was a four-day job doing their windows, so I could start painting again. At that point I was still confused. I felt like I had to get a full time job again, that I couldn’t just be an artist. And that was mostly from not having confidence in myself. I had no confidence and no friends who had moved to New York to pursue being an artist. I had this idea that things need to be done in a certain way. I’m super English like that – I follow the rules.

Q. You are now a part of a diverse creative community here in New York. As you met more people through your work, did it help to expand your definition of what being an artist looked like as a career path?

A. My friend Katie Kimmel was hugely helpful to me, we met at school. She was working at a ceramics studio and making her own stuff and people started recognizing her for it. She also makes animations and at school she would work non-stop on her own stuff because she found it fun, and that was really inspiring to me. She made these bags and said “it’s so cool and so easy, you should just do it.” I painted this big painting and so I took a part of it and printed it on a bag. I was actually wearing that to a Group Partner sample sale and one of the girls who works there thought it was cool and wanted one. That was the first time I realized that people want what I’d been making. It felt so validating.

Making more art, getting more recognition, more people being like “this is cool, keep doing it” has been encouraging. My partner Masami (Masami Hosono, creative director at Vacancy Project) has been so supportive. It’s so inspiring, she didn’t start in New York, and she is of the mindset of “just do it.”

“I really like taking on projects when someone comes to me with an idea.”

Q. Tell us about the different mediums you work in now, and how you came to work on such a diverse range of projects. You seem to do everything.

A. I’m still at the point now where I accept most jobs, because I think I should be accepting most jobs. I think it’s good for me to try different things. With projects like making mobiles, no one initially asked me to do that. My friend had a baby, and I just thought it would be cute to make a mobile. It made sense because I like small things, and I like painting, so it was just fun for me to do that. I had a client who started following me on Instagram and she was having a baby, and she asked me to make this very custom mobile. It was a collaboration, but she wanted specific, personal things included. That definitely gave me more confidence.

A drawn illustration of a restaurant with the name Russ and Daughters over the Door

Chautin often illustrates whimsical storefronts in New York City.

I really like taking on projects when someone comes to me with an idea. I’ve learned through doing custom illustrations that I like having a project, I like making something happen based on an idea, even if it’s not something I’d usually do.

The first time I did food drawings, I was working a part-time retail job and a designer was having a launch at Ladurée. It was the first time I’d ever made art that wasn’t just for myself. I was asked to make an invite and a menu for the event. I only had two nights to do it, I was working all through the night. If you think that something’s right, you have to do it. All I could think of was “I love it.” I had so much fun doing it, it made me so happy.

As for the flower t-shirt design, I thought about making it a planter, but it didn’t quite work out. I still thought it was a cute illustration and that it would be a fun t-shirt to have embroidered just for me. I just bought a t-shirt from the Gap and made a one-off for myself. When I wore it, people thought it was funny and cool. I got some orders just from wearing my one-off and then started producing it in small batches.

Q. What’s next for you?

A. I’ve been looking at being part of an agency for illustration, so I can have someone help get me more jobs [Ed. Note: this is a popular debate!]. I enjoy having the push of an illustration assignment, even if it’s something I’m uncomfortable with, like portraiture and drawing people.

I would love to make big sculptures, and explore types of printmaking, etching, or lithography. I’m also taking a ceramics class, as I do want to learn new skills.  

At the moment, I’m making a book of foods for a client. For Christmas, I made Masami a book of her favorite foods and posted it on Instagram. The client saw it and asked me to make him a large scale book, which is new for me. It’s going to be a full meal, with a check at the end, and it will be professionally bound.

This interview has been edited for clarity and length.

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