Each morning, I lean my forehead against my whiteboard, close my eyes and dream. I let my mind go. Agile project lists, writing ideas, call backs, data checks and big ideas. Especially the big ideas.

I give myself a minute, open my eyes and start writing. And sketching. And wireframing. And creating calendars and to-do lists. And drinking black coffee.

Sometimes prospective clients and employers focus on one or two of my skill sets. My experience is broader. I think creatively and analytically. I talk to everyone in the conference room, in the cubicles and on skype. I come with pockets full of ideas.

I want to work on mission-critical ideas that help change people's lives and directions. Call me a digital ideaist.

– Tom Sakell



Who were the people who inspired you? Was it an author that kept you up through the night or a boss the showed you a new direction? 

These are the creative forces, the shining lights, that have shaped my creative life:

Michael Lewis

In my college literature classes, I wondered who would be my Faulkner, my Hemingway? Who would be the Important Author of my time? Whose book would I buy on the first day it was published?

I read Michael Lewis’ first book, Liar’s Poker, and I was hooked. He made complex Wall Street narratives accessible to me. And then he started writing about the Internet and then sports, subjects I thought I knew really well, and he explained my world back to me.

Lewis has shown me the importance of how one more draft can simplify my writing. 

> Blog entry

Pop Sakell

My dad taught me his work ethic. For 38 years in the New York Fire Department, Dad demonstrated how to get up and go to work. Provide for your family. Get the job done. Every day.

Pop has had six kinds of cancer now, though it’s the fourth one that keeps recurring. Each morning, he gets up and tries to get a little better. Every day.

> Blog entry

Jeffrey Veen

Jeffrey Veen is a better version of me. 

As a young newspaperman, he saw his future in the web. He is a writer, an inspirer, an outlier, a collaborator. He’s an insightful presenter and at a conference lunch he told me I was an User Agent: I represent the User’s needs and rights in every meeting and in every usability choice I make.
Edward Tufte

In a one-day seminar, Edward Tufte opened my mind to new worlds. 

He demonstrated how Copernicus drew moon symbols as words in books in 1543 and how an entire season in the American League East can be captured in one graphic. Tufte taught me data visualization and has challenged me to do better.

Tidewater Fishing

Demonstrate through prototyping. At a newspaper design conference, I met a designer who took on a challenge. For many years, the weekly feature back page of the sports section was all about fishing: charts, maps, temperatures, types of fish. Lots of data for one type of user to slog through.

The designer thought he could do better and his bosses at The Virginia-Pilot gave him the chance to redesign the back page. He produced a half-page, color map w/ icons, different types of fish icons and individual fish data. Different colors represented the warmth of the water and icon size represented the size of the fish schools.  What was a fisherman-only page crossed demographics, like the weather map did in USA TODAY.

Everything is opportunity. Simply bring a different perspective and talent. 

Steve Krug

The Seinfeld of the Internet, Steve Krug  makes the plainest observations seem like genius.

He explains information chunking and scanability principles simply enough for second graders. I give my clients a copy of his book, Don’t Make Me Think, because he explains content presentation better than I can, and with funny pictures.

Jakob Nielsen

User experience and usability precede the Internet.  

Before online calls to action, there were dishwashers, toasters and office printers. They all have calls to action, too. How to start, stop, pause, skip and make multiple copies. Consumers base their decisions on ease of use and that’s where Jakob Nielsen made his name in usability.

The Internet was a simple transition for Nielsen and he quickly became an usability guru by explaining why experience research and iterative testing are critical in digital design. Chunking content, like breaking up phone numbers with dashes, doesn’t tip a buyer’s choice, but it does help the user get to the next paragraph.

Consuming online content can be exhausting. Nielsen challenges on digital designers to do the hard work on our end. 


While driving to work one afternoon, I heard an interview on NPR about IDEO, a global design company. Before I reached work, I pulled into Barnes & Noble to buy IDEO’s book, The Art of Innovation.

IDEO has a creative process that isn’t constrained by medium. They were tasked with building a better grocery shopping cart and they came up with a radical design. The new cart had a shallow shelf, smaller body and enormous space under the shelf – the inverse of the traditional cart. Their user experience research indicated shoppers were buying fewer items, and often, those items were large. In fact, the traditional carts had customers bypassing the big, heavy items because they were too hard to put in the cart.

IDEO taught me to ask the obvious questions, be quiet and listen to the answers without bias.