Closed for Christmas

With Christmas looming I’ve decided to knock off early. That’s the bad news over with.

The good news is that because I’ve been good this year, Santa will be visiting me and I’ll be back in 2010 with some shiny new visuals, more content, and a promise to be updated more often.

As hope is all the rage at this time of year there is a small chance I will be back before the year’s end but if not, have an extra mince pie and glass of mulled wine for me.

Please, wipe away that tear, and remember that you can still read the musings of Robert Mills over on Think Vitamin and on the blog of the company he works for, Huw David Design.

I’ll see you very soon dear friends.

No you hang up

Come on, you hang up.

No you … beeeeeeeeeeeeeeeep.


I once … got massaged in a Thai prison.

Crumbs, there are so many ways this story could go, but thankfully mine doesn’t involve a Thai massage ‘happy ending’.

It was June of this year, I was in Thailand with Sarah to celebrate her birthday (note that I left out which birthday, considerate boyfriend that I am). We had spent two days in a hot, humid and over crowded Bangkok. This was followed by a 14 hour overnight train journey. So by the time we reached Chiang Mai in the North of the country, we were more than ready to be pushed, pulled and stretched any which way we could.

The back story

Let’s make one thing clear, I wasn’t arrested. Our massages took place at the Thai Women’s Prison and I consented to such shenanigans. Heck, I even paid for it!

Basically, the majority of women prisoners were serving time for drug related crimes. The Thai Government came to the conclusion that they were dealing in drugs because they hadn’t any other skills to put to good use to get an income. Therefore, whilst in prison, the women learnt skills that would allow them to get paid work upon release. Some of the skills included making handicrafts and one of them was, you guessed it, training to be a masseuse.

The chosen one

All the prisoners who gave the massages were due to be released within 6 months and the massages here cost less than half the price of anywhere else we found in Chiang Mai, plus they were conducted in a building opposite the main prison so there was no cuffing or cells involved, although it was still an offiical prison building with wardens and inmates.

I walked into the room and several travellers were in various stages of their massages. Some were leaving and looked smug as if to say, you haven’t a clue what you have let yourself in for, others were deep in conversation with their masseuse.

I changed into my robe as instructed and awaited my lady. There were 5 in the room, all very pretty and chatty. Mine entered and I’m not exaggerating, she looked liked Mrs Trunchbull from the book Matilda. She was by all accounts, a stereotypical prisoner! You wouldn’t mess with her.

Language barriers

She also spoke no English. I spoke no Thai. We communicated solely through hand gestures and facial expressions and when I didn’t understand how she wanted me to position myself she simply moved me herself.

The massage was incredible. At one point she was swinging me from side to side and my back was clicking and crunching. She also sat behind me and then somehow pulled me into the air on top of her. It was like something from an amateur wrestling show, minus the lycra.

The end

After an hour it was over. I sort of felt relaxed and exhausted all at the same time. It was exhilarating and terrifying. When she had finished, she just put her hands together, bowed to me and vanished. I felt used!

It was then that I became the smug one whilst the new arrivals entered the room probably thinking the same as I was when I entered: I’m going into a prison for a massage in a foreign country, good job I didn’t tell mum beforehand.

That was 5 months ago so the lady who massaged me will definitely be free by now. I feel happy knowing that I helped her practice a skill for her new life on the outside but if I ever go back to Thailand and spot her, I’ll cross to the other side of the road.

Next time: I once … met James Bond in a hotel

My Tweet Cloud

There is a new Tweet Cloud App doing the rounds, built by @icodeforlove. It analyses your tweets over a specified time frame and tells you what words you have tweeted the most.

The results of my last three months of tweets are above. I was surprised by some of the themes that emerged as my tweets seem to me to be nothing more than random musings.

These are the words I have tweeted, ordered by most used:

  • thanks
  • hope
  • time
  • week
  • yeah
  • blog
  • design
  • post
  • tweet
  • weekend
  • book
  • please
  • enjoy
  • looking
  • project
  • cardiff
  • nice
  • getting
  • tomorrow
  • home
  • people
  • talk
  • follow
  • love
  • excellent
  • storytelling
  • soon
  • team
  • article
  • website
  • email
  • write
  • read
  • looks
  • thank
  • maybe
  • seen
  • sorry
  • favourites
  • writing
  • film
  • coming
  • days
  • friday
  • heard
  • doing
  • tonight
  • wait
  • idea
  • news
  • carsonified
  • feeling
  • guys
  • life
  • cool
  • indeed
  • bath
  • list
  • wales
  • reading

I’m pleased to see my tweets are well mannered! I would like ‘storytelling’ to rank higher than it currently is though so watch this space.

You can create your own cloud here.

Introducing – I Once …

Long before I started writing about communication and web type things, I wrote articles about my travels, and I could be as descriptive and creative as I wished. This is something I have neglected of late so I am introducing a new series of blog posts called: ‘I Once …’

As human beings, stories are integral to our lives, we hear them from birth and tell our own until death. So as narrator of my own life, the ‘I Once …’ articles will allow me to share some of my stories with you, adding a more personal dimension to this blog which is my own storytelling platform.

I hope you enjoy them!

COMING SOON: I Once … got massaged by a female convict in a Thai prison.

Combating Writer’s Block

Today I have been experiencing extreme writer’s block. So many words and ideas in my head but I cannot articulate them into written sentences.

This reminded me of many months ago when I direct messaged Stephen Fry on Twitter, asking him how he combats writer’s block. To my amazement he replied and I want to share his answer with you, just in case you find yourself suffering from it too.

He answered:

I combat WB by writing a diary, just a stream of words in which I talk to myself about how I can’t write. Primes the pump.

There we have it. A simple approach and one that will hopefully help me when I get back to the writing later this evening.

If you have alternative solutions, then please feel free to share your tips in the comments below.

Designing the Invisible: The birth of a book


No idea is a bad idea. Well that’s not true, tons of ideas are awful and you only need to watch Dragon’s Den to find that out. But some ideas start as a simple, rough around the edges thought, that can be honed and polished into a winning concept. That is exactly how Designing the Invisible came to life.

I remember the moment well. It wasn’t a eureka type event, more of a ‘I’m going to email Mark (Boulton) with a book idea and expect to be laughed at’ moment. Hours later I was onboard as a Five Simple Steps author. I’m getting ahead of myself here though, let’s go back to the root …

‘Mark, I’ve got an idea …

I was working at Mark Boulton Design as a Project Manager and I was heavily involved in the work for Five Simple Steps, this is the publishing company headed by Mark and Emma Boulton. As a team we were in the latter stages of getting Mark’s first book released but were already thinking beyond that, including future titles and authors.

I had written for several travel publications previously, but it was media studies and the web that really ticked my boxes, so those passions coupled with my year working at BBC Wales in Audience Research led me to email Mark a book idea which has since been polished to what is now Designing the Invisible.

A dirty diamond.

In its original form, the book was more focused on audiences and was going to discuss topics such as audience research, analytics, and personas.  It was given a title (which I won’t reveal in case Five Simple Steps want to use it at a later date) and the ball was rolling.

When Mark and I met about the book for a progress report, we both had the same reservations about some of the subject matter. Mark felt that the chapters that were centred on communication and semiotics were the more interesting, as did I, and so we agreed that they would become the focus of the book.

I went away, did my research, revised my table of contents and sent it to Mark. That makes it sound easy but it was a time consuming and at times, tough process. The whole time I had to focus on what made this book different to others, what was the unique selling point? So whilst it may seem that I have dismissed several weeks work in one sentence that isn’t the case. Honing the idea was hard.

That said, it went through a couple of revisions over a few weeks and it was a relatively fast and pain free process compared to many publishing stories I have heard. Before long, it was signed off.

The aim for any book published under the Five Simple Steps brand is for it to arm the reader with practical advice for working in that subject area – eg web design. It should also be written in an easy to read, friendly style and the design of the book/packaging should be beautiful, simple and clean. We had the content pinned down in keeping with the brand, but we needed a title to represent the broad range of topics and content to be included. Because it was part of the Five Simple Steps brand the title was most likely (though it didn’t have to) start with A Practical Guide to …

The naming ceremony.

Thinking of titles and headlines is my downfall. I struggled. Then one day Mark came into the studio and said ‘Designing the Invisible, I think we should call your book Designing the Invisible’. At first I felt it was a bit of an enigma, people wouldn’t ‘get it’ and connect to the book but it does represent the content so well and it grew on me. I said yes and then I probably made him a cup of tea or something.

Never judge a book by its cover …

…but if you do then you will judge the Five Simple Steps books in a positive way. With the nitty gritty details agreed we continued working on Mark’s book, Designing for the Web. As we reached April 2009 when the print version was released we included two postcards, one for Mark’s second book, Designing Grid Systems, and one for my own, Designing the Invisible. These postcards featured the covers, designed by Nick Boulton, and a synopsis of each book.

Soon, but not yet.

Since April lots has been going on behind the scenes regarding legalities and contracts but I won’t bore you with that or it will be a future blog post. The book was originally due to be released on December 1st but such masterpieces cannot be rushed so it has been pushed back for a short while. We have a tentative date and should be able to confirm this publicly in the coming weeks.

Stop talking and start writing.

I have been beavering away researching, writing, panicking, worrying, but above all, getting excited. I am in a position now where I can start to reveal the process and content of the book and this will be happening here on my blog, via the Designing the Invisible Twitter stream and on the Designing the Invisible website.

There will be more blog posts to follow documenting the whole process. We are hoping to show you a behind the scenes, warts and all account of self publishing.

It’s worth asking.

I had part of an idea and within weeks I was confirmed as an author. I urge you, even if it is just a small idea, to share it. You never know what it might grow into after a few creative discussions, brainstorms and some research. It is better to try and be told no, than always wonder what if (bit soppy there sorry). You can even contact Five Simple Steps with your idea.

For now though, thanks for coming along for the ride. It’s going to be bumpy but I’m strapped in.

First photo taken by Felipe

What a waste of (web) space.

I’ve been looking for a domain name this evening as I look to develop my own site. I’m clearly very late to the party or the world is full of more people called Robert Mills than I first imagined.

All the obvious domain names are taken. Now I don’t mind too much because the law states that if you snooze you lose. I snoozed alright. But what irks me are people who sit on domain names and do nothing with them. Look at for example:

Robert MillsWhat a pile of crap!

But this isn’t the only example of wasting web space that I came across this weekend. I was trying to find some information about Starbucks and branding so naturally I started with the Starbucks website. Now I’m talking about the UK site not the .com one. Check this out:

starbucks homepage

What a pile of crap!

I expected more from Starbucks. Perhaps they don’t see their online presence as being integral to their brand/marketing strategy. Shame.

Anyway, I’m sure there are loads more examples but I wanted to share those two with you. Grumble over.