Imaginary Services


John’s new company and a whole new journey.

In September of 2017 I had the extraordinary good fortune to take a class on How to Start a Business in Illinois at the Women’s Business Development Center in Chicago. It was a tremendously rewarding experience.

What came of it was Imaginary Services–my new company. Do take a look.

Imaginary Services has given me a chance to think about what I’ve done with my career; my skills, what I’m good at, what I really enjoy about design and the creative process. Through that it’s helped me figure out what I really want to do, who I really enjoy working with, and what kind of projects and new horizons I want to explore.

Come join me? When venturing into the unknown, it’s best to have companions.

Animal Houses

I had the great honor to have two of my designs accepted to this 2009 summer exhibition at the Morton Arboretum. The challenge: to display how trees are used as homes. I submitted two designs: a large hollow log, laying on its side, and the gigantic stump of a tree a raccoon was using to peek out of. Both got built, on a grand scale. The Arboretum loved the raccoon stump so much they kept it up for another year after the exhibition closed.

I could not have done this without the fantastic skills of Gary Link, Anna Wolfson, and Bim Willow, and the support of Anamari Dorgan at the Morton Arboretum. Thanks to them all!

These are some shots of the two pieces I designed for the Morton Arboretum show, “Animal Houses.” They’ll be up all summer!

I think the poster the Arboretum designed for this is beautiful.

A Lake Michigan Rock Garden.

On a secluded beach at the end of Ravine Drive in Highland Park now sits a rock garden that has (I hope) a little bit of mystery and magic in it.


Ravine Drive is a winding road, secluded, lush with old trees and elegant houses. A small parking lot laid at the end marks the entrance to Millard Park and Ravine Drive Beach.

The beach has undergone a significant transformation over the past year. An old building was torn down, its foundation ripped out of the sand. Native foliage was replanted. And a lifelong resident of Highland Park’s curiosity and fascination with the stones that wash up on shore was brought to life.

I had the great pleasure to meet with Marjie Ettinger, her husband Dick, and Rebecca Grill, Natural Areas Manager for The Park District of Highland Park over a year ago about this project. Marjie was interested in producing some kind of lasting installation about the multitude of rocks there. I was there to give it some shape: this is the early plan.

The initial Concept

“The initial concept: a bench, a pebble harp, and a garden of giant beach stones, boulder-sized, with their names inscribed in them.”

It’s not every day one gets the opportunity to create art for a public venue, or get the help and support one needs to actually make it happen. I am extremely grateful to say that Marjie and Rebecca both fell in love with the idea and ran with it. The indefatigable Ms. Grill turned her considerable energies to making sure this idea came to fruition, recruiting geologist Charles Shabica to assist in picking out the five types of stones that would be set in the beach, and Eagle Scout candidate Duncan Holzhall (who brought a whole cadre of Boy Scouts along with him) to build the bench and the pebble harp.

An Early Pebble Harp Sketch

Put the pebbles in the holes at the top and listen to them travel to the bin below.  It's good music.

Put the pebbles in the holes at the top and listen to them travel to the bin below. It’s good music.


The rocks were bought, and had their names carved into them, by the good folks at Schwake Stone, Brick, and Fireplace Company.


Already here in these photos you can see that the installation is working its magic; people engage with the garden, embellishing it with their own particular touches.

One of the significant motivating ideas throughout this project was to leave an opening for curiosity and wonder. In this day and age, when most of us carry the internet around in our pocket, it felt significant to not over-explain what is going on here at the beach. The rocks are simply identified, without any further explanation; the bench and pebble harp merely add anchors and further opportunity to engage with the area, also without explanation. Anyone can look up the names of these rocks on their phone and be connected to a wealth of information about them–far more than we could ever print on museum-esque panels mounted on poles on the beach. But is the beach really the place one wants to be standing and reading about rocks, geology, glaciers and currents and tides that move these rocks around? Or is it a place for play, for wonder, for exploration?

My contention is that one should leave the reading and academic information for where it can be absorbed best: at home, looking at a computer screen or the pages of a book. While at the beach – let’s play.

I hope you get to take a visit up to the end of Ravine Drive and explore the newfound serenity and natural peace found there. It’s a beautiful area, and I’m proud to have helped bring its new vibe into the world.

Maxim Kharchenko: LINCX, Ling, and Erlang.

If the phrase “line-rate packet processing from a software switch on commodity hardware” makes you raise an eyebrow, then you should watch this video.

This is Maxim Kharchenko, co-founder of Cloudozer and author of Erlang on Xen. He’s developed a piece of software called Ling, which tremendously improves the performance of the software defined switch LINC. For those in the know–like Infoblox CTO Stu Bailey (who conducted this interview)–it’s a huge development. They’re calling the project LINCX.

Stu commissioned me to shoot and edit this video for his keynote address to the 2014 Erlang User Conference in Stockholm. Software defined networking has been a topic of interest for him for quite some time. He’s recruited me to help him spread the word, both through Infoblox and, an organization focused on enabling SDN on an industry-wide scale.

For those who aren’t involved in the networking industry: this is the longest video piece I’ve done to-date. I challenged myself to make this video engaging for someone not familiar with the material. If you’ve got the time, please watch–and leave comments if you’d like. I welcome feedback.

Ling Sketch

A sketch to help characterize Maxim’s software.

Building a Rhinoceros.

I’d like to introduce you all to the Flow Forwarding Rhino: coming soon to a network near you.

FF Rhino

Here it comes.

Flow Forwarding and the Rhino you see above you are just one small part of the software defined networking movement growing in the computer industry.

The Hardware Defined Network is an ecosystem that sells hardware — switches, routers, firewalls, load balancers, WAN optimizers. These products may have different names, but there’s no substantive difference in their underlying technology or function.

Stu Bailey

CTO, Infoblox

Read the full Wired Insights post.

Increasingly I find myself at the center of a network of very powerful computers: my phone, my iPad, laptop, desktop, etc.  All sorts of devices we own have some kind of microprocessor in them, busily tracking our virtual comings and goings, encouraging us to connect in some other way with the myriad of other networks out there. Even your average household appliance is now being equipped with computational power: this Samsung refrigerator, for example.

Samsung Fridge

This fridge will connect to Twitter.  It’s true.

You may not need your refrigerator to run apps at this point–but if you do, it’s available, because computer processing power is incredibly inexpensive.  Quite simply, it’s cheap to slap an Intel chip into any appliance.

The ready availability of such massive processing power was unfathomable when people first started imagining computer networks.  Most of the basic notions governing the way computers exchange information are, in fact, based on ideas developed for transmitting Morse code over telegraph wires. ((For an excellent explanation of this, I recommend the book Code: The Hidden Language of Computer Hardware and Software by Charles Petzold.)) Think about that; all of our amazingly powerful computers talk to one another via processes and protocols with their roots in the 19th Century.

Many people believe that this no longer need be the case.  Companies like VMWare have introduced us to the idea that any piece of computer hardware can be replicated by software. An increasing number of Silicon Valley insiders – like Infoblox CTO Stu Bailey – are saying that it’s time to apply that to networking.

For many, the idea that there is no difference between a router and a firewall is as ludicrous as thinking that there is no difference between a refrigerator and a stove. But, when it comes to computers, it’s true. I’m no computer scientist, so I will not be able to explain this in technical terms.  But let me see if I can explain it using kitchen appliances as an example.

Most of us have toasters.  Toasters are designed to do one thing only: make toast.  You could, perhaps, make toast many other ways in your kitchen, but because your toaster is inexpensive and efficient, you can afford to have it be an independent device.

Imagine for a moment that your toaster is easily capable of heating your entire home. And, if you know how to use it right, it can also cut your grass, clean your gutters, and make sushi. To complete this thought, now imagine that every appliance in your kitchen–stove, fridge, coffee maker–is an equally powerful and adaptable machine.

This is essentially what’s going on in networking today.  Giant companies sell multi-purpose machines, capable of computing feats that a mere 10 years ago seemed like science fiction, to other giant companies – and insist they are only able to make toast.  There are roomfuls of these machines in every corporation taking care of the drudgery of getting bits of information from one place to another.  Most of their potential remains untapped; and a good portion of the established computer industry wants it to stay that way.

Bailey–and others who think like him, including the Open Networking Foundation–are working to unleash this untapped potential.  The Flow Forwarding Rhino is part of this larger movement. And here, at last, is where design comes into play.  Remember the “Intel Inside” campaign?

Flow Forwarding is a little like that Intel chip within another company’s computer.  We branded FF specifically to show users and programmers that Flow Forwarding was powerful and reliable enough to be part of the larger networking landscape to come.

FF Rhino wall graphic

It’s got weight.

The FF Rhino is probably never going to appear anywhere on a product that your average consumer will buy–and that’s OK.  That’s really not its job. But we’ve invested the time and thought into making sure that the Rhino has the communication tools it needs to take it as far as it can go.  And, where computers are concerned, it seems that we are just getting started.

Another Version of The Resumé

I had occasion to assemble another version of my resumé today.  This one plays up some marketing/advertising campaign work and lightens up on the exhibition work.  I also included some live links in the PDF to some of the things I’ve written – for Production Plus’ eZine Solutions By Design, for instance.  I haven’t written anything for Pro Plus since we parted ways in 2008 or so, but there are some fun articles there in the archives, like this one where I get a quote from Smokin’ Joe Frazier) and my theater reviews for

I really enjoy the process of putting together a fresh resumé.  It gives me a chance to revisit old work, re-evaluate it, think about what I learned from it, and how I can apply that to my work today.  Take a look at this one if you’d like.  If you have any comments or suggestions, please send them my way!  I welcome sound opinions and dialogue on anything I’ve designed.



A Quick Post from my iPad!

Hello from the 21 Century!

One of the things that I’ve most enjoyed about my career has been consistently being able to engage with new types of design and print technology. I’ve worked on Macs since 1988, and in 1993 I started really learning how to design with them. I taught myself Quark Express, cranked out a few publications, and never stopped from there on, constantly learning as I engaged with each new piece of hardware and software.

Last night, I downloaded the WordPress App for iPad, and decided that I would try to use my iPad in tandem with my new Apple wireless keyboard as a sort of deluxe, very low-profile laptop. 90% of what I do on my laptop I can now do on my phone – just not as conveniently. But, thought I, do I really need to lug around a laptop just to be able to send an email or two, or post to my blog, or work on a single presentation? Why not try the iPad?

And, so, after some technical maneuvering with the wireless keyboard, here I am, merrily typing away with no visible connection between the screen, the keyboard, or any sort of power source.

This, my friends, was science fiction when I was a child. I find that thought incredibly exhilarating.

I was just at the Game Designers’ Conference ((I’m going to come back and add a link here – and at a few places above. That will be after the fact, however – because the initial Post interface here on the iPad is making it very difficult to post links or add photos on the fly. More about that later.)) last week in San Francisco, and I was awestruck at some of the pieces of software I saw on the floor, freely available. I watched a young guy generate an entire 3D city – streets, buildings, alleys, streetlights, topography – in less time than it will take me to write this post.

It seems to me that we’re going to see a shift in the types of tools we, as designers and creatives, are going to have to start using in our work practices. Photoshop and Illustrator and InDesign simply no longer seem to be enough to stay at the forefront of design and technology. They are useful tools, certainly, but they are now as ubiquitous as your average kitchen-drawer Phillips head, and simply being able to use them no longer commands a working wage in the marketplace.

But there is always value in good design, and incredible toolsets are out there for anyone willing to explore. And, thus, I’m trying to engage with the new tools at my disposal; thus, the iPad and the wireless keyboard.

I have some thoughts on the interface that I’m learning about, and some questions. But, for the first time, I think this is wonderful! I’m looking forward to seeing what my new tools can do for me, and how I can use this to add some value to my next project.

A Shout Out to My Mom.


People of the Internets!

Tomorrow is my mom’s birthday.  Happy birthday, Mom!

I am tremendously proud of my Mom.  She’s pretty much the best Mom I can imagine.  I have a pretty active imagination, so I can imagine a lot of Moms.  The Mom I ended up with rocks.  I couldn’t be more thankful.

Thanks, Mom, for this gift – this life.  It’s the best life ever.  I feel like the luckiest guy on the planet.   So – thank you so much, for everything.

Just to clarify – I would not be the person I am today if it were not for my Mom.  She’s awesome.

It is, at the time of this writing, 5:05am EST.  Good morning, Mom!  ((Please note – I refrained from calling you – even though I wanted to.))  I love you!  Wake up!  It’s the first day of Spring!  😀

Revealing Chicago: Millennium Park 2005

Millennium Park was just a gleam in Mayor Daley’s eye when Terry Evans asked me if I wanted to work on a photo exhibition with her – the first one in the new park.  I worked closely with Ms. Evans while she was photographing inside The Field Museum for the exhibition From Prairie to Field. ((As you might have seen from the link to the Field Museum’s page, the exhibition was remounted in 2008.  The original was designed in 2001; I have some fine photographs from that original installation that will make it to this site eventually.))  I couldn’t have been more excited; I believe I accepted the job on the spot, without hesitation.


The exhibition was spearheaded by the indefatigable Jerry Adelman of Openlands, with cooperation and participation by Metropolis Strategies (then operating as Metropolis 2020).  The goal: to show the residents of Chicago their land–what it looks like from overhead, what it’s being used for, and how the growth of the city changes the landscape around us.

The exhibition opened in June of 2005 with the concrete still drying on the Gehry Bandshell.  I’m very proud to have worked on it.  It was a pleasure and a privilege to help bring Terry’s stunning photographs to an audience who could appreciate them as art and also be able to say, “hey, there’s my house!” or, “I drive past that every morning and had no idea it looked like that.”  To talk about the growth and progress of Chicago with its denizens and visitors in such a highly visible public space felt then – and still feels now – like one of the most valuable things I can do with the opportunities I’ve been given.

Revealing Chicago taught me more than I can relate here about the past, present, and future of the city.  Being on the periphery of Hizzoner’s great public work taught me a lot about the inner workings of Chicago government – which, as you may know, has always been a lively battleground.  At the opening of the exhibition I got to have a brief conversation with the Mayor:

 Hizzoner: Hey, nice show you got here.

JD: Thanks, Mayor!  Nice park you got here!

Hizzoner: Hey, thanks!

The rest of the conversation is one for the record books.  In order to appreciate it fully, some setup (and knowledge of certain maneuvers involving a former airport) is required – but if you wanna hear it and you run into me sometime I’ll be glad to tell it.

Do yourself a favor: take a look at Terry’s gallery of images from the show.  And (if you’re really interested) pick up the exhibition catalog.  I’m sure whether you are a Chicago native or just interested in some amazing photos, you’ll find something intriguing and beautiful.