#033 Midway Point

Last Tuesday, Are.na featured a channel I created in 2019 called The Start of an Idea. I’ve been using it to publicly collect words found from articles, books, and other various places on the Internet. That collection of words happened to be the foundation of this newsletter that I’ve been sending semi-consistently since the beginning of this year. What started from 0 subscribers is now at 953, and nearly 50% of you open this email every week 🤯

For those of you who are new, I want to introduce myself. If you’ve been around for a while, feel free to skip down to the stuff that matters…

My name is Alex Tan, I’m lucky enough to have had my hands in a number of things, but I’ve practiced Photography, Art Direction, and Strategy professionally for commercial brands, scrappy startups, and creative individuals.

I’m the Co-Founder of MOUTHWASH and MOUTHWASH Studio — An offbeat experiment and creative studio my friends and I started in Los Angeles. We’ve been building this initiative for the last four years, and have been working on it full time for over the last two years. We’ve had the privilege to build strategies, identities, and digital destinations for some of the most unique brands in the world.

I’m also a partner at PDA, a small clothing label and experiment that Mackenzie and I are constantly tinkering with.

And finally, I write this newsletter, Common Discourse.

I position Common Discourse as a weekly briefing designed to help others (and myself) think through creativity, focus, and intentional work. It hits your inbox every Tuesday at 9:17am.

In the past I’ve written about conversations with my friends, imposter syndrome, working in public, certainty, displacement, advice from my dad, what it means to change your mind, and consistency.

In addition to the essays, I share ideas that I’m thinking about and links to places on the Internet that I thought were interesting and worth sharing.

This newsletter is 100% free and reader supported. Sharing it with others goes a long way. I like to think this project has invited some of the most interesting and thought-provoking conversations I’ve had with strangers, which I want to continue to welcome more of.

If you have something to say, just reply to this email, I’ll always respond 👋

Every past issue of Common Discourse can be found here. You can follow me on Twitter and Instagram to see what else I’m up to as well.

See you next week! 🗿

— Alex

Ideas from me


People are typically governed by two natural impulses.

  1. An attraction to the excitement of new things

  2. A yearning to the comfort provided by what we already know

The problem is that these two trains of thought compete with one another. Ryan Loewy, a famous midcentury designer, recognized this issue and applied a formula that has worked in marketing strategies for ages. It should also be applied when working on any concept or idea:

If something is naturally familiar, make it surprising. If something is too surprising, find small ways to make it familiar.


Be brave enough to be bad at something new.


You can't do anything wrong if nobody knows what you are doing.

Working, building, and creating in the open is a commitment to improvement.

Quote from somebody else

In preparation for a 1949 lecture at the University of California, Los Angeles on “Advice for Students,” Charles made the following notes on inspiration, methodology, and career strategy:

"Make a list of books

Develop a curiosity

Look at things as though for the first time

Think of things in relation to each other

Always think of the next larger thing

Avoid the pat answer—the formula

Avoid the preconceived idea

Study well objects made past recent and ancient but never without the technological and social conditions responsible

Prepare yourself to search out the true need—physical, psychological

Prepare yourself to intelligently fill that need

The art is not something you apply to your work

The art is the way you do your work, a result of your attitude toward it

Design is a full time job

It is the way you look at politics, funny papers, listen to music, raise children

Art is not a thing in a vacuum—

  • No personal signature

  • Economy of material

  • Avoid the contrived

Apprentice system and why it is impractical for them

No office wants to add another prima donna to its staff

No office is looking for a great creative genius

No office—or at least very few—can train employees from scratch

There is always a need for anyone that can do a simple job thoroughly

There are things you can do to prepare yourself—to be desirable

  • orderly work habits

  • ability to bring any job to a conclusion

  • drawing feasibility

  • lettering

  • a presentation that reads well

  • willingness to do outside work and study on a problem . . .

Primitive spear is not the work of an individual nor is a good tool or utensil.

To be a good designer you must be a good engineer in every sense: curious, inquisitive.

I am interested in course because I have great faith in the engineer, but to those who are serious(avoid putting on art hat) Boulder Dam all’s great not due engineer

By the nature of his problems the engineer has high percentage of known factors relatively little left to intuition

(the chemical engineer asking if he should call in Sulphur)"

— Charles Eames

Links worth sharing

🐤 Why Twitter’s New Interface Makes Us Mad

🌐 Sane is run by a young and persistently curious team obsessed with building information systems that support critical thinking.

😵‍💫 How I Experience The Web Today

🥳 Found this index of boutique Design Studios. Somebody was nice enough to include MOUTHWASH

📚 We’re giving away a set of books at MW.S that we felt really helped shaped us early in our careers. Click here to apply!

🗣 On Practices is an editorial platform for dialogue on building and maintaining creative practices by 56.

👕 A shirt we released in collaboration with Dinamo is still available on our website in some sizes.

Thanks for another week!

Common Discourse is a weekly briefing designed to help others (and myself) think through creativity, focus, and intentional work. It hits your inbox every Tuesday at 9:17am.

ℹ️ Read more about Common Discourse here.

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