Kai Brach

Kai was a web designer of ten years before becoming a publisher of a print magazine. He resides in Melbourne and periodically in Berlin. Kai is the Editor-in-Chief-slash-Publisher of the print publication Offscreen which explores the life and the work of the people behind websites and apps.

When Kai is not feeding the online companion of Offscreen with interesting nuggets about his life as an indie publisher, he tweets @kaibrach and generally keeps tabs on what's happening in the web industry.

Published Thoughts

Whenever I make the mistake of watching the news and politics and the evidential failure of the human species, I try to calm myself by thinking about the story of The Orphan Tomato.

It’s the story of my girlfriend and I picking up a few groceries at a supermarket on the way home. In the veggie corner she suddenly disagrees with my choice of tomato. Confused I double-check — the tomato I picked looks faultlessly succulent and fresh. It could have easily made it into a burger commercial.

My girlfriend comes over and out of the perfectly aligned army of identical red, juicy balls she picks up the single one tomato with dents all over its slightly saggy skin that’s riddled with signs of abuse.

“This one!”, she says as if it’s the most obvious thing in the world.

“Why?”, I ask still quite confused.

“Because if we don’t take her, no one else will. She’s gonna be left behind!”

Now, this may not be the most heroic story you’ve ever read, but in the face of all the unjust and pure evil shit that’s going down every day, to me the story of The Orphan Tomato represents all that’s still good in the world.

I may not be able to stop media companies from contaminating my mind, politicians from being corrupt and big corporations from destroying the planet, but with almost no effort I can stop the trend of not caring and I can stop my own cynicism about the world we live in. As cliché as it sounds, making this place better starts with the smallest, seemingly most insignificant things. Whether it’s giving up your seat for that old lady on the train, choosing to ride your bicycle instead of driving a car, or simply by not wasting perfectly fine food.

The little things, like an orphan tomato.

I’m totally blown away by how horrible their new iPhone app is!!! Their customer service is shocking too. The worst experience ever!!! It’s so painful and devastating to watch how a new CEO is butchering a once stunning product!

Every time I come across inflated statements like this (and that’s a lot of times), I think back to a great article fittingly titled “Apocalyptic hyperbole leaves journalism speechless”.

Please add it to your reading list, you won’t regret it.

In today’s numbskull media environment only the loudest and most bombastic language can trigger the slightest of reactions. We’ve become completely desensitised by our own words. Somewhere in between meaningless tweets and catchy headlines we’ve lost the ability to distinguish between serious and senseless. When horrific events do occur, the media world (i.e. all of us) is lost for words. “Our most powerful language has been sold too cheaply.”

How is it possible that we use the same language to express our feelings about a software update and the massacre of hundreds of people?

It’s time that we begin picking our online friends based not just on what say they, but how they say it. If you need superlatives, drama and hyperbole to talk about your design taste, last night’s football game or your favourite burger, consider me a “casualty of your explosive language”.

As a web designer by trade I’ve been producing digital stuff for pretty much all of my professional life. Recently, I started publishing a real magazine and have since become aware of and learned a lot about the ways in which we experience real, physical products. I’m fascinated with the power that emanates from them.

I love doing what you may call “usability research”. I walk into one of my stockists and observe how my magazine is being picked up, carefully inspected, smelled, touched, flicked through, skimmed and then either put back or purchased.

There is something unique about the “check out” process when you buy real products. Your immediate judgment asks you to consider whether this thing in your hands is worth the price tag. You rely on all of your senses to make that judgement call. If it feels right (literally) you might end up walking out of that shop with a new read.

However, I still sell the vast majority of my (print) magazine online. As weird as it sounds coming from me and given the subject matter, this is somewhat unfortunate, because it breaks the physical experience. Yet, it still makes for some very interesting observations.

When I shipped the first issue I didn’t expect every other tweet to be about people having a great time sniffing my mag once they unwrapped it. Some incoming emails tried to persuade me to start producing notebooks with the same paper, as they had fallen in love with the touch of the stock. Some folks actually bought two copies, one to peruse and one to leave untouched on their shelves.

I love technology, and just like everyone else I spend (too) much of my days staring at screens. Producing Offscreen reminds me why we all still love the occasional “real” book, why we spent big bucks on novelty notebooks to scribble in or why letterpress has seen such a renaissance.

It’s the longing for a truly sensual experience and physical ownership. Give it dog ears. Leave a coffee stain. Make it your own. Take it along for the ride. It’s almost like a witness, a physical proof of “been there, done that”. Printed objects have a sense of origin and uniqueness that digital objects will never have. We give them more of our attention. We respect them for what they are (enough to put them on your bookshelves like trophies). We proudly lend them to our friends under the provision that they take care of them.

No, Print is not dead. It’s just waiting to be rediscovered by those worthy of it.

Failure is the new success. Hardly a day goes by without me stumbling across a blog post or quote that embraces a “failures are important” attitude. Sometimes I hear people talk about their professional failures as if they are talking about a list of achievements. Of course, being constructive and supportive are values I highly appreciate about the web community. However, there are a few things that I can’t stop thinking about whenever I read yet another “fail often” post.

Back in the day — before easy venture capital and 4-hour work days — real failure often had a much more disastrous meaning. For instance, my uncle tells me about how he “wasted” eight years of his life trying to make a self-funded business idea work that eventually left his family relying on social welfare payments. During that time, more often than he wants to admit he went to bed hungry or had to deny his kids even the most basic wish. I’d love to know what he would say about us putting up posters that proclaim “Fail often. Fail early.”

When your app doesn’t make Apple’s Editor’s Choice; when your side project never sees the light of day because you are too busy working at a well-paying job; when your startup blows through five million dollars of venture capital within a mere three months, have you really failed or did you just get carried away enviously measuring yourself with rich entrepreneurs featured on Techcrunch?

Instead of talking about how to deal with failure, why aren’t we talking more about how to recognise success? How can we measure success in an industry with billion-dollar exits and overnight celebrity status?

I’m often congratulated on the success I’m having with Offscreen Magazine. The surprising thing about this is that it took me a pretty long time to agree and realise that I am, in fact, successful.

It wasn’t a feature article in the New York Times (although that would be nice), it wasn’t venture capital firms that came knocking (why would they?) and it most certainly wasn’t enormous profits flooding my bank account (welcome to publishing!).

It’s the acknowledgment that success is not a final destination, but the journey itself. Are you doing something you truly enjoy? Do you have friends and colleagues telling you that you’re doing great work? Are you being compensated in a fair way that allows for a healthy and fulfilling lifestyle? Yes? Congratulations, you’re being successful! Now, who said failure?

When I first started watching Seinfeld religiously in my early twenties, I was fascinated by how wonderfully the show’s humour fits into our day-to-day lives, offering somewhat less serious solutions to somewhat serious problems. One line that really struck me was during the episode “The Revenge” in which George Costanza plots to exact revenge on his boss. Jerry sums up George’s struggle by saying: “The best revenge is living well*.”

It’s almost too simple a solution to take seriously, but give it a second thought. The only way we can be happy with our own lives and the decisions we make along the way is to go about it in a content, unregretful way. Nothing teaches cynical or envious people a better lesson than seeing you not give a damn about their actions. Being successful in your own life is the best way of getting back at them, and in turn, inspire others to do the same.

* I later learned that Jerry borrowed this quote from the English poet George Herbert.