Don Moyer: Co-Founder of ThoughtForm Inc

My Native Advantage:


Don Moyer is one of the founders of the Pittsburgh-based communication planning and design firm known as ThoughtForm Inc.

In his 35-year career at ThoughtForm, Don led countless projects for Deloitte, McDonald’s, Steelcase, and other corporations. He specialized in developing visual explanations called Foglifters®. Don also wrote and designed the monthly column, Panel Discussion, for Harvard Business Review for six years. MFA, Graphic Design, Yale University
. BFA, Graphic Design, University of the Arts. Silver Star Alumni Award, University of the Arts, 2006. AIGA Fellow Award.

Now retired, Don has veered off in a new direction. Here’s how he describes his venture. I now focus on self-inflicted projects and have accidentally built a little business with products based on my drawings.

I try to draw every day and post my sketches on Flickr. The drawings I like best make me laugh. When I started posting a series of drawings of traditional Willow-pattern plates with the additional mischief of dinosaurs, pirates, and giant robots, fans of my Flickr page suggested that I add my drawings to real plates. I launched my first Kickstarter project to see what would happen. I described a plate with the added menace of flying monkeys and managed to get enough supporters to make it real in porcelain. Five more plate designs followed.

That led to more projects that were not plates. My tenth Kickstarter project will close on July 31, 2015.

After a successful Kickstarter project closes, the products based on my drawings are available at

What do you do best?

I can make ideas clear. I can chunk a complex story into manageable pieces so an audience can understand. I prefer to explain things visually because that can make a topic more engaging and clear. People also tell me that I ask good questions.

What makes you the best?

I tend to improve at something when I’m willing to experiment. My old friend and mentor, Jerry McNellis,  once told me, “Try the squid pizza.” He meant that I should be open to new experiences. One can contemplate and analyze and cook up theories, but often it is just easier to experiment. When a simple, low-cost experiment is available to answer a question, stop speculating and run a test. Order the squid pizza. The result might be wonderful or it might be awful, but you will know.

This is exactly what happens when I draw. At the start, I try to think about what I want to draw. But the cost of sketching is so low that it would be crazy not to grab a pencil and start. Bad sketches can be rejected and good sketches can be refined.

This is why Kickstarter is so wonderful. It’s a platform for experiments. With very little effort, you can describe a project. People will tell you if they want to support it or not. Often, within hours you’ll have your answer. You invested almost nothing and now you know.

How will you stay the best?

Everyone gets better by having new experiences and thinking about them—unpacking experiences to see what lessons they contain. We can learn vicariously by studying the experiences of others in conversations, books, and movies. And we can learn by going places and doing things ourselves.

I’ve always been a big fan of self-inflicted projects. Defining some project and them wading in to see what will happen always teaches something. It’s a great way to learn about technology, processes, and people. And you usually get the benefit of reusing what you learned.

But often, the most valuable benefit will be unexpected. For example, my self-inflicted project might be to launch a new product using Kickstarter, but the surprising benefit is that along the way I build a cherished relationship with a new ally. That kind of unanticipated reward happens all the time. But only if you get out of bed and start some kind of project.

What are your aspirations?

Personal: I want to draw every day and better understand what makes a drawing funny.

I’m trying to understand how to make drawings that have the power to make me laugh. It seems like it ought to be easy. But for me it can be a difficult creative act. I’m committed to understanding it better. It’s very gratifying when I can make it work.

My approach is self-indulgent. It’s all about pampering me. I draw every day in my sketchbook. These explorations are purely goofing off. I don’t have any deadlines or clients. I’m free to experiment with anything that intrigues me.

Sometimes it makes sense to turn a funny drawing into a product so more people can enjoy it. I use Kickstarter, the crowd-funding platform, for that.

Business: I don’t have any plans for world domination. I’m not trying to make a big business. I just want to be able to get up in the morning and see what I can make. If I can avoid being thrown off the train of life by the burly conductor of fate, I’d be delighted to continue this research for another 30 years.

I have a bucket list. There are nearly 100 new projects that I think it would be fun to complete before I kick the bucket.  I’m currently working on some Hawaiian-ish shirts, dragon-infested cookie jars, nearly impossible jigsaw puzzles, and more Calamityware plates.

What fascinates you?

Fallible human beings.

Favorite Motto:

The person who doesn’t make mistakes isn’t likely to make anything.

Favorite People:

Right now, there are three talents that consistently inspire me.

Tom Gauld ( is a brilliant and funny cartoonist who’s work amazes me because it is consistently lean and witty. Best of all, Tom shares pages from his sketchbooks on his Flickr site (, so you can glimpse the thought process as he teases humor out of an idea. On those pages, one also sees the false starts, fiascos, and dead ends that are part of the process of making a cartoon. A reminder that being funny may look light and effortless, but it is often hard work to get the gag just right.

Gemma Correll ( is another cartoonist who inspires me. She is hilarious. Gemma’s humor often springs from her observations of the contrasts between shining ideals and prosaic reality. The ideal Gemma would eat kale and go to yoga class. The real Gemma eats pizza and watches a movie in bed. Her drawings are charmingly simple with every detail crafted to add to the message. Gemma lives in a world were things go wrong, people are fallible, and junk-food is consumed. I recognize that world. Her work is a reminder that if you look at life in the right way, it’s full of laughs.

Richard Thompson ( is the creator of the comic strip Cul De Sac and the series for the Washington Post called Richard’s Poor Almanac. His drawings are amazing—fully of energy and surprise. And he’s funny. Richard has written a lot about his creative process and the difficulties he faces. One of the lessons he highlights is the notion of leaving room in the creative process for happy accidents. Instead of trying to get TOTAL control of everything, one should pay attention to the unexpected and capitalize on any little gifts that Fate dishes out. I like this idea because it changes the act of drawing from a struggle to maintain control to a more relaxed voyage of discovery. Loosen up. Pay attention, something good might happen.

Favorite Places:

Cape May, New Jersey. A gay sprightly land of mirth and social ease.

Favorite Products:

• Moleskine sketch books.

• Japanese writing implements from Jet Pens (

• Bailey’s—Ireland’s greatest contribution to civilization.

Current Passions:

My passion now is drawing. I love the feel of putting marks on paper.

Flickr allows me to share my daily sketches with others and that makes drawing even more fun.