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Emails – From Delight to Deluge – NY Times Process February 11th, 2013

Last week I got a call from Minh Uong for a job for the New York Times about an issue that I’m sure we’re all well aware of: email overload. This piece written by Jenna Wortham did a great job at encapsulating how email has overwhelmed our lives. Appropriately, it’s actually been difficult for me to finish writing this post since I keep having to reply to new email messages! Not that I’m ungrateful for all the correspondence I have been getting lately, but it is hard to figure out an email system that works.

IN the not-so-distant past, the chipper AOL sound of “You’ve got mail!” filled me with giddiness and glee. I would eagerly check my in-box, excited to see what message had arrived. Those days are long gone. Now, when I examine my various e-mail accounts, my main emotion is dread. 

New York Times - Drowning in Emails - Jacqui Oakley Illustration

“It’s not the quantity of e-mails that get us into trouble,” Mr. Lyman says. “It’s the ones that require us to slow down, find the file, compose a great e-mail back. Humans only have a certain level of information processing. We get overloaded.”

 New York Times - Drowning in Emails - Jacqui Oakley Illustration

This piece was inked by hand as you can see in the photo below (please don’t judge my terrible finger nails), afterwhich it was scanned, tweaked and then coloured digitally using scanned-in paint textures.

New York Times - Drowning in Emails - Jacqui Oakley Illustration process

Here are the three linears I sent to Minh. Of course it’s the New York Times so the deadlines are quick. I got a call Wednesday night, then sent linears Thursday, taught at OCAD and then came home to do the final illustration to get it on on Friday before the big snow storm hit NYC. Luckily I had a fun time with this one since the water was so fun to ink and so staying up late working with an audio book to keep me company was good.

Usually publications want your run-of-the-mill basic white male business man in their illustrations and any time I’ve tried to veer from this obnoxious stereotype I get pulled back. I was pleasantly surprised that the art director Minh suggested to make the main character into an African-American woman, namely the article’s beautiful writer Jenna Wortham. It is a tiny little portrait so it was hard to get the facial features just right, but hopefully I’ve captured a little bit of Jenna and she gets a kick out of the scenario I’ve put her in. Maybe it will even provide a little boost to help her overcome the email deluge. Below you can see the tweaks I did before I moved onto the final.

New York Times - Drowning in Emails - Jacqui Oakley Illustration linears

The article does end on a positive note, highlighting all the coming options to help us cope with the flood. It seems our etiquette about email has to catch up the reality of the situation. I’m really excited about programs like Mailbox which will allow us to sort through our emails in a more efficient manner and even set alarms on when to respond to certain ones. Such a simple solution that it’s shocking this hasn’t been implemented yet.

Anyway, I best be getting back to work, and responding to emails. Sigh…

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