#design

MIT Press offers open access to Design Issues.

I’ve known about Design Issues, but I have to admit that my interest wasn’t strong enough to buy a copy. I don’t think I have ever seen a copy on the newsstand.

My design education has been primarily through self-discovery, so I avoided the cerebral study of my vocation that most university students have to endure. I can think of only two designers I know who study design at this level regularly: Doug Powell and Michael Johnson. And I’m sure they already have a subscription to Design Issues, and/or they are downloading every PDF at this moment.

MIT Press is migrating their products to a new platform and using this temporary product purgatory as a reason to give to the community. As you’ll see, entire articles, reviews, and critiques are available to download in PDF form for free until April 30, 2021. This offer is a fantastic opportunity for us all to exercise the part of our brain that we don’t typically engage when it comes to design. Not only should each article challenge our perspectives on design, but exploring the bibliographies is certain to produce their own rewards.

Clicking through the issues, I found three themes of interest to my journey in design. Articles on systems and methodologies, research, and heritage. And an issue devoted to the legal industry—how convenient. Here are some articles that I have downloaded thus far:

While we’re discussing academic pursuits, might I also suggest this is a perfect time to read through a few of these articles and write about what you have learned. What do you find challenging to your current point of view on each topic. How might you try or consider a new strategy or tactic? Keep in mind; writing doesn’t mean you have to knock out two-thousand words on a subject (talk about boring)—try talking about what you read as if we were out having a beer. Writing is the best way to synthesize and process what you have read. And MIT Press has just given us all a nice gift in the form of free continuing education in our field.

#business / Business is not a sport.

I’m glad we still have Jason Fried around to provide a healthy alternate perspective to the mindset of the rest of the tech industry.

Businesses love to compete. To beat, to win, to go 1-0. We don’t. I have no interest in competing with anyone. And we don’t frame internal decisions in a competitive way. Business has never been about competition for me.

All we have to do is get enough customers to make our business work. That’s it. That’s how we stay alive. Not by taking marketshare away from anyone, not by siphoning off users, not by spending gobs of cash to convince people to switch. We simply have our own economics to worry about, and if we get that right, we’re golden.

When you think of yourself as an alternative, rather than a competitor, you sidestep the grief, the comparison, the need to constantly measure up. Your costs are yours. Your business operates within its own set of requirements. Your reality is yours alone.

If I channel my former business partner, he would add that breweries have made a successful cottage industry not from competing but by collaborating. Competition is for competitions.

#utopia / Once vaccinated are you free to hang out with other people?

Nope.

The best news of the past few months is that the three approved Covid-19 vaccines—the two-shot, mRNA-based ones from Pfizer and Moderna and the single-shot, adenovirus-vectored one from Johnson & Johnson—have one thing in common. They’re awesome. In trials, each prevented death and severe disease. But even though those are the endpoints that the vaccine makers tested, they aren’t the only important things to consider. “We actually don’t know whether in real life, at the population level, that efficacy translates into vaccine effectiveness,” says Ana Bento, a disease ecologist at the Indiana University School of Public Health. “While it might protect you against disease, it might not protect you against infection. It’s too soon to actually know that.”

You can’t turn a marathon into a 100m dash in the middle of the race.

#design / The art behind Hunter S. Thompson’s 1970 political campaign.

Typically any discussion around art and Hunter points to the splattered aesthetic of Ralph Steadman that visualized gonzo journalism. From this The New York Times article emerges a different artist with a completely different vibe. Thomas W. Benton designed many posters for Thompson’s 1970 run to become a sheriff of Aspen, Colorado. Benton’s work is more graphic design than illustration, but that does not deter it’s importance and artistic quality. The collection of work that has survived, when viewed all together, looks more like pages from a magazine featuring editorial, campaign posters, and advertisements. One of my favorite pieces is a “page” that looks like the advertising section found in the back of an old magazine, complete with a satirical ad for The Chart House—“in our new location.” All of this work and more will be on exhibit at the Poster House in New York City. The show is called “Freak Power” borrowed from the title of a book—and now documentary—on Hunter’s campaign and the national attention and conversation it attracted at the time. Sadly, very similar to conversations we are still having to this day.

#apple / Apple Card disabled my iCloud, App Store, and Apple ID accounts.

File this under, “Ugh.” Dustin’s use of the Apple consumer ecosystem came to a grinding halt. The culprit?

My bank account number changed in January, causing Apple Card autopay to fail. Then the Apple Store made a charge on the card. Less than fifteen days after that, my App Store, iCloud, Apple Music, and Apple ID accounts had all been disabled by Apple Card.

He also forgot to mail in a MacBook trade-in for a new laptop purchase he made, which compounded the problem.

This all seemed to have caused what I would consider the perfect storm for a multi-tiered Apple user (credit, services, products). I’m posting this here to help spread the word but to also serve as a reminder in case something like this happens to me.

#journalism

The 2020 best of digital news design award winners show just how far editorial design has come.

The Society of News Design (SND) posted their awards for work published in 2020. No surprise that the New York Times cleaned house with all of their great work related to the pandemic. And they continued their sweep with many more long-form stories and specials like Who Gets to Breathe Clean Air in New Delhi? and The African-American Art Shaping the 21st Century. The former entry features a side-scrolling interface, but please don’t take that to mean carousels are back! I loved Reuters’ work on Wildfires: A devastated coast because of their use of the screen as a canvas meant to scroll. Take a look at this project and others in these awards and tell me the “fold” still exists!

Looking through more work, I’m inspired by the Marshall Project’s art direction for Mauled: When Police Dogs Are Weapons. And I was immediately pulled into the South China Morning Posts’ film China’s Rebel City: The Hong Kong Protests. There is a lot to look through and process.

It’s nice to see the SND catch up to modern times and celebrate the fantastic work that goes into the reportage, data science, and digital design—The new trifecta in solid journalism. The last time I paid attention to the SND awards was five years ago when I attended the event in Washington D.C. at the now-closed Newseum. During the awards, anything published online or considered interactive was referred to as “online multimedia graphics.” As if the newspaper industry had completely let digital transformation blow right past them all—oh, wait…

To demonstrate just how far SND has come in its evolution of acknowledging digital, I caught two projects that received awards, yet neither is primarily a journalistic story. The first is Blacklight, a tool from The Markup that scans websites for technology installed to track user behavior. The second is a typeface called “Climate Crisis Font” designed to represent “the percentual situation of the Arctic ice pack” from 1979 to 2050. The font’s weights are arranged by decade degrade like melted ice as you get closer to the last based on data from the National Snow and Ice Data Center.

Wow, editorial design has sure come a long way!

Seeing the breadth and depth of the work submitted to the SND awards is very exciting. It makes me happy to see such a big field of innovation and new methods for reporting the news and telling stories. Whereas just a few years ago, the possibility of making a career as an editorial designer looked bleak, now it would seem the doors have been blown open.

One more thing. If you enjoyed reading this post and looking through the projects remember that journalism needs your support. Get your credit card out and become a subscriber. I pay good money to five newspapers, ten magazines, public radio, and a few newsletters because the world would absolutely, completely, and utterly suck without solid journalism. Step up and do your part.

#privacy / Blacklight.

A “real-time inspection tool” that scans websites for tracking technology.

Who is peeking over your shoulder while you work, watch videos, learn, explore, and shop on the internet? Enter the address of any website, and Blacklight will scan it and reveal the specific user-tracking technologies on the site—and who’s getting your data. You may be surprised at what you learn.

I encourage you to check a few websites that you frequent and be prepared for a surprise or two. For instance, Medium has one ad tracker and one third-party cookie, whereas the New York Times has twenty-one ad trackers and twenty-six third-party cookies in use, and they allow Facebook and Google to track your web use outside their domain. Way not cool.

#design / We lost our studio twice. But not our community.

It’s been a year since we have sat in the studio — less than a year since our team met to move our stuff out. But, what I said in the Twitter reply still stuck in the back of my head, “Our community is still strong.” And then it hit me. Like, hit me with a box of tissues, I’m crying, hit me. The IBM Studios Slack channel received a message from our sister studio in Böblingen, Germany. The studio leader had organized a Box folder of unscripted, personal, and heartfelt video messages from our studio mates. Many of them were people I trained, currently mentor, or leadership peers. The studio brought us together, yes. But, I realized through all of the virtual meetings, conversations, and late-night brainstorming that we formed a community.

Earlier this week, I caught the news that Building 903 on the IBM Austin campus suffered massive damage caused by flooding on the roof. All floors were destroyed, including 7 and 8, home of IBM Design. It feels like such a great loss as a tremendous amount of magic happened there, including the professional development of thousands of new designers from all over the world.

Oen Michael Hammonds, one of the greats to come out of the IBM Design program, wrote this thoughtful post reminding me, reminding us all, that though a place may break, the community is steadfast and strong. I am so thankful to have been a part of that community. I hope they’ll gather again soon and bring back the fantastic energy that the program brought to the building.

XOXOXO to my friends from IBM Design—I miss y’all.

#writing / The Jerry Seinfeld Guide to Writing.

David Perell, shares his method of writing apparently based on this snippet from an interview with Seinfeld (I write that because the post does not include a citation or link to the statement quoted—still it’s good advice).

Writing and editing should be separate activities.

When I’m in this creation mode, I shoot for a flow state. I keep my fingertips on the keyboard and measure progress by how many words I put on the page. I have one rule: write down every epiphany immediately. The more, the merrier.

If this creation mode is defined by quantity, the subsequent editing mode is defined by quality.

When the editing phase begins, my body chemistry changes. I change my physical environment so I can adopt a calmer and more deliberate mindset.

This is the way.

I’ve known a few folks who edit while they write, and it takes them forever just to knock out a sentence. The kind of flow kills creativity, and it’s highly likely that’s what gets in the way of so many people writing more frequently.

My initial drafts are a disaster—as are the second and third—but I’m driving to get as much out of my head as possible. Even after editing as much as I can find on my own, I still rely on Grammarly to help. I use the app to clean up my assault on the English language. And it helps me recognize bad patterns in my writing. Over the last two years, I can genuinely say that the application finds fewer mistakes to correct these days.

Thank you Mr. Stokes for the inspiration.

#communication / Navigating "Make it Pop" design requests.

The phrase is so ubiquitous in design meetings that it’s become an industry meme. But consider a more empathetic lens: with these words, a client is trying to connect with you. Similarly to when my immigrant family says “Close the lights” (i.e. “turn them off”), clients may not necessarily have the right vocabulary to articulate their design needs. As a result, we receive generic talking points disguised as design requests. Then add the complication of client teams misaligned on their own brand and you’ve got a recipe for excessive revisions, budget churn, and frustration on both sides.

Communication is the leading problem between client and provider, executive to manager, etc. Design is well placed to help address this problem by facilitating activities to build a shared vocabulary that will empower non-designers to provide the type of feedback we seek. Leah does a great job in this article highlighting some exercises that will help get the job done.