#moreplease / "The Towers of Ladakh."

A National Geographic podcast with a cool story about “a mechanical engineer teams up with an unlikely band of students who use middle school math and science to create artificial glaciers that irrigate Ladakh, a region in India hit hard by climate change.”

#aimhigh

A less gloomy forecast for US banking is also a great lesson in facts and perspective.

A week or so ago (honestly keeping track of time is getting ridiculous) flipping through Apple News, I came across an article titled, The Looming Bank Collapse: The U.S. financial system could be on the cusp of calamity. This time, we might not be able to save it by Frank Partnoy. Intrigued and pre-terrified by what I might read, I clicked through and read the article. To sum up the article, the author makes the case that banks are up to their old tricks packing toxic assets into investment vehicles reminiscent of the 2008 collateralized debt obligations (CDO). Which you may remember from its Hollywood debut in the movie The Big Short.

The Atlantic article continues that banks shifted their shiftiness to a vehicle called the collateralized loan obligation (CLO). According to the author, “A CLO walks and talks like a CDO, but in place of loans made to home buyers are loans made to businesses—specifically, troubled businesses.” If you read the entire piece without prior knowledge about macroeconomics—like I did—it will likely put you in a corner, rocking back-and-forth, and wondering if it’s time to liquidize everything and put all of your money into gold. After I finished the article, I began to scour bank websites for annual reports to look for the CLO line item. And I found them, found some anyway, and then didn’t know what to do with the information.

So I started making breakfast and tried to put it out of my mind thinking if this begins to be a real thing, I’ll read more about it in the days to come. Weeks later—nothing. Not one utterance of the acronym CLO comes across my feed reader. All is well.

Until this morning, when I kicked the day off by looking into a mortgage refinance rates and what a handful of packages lenders are offering. During a few searches, I came across a link to an article from Bloomberg titled, A 28-Year-Old With No Degree Becomes a Must-Read on the Economy. I had to click. How could you not click that title?!

The profile on Nathan Tankus is short and intriguing—I encourage you all to take a look. The story here is a young guy who has studied macroeconomics since high school and has taken his curiosity and learning to new heights. While he has yet to graduate college, Nathan has a two-year-old newsletter that is read by some of the leading minds in the world of economists, including the folks running the United States Federal Reserve. To my delight, Tankus writes plainly without diluting the topic or his perspective. He is literally the John Gruber of macroeconomics and all topics that pertain hereto.

And wouldn’t you know it, one of his recent pieces is a retort to that stroke-inducing piece from The Atlantic titled, Is There Really A “Looming Bank Collapse?” Now, if you’re into this kind of thing like I am, I would advise you to make a beverage because Nathan’s article will take a while to get through. Almost every point Partnoy made in the original article is countered with an alternative perspective backed by sources and other research. Near the end, Nathan states:

Losses from this [pandemic] may lead to “serious deficiencies in capital,” but if they do, it will not be because of fancy structured products but the failure of good old-fashioned loans because of a good old-fashioned depression.

I won’t give away any more spoilers because once you know the world isn’t going to collapse due to CLOs, it’s a fun and interesting read. The best part is that there is already a sequel! Frank Partnoy responded to back his article only to have Nathan go in and start unraveling the Atlantic’s Brooks Brothers cardigan:

Partnoy is correct that my piece doesn’t dispute any facts he stated in his article. Instead, I focused on his framing and presentation of those facts. However, as I state below, I disagree with the interpretation and presentation of these facts so fundamentally that I still think they fall within the realm of fact checking.

And this leads to the bigger lesson I was reminded of this morning. When stringing together a point-of-view, do you have the right perspective to look at the facts gathered? Do you have all of the facts? And, are you looking at the problem at the right altitude?

When working with designers, I find myself asking that very question more often than I ask anything else. In the hunt for facts, it’s easy to get into the weeds. Curiosity will take us to the nth detail in pursuit of truth. And more often then not, while in that hunt, we forget to look up (and sideways) to check if we’re at the right depth to see the problem or the story in a broader perspective.

#viewsource / “The matter of collaborative costs.”

A terrific point taken from “The design systems between us,” an insightful essay from Ethan on the cost of dedicated design tools and development decisions may not scale outside of engineering.

Modern digital teams rarely discuss decisions in terms of the collaborative costs they incur. It’s tempting—and natural!—to see design-or engineering-related decisions in isolation: that selecting Vue as a front-end framework only impacts the engineering team, or that migrating to Figma only impacts designers. But each of these changes the way that team works, which impacts how other teams will work and collaborate with them.

If you’re in the business, I encourage you to read and re-read this post because it alludes to another evolution in our industry that will shake things up. It’s not clear if it will be good or bad for designers and/or developers, but it has the potential to have a bigger impact than Responsive and Ajax combined.

#billmurray / The French Dispatch.

A Wes Anderson film starring Bill Murray about a newspaper—are you kidding me?! Ye gods! I hope the suits aren’t going to sit on this until a cure for COVID-19 is found. I don’t care what’s playing, going to a movie theatre is at the very bottom of my post-pandemic checklist.

#movetenspaces / "Senet is an all-new independent print magazine about the craft, creativity and community of board gaming."

I love it when my interests converge with independent magazine publishing. My copies of Senet have not arrived just yet but by the photos, this looks to be a fantastic publication.

The magazine promotes board gaming as an art form. Each issue includes previews of the most exciting and intriguing upcoming games, features which explore the tabletop experience and the creative processes behind it, and reviews of the latest releases from both major and independent publishers.

The tell will be in the quality of the writing, but I’m hopeful and look forward to future issues.

#design

Master designer Milton Glaser and a lifetime of evolving his work.

No sooner had I received an update on my order for Mag Men—the story of Walter Bernard and Milton Glaser’s design work on over 100 magazines—Within minutes, I got a news alert on Milton’s passing. He was 91, and I believe he continued to design up until his last day. In a 2018 interview, Milton said about work, “If I woke up in the morning and didn’t have a place to go, I’d go nuts. It’s a great reason to keep on living. Retirement is a trap.

Milton is and will forever be known as the creator of the “I [heart] NY” logo created for a 1970’s tourism campaign to draw visitors to the city. Not satisfied with merely typesetting the phrase, he turned it into an icon, sketching the first draft in the back of a cab with a red pencil on the back of an envelope. He is equally known for a promotional poster of Bob Dylan, which was included as a gift in Dylan’s 1967 greatest hits album. These are just two projects of an enormous catalog of work that also includes the creation and design of New York Magazine and redesigns of TIME, The Nation, Esquire, and The New York Review of Books magazines to name just a few more.

From my perspective, he led a very fulfilling career, and I think that had a lot to do with his non-stop curiosity, willingness, and capacity to learn.

Years ago, I had the privilege to see Milton give a lecture on design. It was in 2011, and I had recently volunteered to start the San Francisco chapter of Creative Mornings. Up until that time, there were only three: New York City, Zurich, and Los Angeles. Because it was still so new, I had yet to attend a Creative Mornings event. So as part of my onboarding, Tina (the founder) and I looked over the calendar for the next best session to attend and observe how the event worked (yes, they shot video of the speaker, but not the entire event, and I wanted to see all of the details). As it happened, the next Creative Mornings NY featured Milton Glaser at the SVA Theatre.

There were two moments during Milton’s January 2011 appearance that have always stood out for me, and that I will never forget. The first was his preamble into his talk. The second is how he dealt with failure on stage during his presentation.

Milton came to Creative Mornings intending to talk about a series of hidden relationships between all the things he had been working on in the last five years. A look into the nature of continuity and change in our work as designers and professionals.

He began with a story of two Italian men and what we can learn from how they approached life and work but arrived at similar outcomes as artists. It’s so good that I transcribed the entire story:

“In my mind, I have two artistic heroes. One is Picasso and the other is Giorgio Morandi who I studied with in the ’50s in Italy. And the interesting thing about them is they represent these extraordinary polarities. Picasso was a man who wanted everything—Wanted all the fame, all the money, all the women. That was Picasso. Morandi, on the other hand, was a man that wanted nothing. He just wanted to teach a little, once a week, in a very ordinary school in Bologna, and then go home and paint.

Even in the work of these two what seems to be contradictory figures or polar opposites figures, what you discover if you pay attention is the extraordinary range of development in every case.

In Picasso it is very easy because of his willingness to abandon what he already succeeded at is one of the sort of extraordinary things about him. Picasso would start doing something and become brilliant at doing it and then forget about it and then move on to something else. He was willing to succeed and then abandon his success.

And I always believed that one of the great difficulties in professional life is that you can’t fail enough without being out of the profession. In professional life, you have to succeed and go from one success to another in order to become visible and important. In artistic life, you have to fail over and over again in order to understand what you are doing. In our particular profession [design] failure is not acceptable and you might say as a consequence of that there really isn’t enough development because you don’t go beyond your sort of self-description of what it is you do and how you do it.

But in the case of Picasso, his courageous abandonment of his own accomplishment in history is one of the reasons he was able to move through the issue of style and manner into something else that by failing he learned.

There was a show of Morandi a couple years ago at the Metropolitan [Museum of Art}, where you really saw all of these pictures—painting and etchings—that look almost identical and then you discover that everyone is different. That in a certain way the development and change is as profound as Picasso except it is done in such a way that is virtually invisible. But I you walk through those galleries—as I did at the time and even though I know Morandi’s work you were overwhelmed by the different manifestations of the singular ideas about light and form.

In any case, what I urge you to do is to fail more often in your professional life if you want to find out what it is you are capable of learning.”

As far as I was concerned, Milton could have stopped at that moment, and it would still be the best Creative Mornings ever. Looking around at the audience, I could tell they, like me, needed some time to let that story sink in, but the teacher continued.

Milton launched into the first few frames of his presentation when it became clear something was wrong. He paused and muttered to himself, looking unsure about what he saw on the computer, but he pushed on. He continued to speak to the work represented on the slides until around twenty-four minutes. He looked to the crowd, stopped the presentation, and apologized to the crowd: “I’m sorry this really is a separate presentation that has found its way onto of this morning’s presentation. And it doesn’t really belong here. Quite unrelated to our thesis this morning.”

Cool as a cucumber. Most speakers I know would have caved if they didn’t have the right slides and would have ended their presentation right then and there. Not Milton, he powered through what he had (often skipping slides) to provide a compelling narration of his work while keeping to the theme of the intended lesson.

On that morning, I learned that there is more to compelling presentations than flipping through hundreds of slides and well-timed animated GIFs with every word memorized and rehearsed like a K-POP performance. As accomplished as he is, Milton could have paraded his top hits and regaled us with a flashy presentation with behind-the-scenes stories and quotes of famous people responding to his work. Instead, he invited us into a more vulnerable place filled with curiosity: questions and wonder. And he did so in a masterful way to inspire us to make his point about finding new ways of evolving our work (and who we are) whether to stop and start over again or spend years on subtle, incremental changes.

Looking back on his work Milton successfully made a case that his career is a successful contemporary blend of Piccaso’s constant reinvention and Morandi’s persistent method. In the middle of his lecture, Milton dropped this line: “Color is one of those subjects you never can fully learn it’s the most mysterious manifestations of the arts.” Wow! If that’s how he felt about his command of a core of art and design, then it is easy to see how he kept going into the studio each day—what an incredible inspiration he was and what an inspiration his work will be to future generations.

I’m thankful I got to be a witness to the greatness of Milton Glaser (albeit briefly) and for the lessons I took away from that day. And the many lessons I still have yet to learn.