#typography / Monotype acquired Hoefler&Co.

I’m sad to see this as Hoefler has always been a special company to me. The quality of everything they produce, even their website, is top notch. Hoefler&Co. is the epitome, the definition of “well designed” and while Monotype shares some of those values, it will never be the same. As Jonathan Hoefler steps away, I hope he’ll move into something that will give us a new expression of his detailed observation, inspired creativity, and unparalleled craft.

#film / How Wes Anderson turned The New Yorker into "The French Dispatch."

Of all the movies held back due to the pandemic, The French Dispatch is one of the top three I wanted to get a digital release. The film will debut on October 2nd, but only in theaters which means I’ll see it sometime in December when I can watch it in the safety (and peace and quiet) of my own home.

Until then, I’m happy to come across this article in The New Yorker that is just as much about Wes Anderson as it is about his film. Here is an early tidbit about Anderson’s attachment to The New Yorker:

When I was in eleventh grade, my homeroom was in the school library, and I sat in a chair where I had my back to everybody else, and I faced a wooden rack of what they labelled “periodicals.” One had drawings on the cover. That was unusual. I think the first story I read was by Ved Mehta, a “Letter from [New] Delhi.” I thought, I have no idea what this is, but I’m interested. But what I was most interested in were the short stories, because back then I thought that was what I wanted to do—fiction. Write stories and novels and so on. When I went to the University of Texas in Austin, I used to look at old bound volumes of The New Yorker in the library, because you could find things like a J. D. Salinger story that had never been collected. Then I somehow managed to find out that U.C. Berkeley was getting rid of a set, forty years of bound New Yorkers, and I bought them for six hundred dollars. I would also have my own new subscription copies bound (which is actually not a good way to preserve them). When the magazine put the whole archive online, I stopped paying to bind mine. But I still keep them. I have almost every issue, starting in the nineteen-forties.

Depending on your level of curiosity and knowledge of The New Yorker, the rest of the interview might contain too much information, also known as spoilers. So I’ll end this with this exchange between the article author, Susan Morrison and Anderson.

People have been calling the movie a love letter to journalists. That’s encouraging, given that we live in a time when journalists are being called the enemies of the people.

That’s what our colleagues at the studio call it. I might not use that exact turn of phrase, just because it’s not a love letter. It’s a movie. But it’s about journalists I have loved, journalists who have meant something to me. For the first half of my life, I thought of The New Yorker as primarily a place to read fiction, and the movie we made is all fiction. None of the journalists in the movie actually existed, and the stories are all made up. So I’ve made a fiction movie about reportage, which is odd.

With that in mind, I would love to see a similar treatment—a movie—about Tyler Brûlé, Andrew Tuck, and the troupe at Monocle magazine and their radio station, M24. Not by Wes Anderson, but a better fit like writer/director Armando Iannucci.

#growth / "This is how companies and leaders should think about audience building."

Sean Blanda, one of the smartest persons I know in content:

I’ve been working as a head of “content” in one capacity or another since 2014 and I’ve never seen a hotter job market for my field. Tech companies are tripping over themselves to “go direct” and build the audiences they want to reach, skipping most traditional media channels.

I’m sharing because building an audience is much much harder than it looks (just ask the 50 million Americans out here trying to be influencers) and also to share many of the unseen factors that go into building an audience for a startup.

For anyone trying to grow an audience, here is your masterclass. You can bet I’ve already saved this to Pocket.

#winning

Science proves that if you want to succeed in your work or art, you need to always be evolving.

For anyone looking for success, a new scientific study may have unlocked the secret or, at the very least, validated what some folks already know. Researchers have found a pattern in how people achieve their full potential. Using AI, they studied painters, film directors, and scientists to analyze their body of work against a time in their career that they define as a “hot streak.”

Nicola Davis writes in The Guardian:

Writing in the journal Nature Communications, [Prof Dashun Wang of Northwestern University] and colleagues report how they sought to investigate whether there was a common pattern behind hot streaks. To do so they looked at metrics of success such as the auction price of art works, IMDb ratings of films and citations of research papers to identify hot streaks for 2,128 artists, including Pollock and Frida Kahlo, 4,337 directors – including Mészáros and Jackson – and 20,040 scientists, including the Nobel laureates John B Fenn and Frances Arnold.

They then analysed how diverse the individuals’ work was at different points in their careers. This was assessed using an artificial intelligence system that was trained, in the case of art, to “recognise” different styles by features such as the brush strokes, shapes and objects in a piece, while in the case of film, it was trained to classify a director’s work based on plot and cast information. For science, the system identified different research topics based on the papers cited within a researcher’s publications.

The diversity before and during the hot streaks was then compared with the diversity at random points in the careers. The team found that for all three career types, work tended to be more diverse just before a true hot streak than expected from the randomly selected points.

If you click through to the study there is an interesting diagram that visualizes how the work in each industry was analyzed. Further down, you’ll see the patterns in the results, which indicate that “hot streaks” happen after a period of diversity in their work. For an example, Nicola came up with Peter Jackson’s career:

The director Peter Jackson’s career is, perhaps, a prime example: his hugely successful Lord of the Rings trilogy came after an eclectic range of movies such as the sci-fi comedy horror Bad Taste, the puppet film Meet the Feebles and the drama Heavenly Creatures.

Another pattern found that when people hit a streak, they tend to stay focused on the type of work they were doing at the time. Continuing with Nicola’s example, Jackson moved on to produce the Hobbit trilogy after the Lord of the Rings trilogy. He has since returned to a diverse roster of films that include two documentaries; one about World War I and the other on The Beatles.

To simplify the research findings, people who succeed try new methods in different subject matter to get to new outcomes and success. And once they find a combination that works, they continue their work on that path until it’s no longer equitable. Then they start over looking for the next combination that achieves another round of success.

This is why it is so important for everyone to stay curious, always on the hunt to try something new to get to new and different outcomes. Be purposeful in your evolution, not merely reactive to your situations. Doing the same thing year-after-year may produce short-term success but lead to the long-term result of not achieving your full potential. And I don’t need artificial intelligence to know that doing the same thing over and over again is super boring (see Garfield books 3-72).

#no

PX must not become a new design practice.

Earlier today I came across a “new” type of design called Product Experience (PX), and it made me want to throw up in my mouth a little. Please, dear Lord in Heaven, surely we’re not “evolving” or “maturing” design teams to go full circle to go back to focus solely on just the product. Not after teams going through a digital transformation like ripping duct tape off of hairy arms—please tell me nobody is thinking, “let’s just throw that all away and narrow our focus on just one aspect of the user journey.” But after a Google search, there it is, a definition of PX:

Product experience is a part of the entire user experience. It focuses on the journey within the key product itself. Think of it as user experience within the walls of the product.

PX is “a part.”

This isn’t a step forward, it’s taking a step eight years in the past! It’s a title change. It’s narcissistic people creating distinction for their role or service by giving it a new name. Only this one comes loaded with the potential for harmful consequences. I don’t care how many PX Ops people you hire (you know that’s going to be a thing, right?). This will end up with designers jumping into deeper silos than they already reside.

It’s also going to further create confusion in the recruitment and hiring of talent—which is already really, really screwed up. It’s bad enough that we have to distinguish between UI and UX, now we’re going to add PX? And what about CX?

Do you see where this is going? Digital design doesn’t need more complications. Not now, not ever.

Nothing good will come of this.

#dopeaf / Philips crazy Ski Slope Cassette Deck.

Until moments ago I had no idea anything like this existed. I don’t ever recall seeing this in a Sears catalog or a sci-fi movie trying to hide a bad script behind cool props. If fan fiction for Knight Rider exists then Michael must have one of these in his living room complete a robot that delivers wine coolers.

#typography / "This font hurts my eyes."

Earlier today Twitter unveiled a redesign that includes the first custom typeface called “Chirp.” The typeface is the work of Grilli Type and features “rounded tittles and punctuation introduce a humanist character.” The typeface seems like a good fit for Twitter relatively new brand look and feel—a full color riff on 80s zine and skate culture vibe. What caught my eye about this thread is not the work but the immediate negative response from everyday folks complaining about the legibility and accessibility of the typeface.

[I’m] a person with migraines, poor vision, and a neurological condition that affects my ability to read text. This font is really inaccessible.

I wasn’t seeing the problem until a few more long scrolls down I came across a tweet with imagery that shows what I presume everyone is complaining about, an illegible typeface that is super difficult to read and looks like “blobs.” It clear that the typeface unveiled is not what these folks are seeing, but it’s a big problem none-the-less.

Within hours someone tweeted a response that contains instructions and javascript that disables the custom typeface.

#goblue / What Ever Happened to IBM’s Watson?

I have to admit raising one eye-brow when I caught the title for this article in the New York Times.

Martin Kohn, a former chief medical scientist at IBM Research, recalled recommending using Watson for narrow “credibility demonstrations,” like more accurately predicting whether an individual will have an adverse reaction to a specific drug, rather than to recommend cancer treatments.

“I was told I didn’t understand,” Dr. Kohn said.

The company’s top management, current and former IBM insiders noted, was dominated until recently by executives with backgrounds in services and sales rather than technology product experts. Product people, they say, might have better understood that Watson had been custom-built for a quiz show, a powerful but limited technology.

During my time at IBM, I was in a position that allowed me to work on a number of projects that involved Watson. As a result, I spoke with several engineers who worked on the various individual technologies known collectively as “Watson.”

And they all hated—like, hashtag-hated-trademark hated—the folks in IBM marketing because the way they presented Watson was so, so, so far from reality. Their opinion on sales folks wasn’t much better. They promised clients the world, sold tens of millions of dollars worth of software and services that didn’t work as advertised.

Artificial intelligence is complex. I hear people today talk like you can just hook up AI to anything, and it will automatically receive, gather, process, and synthesize data—Easy peasy—Miller Time! But the reality is that we may be a few inches closer to living out The Jetsons than we were ten years ago.

I’d love for the New York Times to write a follow-up piece on the people who spent ungodly amounts of money at IBM on Watson solutions. Why on Earth did they buy into the advertising so hard?

I’m glad to see the company turn this around with the right people at the helm (read: not marketing and sales folks). IBM is made up mostly of a lot of really smart and wonderful people. This new approach is a better reflection of the talent and their work.