Reading 17: Chapters 5, 6 and 7

The partners at Instrument are delightfully and forwardly transparent about the way they want the studio to operate.

There has been a lot of writing lately (everywhere, not at the studio) about workplace “culture,” and for good reason. Oftentimes, workplace culture is mistaken for amenities— yes, there is a slide in the lunchroom, or yes, you can skateboard in the lobby. But that culture isn’t the environment, the pay, the benefits or the freedom.

It’s the people. Like-minded but unique individuals congregate, and build culture. Hiring level-headed, invested workers that get along with the existing pool will make everyone happier.

Being mindful of the need for thoughtful human beings is what yields healthy, happy workplaces, and allows the employees to tackle projects of greater complexity, variety and breadth, of their own will.

While the incentive of free soda is exciting, the prospect of doing good work with good people is sustainable.

Reading 15: Chapters 2, 3 and 4

Shaughnessy’s discussion of freelance and studio careers is especially relevant this week.

I’ve never had a particularly good answer to “What do you want to do when you graduate?” and as the day comes nearer and nearer, I’ve felt a great deal of pressure to commit to one skill subset or another and kick off a long and productive career.

But that specialization has never been at the core of my work or attitude. I’ve always wanted to do a bit of everything, leave no stone unturned in the creative process.

Transitioning out of school as a full-time job and into work where responsibilities are cordoned to a discipline, I’ve found it to impact my investment in tasks. I spend a lot of time wondering and worrying how some other part of the project works— what’s going on outside the realm of my control or observation. For that reason, I decided to try out a new endeavor, at a much smaller studio, where each person takes part in every aspect of a project, from pitching to designing to deploying.

While still unable to decide what part of design and problem solving I enjoy most, I think this pseudo-freelance environment will pair nicely.

For others that have a clear idea of what part of the creative process they fit best, I can’t imagine a better place to be than a medium-sized studio.

Reading 14: Soullessness

I take issue with discussion of any kind of metaphysical soul unto which we are given license to project theories about its condition as affected by happiness, stress, money, love, or notion, but because Shaughnessy is barking up the right tree, I’ll let his arguments glide by that filter.

As I encounter greater and greater specialization in “industry” (speaking generally here, not just art and design), I realize how poor my prior judgements have been, both in regard to the extent of my own understanding of other trades, and the discipline itself.

I’ve come to understand that my potential is limited in more fields than not, and more so than confidence, it’s a combination of legitimate interest, compassion and a willingness to get help when faced with something new that lead to the best solutions.

We want people to know and care about the application of design, so it’s our duty in reciprocity to approach other disciplines and its evangelists with eager minds. Letting one’s own, sheltered notions guide a project is a toxic habit, and one that pales under multidisciplinary light.

Reading 13: Technology

Design has a wonderful opportunity to break any field out of stagnation. One in particular that has recently benefited from tight integration with design is technology. The relationship has been symbiotic— art wraps technology in fun, delight and ease of use, while technology elevates the immediacy and relevance of art experiences.

Tools like WebSockets and Node.JS make instantaneous, real-time, collaborative experiences possible through a web browser. Multiplayer Piano is a fantastic example of this crowd-sources, anonymous and massively multi-user generative art exhibits that fuses experience design with technology.

This quick animation caught my eye during Apple’s unveiling of iOS7, earlier today. The grid they’ve adopted for a new set of app icons (among other welcome updates to the iOS interface) is rather bold and unexpected, but delightful.

They’ve struck an uncommon balance between flexibility and simplicity, while allowing a remarkable amount of detail and cohesion.

It would be wonderful to think that other app makers would adopt the same grid, and bolster the graphic system. It’s already happened to a certain extent by virtue of illustrators and designers transforming the rounded square into other “real” objects, like cameras, boxes, cheeseburgers, or just about anything else on Dribbble.

Readings 7 & 8: Modularity

I commented on Twitter (after reading Participate’s “Modularity” chapter) that a lot of its relevance comes from how quickly its content was out of date.

This was an important and pertinent connection, I thought. That whole online ecosystems (powered by users, of course) could pop into existence and fade again in just a few months, really, is more of a celebration of participatory design than a reason to mourn.

Two services come to mind, though, that have a radically formless design, and have been heralded as great examples of user-ingenuity.

First, a simple concept executed with great care to personal preference— “IFTTT.” If This; Then That is a rule-building web application that allows users to create workflows to handle “events” in their digital life. For example, a flow could roughly say “When I get mentioned in an Instagram photo, archive the image to my DropBox.” It mimics the way a programmer would approach a test: if we arrive somewhere and a certain condition resolves to one state or another (compared with an expected or possible result), another set of instructions is carried out.

It is very much a high-functioning visual programming language for people that want the ability to use services in unique ways but don’t care to meddle with code of their own.

The second groundbreaking product for democratizing content creation is GitHub.

GitHub (at its core) is version control software, meaning it’s a way to store different states of a coding project. The result of the platform, though, was a highly active and productive social community of developers (and increasingly, designers) who do ad-hoc collaboration on an astonishing number of projects.

Where there are great ideas, the talent will congregate.

People can jump in anywhere along a project’s timeline and begin contributing, or “fork” the project into a new one. This worldwide, never-sleeping hive-mind of developers accelerate the process of building thoughtful, robust software to a rate unachievable by a group confined to a certain location.

GitHub itself is an application managed with GitHub, and anyone can contribute to the “laws” of the system.

A2: Case Study Candidates

  1. Aaron Draplin: State Posters (Lecture Series Poster Accompaniment)
    • For each state Draplin lectures in, he issues a “state poster” including phrases, ephemera, landmarks and logos often associated with that locale.
    • So slick. The man exudes confidence, and shows a lot of discipline, across years of producing these posters. The language comes through clean (ha!) and clear each time, alongside sensible colors and overall density.
    • Example: http://www.draplin.com/1998/01/ddc058_always_arizona_poster.html
  2. Nicholas Felton: Annual Reports (Publication, Infographic)
    • A hyper-organized collection of personal statistics carefully grouped and displayed in an annual “report.”
    • Felton’s experiment is truly a herculean effort (but probably mitigated by his own Daytum app). The sheer volume of data that he must wade through to generate meaningful visualizations is something even teams of people struggle with (given the pervasiveness of poor information graphics today).
    • www.feltron.com
  3. Minecraft: Shared Worlds (Video Games)
    • Minecraft is a randomly generated virtual environment into which players can invite guests with whom they might collaborate and explore.
    • Online worlds are hosted in which dozens of people may contribute, detract, live, die, farm, etc. with or from one another or on their own. Minecraft’s creator, Markus Persson, has no control over the appearance of any one world, nor the contributions of any players— he’s only established a set of “natural laws” (i.e. height limit) within millions of players make the rules. Go ahead, burn down the forest.
    • www.minecraft.net
  4. Nikki S. Lee “Projects" (Photography and Social)
    • A series of cultural and social experiments carried out by a photographer, in which she would embed herself in a community for an indeterminate amount of time, adapting her personality and outward appearance. When the moment felt right, she would ask a friend or community member to photograph her “in-situ.”
    • Not anyone could do this. It still smacks of participatory design, though, because the only constants between projects are Lee and her camera. The circumstances of each photo are so different that the structure for Projects is only as complicated as it absolutely must be. One of the greatest reflections on this series was from Lee, saying that the most privileged of the groups she emulated were the easiest. Not only is it for the sake of art, it’s a rare portal deep into the hearts of different people that share the human experience.
    • http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nikki_S._Lee
  5. Abstrukt (Blog)
    • A collection of flat geometric color studies of 18-wheeler vinyl graphics.
    • This is one of the simplest but most attractive formula projects I’ve seen. Assignment 1 took inspiration from the format, which is understated but moving, in that it captures the inadvertent beauty in an industrial setting. Attractive for the same reason that Draplin’s series of “Locomotive” (?) shirts are.
    • http://abstruckt.com
  6. Processing (Software)
    • A platform built for data-rich visualizations. Much like any other digital tool, a community surrounds Processing to support, augment and share the medium. Developers and designers have adopted the platform for its quick learning curve and out-of-the-box toolkit.
    • The “one-of-a-kind” visualizations that come out of Processing are cerebral syntheses of data as much as they are art. Rather than allowing quick illustrations, captions and basic charts to clutter an information graphic, it allows the creation of “super graphics” that might have too many variables or too much data to digest and represent manually in a program like Illustrator, or on the web with Javascript and the Canvas.
    • www.processing.org (Projects)
  7. Beck: Anti-Packaging (Package Design)
    • Beck distributed the 2006 release of “The Information” was accompanied by a blank piece of paper for the cover art. In the package, there were a number of sheets of stickers provided to the buyer to make their own album art. No two copies of the album were adorned the same way.
    • It looks like this may have just been a “poo-poo” to advertisers and the colossal amount of money that would have gone toward monetizing one specific visual for the album. Rather, it required input from the user, and became a channel for them to express that freedom.
    • http://www.notcot.com/archives/2006/10/beck-antipackag.php
  8. iRobot: RoombaComm (Third Party tool)
    • Developers and designers everywhere have embraced the openness of the Roomba platform. Originally, a consumer household product, the Roomba has transformed into the forerunner of DIY robotics and hackery.
    • Anywhere there is data and accessibility, developers will congregate. Allowing access to basic input and output from a system is a great opportunity to both understand and augment its function.
    • http://hackingroomba.com/code/roombacomm/
  9. Application Programming Interface (Vendor non-specific)
    • APIs from Instagram, Vine, Twitter, FaceBook, and other social platforms allow us to analyze person-to-person interaction at any level. Massive visualization projects have mapped out entire dynamic networks, while lending understanding to how they’re being used and the interconnectedness of its participants. Other online services have APIs, too, like TriMet, DropBox and Weather.com. Even companies that don’t have user-facing APIs likely (hopefully) use one internally to drive their own proprietary services.
    • An API is a symbol of openness, and like the Roomba’s, it allows for “home-brewing” of solutions or just simple hacks. Rather than assume the original service’s developers have “gotten it right” or found the “best use,” the API is an open invitation to developers and entrepreneurs to use public data for the good of users.
  10. Cinder: Audi Urban Future (Software/Experience Design)
    • Like Processing, Cinder is a rapid-prototyping tool often used for visualization and interactivity.
    • A great example of a person’s passive contribution to an installation built on Cinder is the “Audi Urban Future” exhibit. Sensors monitor bystanders’ position and creates a heat map under each person. When two people get close enough, their heat swells merge into a single, larger blob, and likewise when they separate, the blobs divide. Meanwhile, a parked car plots a safe path off the platform, indicated by moving arrows.
    • http://libcinder.org/gallery/

Relational Design as an Airfoil

Relational Design

Having jumped through design “syntax” and “semantics,” Andrew Blauvelt posits that we’ve entered the third phase of design, or the “pragmatics.

His comments are spot on. Although I wouldn’t have minded a flat out, honest portrayal of the necessity for specific, tailored, user-ego-infused design to marketing, he’s right to assume it has other purposes. Like we discussed last week, there are many routes to a user’s emotional center, and the theory of relational design doesn’t upset these at all.

Above, I wanted to offer some imagery to explain my perception of this context-aware design sensibility.

Rather than measuring in/out performance for a piece (which, here, we’ll suppose is the left edge and right edge of the image, respectively), we can take inventory of the system that is created around some kind of disruption. Even though the data points enter and leave the frame with similar speed and dispersion, the variety of conditions they encounter on their way is dramatically different, as is every individual’s understanding of a designed object, space or experience.


The concept of quantifying, monetizing or evaluating the success of a relational system remains difficult, as “engagement” is now inherently more complex than plotting sales against exposures.


The finer-tooth the comb we look at these design models, the better— Blauvelt’s romantic view of the current state ushers in a rediscovery of the value of the individual… but only until we, ourselves, understand the “rules of engagement.”

From “Manufactured Landscapes" come a number of powerful visuals that spark (at least) interest in and (hopefully) action to hamper the exploitation of foreign labor, clamp down on excess and eliminate waste.
The images are humbling. Scale shifts between surveys like the above (which makes the individual nearly invisible), to a view of only a laborer’s hands, diligently and efficiently working to assemble a “widget.” Together, though, the viewer is quickly given a visceral portrait of the multiplicity of processes, materials and conditions which result from the demand for and lifespan of our luxuries.

From “Manufactured Landscapes" come a number of powerful visuals that spark (at least) interest in and (hopefully) action to hamper the exploitation of foreign labor, clamp down on excess and eliminate waste.

The images are humbling. Scale shifts between surveys like the above (which makes the individual nearly invisible), to a view of only a laborer’s hands, diligently and efficiently working to assemble a “widget.” Together, though, the viewer is quickly given a visceral portrait of the multiplicity of processes, materials and conditions which result from the demand for and lifespan of our luxuries.

From Familiar, Volume 3, on the role of the artist:
"If she’s successful, the fruit promises flavor, yet doesn’t rot."
A wonderful sentiment. It’s in the context of still life, but is easily extrapolated to any creative discipline. It’s the same kind of emotional response that Sagmeister speaks of— one where authenticity and honesty subverts all other sensory data. A sort of intuition, or metaphysical gut reaction, if you will.

From Familiar, Volume 3, on the role of the artist:

"If she’s successful, the fruit promises flavor, yet doesn’t rot."

A wonderful sentiment. It’s in the context of still life, but is easily extrapolated to any creative discipline. It’s the same kind of emotional response that Sagmeister speaks of— one where authenticity and honesty subverts all other sensory data. A sort of intuition, or metaphysical gut reaction, if you will.