Khoi Vinh’s Web Site
Thu 16 May
The reality for most designers is that we are very likely to work at companies whose principal line of business is not design, but something else — media, services, widgets, what have you. This is slightly less true if you’re in the studio or agency world, but certainly if you do interaction or product design, you’re probably working in an environment that’s engineering-focused first, and design-focused second (or third). There’s a tech sector, but there’s no ‘design sector.’
Thankfully, as the design profession has matured designers have learned to assert themselves effectively in these situations. That includes having a say in the process of hiring new team members. Just as engineers and product managers (who more often than not come from engineering backgrounds) will often interview potential design hires, it’s becoming increasingly common for designers to interview engineering candidates too. I’ve done it a lot over the past several years, and it’s not uncommon at Etsy.
For designers though, interviewing an engineer does not always come naturally. In part this is because the language of engineering is so concrete and therefore more widely assimilated, and the language of design is comparatively soft and resigned to niches.
Tue 14 May
A wonderfully argued indictment of skeuomorphism and its inherent falsity, by designer and developer Matt Gemell. It’s well worth a read, though I actually don’t fully agree with it. I’m working up to writing down my thoughts on the widespread distaste for skeuomorphism and the accompanying mania for ‘flat design.’ And when I say ‘working up to it’ I mean ‘trying to find the time.’ Anyway, Read Matt’s piece here.
Tue 07 May
Late in December of 2010, I paid US$750 (including taxes and shipping) for an upgrade copy of Adobe Creative Suite 5. I’m still using that software on my Mac at home, and find that it covers most all of my needs. If you amortize that cost out over the roughly thirty months that I’ve owned CS5, it comes to about US$25 per month.
When I first did this math, I expected that figure to be significantly lower than the cost for Adobe’s Creative Cloud software, which offers the same applications as the Creative Suite but via monthly subscription. Existing CS customers can subscribe to Creative Cloud for US$30 a month. Over the course of thirty months, that comes to about US$150 more than what I paid in December 2010. That’s not nothing, but it’s a fair price to pay considering that CC always provides the latest versions of Adobe’s software.
Of course, thirty months is an arbitrary number. I could probably use CS5 for another twelve months, at least, before I would really need to upgrade it. In so doing I’d effectively drive the price down to around US$18 a month, saving me US$510 over the cost of subscribing to Creative Cloud during that extended period of time.
However, as Adobe announced yesterday, going forward the only way to get access to the new versions of Adobe’s key software will be through a Creative Cloud subscription. If you want to use Photoshop, Illustrator, InDesign, etc. now you must pay a monthly subscription fee. Which is to say, you can no longer buy a single, standalone version and let it amortize out over as long as you like.
Whether this is a good thing or not depends on each customer’s needs, of course. Some people will appreciate the ability to pay only for the months that they need. For businesses and startups, in particular, the ability to put a legal copy of Adobe’s apps in an employee’s hands for US$50 a month (the cost for new customers) instead of several hundred dollars is sure to be a boon.
But for folks like myself, who find that only every second or third of Adobe’s major releases truly warrants the financial and technological hassle of an upgrade, losing that option is not so appealing. It feels less like innovation and more like manipulation.
Wed 01 May
My general skepticism about print-based graphic design products continues, but I have to respect those who keep at it, and manage to turn them into worthwhile objects — and products, even. My friends at Under Consideration, for instance, have just launched UC.Quarterly, a periodical “summary of the most interesting, relevant, and simply fun-to-see projects published each quarter.” The projects are selected from UC’s network of sites about graphic design and branding.
I’ve got the first issue in my hands and it’s a super-fun read. There’s very little additional content beyond the project images themselves, but to me this is the print equivalent of browsing at your leisure through Dribbble or the design-related content on Pinterest. It’s inspiration fodder, basically.
Each issue is published via Newspaper Club, which offers custom, short-run printing on wonderfully casual, unpretentious newsprint. You can buy them for US$15 a pop or subscribe to a year’s worth for US$45. Get yours here.
Mon 29 Apr
Ghost is a Kickstarter project to build a new blogging platform. As the incumbent applications like WordPress have become much broader in scope and therefore more complex than just a tool for publishing content, the Ghost team hopes to create something much more focused on writing, blogging and journalism. Their prototype and their marketing materials look preternaturally professional; if nothing else, I want this project to happen so I can see if it’s as slick as the screen grabs and demo video suggest. On the issue of whether creating the next major blogging platform is an anachronistic ambition or not, I leave it to the market to decide. See the demo and link off to the Kickstarter page at TryGhost.org.
Fri 26 Apr
Really superb article on how touch screens really work, and how to design interactions for them. Read here.
The best deal I’ve gotten lately is this pair of DJ-style headphones from the unassumingly fantastic technical retailer Monoprice.com, best known for selling incredibly cheap cables of all sorts. I’ve been a customer for years (and if you have any kind of cabling needs, you should be too), but I was surprised to realize lately that they are trying to branch out into more general consumer product categories.
Monoprice is tackling headphones and computer models — and soon high-end audio equipment, car audio, and home automation hardware — with the same pricing strategy that they brought to cables: they “try to make sure that we’re about fifty percent below what a retailer would be selling that product for.” In many cases, they easily clear this bar. The company’s earbud-style headphones, for instance, start at less than US$3 each. The headphones I bought cost just US$21. (Warning, each customer is allowed to buy just ten pairs. Sorry.)
Wed 24 Apr
I took a so-called “stay-cation” last week to work on the house. I also spent a bit of time playing with Facebook Home on my HTC One X. I was excited to try it, because the prospect of adding a layer of elegance on top of my One X, which is awkward in just about every way, was very appealing.
Facebook Home delivers on that promise, if not completely then at least on a few levels. Installation was painless, and the immediate experience of running what essentially amounts to a Facebook-fueled screen saver on my phone’s home screen is a powerful emotional moment. I found myself getting pulled into Home often, flipping through many more status updates than I normally do on Facebook’s Web site. Its full-screen pictures are truly beautiful; Facebook’s engineers and designers have pulled off some fancy trickery that makes just about every image — and every status update comes with an image — look great.
Mon 22 Apr
There are many products that purport to solve the problem of Web pages still being fundamentally difficult for just about everyone to create, but Nubook is aimed specifically at so-called creatives — “designers, photographers, architects, artists, actors, stylists, collectors” — who don’t have the skills to code a page or manage a server. In my limited playing around with it, Nubook does in fact seem quite easy, and loaded with exceedingly elegant templates (which is what you’d expect when one of the key folks behind it is Thomas Brodahl). More to the point, the service is focused on presentations, and is not meant to be a traditional host for fully-fledged Web sites or blogs in the traditional sense. That limited focus is a potentially meaningful distinction; I think it’s really smart. Give it a spin at Nubook.com.
Fri 12 Apr
This gorgeous, vintage Nikon One camera is currently on sale at Ebay for US$21,000. If that’s too rich for you, you can still marvel at the gorgeous product shots that the seller has taken of it.
See more pictures, or even just treat yourself and buy it, at the Ebay listing.
Thu 11 Apr
Sometimes a designer doesn’t completely account for the reality of how a solution or product will be used, and instead designs around a set of requirements that seem to be fully representative of the problem at hand, but are actually narrower in scope. I call this designing for the ideal, because the designer typically chooses a band of requirements that play nicely with the favored solution — content that looks great or inputs that behave wonderfully within the design as it is being crafted. More often than not though, when the product is released into the real world the designer is in for a rude awakening.
There was a bit of designing for the ideal, I think, when the three major browsers — Safari, Chrome and Firefox — each started presenting a gallery of a user’s most visited Web pages within new tabs, instead of just a blank page or a user’s designated starting page. This feature has been around for a while now, but it’s remained broken for quite a long time.
Wed 10 Apr
Photoshop’s blend modes are incredibly powerful, but their documentation is somewhat sparse, and most people use only a fraction of their power, I would bet. Photographer Robert Thomas fills in the gaps with this incredibly detailed look at how blend modes work, explaining how to manipulate blend layers through obscure keyboard shortcuts that I had no idea were available (and I use a ton of keyboard shortcuts in Photoshop), as well as diving into the actual mathematical operations that drives each mode. It’s probably more in-depth than most users have need for, but in those cases when a deeper understanding of how these features work, this is remarkable. Read all about them here.
Tue 09 Apr
This Facebook-connected, random portraiture project is pretty neat. Some stranger somewhere around the world will draw your portrait for free; the catch is that before you can see how it turned out, you have to draw another stranger’s portrait. The gallery is very entertaining.
Anyone can take part over at Selflessportraits.com. The only drawback is you have to sign in with Facebook.
Mon 08 Apr
This small, Manchester-based illustration and animation studio has produced a wealth of beguiling work. Their short films and animations are particularly charming.
It’s worth losing yourself in their portfolio for fifteen minutes or so.
A new, UK-based conference company “…celebrating excellence in design and its influence in contemporary culture and society.” The speaker list looks terrific. Before the reality of having twins set in, their POINT 01 Authenticity event was going to be the one conference I intended to attend in 2013. Find out more at their Web site.
Sun 07 Apr
The world has been mourning Roger Ebert, who passed away last week, and I join them. I learned a lot about watching movies from the man, but as I observed from afar as he struggled valiantly with disease I learned a lot more about what it means to fully become a person. His film criticism was always commendable, but the way he used it to undergird a life of great curiosity and thoughtfulness was remarkable. He’ll be greatly missed.
I won’t try to write any more than this about Ebert, since so much has already been written about him just in the past two days. Not as much will probably be written about the passing of longtime comics great Carmine Infantino, though, but that doesn’t take anything away from his own remarkable life.
Fri 05 Apr
Somehow last year I ended up owning an HTC One X in addition to my iPhone. It’s never been particularly useful (AT&T has stranded it with an older version of Android) but now it has a purpose in life: the One X is among a few of the first phones that will run Facebook Home, just announced yesterday with much fanfare. I will definitely be installing Home on my One X when it launches on April 12.
I have decidedly mixed feelings about Facebook, most of them negative. But I do respect what they’ve done. You’ve got to; awful as it is in so many ways, it’s too massive, and too difficult to ignore.
Facebook Home, at least at first blush, only gives me more reason to respect them. I see at least two reasons to believe that the company may have pulled off things that other, similarly massive companies have tried and failed at.
First, Facebook Home seems to be a genuinely fresh approach to what a phone operating system can be (whether it really qualifies as an OS or not is debatable). Its conceit is that it eschews the ‘app-centric’ approach that almost every other smartphone OS takes, preferring instead a ‘people-centric’ approach. If it works, it will be a meaningful differentiator in the market, and more or less exactly what I criticized Blackberry for failing to do with their newest phone products.
Second, Facebook Home aims to wholly subvert the resident operating system on the Android phones on which it runs with Facebook’s own ecosystem. I think mostly of Adobe in this regard; for years, they’ve taken an insurrectionist approach with their Creative Suite software, piggybacking what amounts to an entire, largely unwanted operating system’s worth of code (if not features) along with Adobe’s otherwise useful applications. It’s always been a bear for end users, and it has hardly succeeded in establishing CS as a beachhead for doing anything other than what you would have turned to Photoshop, InDesign, Illustrator for without it.
If Facebook Home sees wide adoption among both users and developers, it will achieve exactly what Adobe strove for: supplanting the OS that came preinstalled on your hardware (unless of course you buy the HTC First) with something entirely different, effectively stealing customers away from Google. That’s incredibly bold, and if they pull it off, wow. I won’t like them any more for it, but I will respect them more.
One more begrudging note of appreciation, offered again with the caveat “if Facebook Home succeeds”: this could be the definitive contribution to the argument that Mark Zuckerberg is the most talented product designer since Steve Jobs.
Wed 03 Apr
This “friendly Canadian photographer” produces wonderfully graphical compositions, which is naturally very appealing to me. But I think what I like best are his works that seem to blur the line between image capture and painting; Myers’ palettes are so uniform and so rich — particularly in the shadows cast by the few spare objects in each shot — that his photos seem as if they were rendered in oil paint.
See more of his work on his Web site.
Tue 02 Apr
Just launched today, this gallery “…presents letterpress work from notable letterpress printers, designers, and artisans from around the country including Rohner Letterpress, Studio on Fire, Two Paperdolls, and Mama’s Sauce. The site features selections from a new curator each month. Letterpress history, context, educational information, community connections and a list of letterpress printers round out the site.”
In addition, the site aims to assist The Hamilton Wood Type & Printing Museum “in their efforts to relocate and effectively salvage a priceless piece of letterpress history.” The marquee video explains the daunting challenge that the museum faces, and the site urges fans of letterpress to donate to the cause.
Visit The Beauty of Letterpress.
Mon 01 Apr
This is several years old but new to me: Surfrider Foundation teamed up with advertising agency Saatchi & Saatchi LA to produce this environmental awareness campaign. They collected real trash from local beaches, packaged them up and brought them to local farmers’ markets.
Read more in this old blog post at Shape+Color.
Fri 29 Mar
Animator Michael Ruocco breaks down seven seconds of the 1977 Disney children’s classic “The Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh,” in which animator Milt Kahl brings the character Tigger to exuberant life. This analysis is the very definition of a committed craftsperson: it is a nuanced, careful examination of every piece of the work at hand, filtered through a clear-eyed appreciation for the craftspeople who have come before. For designers, it’s just the umpteenth reminder that even very small details add up. Read the full blog post at Cartoon Brew.
Thu 28 Mar
I’ve always had a soft spot for double-exposure photography, and how it crosses over from image capture into a form of graphic design. I’m most impressed when the exposures are all done in the camera (rather than in Photoshop), because to me it seems very close to laying out elements in the real world.
Here is some work from two photographers who have really mastered the form. They both work in very similar styles, and I have no idea if one can claim precedent over the other, so I’ll just list them alphabetically.
First off is Anette Ivanova.
And here’s work from Christoffer Relander.
I’ve put together this Bitly bundle which points to portfolios for each.
Wed 27 Mar
Apple long ago abandoned its original “Magical and Revolutionary” tagline for the iPad, probably out of some embarrassment at how the word ‘magical’ made so many of us groan. But the more I use, build and learn about touch-based software, the more I think magic is really a key component of this stuff, even if it’s not exclusive to the iPad.
I thought about this recently when a co-worker introduced me to Moves, an iPhone app that tracks the number of steps you take, with the aim of getting you to be more physically active from day to day. Once downloaded, you use Moves by doing… well, almost nothing. The app does everything for you, recording and parsing out your steps by mapping where you’ve traveled over the course of the day, how far and how fast, all with no user intervention required. All you have to do is the walking part, and the app quite literally does the rest, generating a complete, metered itinerary for all the walking and (most of) the places you visited in a given day.
Tue 26 Mar
Designer and critic Michael Abrahamson’s Fuck Yeah Brutalism tumblelog is a favorite. It provides a steady stream of historical photographs of the brutalist style, a postwar mode of architecture that favored the emphatic use of cast concrete and brick at huge and often inhumane scales. Looking back on what was built in this style, it strikes me that brutalism is the closest that architecture ever came to replicating the horrific beauty of a multi-car pileup.
Now Abrahamson is bringing brutalism to architecture magazine Clog as guest editor for the current issue. The folks at Clog were nice enough to send some sneak peek shots at the interior of the issue.
You can’t look away, but you can order your copy here.
Mon 25 Mar
Thu 21 Mar
New York designer Mike Joyce has been producing hypothetical gig posters for some of his favorite bands from the punk and post-punk era, designed in the style of Swiss Modernism. Each one is set in lowercase Berthold Akzidenz-Grotesk Medium. There are plenty more of them to see at Swissted.com, and Quirk Books has collected them into a book.
Wed 20 Mar
Here is a quick list I made of some of the many mobile news apps that have entered the market over the past few years: Prismatic, Circa, Pulse, News 360, Summly, and Zite. These are all serious, well-funded and/or well-staffed entrepreneurial attempts at building the next great news brands. You can probably name at least a few others.
To some degree or another, they all propose to define a new kind of news reading experience that lies at the intersection of mobile access and customizable headlines. Some of them are pretty good at it, too. But none of them have truly come to own this category, and similarly none of them have become indispensable mobile brands the way that say Instagram has.
This situation puzzles me, because reading the news is one of the core use cases on a mobile phone — just about everyone does it. It surprises me that we’re almost six years into the iPhone-fueled smartphone era, and we don’t yet have a commonly agreed upon winner among news apps. Not just a clear leader in downloads, installs and active users, but an outright brand leader, an approximate equivalent to what CNN was in the first decades of cable news.
There is a distinction, of course, between producing original news, like CNN does, and aggregating or repackaging it, like almost all of these apps do. And maybe the fact that these brands have already come up against the limits of their popularity suggests that aggregation will always be inferior to original news.
I wouldn’t be surprised if in the long run that turns out to be the case; research suggests that legacy news brands enjoy an advantage in mobile (at least for now).
Still, I highly doubt that the combination of mobile access and customized headlines has already played itself out fully. While I take nothing away from what these apps have done so far, it strikes me that we are still just learning what mobile news consumption means, and how it’s very different from traditional or even desktop media models. As our understanding matures, new apps and brands will enter the market with radically different interaction models.
If you also have a little bit of faith that technology will continue its heretofore unceasing forward march, then it becomes quite reasonable to expect that we are due for huge innovations in relevance and automated customization sometime in the next decade, which will benefit this category of software immensely. That is, solutions to the challenge of creating a news experience tailored just for your interests (explicit and implicit) are bound to get more and more sophisticated — and accurate. The company that is the first to combine such technology with a truly advanced understanding of mobile news consumption will become the next great news brand.
This is horrifying and quite damning of both technology companies and consumers (I’m as guilty as anyone else). The New York Times reports on the glut in recycled displays: Back in 2004 recyclers of old televisions and monitors were selling the glass in these discarded devices for as much as $200 a ton. The recycled materials would go into new cathode ray-based displays.
Because of the nearly total shift in the market towards flat screen displays, today it costs those same companies as much as $200 a ton just to remove the now unwanted devices. Naturally many of them don’t bother, and huge repositories of old televisions and monitors now sit in sometimes illegal quantities in warehouses. Worse, the owners of some of these businesses, cutting their losses, sometimes abandon them entirely, resulting in public health hazards; at one site the lead levels were seventy-five times the federal limit. Read the whole story.
Tue 19 Mar