is a blog about design, technology and culture written by Khoi Vinh, and has been more or less continuously published since December 2000 in New York City. Khoi is currently Principal Designer at Adobe, Design Chair at Wildcard and co-founder of Kidpost. Previously, Khoi was co-founder and CEO of Mixel (acquired by Etsy, Inc.), Design Director of The New York Times Online, and co-founder of the design studio Behavior, LLC. He is the author of “Ordering Disorder: Grid Principles for Web Design,” and was named one of Fast Company’s “fifty most influential designers in America.” Khoi lives in Crown Heights, Brooklyn with his wife and three children. Refer to the advertising and sponsorship page for inquiries.+
This is an excellent overview of how the team at Spotify conceived of and brought to life Discover Weekly, their algorithmically generated, personalized playlists of uncannily accurate recommendations for each user. It touches on a few data science concepts that will escape many readers (like myself) but overall it provides great insight into what is, for my money, the best recommendation technology I’ve ever seen (or heard). The story of how this feature evolved from previous attempts at greasing user discovery of content is on its own very eye-opening, as is the revelation that repurposing users’ Facebook avatars as the “cover image” for the playlists led to a 10% increase in weekly average users.+
I’ve written about Parisian artist Vincent Mahé, one of my favorite illustrators working today, on this blog before. Getting occasional updates on his new projects from Mahé’s Behance account is like getting little Christmas gifts in my inbox.
This recent work really impressed me: an illustrated biography of modern architecture pioneer Le Corbusier. Mahé’s use of two ink colors to further enliven his already playful, graphical interpretation of Le Corbusier’s eventful life and career brought out the kid in me. This is the kind of presentation of history that I would have pored over for hours as a kid, marveling at the line work while inadvertently learning something too. I very much want to get a copy of this for myself, but I’d just as much want to get a translated copy for my kids.
See more, including details of the illustrations, at behance.net.+
I never wrote about the unfortunate demise of The Dissolve, a truly wonderful site devoted to film criticism and news that shut down earlier this year. I was a regular visitor, soaking up its writers and editors’ cerebrally passionate reviews and essays about the full spectrum of cinema. That’s why I’m so happy that several of that site’s editors have just reunited to produce The Next Picture Show, a new podcast with a novel structure: each “episode” comes in two parts; one focuses on a contemporary movie release and the other on an earlier film, a historical precedent.
The first two-parter covers “Spotlight,” a superb dramatization of The Boston Globe’s coverage of pedophile Catholic priests almost fifteen years ago—this is very likely the best film of the year. Its counterpart is “All the President’s Men,” the modern classic of American journalism that dramatizes The Washington Post’s breaking of the Watergate scandal. Both discussions are substantive, witty and entertaining.
You can learn more and subscribe at thenextpictureshow.tumblr.com.+
This stunning visualization of over a billion New York City taxi and Uber trips between January 2009 and June 2015 is just the most beautiful of a fascinating set of data analyses by developer Todd W. Schneider. He took a huge data set recently released by the city’s Taxi & Limousine Commission and dove into it with “a vengeance” to unearth a wide range of insights into how 21st Century New Yorkers gets around town.
Taken as a whole, the detailed trip-level data is more than just a vast list of taxi pickup and drop off coordinates: it’s a story of New York. How bad is the rush hour traffic from Midtown to JFK? Where does the Bridge and Tunnel crowd hang out on Saturday nights? What time do investment bankers get to work? How has Uber changed the landscape for taxis? And could Bruce Willis and Samuel L. Jackson have made it from 72nd and Broadway to Wall Street in less than 30 minutes? The dataset addresses all of these questions and many more.
Read his full report, including lots of revealing graphs and thoughtful commentary, at toddwschneider.com.+
This project aims to promote diversity in the tech industry by filling a conspicuous gap in stock photography: the availability of images that depict women of color in the technology industry. Its first Flickr album is loaded with Creative Commons-licensed images that are free to use with attribution, all of them featuring a variety of recognizably authentic, non-Caucasian women in business environments. The hope is that designers will…
use these images in pieces about entrepreneurs, software engineers, infosec professionals, IT analysts, marketers, and other people who make up the tech ecosystem. Just as white women have been the default ‘woman’ in technology and American society as a whole, we believe the underlying belief of what it means to be—and who can be—a tech worker in the 21st century can benefit from this form of ‘disruption.’
There are nearly sixty images here, all shot by photographer Mike Ngo. Seeing them in a batch like this is really striking; it made me realize how unusual it is to see women of color in photographs like these, and how that lack of visibility subconsciously influences my expectations for the genders and race I expect to encounter in this industry. The very fact that they seem so novel speaks to how exclusion works in today’s workplaces; it’s not overtly discriminatory, but instead very subtle in its insidiousness.
It’s worth noting that there are literally millions of stock photos out there, so while this is a great start, it’s just a drop in the bucket. What this project really needs to succeed is for stock agencies—lots of them—to see this as a provocation to start diversifying their own catalogs with similar images. And of course, for this to become a truly legitimate stock photo category, we need to see some pics of these women shaking hands too.
More info at wocintechchat.com.+
I’ve loved Paris ever since I first visited in the eighth grade, even though at that time I could only dimly appreciate how unique a city it really is. Years later, when I started coming back (at least a dozen times since college) I came to see that the city, at its best, instills in you a belief in humanity’s capacity to create unspeakable beauty—in ways no other metropolis can. That’s why I love this picture so much: my daughter, on her tippy-toes at the window of an apartment we stayed in last summer in the third arrondisement, looking down on the street below, and soaking in that same idea: that people are capable of producing wonders. That’s the notion I am holding close to my heart in the aftermath of Friday’s horrific attacks. Our thoughts are with Paris.+
Last September, Todoist, my preferred to-do manager and an essential part of how I get things done every day, revealed a redesigned logo. I was very happy to see that it was received positively by the design community—and not just because I played a small part in its development as an advisor. I can hardly take any substantial credit for its success anyway, as all of the real work was done by Todoist’s talented in-house brand designer, Wallace Chao, who worked incredibly hard to arrive at the final product.
Observing his process was a treat; with each iteration, Wallace would produce countless new ideas, all presented impeccably in narrative documents that explained the reasoning and merits of each possible variant. When, after several months, he and the team finally arrived at the completed logo, I suggested that he apply that documentarian approach to the project as a whole, and share with the world how the logo came to be. He’s done so in this beautiful explainer, embedded below from Issuu (unfortunately, on mobile devices the doc opens in a new window). I think you’ll agree that it’s very enlightening.+
Type designer Fernando Mello’s beautiful new serif typeface from FontSmith is called FS Brabo. It’s based on early book faces, with lots of expressive swashes and ligatures. It draws inspiration from 16th Century types like Bembo, Garamond and Plantin. These fonts, all of which share wedge-shaped serifs and distinct though not excessive contrast between strokes, are classified as Garalde fonts (that term is apparently a portmanteau of the names of seminal type designers Claude Garamond and Aldus Manutius), though Brabo distinguishes itself by being moderately more angular in the serif. When set in large blocks for reading, Brabo has a truly lovely color.
More information at fontsmith.com.+
This article from New York’s WNYC takes a look at the 119 station exits throughout the city’s subway system that have remained closed even as ridership has surged in recent years. Their inaccessibility is a remnant of a roughly three-decade period during which so few people rode the New York City subway that closing exits was a logical safety and cost-saving measure. Today though the lack of exits can exacerbate crowded platforms and even delay train operations.
Using data obtained through a Freedom of Information request, the WNYC data team created this interactive map that shows stations with closed exits alongside data about the number of people who pass through them each day. It’s pretty eye opening.
The MTA knows the closed entrances are a problem. MTA spokesman Adam Lisberg said reopening them is ‘something we’re very actively looking at.’ But it will take time and money to figure out which of the 119 closed ones it’s worth reopening.
Sometimes I think that data reporters are so impressed with the admittedly valuable analytical work that they do that they forget to ask the truly pertinent questions. Mapping out all the problem areas is useful, but what would be more useful is a look into why exactly the situation persists.+
Do we really need a smartphone-enabled version of everything? There must be some point at which such products cross over into absurdity. If there is, a connected suitcase is safely short of it, because I’m very impressed—in theory—with the Bluesmart suitcase, a pullman-style luggage piece that features a digital lock, a battery charger, location tracking, proximity alerts and, most genius of all, a built-in scale. It’s available for pre-order for the not exactly cheap amount of US$399 at bluesmart.com.
Update, 11 Nov 2015: A reader drew my attention to a review of the Bluesmart at travel site thepointsguy.com. The review itself was even-handed, pointing out a number of shortcomings in the tech features and the fact that the bag itself exceeds United Airlines’s size restrictions, but recommending it nevertheless. Unfortunately, it apparently provoked a hostile response from the company’s executives. It’s worth reading if you’re thinking about buying it.+