Movies Watched, June 2016

Akira Kurosawa’s “High & Low”

June was my slowest month yet for movies; I saw only eleven. Still, that brings the current tally to ninety-one movies that I’ve watched through the first six months of the year. At this rate, I’ll have watched at least one hundred and fifty before 2016 is out. Even I’m a little shocked at the number. I honestly had no quantitative expectations when I first started this experiment of ratcheting back my television viewing in favor of movies. I only expected to enjoy my time in front of the tube (or screen) more, and that’s definitely been true. Looking back at everything I’ve watched, there have been many deeply satisfying ones—the best thing I watched last month, and maybe all year, was Akira Kurosawa’s 1963 “High and Low”—and very few stinkers. Overall the time has been very well spent, even if I’ve had to miss out on all the water cooler talk about “Game of Thrones.” We all make our own choices in life.

If you’re interested, here’s my list from May, April, March and my list for January and February. And you can follow along with my film diary on Letterboxd, too.

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Tekserve to Close After 29 Years

Tekserve Interior

It’s going to be a sad summer for Apple fans in the Big Apple. Tekserve, the beloved Mac repair shop that distinguished itself with a customer friendly and quirky, faintly old timey identity, will close after nearly three decades of service to New York City’s Apple faithful. When I first moved here almost two decades ago, there was no such thing as the Apple Store and in fact the Apple brand seemed on the verge of collapse. Tekserve was not just a reliable service center for the PowerBooks I carried around back then, but it was also a bit of an oasis for like-minded Mac geeks. I’ll miss it terribly.

There’s a write-up on the coming closing at nytimes.com.

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The 2016 Subtraction.com Design Tools Survey

The 2016 Subtraction.com Design Tools Survey

I’m very excited to announce the opening of this year’s Design Tools Survey—you can take it right now, here. The market for software made for product designers, web designers, app designers, interaction designers and more has never been more vibrant and interesting. This short, five-minute set of simple questions helps us all understand the big picture in the day-to-day tool choices that we make. So go let your voice be heard!

Background

Last year I launched the first iteration of this survey in June, and over the course of just a few weeks it garnered over 4,000 responses. Once all the data was in, I worked with my good friends at the Brooklyn-based design studio Hyperakt to crunch the numbers and they produced a beautiful report of the findings—you can still see that overview of 2015’s design tools market here.

This year’s survey is largely the same, though of course I’ve added all of the major new players that have entered the market since last June. I’ve also made an adjustment to two of the questions, consolidating the project management and version control topics into a new one labeled “design workflow.” This seemed like a simpler and more straightforward way to address a category of tools that are hard to classify by specific functionality.

Partners

I want to thank this year’s sponsors, Dropmark and Designer Fund for helping to make this year’s survey possible.

Dropmark is “the smart way to organize all your links, files, and notes into visual collections.” It’s a wonderful product from the team at Oak, the incredibly talented design studio who will be producing this year’s survey results report in the early fall. I can’t wait for that.

Designer Fund invests in startups co-founded by designers, and builds and educates design teams for partner companies. It also connects experienced product and communication designers with new full-time, in-house career opportunities at design-focused companies like Asana, Dropbox, Fitbit, and Medium, as well as earlier-stage startups. Basically they create great opportunities for ambitious designers. If you’re ready to make a move, get in touch.

Take the Survey

The survey is open to everyone and no authentication or login is required (though you may choose to enter your email at the end to get updates on its progress and the results report). Please spare a few minutes to let your voice be heard, and share it with every designer you know. Get started right now here. Thank you!

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Questions to Ask Yourself When Reading About Design

Reading About Design

What gets written on the Internet about the design of apps, web sites, icons, identity systems and digital experiences of all kinds is almost always written by people who are professional designers first and foremost. We don’t have a class (or even a sub-class) of writers who are actively engaged and uncompromised in thinking about what makes for good design and why.

Some designers think this is a good thing, but I don’t. Other forms of culture benefit enormously from critical thinkers who stand clearly outside of the profession, who don’t “ship” work—whether it’s art, theater, film, music, architecture, or even technology. There are at least a half a dozen prominent technology critics writing regularly for major news organizations, but not a single critic focused on the design of the products that are reshaping modern life.

As a result, so much of what passes for design criticism, especially in the world of digital product design, would not stand up to intellectually rigorous scrutiny—including, I’ll be the first to admit, a lot of the stuff that I write here on this site. Most writing about design gets done between work commitments, or at home before bedtime, and it’s rarely backed up with particularly studied research. Much of it also blurs the lines between critique and self-promotion, sometimes honestly and sometimes insidiously.

To be clear, there are many people who write very thoughtfully and earnestly about design and that work adds tremendous value for the practitioners who read it. But there’s a difference between writing about the process of design—even when it’s well done—and good criticism. Very little of what gets posted on Medium or what shows up on Designer News really qualifies as the latter, and even less of it is helping the world at large understand what we do and grow their appreciation for it

I’m not sure we’ll fix this situation in the near future, or if we ever will. But if we want to make progress towards that, one thing we could do, each of us, is to read what gets written about design more carefully, to be a little more skeptical about what we’re sharing so enthusiastically. What follows is my working list of questions that, in my opinion, would be useful for all of us to ask ourselves when reading any article about design. They’re grouped into four major sections.

Who wrote this?

  • Does the writer convincingly establish his or her credentials in discussing the subject matter?
  • Does the writer clearly state any possible biases that he or she might have towards the design being discussed?
  • Does the writer work for the company that the design was created for?
  • Does the writer have any kind of relationship with the company the design was created for (or its employees)?
  • Is it likely that the writer might someday work for the company, as an employee, a contractor, a partner, an advisor, or an investor?
  • Does the writer have any kind of relationship with competitive companies?
  • Does the writer stand to gain—financially or otherwise—from the success or failure of the design that’s being discussed?

What is it saying?

  • Does the article rely on access to information or insight that’s not also publicly available?
  • Does the article clearly indicate when its argument is based on speculation or unsubstantiated facts?
  • Does the article cite sources for facts and figures used in its argument?
  • Does the article provide any context for its assertions other than the writer’s own personal experience?
  • Does the article provide any context for its argument beyond just comparisons to similar products?

How is it being said?

  • Does the writer use exclamatory or hyperbolic language in making his or her assertions?
  • Does the writer make unsupportable leaps of logic, e.g., equating correlation with causation, or inferring generalities from specifics?
  • Does the writer use language that is unfairly dismissive or disrespectful of the people who created the design?
  • Does the writer use simple, understandable language?
  • Does the writer use excessive jargon or technical terminology?
  • Does the writer offer opposing points of view and does he or she treat them fairly?

How effective is it?

  • Do you find value in the argument even if you don’t agree with it?
  • Does the article challenge your assumptions—your opinions and widely held beliefs—about the subject matter?
  • Does the article help you understand the problems that the design addresses in a new way?
  • Does the article help you understand this and similar design solutions in a new or unexpected way?
  • Did you learn something new by reading this article?

In constructing this list I was tempted to word the questions so that they could serve as a kind of litmus test for reading design articles, so that if the answers to more than a given number of these questions were “Yes” you could then say “this is a badly written article.” Ultimately, that seemed to run counter to what I’m suggesting here, which is an overall appreciation for thinking more critically about what we read and write. Good criticism is not black and white, it’s unflinching in its grayness. It’s not quantitative but qualitative. Its purpose is not to answer questions but to raise them.

Like I said, this is a working list. If you have suggestions for additions or changes, please send them my way.

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Color Psychology in Film

This is a lovely supercut that draws from over sixty movies to show how color can be used to evoke various states of mind. It’s not what I would call definitive—other than just the common associations we typically make with basic colors, this video offers no clear overarching theory that governs why a given color is associated with a given emotional frequency. Still, it’s a delight to watch.

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The Mystery of the Missing iPad Announcements

iOS X on iPad

If like me you were confused by the lack of iPad-specific announcements at WWDC 2016 last week, you may be interested in this theory from the always insightful Federico Viticci of MacStories:

After WWDC, I strongly believe that Apple has notable iPad-only features in the pipeline, but they won’t be available until later in the iOS 10 cycle, possibly in early 2017…

I wouldn’t be surprised to see Apple move from a monolithic iOS release cycle to two major iOS releases in the span of six months—one focused on foundational changes, interface refinements, performance, and iPhone; the other primarily aimed at iPad users in the Spring.

I think it’d make sense for Apple to dedicate more time and engineering resources to a separate, more focused iPad release. If history is of any indication, it’d be reasonable to expect more iPad changes coming with a big mid-cycle software update and an iPad media event in the Spring to refresh the 9.7-inch and 12.9-inch models.

I hope something like this is the case. Last year Apple got off to a great start in rebooting the iPad franchise with its software announcements at WWDC 2015 and its introduction of the iPad Pro line. What worries me is the idea that there may not be new iPad software announcements until next year, and that that momentum will be lost, or muted. Maybe Apple will surprise us this fall with new software features; that could help jump start the holiday season.

To be fair, Apple did announce some iPad-specific improvements last week, though they weren’t prominently featured in the keynote. Viticci details them in this article, too; read it in its entirety at macstories.net.

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Job Spotlight: Meetup

Job Spotlight: Meetup

I’ve long been a fan of Meetup and their uniquely genuine and concrete mission: strengthening human connections in the real world. This means more, far more, than just getting people to click approvingly on one another’s text fragments and random images. Meetup wants their users to actually meet face-to-face, to engage in real dialogue and share their time together. They’ve long been stalwarts of the New York City tech scene (over the years, I’ve been lucky enough to get to know Meetup founder and CEO Scott Heiferman—a great guy) and, incredibly, are nearly a decade and a half old. They’re still going strong, though, and in fact are in the midst of an important new stage in their evolution, one that has design at its center. I asked Meetup’s VP of Product, Fiona Spruill (also a friend and former colleague from my time at The New York Times) about their search for a new Head of Product Design and what it signals for the company.

Khoi Vinh: It’s amazing to me that Meetup is now fourteen years old. For those who might be familiar with the brand but haven’t kept up, how has the company changed and what are its priorities right now?

Fiona Spruill: Meetup was started in 2002 with the mission of bringing people together and spreading real local community across the world. We still have that same ambition today. Meetup is unique because people show up in person, do things together and actually talk. As a result, Meetup changes lives. That’s remained a constant since the launch, and it’s the main reason people are drawn to work here.

The not-so-secret news is that Meetup is on the verge of being fundamentally reborn. We’ve already shifted to thinking of ourselves first and foremost as a mobile app instead of a desktop web site. Now we are in the process of launching a brand new beautiful Meetup that brings that evolution to life. Our members and organizers will experience the new, redesigned Meetup first on our iOS and Android apps.

Our top priority right now is to ship those beautiful new apps and launch a brand new logo and visual identity, which we worked on with Sagmeister & Walsh. We’re also doing a major technical replatforming, so there are big changes coming that we are super excited about. Sometimes it’s a struggle being a teenage company in a world of technology start-ups. But a core value of ours is to continually change the company, and that’s the main reason we are still thriving.

Regarding the work Sagmeister & Walsh did: how will the new Head of Product Design that you’re looking to hire work within it, versus expand upon it?

We turned to Sagmeister & Walsh for two main reasons: One, it was obvious that Meetup needed a new, modern visual identity, and two, we wanted a new branding system that would allow Meetup groups to create their own visual identities while still keeping a tie back to Meetup’s brand. Nailing both of those things is a tough assignment. We have long admired the work of Sagmeister & Walsh so we knew that if anyone could pull it off, they could.

The work to launch our new apps and logo is well under way. But we are looking at this launch as the birth of a new visual design framework, as opposed to a finished product. That means we’ll be looking to the Head of Product Design to build on this solid visual foundation and create a world-class user experience.

Practically speaking, what does this mean? We are super excited about the apps we’ll be launching in the fall but we have ambitions to make them so much better. We expect to constantly iterate on them, and the Head of Product Design will be heavily involved in all future iterations. Another exciting challenge that we have barely begun to tackle is to bring the app redesign concepts to the web site. And there is also a lot of fun work to be done to bring the branding system for individual Meetup groups into the product. Design at Meetup isn’t just about designing for the screen. It’s about the whole experience, online and offline. The overall system that Sagmeister & Walsh created gives us a ton of room for invention and expansion on all fronts.

Can you tell me more about the offline design aspects of this opportunity?

Right now we’re pretty good at getting people to show up at Meetups, to actually talk to each other and do things together. But we know we can be so much better at that. We see most of what we do as being on a continuum: A great online experience can lead to a great offline experience, which in turn can change lives. There are so many interesting technological advancements happening right now at the intersection of physical and digital experiences. This whole area is ripe for experimentation and could make the experience at Meetups even better.

Other specific areas of offline focus will be great signage for Meetups, making it easier for people to find a Meetup when they show up. And we want to make it easy and fun for Meetup groups to design a logo, and to create tee-shirts and other swag that they’ll show off with pride. That’s a big part of bringing the Sagmeister & Walsh branding system to life.

How does the design team at Meetup work now, and how do you expect that might change with this new Head of Design position?

There are one or two designers on every product team so they’re integrated with those teams. But they also gather several times a week as a design team to share work, get feedback and make sure everyone knows what each other is working on. These feedback sessions help ensure that the individual projects are building toward a larger, cohesive end-to-end user experience, which is a big goal of the redesign. They also help us continually evolve our new living style guide/design pattern library.

We like to prototype and user test new ideas twice a week. Because many of the designers also code, they’re able to quickly build prototypes. Two designers built a fully functioning prototype of our new app in React Native, which was hugely beneficial for testing out the design concepts with real data.

Design hasn’t always been a driving force in how we approach product development at Meetup. That has changed significantly in the last couple years. Our design team has grown from one person four years ago to a team of nine now. It’s impossible to say exactly how things will change under the new Head of Product Design. In general, though, we’ll be looking to that person to lead the design of a great user experience, to ensure our product thinking is design-driven and to expand the team.

So the team is very collaborative and hungry, and the company is serious about its ambitions to become design driven—you describe a situation with a lot of potential. But these circumstances are familiar to lots of companies today; what is truly unique about this opportunity for design candidates who meet your job requirements?

You might accuse me of being biased, but I genuinely believe this is the most exciting design job in the tech world. Here’s why:

Designing a great experience that connects the online and offline worlds is a unique challenge. It’s particularly interesting at a time when virtual reality, self-driving cars and many other things are starting to push the boundary of how the virtual world interacts with the physical world. These are the interesting problems to solve right now, and Meetup is in a great position to tackle them in innovative ways. (Just look at our name!)

Meetup has a solid subscription business so our revenue comes directly from our members and organizers. We don’t have to pander to advertisers, which means creating a great user experience that has a big impact is, without question, our top priority.

I’ve mentioned that the design culture is fairly new at Meetup. That means there aren’t a lot of entrenched processes for how we do things. The Head of Product Design will have a lot of room to develop new approaches. He or she will also be surrounded by design, product and engineering teams that are hungry to take things to the next level.

Finally, and perhaps most importantly, the world is becoming more caustic, more bombastic and feeling less together every day. The news over the last couple weeks has tragically made this very clear. Meetup is an antidote to these problems because it brings people together. This is a design job where the potential for significant impact is huge because you can literally change lives.

If you‘re interested in the Head of Product Design opportunity at Meetup, see the job listing at authenticjobs.com.

This is the latest in my occasional series spotlighting interesting job openings for designers. See previous entries here. This content is not paid for by Meetup or any other company.

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The Black Film Canon

Slate polled more than twenty prominent filmmakers, critics, and scholars to compile this list of the fifty best movies by black filmmakers.

Our goal is to change the way readers think about the history of movies—and to keep the conversation about black storytelling going long after the #OscarsSoWhite fury has dissipated…

Despite everything, black filmmakers have produced art on screen that is just as daring, original, influential, and essential as the heralded works of Welles, Coppola, Antonioni, Kurosawa, and other nonblack directors.

The supercut below runs through them chronologically, and you can see a full list, along with Slate’s thoughts on the project, at slate.com. I have to admit that I’ve seen distressingly few of them—just fifteen.

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Hand-drawn Rendering of 3D Objects and Animation

Examples of StyLit Renderings

StyLit is a research project from The Department of Computer Graphics and Interaction at the Czech Technical University in Prague and Adobe Research that combines traditional, analog drawing skills with 3D modeling and animation. The video below, starting at 2:18, shows how an artist’s natural media rendering of a simple sphere can be applied in real time to complex 3D models like a tea kettle, an animal and even a human hand and a human figure—and then easily transformed into rich animations.

Essentially, StyLit is able to use a single drawing as the basis for an expansive aesthetic vision. So long as you have the 3D models at hand, you could feasibly extrapolate a complete, stylistic world from very little work—work that, crucially, is virtually indistinguishable from the approachable, non-technical expressive methods that humans have been using for millennia. The computer does it for you.

More at dcgi.fel.cvut.cz.

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Paris Metro Map

New Paris Metro Map

This incredibly thorough redesign is so convincing that it’s difficult to believe that it’s not officially authorized, but apparently it’s a self-initiated undertaking by Constantine Konovalov, the “former lead designer of integrated transport navigation at the Moscow Department of Transportation.” He and his collaborators have gone to enormous lengths to create a shockingly viable alternative to the city’s official map; the end products are not only highly professional and even concrete (you can download them in various forms for various uses), but the work shows a highly refined thoughtfulness. You can see this in their decision to use a “circular line pattern” as an organizing principle around which the lines and geography are subtly but meaningful redrawn to enhance clarity. You can see how this works in practice in this process video:

See the full project at metromap.fr.

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