Paintings by Simon Stålenhag

Painting by Simon Stålenhag

These subtly surreal paintings by the artist Simon Stålenhag depict a future or alternate reality where things look very much like our own except for the nearly incidental presence of robots, strange sci-fi constructions or alien spacecraft. I say “nearly incidental” because these unexpected objects, while they may be disrupting or intruding on on Stålenhag’s landscapes in monumental ways, are never seen to be inciting panic. The scenes are always calm, as if the people in this universe have come to accept these bizarre phenomena as facts of life. Stålenhag offers no comment on their existence, really, which in some ways makes them feel even more sinister or unnerving.

See more, including lots of close-ups of Stålenhag’s super brushwork, at simonstalenhag.se.

Painting by Simon Stålenhag
Painting by Simon Stålenhag
Painting by Simon Stålenhag
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28 Days of Black Designers

28 Days of Black Designers

If you’re a working designer chances are that you’d have no trouble naming twenty-eight white designers, and maybe you could even name twenty-eight Asian designers too. But could you name twenty-eight black designers? What if you could choose not just from the contemporary design world, but from any point in design history? The answer would still probably be no.

In celebration of Black History Month, St. Louis designer Timothy Hykes is doing his part to change that lack of awareness with his project 28 Days of Black Designers. Each day, the site spotlights an established professional, an historical figure, or even an up and coming student—all black designers who have meaningful lessons to offer on what it’s like to make it in a profession that has largely excluded blacks for most of its history. In an interview with Adobe about this project, Hykes summarizes the experience of many black designers this way:

You can’t only represent one group of people and expect others to follow. People are not stupid. They can walk into an organization and at first sight know that that is not a place they are welcome. If they see designers and they’re all from one particular community or one group of people, they know that they are not welcome.

Catch up on the first twenty-three days at 28blacks.com.

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Designer Fund’s Bridge Program

Designer Fund Bridge Program

San Francisco’s Designer Fund has been doing great work for the design industry for several years. Their excellent Bridge program—which is now accepting applications for its first deadline of 1 March—is an amazing opportunity for experienced designers to connect with many of the companies pushing the boundaries on design today—from hotly tipped startups to late stage tech giants. It’s one of the most unique and prestigious career programs for designers anywhere. Even better, it remains entirely free.

This year, Designer Fund is hosting three Bridge programs, each focused on a different discipline: Product Design, Communication Design and Design Management. Bridge Fellows, as those accepted are called, gather once a week for family-style dinners, workshops, and talks from leading professionals. I gave one of those talks a few years back and the experience was fantastic: the Bridge fellows were exceptionally thoughtful and inquisitive, and the setting is singularly conducive to peeking behind the curtain on how design is made.

Applications for all three programs are open now, but hurry—as mentioned above, the deadline for the product design program is next Wed 1 March. All you need to apply is a link to your portfolio, your LinkedIn profile, and answers to a few simple questions. More info at designerfund.com

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Discussing Design Criticism with Jarrett Fuller on Scratching the Surface

Last fall I sat down for an interview with designer and writer Jarrett Fuller to talk about design criticism, a topic that I’ve touched on periodically. (Cf. my post “Questions to Ask Yourself When Reading About Design.”). Fuller turned a recording of that conversation into an episode of his new podcast Scratching the Surface, “a podcast about the intersection of criticism and practice for graphic designers.” The already rich archives include interviews with Steven Heller, Michael Bierut, Jessica Helfand, Rob Giampietro, Armin Vit, Bryn Smith and Prem Krishnamurthy, among others. Listen to our chat above and learn more about the podcast at scratchingthesurface.fm.

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New Commercials Pitch iPad Pro as PC Replacement

New iPad Pro Commercial

Apple released four 16-second ads for the iPad Pro today, each of them highlighting the device’s suitability as a PC replacement. This is an interesting strategy; in past campaigns—like this one from 2015—the messaging for iPad was focused on specific use cases—the iPad as a liberating device for making home videos, dee-jaying, cooking, doing homework, etc. Those ads basically existed in a post-PC world, or at least one that nearly ignored the traditional personal computing. This time, perhaps emboldened by the formidable horsepower of the iPad Pro line or perhaps chastened by declining iPad sales, the spots speak squarely to desktop/laptop-centric issues:

Better than a computer

Don’t hunt for wi-fi

Do more with Microsoft Word

No PC viruses

Note the very prominent usage of Microsoft Word’s availability on the platform as a key selling point. It’s the only app—from anyone including Apple itself—that gets its own commercial. After all the success that Apple has had over the past ten years, it’s surprising to see that their fortunes are, to some extent, still tied to the most fundamental of all of Microsoft’s productivity applications. The more things change…

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Movies Watched, January 2017

Still from “Green Room”

Sadly I did not make it to theaters last month, but nevertheless I did manage to watch fifteen movies at home. Jeremy Saulnier’s brutal “Green Room” was, far and away, the very best of the newer ones. If you haven’t seen it, and you have the stomach for the frank gruesomeness of combating violent white supremacists, this movie should not be missed.

Here is the full list:

If you’re interested, last month I posted my full list of everything I watched in 2016. You can also follow along with my film diary over at letterboxd.com.

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Caavo Might Solve the Living Room Problem

Caavo

Nearly eight years ago I wrote about what I called “The Living Room Problem,” which can be roughly defined as that mess of cables behind your television and the ragtag collection of remote controls lost in the cushions of your couch. I described it as more than just an inconvenience of untidy hardware, though; it also entailed random interfaces and widely disparate models for accessing content, all of which have served to make home viewing a complete mess for a decade or more now. I also surmised that the only possible solution would be an industry consortium of standards, which seemed unlikely then and remains unlikely now. But a new startup may prove me wrong by showing that the answer, in fact, is a new level of technological innovation.

Caavo, which was just announced yesterday, is a new set top box into which you plug your other set top boxes in order to unite your viewing experience. Rather than building software integrations into your Apple TV, Roku, Xbox, Amazon Fire Stick etc., Caavo actually uses computer vision to read the video signal and operate those other systems for you. So if you’ve got a library of purchased content on your Apple TV, say, you don’t need to worry about bringing it into the Caavo system; Caavo goes out and gets it for you and presents it for you immediately.

The system is also capable of navigating content apps on its own and finding what you need for you based on voice queries, so you don’t have to dig into menus yourself. And it consolidates all of your remotes into one remote—we’ve heard that before, I know. But this could be the real thing because every previous attempt in this unification space has suffered from not knowing whether a third-party system is on or off. Caavo knows, and that makes all the difference. This video of the product’s debut at the Code Media conference shows Caavo in action, and it’s impressive.

It looks like a tremendous amount of engineering has gone into seamlessly bridging these systems that, because of various licensing complexities, were specifically designed not to work with one another. I’m really looking forward to giving it a try when it debuts in June, though it will be priced at US$399 so I’ll wait for in-depth reviews first. Read more about it at caavo.com and at theverge.com.

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How Apple Pencil and Adobe Draw Saved Valentine’s Day

Valentine's Day Drawing by My Daugter

This morning, on the way to school, a crisis erupted when my daughter realized that she was not going to be able to send handwritten Valentine’s Day cards to friends and family in time for, well, today. There were tears. As we waited for the subway, we had the idea of drawing a Valentine greeting on my iPad Pro using Apple Pencil and Adobe Draw. She started doodling as the train pulled into the station, continued on board the subway car, and finished this heart-filled composition by the time we arrived at our destination, four stops later. She then dictated to me a short list of people she wanted to receive a copy, and I emailed them from the iPad. Valentine’s Day saved.

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The Japanese “Kong: Skull Island” Poster Is Wonderful

Japanese Poster for “Kong: Skull Island”

I’m not really even much of a fan of King Kong, but I still think this Japanese poster for the upcoming reboot “Kong: Skull Island” is my favorite poster in a long, long time. For one thing, it’s an awesomely over-the-top example of graphic design that’s unabashed in its ridiculousness but totally serious about the thrills it promises. It also doesn’t make the mistake of assuming that we’re interested in anything else but King Kong himself and whatever crazy monsters he’ll be hanging out with when the film rolls out into theaters this March. No glamourous headshots of actors looking dramatic; just explosions, fire and a huge gorilla crushing a helicopter in his fist.

More info at kongskullislandmovie.com.

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When Life Gives You Pollution, Make Pollutionade

Air-Ink

Air-Ink is the world’s first ink manufactured from air pollution. It was developed at the MIT Media Lab where they fashioned a device that bolts onto a car’s exhaust pipe to capture outgoing soot. The resulting materials are then processed into an ink and packaged as refillable, water resistant markers and in screen printing ink sets. (Presumably the black and white packaging labels are printed with Air-Ink; it would be a shame if they weren’t.) The claim is that “by using 30 ml of Air-Ink, you can negate 45 minutes worth of pollution.” Its creators are currently raising funds on Kickstarter to bring the products to market, and you can learn more at graviky.com.

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