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.+
After a long spell of mostly sticking to my desk, lately I’ve found myself doing demos again at various speaking engagements, meetups and workshops, showing off both Wildcard and Adobe Comp CC. Going on the road and making presentations at various offices and conference rooms was something I used to do quite a bit, back in my days in the design services business, and in some ways I’m surprised by what has changed technologically—and what hasn’t.
Ten or fifteen years ago I used to tote around a portable projector in order to be absolutely sure that I would be able to project what I had to show. It was a bit of a pain, but at that point in time advancements in projector technology had reduced the size and weight of those devices just enough so that they were only minimally annoying to carry around. Plus, placing my faith in whatever audio-visual setup might be resident wherever I went to actually function for me was a sure ticket to a botched meeting.
Near the end of the last decade, though, as the price of LCD screens dropped dramatically, you could begin to rely on almost every place of business having a flat-screen screen TV. At that point it became a matter of making sure I had the right dongles or adapters with me so that I could hook up my laptop or portable device to the screen via a cable. That was an improvement, but if I was caught without the right dongle, I was out of luck, and I cringe to recall how many replacement dongles I’ve had to buy at the last minute when I hadn’t packed the right one.
These days, I almost never need to bring a dongle with me at all, because most modern offices have supplemented their flat screens with Apple TV devices which allow me to AirPlay from laptop or iOS device right to the screen. In fact, I’m shocked at how many offices have these Apple TVs today; they’re clearly a significant if little discussed part of whatever revenue Apple has derived from the product line. (I’ve also never seen an equivalent Android device.) AirPlay isn’t perfect, but it works much more often than not, and for the most part it’s a joy to use.
On the whole, the situation has improved, and yet it seemingly hasn’t at all. Whether I was hooking up a projector in the old days or whether I’m using AirPlay today, it almost never fails that the first five to fifteen minutes of any meeting is spent just dealing with audio-visual setup. These days that could mean getting on a wi-fi network (or on the right one), trying to switch the source or input on the TV, finding the right cable or dongle when AirPlay isn’t available, making a Skype or Hangouts connection so that the presentation can be viewed remotely, or some other technical snafu that usually requires the resident IT expert to visit the room. Whatever the details, it happens almost like clockwork; guests are shown to a conference room, introductions are made and hands are shaken, and then a ridiculous technical fumbling ensues.
It’s very, very rare that I’ve ever seen anyone walk in off the street and start projecting straight away, without a hitch. I shudder to think of what the aggregate value of all those five- or ten-minute segments truly is—it must run into the billions of dollars. What’s amazing to me is that this is an area that has undoubtedly progressed—AirPlay is clearly a massive improvement over bring-your-own-projector—and yet it’s still so inefficient and almost primitive. Surely there’s a technological solution to this, and maybe even a business in it too, but I have to wonder if this is one of those things that will never change. No matter how sophisticated or clever we think we are or can be, as soon as we resolve today’s technological hurdles, we’ll create new ones for ourselves. One day soon we might finally make AirPlay universal and seamless, but then we’ll be faced with getting everyone’s Oculus headsets synced up or tuned in or whatever, too. Can’t wait.+