We’re back from a brief hiatus in season two of “Wireframe” with an all new episode. You should definitely listen to it because it’s great, but the returning podcast that you really don’t want to miss this week is “Conan O’Brien Needs a Friend.” That show is always hilarious, but it kicked off its second season on Monday with a phenomenal interview with David Letterman. The meeting of these two late night giants makes for a delightful treat for any comedy fan. It’s also a sterling example of how the podcast format can combine comedy and reflection like no other.
Back on topic though: this week’s “Wireframe” tackles the aesthetic monoculture that pervades the design of digital products circa 2019. Basically the show spends twenty-five minutes trying to answer the question: “Why does everything on the Internet look the same these days?” Listen below or subscribe in your favorite podcast player:
This topic has been on my mind for some time, inspired in part by insights like this tweet below from OH no Type Co, which almost says it all.
It’s hard to argue that this trend has abated much in the time since. Recent redesigns of Uber and Slack’s brands attest that, at the very least, we’re in the midst of some kind of prevailing stylistic trend. And while even calling it a trend might sound pejorative, the episode is not nearly as interested in judging the trend as much as it’s interested in trying to unpack they why and how of it.
To do this, we brought on a few amazing guests: designer and critic extraordinaire Jessica Helfand and critic and writer Cliff Kuang (our first returning guest of the show—Cliff helped kick us off way back in the first episode of our first season with an amazing story about UX at Three Mile Island), both of whom give this trend some much needed perspective. We also brought on Emily Heyward, founder of design and branding agency Red Antler, a company that has been instrumental in the popularity of many of the brands that have come to define this current moment in design history.
As with each episode, there’s plenty more background on this topic in a companion blog post at Adobe. If you’re not familiar with “Wireframe,” it’s a unique kind of design podcast produced by Adobe and Gimlet Creative and hosted by yours truly. Instead of merely interviewing well known designers, we dig into the world of interaction design via heavily researched reporting and engaging narratives. In other words, stories instead of résumés. If you liked today’s episode, be sure to check out all six of the installments from our first season as well.
Halfway through August I realized not only that I probably wasn’t going to get out to see anything new in theaters—it’s rare that I don’t go see at least one movie—but also that almost everything I was watching at home was something I’d seen before. The one “new” movie that I watched, “Deadwood: The Movie,” was essentially a retread of a show I’d watched years before, and it reminded me why I’ve lost interest in television.
I enjoyed “Deadwood” the series in its initial run on HBO from 2004 through 2006, watching faithfully just about every week throughout its three seasons. But when it was over, I really didn’t feel great about having consumed all thirty-six hours of it. All in all, there were probably about, say, six hours’ worth of truly worthwhile content there, extrapolated six times over by creator David Milch’s admittedly powerful narrative voice. “Deadwood: The Movie” was more of the same: the same annoyingly artificial narrative tricks used to get everyone into the same place yet again; the same sense of treading over familiar thematic ground; and more of Milch’s same uncanny ability to make it all seem more interesting than it really is, at least until the credits roll.
It’s ironic that I’d complain about being served up the same thing in new clothes when I spent the rest of the month rewatching movies I’d seen before, particularly Quentin Tarantino’s back catalog (obviously inspired by “Once Upon a Time in Hollywood.”). But movies offer something on rewatch that I think television rarely does: new surprises, new depths, new meanings. Tarantino’s past works are as rich and vibrant today as they were when they first debuted, but rewatching them offers new details, like the countless subtle nuances he captured in his actors’ performances, or the precision with which he arranges people and objects in relation to one another in his scenes. Mostly, what comes out on rewatch is how much he truly cares about what he puts on screen, how every bit of it matters not just to the story, but to him as well. That’s what the best movies give you in two hours that television just cannot over a season or more: an attention to detail, a sense that the creators have just one shot to get this thing right. It almost doesn’t matter whether they nail it or not; what matters is they are putting their very best forward for this particular outing, and they’re not saving anything for the next one.
Here’s the full list of all nineteen films I watched in August.
“Iron Man” (2008) Rewatched. Clear from the beginning: the real auteur in the Marvel Cinematic Universe is the studio.
I’m a little behind this week due in part to my participation in World Interaction Design Day this past Tuesday, but a new episode of “Wireframe” was released this week and it’s all about designing sound notifications. You can listen to it below or subscribe in your favorite podcast app.
Sound is an aspect of user experience design that has until recently received relatively little attention. But apps, sites and products of all kinds are emitting more and more sounds all the time—you know this if you’ve been a consumer of any kind of tech product in the past decade. Virtually all of these sounds are the result of some kind of design intention, if they’re not the work of a designer expressly. So it was fascinating for me to explore this world through the lens of sound designer Connor Moore of Bay Area-based CMoore Sound (the beauty of the pun in the business name is an achievement in itself). In the episode he takes us through his work designing audio notifications for a point-of-sale device and an electric car—fascinating stuff.
For primarily visual designers like myself, the challenge of architecting audio experiences obviously requires grappling with a host of new factors. But what Moore showed us is that the basic process is the same as for designers working in any kind of medium: research, ideate, create, validate, and then repeat. That drove home for me how important it is for designers of all stripes to work in this medium.
As with each episode, there’s more background on the stories we dug up for this one in a companion blog post at Adobe. If you’re not familiar with “Wireframe,” it’s a unique kind of design podcast produced by Adobe and Gimlet Creative and hosted by yours truly. Instead of merely interviewing well known designers, we dig into the world of interaction design via heavily researched reporting and engaging narratives. In other words, stories instead of résumés. If you liked today’s episode, be sure to check out all six of the installments from our first season as well.
And now for something a little different: this particular blog post isn’t about design or technology or even movies or media, but rather food. You may be busy designing the heck out of the future, but you’ve still gotta eat, don’t you? And sometimes you’ve got to eat the basics—like spaghetti.
This is a recipe—an approach, really—for making regular spaghetti actually taste good, delicious even. The emphasis here is on regular. There’s nothing fancy about this recipe. In fact the whole point of this recipe is that you can make it from cheap stuff you can buy from just about any supermarket. And I make no claims to it being authentically Italian (it calls for store-bought pasta sauce in a jar!) other than it tastes legitimately great.
This is an approach that I figured out after cooking countless pots of spaghetti for myself as a bachelor, always frustrated that it never tasted particularly good. If you follow the instructions on a box of pasta and a jar of sauce what you get is sauce sitting on top of overcooked pasta—two flavors that fail to unite in any particularly appealing fashion. This approach fixes that; it basically helps the pasta absorb the sauce, while retaining a satisfying al dente texture. Over the years I’ve made it for many people and they’re always surprised that a dollar-fifty box of spaghetti can taste so good. It’s also a favorite with my kids.
As with all cooking, the fresher and higher quality the ingredients you use, the better. So if you swap out sauce in a jar for fresh made sauce, you can actually still use the rest of this approach to get great results. The whole point of this recipe though is that you don’t need high-end stuff to still get a delicious meal.
However, if there’s one ingredient I recommend you track down, it’s the spaghetti rigati, made by Barilla. This variant on standard spaghetti is constitutionally identical to Barilla’s other semolina pastas but its taste stands a world apart from plain old spaghetti thanks to its ingenious innovation of rigatoni-style “ridges” (hence the name). Well, not quite ridges, but close enough; in actuality the profile of the noodle is basically like a cross or plus-sign rather than spaghetti’s traditional circle, but they’re ridge-like enough in that they help trap sauce and oil, bonding it to the noodle and enhancing the taste of your meal significantly.
Spaghetti rigati is no pricier than traditional spaghetti, but it is a little harder to find. You might think that that means you’d need to go to a high-end supermarket for it but in fact the opposite is true, as Barilla brand products are usually only found in “regular” supermarket chains. Not every store that sells Barilla pasta stocks spaghetti rigati though, but it should be easy enough for them to order it if you ask the management nicely.
Again, this is all about the basics, so you can actually still get great results from any kind of spaghetti, or any brand of any of these ingredients that I list below. Really, the only requirement here is that you know where to find a grocery store. That’s why I call it “Supermarket Spaghetti.”
16 ounce box Barilla spaghetti rigati or any brand thin spaghetti
First, bring a large pot of water to boil for the spaghetti. Most dried pasta advises you to add salt and you can do that if you like, but I don’t bother.
If cooking with link sausage, remove the meat from the casing. In a large saucepan, heat up a tablespoon of olive oil and brown the sausage on medium-high heat. When it looks cooked, after three or four minutes, add one-third of the marinara sauce, mix it with the meat, and turn the flame to low. Add another third of the jar of sauce, mix it in, cover the saucepan, and allow to simmer gently.
When the pot of water has reached a boil, add the pasta and cook—this is important—for one minute less than instructions on the box advise. So if the box says “6-7 minutes,” set a timer for five minutes. Do not overcook.
When the pasta is done, remove from the heat and drain. (Don’t bother saving the water.) Immediately put the pot, now empty, back on the range at low heat and add a quarter cup of olive oil. Quickly put the spaghetti in the pot again and generously drizzle more olive oil over the noodles (3 Tbsp). Toss for less than thirty seconds until the olive oil is thoroughly mixed in. Turn off the burner.
Spoon about a half-cup of of the sausage and sauce mixture into the pot of pasta and mix thoroughly until the noodles are coated. This allows this sauce to bond with the noodles, and it also prevents the noodles from sticking together.
Serve the noodle in bowls, spooning additional sauce on top of each. Garnish with grated Pecorino Romano cheese. Then get back to designing whatever you were designing before.
This week’s installment of “Wireframe,” the documentary podcast about the design of digital products and experiences hosted by yours truly, dives into the shadowy world of designing for privacy, trust and security. It’s out today and you can listen to it below or subscribe in your favorite podcast app.
To unpack this complicated subject, we brought together a formidable panel of experts: cybersecurity lawyer Amie Stepanovich, Simply Secure Executive Director Georgia Bullen, and UX designer Lieke Beelen all joined me for an in-depth discussion about privacy as a design problem.
Each of them came to the table with a unique perspective on what designers can do in this arena to benefit both users and businesses alike. We discussed the apparent disconnect between the nearly continuous stream of privacy and security scandals in the headlines and the apparently unfettered growth that the companies at fault continue to enjoy.
I also took the opportunity to ask the question of complicity on the part of designers who have devoted their careers to furthering the advance of the platforms that are at the heart of today’s privacy and security debate. With these three experts at the table, I couldn’t let the moment pass without asking whether design as a profession isn’t just guilty of trying to make cigarettes healthier?
You can read more about this episode at theblog.adobe.com . And if you’re not familiar with “Wireframe,” it’s a unique kind of design podcast produced by Adobe and Gimlet Creative and hosted by yours truly. Instead of merely interviewing well known designers, we dig into the world of interaction design via heavily researched reporting and engaging narratives. In other words, stories instead of résumés. If you liked today’s episode, be sure to check out all six of the installments from our first season as well.
Here is the first episode of our second season of “Wireframe,” our documentary podcast about the design of digital products and experiences, hosted by yours truly.
This season we’re looking at the limits of what design can do. And straight out of the gate we’re not being shy about tackling big topics like, well, American healthcare. Specifically we dig into the user experience of the electronic health records systems that our doctors have to contend with when they would much prefer to be spending that time talking with patients. That’s something I suspect everyone wants.
To dive into this topic I took a trip to the emergency room at NYU Langone Medical Center to observe firsthand how doctors like Shannon McNamara work with their electronic health records systems. It was eye-opening for me to observe how she has to wrangle with what most designers would consider to be incredibly complex and even use-hostile screen interfaces. Later, I learned that some providers of these systems are so proprietary that they don’t even allow screen captures of their software interfaces, even for purposes of reporting bugs in the software itself. You can imagine how that hasn’t helped the overall friendliness of these systems. And on top of that, there’s the hardware experience, too; the computers running these EHRs are mounted on carts that need to be wheeled around from patient to patient. As a designer standing in the middle of all that, I bristled at the sheer amount of stuff that so desperately needed to be redesigned.
There’s tons more on this subject in the episode, of course, so listen to it above or subscribe in your favorite podcast app. And, if you want to learn more about the role design plays in our healthcare system, we’re writing blog posts for each episode that expand on what you hear on the show; you can read this week’s post at theblog.adobe.com. By the way, this series of blog posts will each feature amazing artwork by the fantastic Brazilian illustrator Lucas Wakamatsu; you can see the first one above.
If you’re not familiar with “Wireframe,” it’s a unique kind of design podcast produced by Adobe and Gimlet Creative and hosted by yours truly. Instead of merely interviewing well known designers, we dig into the world of interaction design via heavily researched reporting and engaging narratives. In other words, stories instead of résumés. If you liked today’s episode, be sure to check out all six of the installments from our first season as well.
We’ve been hard at work for the past three months or so on season two of “Wireframe,” the deeply researched, high-quality documentary podcast about design hosted by yours truly. The first episode drops next week, on Tue 9 Sep. Meanwhile, you can listen to the trailer here:
Like our first season, this sophomore outing will be six episodes long, with new episodes released every Tuesday. We’ve got some great stuff in store, too, including deep dives into:
The life-or-death user experience of healthcare systems
The new frontier of designing sound and audio notifications
The role designers can—and should—play in privacy
How design drives the social dynamics of dating apps
How user experience design manifests itself in film and TV
And more! If you’re not familiar with “Wireframe,” it’s a unique kind of design podcast, hosted by yours truly. Instead of merely interviewing well known designers, we dig into the world of interaction design via heavily researched reporting and engaging narratives. In other words, stories instead of résumés. Subscribe now!
Apple hardware designers are rumored to cringe at the idea of encasing their beautiful phones and tablets in protective cases, so I can only imagine what they would think about BoltHub, the “invisible USB-C hub” that I just got for my iPad Pro.
The BoltHub essentially “bolts”—really, it sort of clamps—onto the top right of your iPad Pro in landscape orientation, with an ominous-looking, short-run USB-C cable connecting it to the USB-C input. Once attached the device gives you a 4K HDMI slot, one slot each for Micro SD and SD cards, a plain old USB 3.1 port running at 5GB/second (suitable for thumb drives), a USB-C passthrough port to make up for the one you gave up to attach the BoltHub, and even a 3.5mm audio jack to replace the one that Apple so bravely omitted.
Personally, I missed having an audio jack on my 2018 model iPad Pro tremendously, so the inclusion of one in the BoltHub is a big win for me. Unfortunately, in my testing the audio jack doesn’t actually work with in-line remote controls on headphones, so my RHA-brand earbuds couldn’t pause the music or turn up the volume. But the audio output sounds fine and the microphone actually works too. By and large all the ports work as advertised, adding significant utility to the port-challenged iPad Pro.
I’m glad to have this in my travel kit now for those times on the road that one or more of these ports will undoubtedly save me from some sticky situation, but I’ve also never in my life felt so bad about owning a peripheral the way I do about the BoltHub. One of the distinctions of Apple’s iOS hardware has been its elegant, self-contained, almost hermetic nature—any added appendages seem to disrupt these devices’ natural balance in some ineffable way. Apple’s posture has always been that the iPad is basically perfect on its own, that you really don’t need anything more than the tablet itself in order to do everything you could want to do with it. One could even argue that the company sells its own keyboard and stylus for the iPad with great ambivalence, as they continue to wrestle with the suggestion that these things are necessary to fulfill the iPad’s potential—even though it’s become obvious to millions, including myself, that they are.
So just to entertain the idea that these ports are necessary feels like kind of an affront, a heresy against the iPad’s most bedrock principles. On top of it all, the BoltHub, while designed with care, is fundamentally ugly. It’s hard to blame the designers for this because the challenge they took on is at its essence an ugly one: attach ports to a device that defies the very need for ports. (And, to be fair, the BoltHub is much more elegant than most USB-C hubs for tablets out there.) Still, with its USB-C cable dangling off the side in a vaguely life-support-ish fashion, the whole presentation looks somewhat sci-fi, but in a cheap, made-for-TV kind of way—think of the Borg from “Star Trek: The Next Generation.”
I admit these criticisms might come off like an aesthetic evaluation of a utilitarian tool, and based on at least two successful crowdfunding campaigns, BoltHub offers enough utility for at least thousands of users to buy it. But there are more than superficial concerns here. It’s basically impossible to add this kind of functionality to a device that basically doesn’t want it—without compromises. For the BoltHub, the added bulk is nontrivial, though perhaps not a dealbreaker. It makes it a little harder to handle and a little more awkward to use the iPad in portrait mode. If you have Apple’s Smart Keyboard Folio, the BoltHub is compatible with that, but you can’t fully fold the keyboard itself back behind the iPad itself. Well you can fold it back, but it won’t lay flat against the back of the iPad, which is awkward. Maybe the worst compromise is that the BoltHub, once attached, is constantly drawing power, sapping at least an hour or two from a full battery charge. Even if you’re okay with the ugliness, you probably don’t want to keep this thing attached all day. After keeping it bolted to my iPad for a couple of days after first getting mine, I now keep my BoltHub in my bag.
Most period movies get made with the goal of bringing the audience back to whatever era they take place in. But Quentin Tarantino’s ninth film, “Once Upon a Time in…Hollywood” seems to have been made instead for the purpose of bringing Tarantino himself back in time. This movie recreates every detail of Los Angeles 1969 with meticulous, often ostentatious accuracy, which of course is something you can say about many of the better period movies.
More so than in even Tarantino’s own previous forays into historical drama, “Once Upon a Time” seems intensely personal. You can feel it in the way the director’s camera practically luxuriates in the extensively reconstituted location scenery, in his refusal to shortchange even one moment of the time he gets to spend with his characters, and in the golden hour light that he imbues it all with.
Of course, Tarantino’s films have always been preoccupied with his consumption of other media—film history, obviously, but also pop culture in general. “Once Upon a Time” is a whole new level; it goes beyond consumption into pure immersion. You could say that the director took his US$90 million budget and built himself his own personal Westworld, a private theme park where he could act out his fantasies of historical revisionism.
The results are so specific to Tarantino himself that the resulting film can be bewildering, at least at first, or at least for me. I left the theater thinking, “That was a good movie. I think? Maybe it wasn’t? Or maybe it was a great movie?” But I couldn’t stop thinking about it for days, my mind constantly poring over the rich tapestry of details that Tarantino had weaved, darting into all of those corners and searching through all of those pockets he obsessively constructed for no other reason than that he wanted to know that they were there for himself. I still can’t stop thinking about it, actually, and by now I desperately want to go see it again. How many directors can turn their own trainspotting-level fascination with the marginalia of history into something that enraptures audiences like this? I can’t name another.
I saw one other movie in the theater last month: “Spider-Man: Far from Home.” I didn’t like it. Here’s the full list of all twenty-one:
By the time I got to the theaters last month to see “Booksmart,” actor Olivia Wilde’s directorial debut, it had already engendered a ton of hand-wringing over its poor box office performance relative to its widespread critical plaudits. Financially, it was declared dead on arrival. I’m a fan of independent movies, and I like stories about women made by women, so I figured I’d buy a ticket and do my part in supporting the kind of cinema that I want to see more of. Unfortunately I found “Booksmart” incredibly unpleasant to watch. Not only are its plot and characters remarkably—even aggressively—flimsy and inconsistent, but it traffics in a vision of teenagers as slightly downsized twenty-somethings—with all of the ravenous consumer and sexual appetites of urban professionals, hampered only by modestly limited spending power—that I personally find to be lazy and offensive.
My wife and I actually got into a bit of an argument over how “Booksmart” compares with “Always Be My Maybe,” which was released on Netflix at almost exactly the same time. “Always” is another diversity breakthrough in that it was written by and starred two Asian American leads, and was set in a milieu that’s almost entirely Asian American. I wouldn’t make the case that “Always Be My Maybe” is a masterpiece, but I did think the essential motivations of its plot and characters followed sound logic, which in my view is a claim that you can’t make for “Booksmart.” That’s really all I want from most movies: a reasonably accurate simulacrum of the way real people act and behave, regardless of how outlandish or unrealistic their circumstances might be. Plus, if the movie bills itself as a comedy, it would be nice if it was also genuinely funny. I bursted out laughing several times during “Always Be My Maybe.” I think I might have audibly chuckled once during “Booksmart.”
One more comment about “Booksmart”: despite my distaste for it, I left it more convinced than ever that Beanie Feldstein, one of its two leads, is among the most watchable actors working today. She’s a dynamo.
Speaking of independent cinema, I also went to see “The Last Black Man in San Francisco,” a startlingly rich portrait of gentrification told from the perspective of utterly unique African American characters. I couldn’t believe my eyes for the first ten or fifteen minutes; first-time director Joe Talbot practically plows over you with the assuredness of his vision. The rest of the movie can’t quite live up to its opening, but it’s never less than mesmerizing.
Unfortunately, in the third act Talbot also succumbs to a common trap in auteurist filmmaking: trying to make his point through the conceit of a play staged by his characters. I’ve learned through many bad experiences that a play-within-a-film is almost invariably a signal both that the director and screenwriter are very serious and that they are stumped as to how to present their very important ideas. John Turturro’s horrific “Illuminata” and Alejandro González Iñárritu’s pompous “Birdman” are two debacles I barely endured that come to mind. Luckily “The Last Black Man in San Francisco” never stoops as low as those and is well worth a watch. I can’t wait to see what Talbot does next.
Aside from that it was a relatively light month of movie watching. Here is my full list of all twelve that I saw.
“Always Be My Maybe” (2019) Keanu’s cameo got the most attention, and it’s not even the best part!
“The Sting” (1973) Rewatched. An almost perfect little fairy tale of the confidence game.