After the first major snowfall this season, I thought I'd try my hand at capturing the nighttime glow of our christmas lights and the surrounding environs. It was so quiet and still — not a car passed by our house for hours, leaving roads perfectly undisturbed. Of all the photos I took, I was really happy with these two and how well the SLR caught the subtle shine of the ice covered branches and wires.
"America's national parks are a treasure house of nature's superlatives – 84 million acres of the most stunning landscapes anyone has ever seen. They became the last refuge for magnificent species of animals that otherwise would have vanished forever; today, they remain a refuge for human beings seeking to replenish their spirit.
The national parks embody a radical idea, as uniquely American as the Declaration of Independence, born in the United States nearly a century after its creation. It is a truly democratic idea, that the magnificent natural wonders of the land should be available not to a privileged few, but to everyone."
As summer settles in, remember to visit our National Parks if you have the chance. If you don't have that chance, then can I implore you to check out Ken Burns' "The National Parks" series? You can find it on Netflix Instant and Amazon Prime Streaming, and it is more than well worth it. It's inspiring, majestic, and beautifully done. If after that experience, you aren't at least motivated to donate a few dollars to the National Park Foundation, then you might need your heart examined.
Have you ever been using Google Street View and think, "I wish this were animated." Or have you ever found yourself clicking along a particularly beautiful street view? Well this Teehan+Lax Labs Experiment takes advantage of just such occasions. Google Street View Hyperlapse strings together frames of Google Street View into a looping animation focused on a single point. If you follow the link, you'll see a hyperlapse I made of Cincinnati's Roebling Bridge overlooking the Ohio River. You can then make your own hyperlapse by adding new addresses and a point of interest. Tips: Shorter routes makes a more fluid animation — I tried a long drive and it cuts frames to compensate, not to mention takes a while to load. Also, choosing a good point of interest is important as it determines the direction of the camera during the animation. Have fun, I spent almost half an hour doing sweeps of different locales.
[This post is in response to my friend Cole's great post, addressing the ongoing issue of designers devaluing their rates in an effort to compete for more business. I suggest you read her post before this one. Here I'll try to look at it as an institutional issue, in addition to what we should do in the future to prevent this race to the bottom.]
This is a discussion that definitely needs to be had. Part of it is about self respect, and having an understanding of what it takes monetarily to actually afford to live a life. This is something most kids — and sadly most adults (cough *credit crisis* cough), can't honestly budget for or understand what "living within means" means. That seems to have either stemmed from or to the startup/new business culture which thinks taking two milllion bucks in startup capital on something that doesn't make money is okay long-term.
The other part of this is definitely a institutional problem, because I don't think education really wants to convey that you are independent and can survive independently. I mean, the trades and farming are falling away for a reason: larger corporations. As long as education is tightly tied to corporations, independent education will be a hard sell. Or at the very least, not as highly regarded.
I think our profession needs to treat itself like trade guilds. And I've always felt that my clients respond better when I treat things like a tradesman providing a service (such as a carpenter). Sadly that downplays a bit of the art to our craft, but it makes the concept of paying for a service more understandable to the client and charging what we're worth, easier. Obviously these are my general thoughts as there are a lot of nuances here.
Those nuances are part of the challenge too. Mediocre/poor designers who don't know they're mediocre/poor but still feel like "I need to charge what I'm worth!" end up souring clients who may have been initially willing to pay. Once they feel they were "screwed" by a designer, and it only takes once, they're suddenly tightfisted and nitpicky cause they're trying to "make back their money's worth" from that first bad experience for the rest of their life. It's awful to deal with and it sucks that the client had to deal with that initial designer's inability to design a successful solution.
I guess that, again like a trade guild (see Sign Painters) it's the competition within your trade and the elder tradesman willing to teach you that will help you decide how good you are and what you should fairly charge. This is going to require a lot of discussion on our industry's part and a bit more humility when it comes to teaching young designers. As well as fearless openness about how we do things, instead of keeping secrets in an effort to diminish potential competition.
I think there can be a really bright future for design as a profession if we focus on teaching each other for the sake of rising all ships. Realizing that by putting ourselves openly on the line, we will all produce better work, draw more respect to the profession and make what we charge an undisputed fact rather than a potential battle with clients.
As a child of the 90's and a teenager of the aught's, I missed the era of the BBS. I think prior to this documentary, all I knew was that BBS was essentially what came before "the internet" (visual pages and browsers). Recently, the crew over at Giant Bomb put up a BBS that the users could "call into" (albeit via broadband) to experience the door games and the feeling of something before our time. I logged in a few times and found that it was a fun glimpse into a pretty abstracted world. But again, the scope of my knowledge about BBS was pretty primitive. It just seemed like text on a screen. But of course, like many things I write about here, the story and the importance comes from the relationships between the users and the technology. Not from the object itself.
BBS - The Documentary, by archivist Jason Scott, is available here on youtube and tells the stories of relationships through the lens of the BBS era. Like any great documentary, it focuses on the storied connections between the people and the circumstances surrounding them. The hours of interviews are broken into logical parts, building from the birth of the BBS to its eventual replacement by the Internet. During each stage you are not only told stories that are funny, intriguing and even moving — you also get a crash course in what it was like to use the technology of the time. From the humbling concept of 300 baud modems (I will never complain about "slow internet" again... and once you see it, you won't either) to the impressive works of ANSI art — you will get a big dose of perspective as to how far technology has come. However, there are some truly bittersweet moments in this documentary. As you get glimpses into what it was like to be in those communities, you realize how genuine and important the friendships on the BBS were to people. BBSes by their very nature, were local and organic. It was built by people who were welcoming you literally into their home via phone line. Unknowingly like-minded folks met online, and blossomed into real life meetings at local pizza joints. Genius minds figured out how to develop software across the US, long before skype and dropbox. People connected. Really connected. Beyond wires and text.
To watch the story unfold as BBS gets washed away by the Internet, I think you'll feel a twinge of loss, like I did. Though admittedly I am nostalgic for someone else's past — one that predates my own existence, the emotion is still there. It feels that in a trade for the internet, we lost the gentle and local sense of community that something like a BBS could bring about for people. And for all the good the internet has brought about, there isn't a good modern comparison that my relatively young mind (24) sees to the BBS. Twitter might be the closest, but even that is too large and probably too fast. Not to mention, it's not local. If I do a local search on twitter (either by trends or via GPS in tweetbot) I get a list of strangers who, while public, aren't expecting me to say, "Hi neighbor!" In fact, if I did, the idea of locality would probably creep them out. It might creep me out at least, whether or not we had a lot in common. In fact, even a locality-based service — like Foursquare — isn't intended to bring together complete randoms, it's to share with your already-friends. Has the growth and expansion of technology pushed us too far away too fast? In an effort to all become individuals with big voices and audiences, have we all become comfortable shouting into the void, rather than talking to the person next to us? Do we even want to talk to the person next to us anymore? I hate ending posts like these with big "think" questions, but I can't answer these. Maybe that's the point. Maybe after watching the BBS documentary, you'll have your own thoughts and answers to those questions. When you do, call me up. My line's open.
A project by Experimental Jetset & others to connect present day NYC to the NYC of twenty years ago (yeah '93 was 2 decades ago) through the telephones. Utilizing the existing pay phones as an avenue into the past is genius. I also love the idea of hearing a recording through the crackled sound of a handset.
I hope my friends in NYC get a chance to try a few of these out. For those of us outside NYC, follow the link to the Recalling 1993 site and listen to a few recordings. Much like the Silent History project, I am super intrigued by this concept of geographic-exclusive story telling. We should always be aware: stories don't just happen in time, they happen in a place; and that place is a character in the story too.
Every once in a while I re-watch this old video of Steve Jobs giving a talk in 1980. It's sort of rare footage (though now public, thanks to the Computer History Museum). But some Apple fans know it as the "Bicycle For The Mind" speech; in which Jobs relates the efficiency of a human on a bike to the efficiency of creative output on a computer. Hence, the computer is a bicycle for the mind.
It's a good reminder of what computers (and ultimately any tools) are for — to boost your efficiency at a task. But I think there's an oft overlooked nuance to this notion, because a bicycle really does two things: it gets the user from point A to B faster -and- it keeps you healthy/sharp in the process. Many applications and tools today handle the "A to B" part fairly well, but I wonder if we're lacking in the "healthy/sharp" department.
Further in the talk, Jobs mentions "removing the barrier" between needing to know how to program and using the computer. He even goes so far to predict that as extra "power" comes along, beyond what's needed to do the computing, it will be used to "smooth the one-on-one interaction between the computer and the user." That's immensely prescient now that we see the iPad and it's child-friendly ease of use. And that, in a manner of speaking, is what worries me. Computers are really easy to "use." I put "use" in quotes because I'm not sure that half of what our computers do these days is work. It's communication, consumption, information. Not entirely the creative bicycles envisioned in the past. Think of that consumption more like an "automobile for the mind."
Also notice: Steve Jobs smiles, cracks jokes, and talks casually. He even discusses fledgling Apple, using phrases like "philosophical foundation" — when's the last time you heard anyone talk to the public about a company's philosophy in a genuine manner? Much less, a company talk about itself in a casual, sans PR, un-rehearsed way? Rarely, if at all. Heck, I wonder if even modern day Apple still talks this way. In a sense, this is our fault and the fault of "easy" computers. We've created a press and a public connection so tight, that if any company opens their mouth in a genuine manner, they're labeled as "going off-script" or "brash" and "unpredictable." So most keep their mouth shut — choosing "boring" and "rehearsed" over headlines written to drive click-through, comments, and worry clueless shareholders. It's sad because the internet (and the news flowing through it) was also supposed to be a tool to make us more efficient. A bicycle for many minds. Instead, it's intentionally obtuse, with sensational repeat stories, split page galleries, garbage comment systems and decentralized feeds. In a sense, we've removed too much of a barrier there as well.
"A Difference In Emphasis"
You may have noticed that I ended the past three paragraphs in a grim light. I've painted a picture that computers and the internet are perpetual consumption machines, glorified telephones only good for driving garbage around the internet. I expect some have closed the article in disgust, assuming I'm some neck-beardy linux gent who thinks we should all be coding in vim (no offense, linux shamans). That's entirely wrong, and a grim light was certainly not my intention. Though admittedly it can be seen that way.
As a designer, I am enamored every day at the agency I have to create because of a computer. I have infinite sketchbooks. My Wacom tablet is every paintbrush at once. My 3D modeling software can generate real product or a damn realistic render of one. I can create things with astounding efficiency. In that sense, computers have worked. I can see relevant news (if I know where to look) and have enriching communication instantly (if I know who to talk with). That's why it's hard to reconcile the ideas of "failed computing" in my head: the pros are fantastic and the cons are soul-crushing. I wouldn't necessarily say "everyone should know how to code" or even "computers should be harder to use" because at a fundamental level, it's great that anyone can use a computer to communicate. It's relatively easy now to email/facebook/skype/comment on news junk. So here is where we need what Jobs called in the video, "a difference in emphasis."
In terms of positive growth, I believe communicative computing is relatively finished. Not in the "last one left, turn the lights out" sense, but in the sense that the future of communication will just be variants on audio, video, text, and photos. New flavors of the month, rearranged furniture. Vine is just video twitter, Path is just tightly knit facebook, etc. Even hardware changes like Google Glass are at their core, just repositioning of the data. The data is still the same. The bandwidth for communication is wide enough that it all moves through the pipe easily and instantly. Almost certainly (as I expressed above) to a fault. It is up to the user to control the flow, and we are still learning how to be moderate with that. Like a kid, we are relatively young in computing and are eating all the junk food we can. Time and growth will help solve this problem.
The real growth of the future is in creative computing. There are still so many problems and barriers, barriers barely imagined by Jobs himself, that keep everyone from being able to create using computers. Part of that barrier will always be communication, or rather, the draw of easy consumption and communication as a distraction to the user. That should always be there, albeit in moderation. We need to communicate and share, it's intrinsic to learning. Those tools and their uses, to connect mentor with pupil, are being perfected every day. But the tools for creation and learning are still far from finished.
Instant, real-world feedback and precision still seem so far outside our grasp. I am lucky that in my profession, a Wacom Cintiq (+software) is generously close to the ideal sketching surface (albeit it is expensive and huge). But for some professions, coding specifically, the ideal has never existed professionally. We learn best through experimentation or play, and with artistic mediums that's easy. Paint mixes and spreads, sound waves recorded, words fill the page instantly. But code has to be compiled, poked, and re-compiled. The learning process isn't play, it's like play by mail. Many times you don't know why the code broke, you just know that the code broke. Whole websites are devoted to forums where devs show their code and hope someone smarter says, "Oh I had this before, here's your problem." That is insane, and it's understandable that we have now initiatives like code.org — because coding languages (and computing tasks) are still a dark art to most computer users. That should change if the tools change. With more accesible tools, understanding and skill should elevate all discussions about the topic, much like is happening with design now.
But as I said, the work is not done. We still need easier to use computers, but with a different point of emphasis, we need easier ways to create and learn through software. We have our comfortable automobiles, we consume in digital luxury. But we still need to create well, to get from the mental "A to B" and stay sharp while doing so, we need true bicycles for the mind.
When someone asks me where I am or what I'm up to, I just want to send them this...
...cause it just about sums it up. The trash can full of crumpled sketches and the stacks of tea cups are spot on. All apart of the process. Also, how great is this 101 Dalmatians animation cell? The sketch style of the background, the composition, and the color palette perfectly convey the mood.
Kennan Cummings wrote a good, straightforward piece touching on the key takeaway from this style squabbling that seems to be seeping into the design world on the web. Whether it's flat, skeuomorphic, or minimal... style is just a layer of visuals that, under the weight of time and repetition become less important. A designer's value comes from more than the colors and typefaces they pick, it's about their decisions and process.