February 2011 Archives
In addition to the new MacBook Pro temptations Apple unveiled last week, the company also lifted the lid on a few more of the features of its next generation operating system, Lion, as it seeds out to developers.
It’s interesting to note the influence of iOS devices making their way back to the desktop platform. As Apple put it:
We’re taking our best thinking from iPad and bringing it all to the Mac with Mac OS X Lion.
Not least of these new features are the range of Multi-Touch Gestures and Animations now making their way to the desktop experience. The future of personal computing it seems is slowly, but surely converging the worlds of desktop and mobile.
Given the fact that we’re working night and day on building a new undergraduate course with a 110% focus on interaction design, it’s no surprise to discover that we’ve been doing a great deal of reading list reading. One of our recent discoveries has been the wonderfully focused Rosenfeld Media who, in their words, publish ‘user experience design books’.
The Rosenfeld Media Library, at a mere $99 (~£60 or ~€70) – in digital form – is an absolute steal for seven great books on user experience.
Two that caught our eye in particular are Storytelling for User Experience – Crafting Stories for Better Design by Whitney Quesenbery and Kevin Brooks and Web Form Design - Filling in the Blanks by Luke Wroblewski. Some solid reading indeed.
Since Superbad cornered the market in revolutionary disregard for the browser as mere container for content back in the late 90s, the trend has turned back towards ignoring the browser chrome as a part of the experience layer.
Sour, “a three piece band that plays organic, urban, tight, mellow, sharpend, and totally comfortable sound,” recently made it big on the Twitters thanks to the site for their track ‘Mirror’, which breaks some interesting new old ground by bringing back a little of the Superbad ethos.
A reminder, if one was needed, that not all Flash is evil. It’s what you do with it that counts.
In the last days of 1981, S. McGeady wrote:
I have been compiling my own personal netmap for a while, and since no others have come out recently, I decided to publish this. While I am here, I would like to reiterate something I mentioned several months ago: the net is getting too big to map in a pretty visual manner. What we need is a database…
Combining ASCII, Maps, and computing history, this page from the Usenet Oldnews Archive provides a fascinating insight into a bygone era not long past.
If analogue’s your thing, HelloFax - “Throw away your fax machine!” (If you still have one.) And embrace, “Really simple online faxing.” - might just be for you. As the team behind Hello Fax put it:
Send faxes, sign documents and fill out forms… all from your computer.
Old school, it seems, is making a comeback.
Inspired by an 8-Bit Dribbble post by UK artist and designer Harry Harrison, San Francisco interactive designers Addison Kowalski, Amadeus Demarzi and Courtney Guertin took the idea to the next level by 8-Bit’ing their Twitter avatars… This inevitably went viral among the tech set. Eightbit.Me is the result.
Computer School ask: Just How Massive Is Google, Anyway? The answer: Massive. Provided in a massive image, with massive amounts of - all very interesting - data, not least this little snippet:
The amount of data stored in the world totals 1.2 zettabytes, which is equal to everyone in the world posting on Twitter non-stop for a century.
James White of Signalnoise Studio has created a very lovely poster for Stanley Kubrik’s epic masterpiece 2001: A Space Odyssey. Commissioned for a Kubrick exhibition in Paris, White has written about the odyssey of creating the poster itself, including some lovely behind-the-scenes sketches and alternate versions.
Anatomy of Type + Type Glossary + Letterpress = Tempted
The idea behind The Phraseology Project project is simple, but beautifully executed: Submit a letter, word or phrase and Drew Melton - letterer extraordinaire - will make it look beautiful with type. Mr Melton states:
Most design sites or blogs are merely feeds of disconnected visual stimulation. I wanted to do something that you could actually influence and invest into.
We submitted the short phrase ‘Standards Matter’; our fingers crossed Mr Melton picks it.
Everything you ever wanted to know about School Bus Yellow:
School Bus Yellow is a colour which was especially formulated for use on school buses in North America in 1939. The colour is now officially known in Canada and the US as National School Bus Glossy Yellow and was originally called National School Bus Chrome. The pigment used for this colour was, for a long time, the lead-containing chrome yellow.
rgb(255,216,0) (should you wish to put it to good use).
Richard Ziade, creator of - the very lovely - Readability, has written An Open Letter to Apple, outlining a number of concerns his company has about Apple’s recently announced 30% In App Purchase API model, hot on the heels of Apple’s recently announced and fiercely debated, new subscription model.
Mr Ziade’s feeling’s are expressed briefly, and from the heart, and have won widespread support. (As Mr Zeldman puts it, amongst many others: “Right on.”)
It’s your friends from Readability. Remember us? You put our technology into your Safari browser last year. 1 We’re writing this open letter because – well – we’re a little upset right now.
We’re obviously disappointed by [your decision to reject our Readability iOS application], and surprised by the broad language [in your guidelines]. Readability’s model is unique in that 70% of our service fees go directly to writers and publishers. If we implemented In App Purchasing, your 30% cut drastically undermines a key premise of how Readability works.
Before we cool down and come to our senses, we might as well share how we’re feeling right now: we believe that your new policy smacks of greed.
“Smacks of greed.” Ouch.
Ziade’s letter is well worth reading in its entirety (and we’d urge you to read it all). It’s a balanced piece of writing that hammers home a few choice points, not least this astute observation about one of the reasons Apple’s App Store has grown quite so spectacularly:
You’ve achieved much of your success in hardware sales by cultivating an incredibly impressive app ecosystem. Every iPad or iPhone TV ad puts the apps developed by companies like ours front and centre. It was a healthy and mutually beneficial dynamic: apps like ours get exposure and you get to show the world how these apps make your hardware shine.
Herein lies the irony. The phenomenal growth of the App Store has, in many ways, been driven by a symbiotic relationship. Apple provides beautifully designed hardware and a customer-friendly, seamless purchasing environment; Apple’s developer partners have created an impressively wide range of apps, beautifully designed, for this very system. (And, as Ziade points out, Apple isn’t afraid to leverage its developers’ efforts - “Showing the world how these apps make your hardware shine.” - when it celebrates the hardware/software symbiosis that lies at the very heart of the iOS platform’s success.)
The bottom line? This growth has been about partnership. It’s been about give and take. Now Apple has, quite significantly, shifted the goal posts.
Ziade’s Open Letter, along with so many other publicly voiced concerns, are beginning to posit an alternative approach to Apple’s walled garden model. As Ziade puts it:
As far as Readability is concerned, our response is fairly straight-forward: go the other way… towards the web.
This reaction, of embracing the web and perhaps signalling an aggressive move away from iOS devices is hardly isolated, all stemming back to Apple’s all-encompassing 30% tax (or ‘tithe’ as Gizmodo pointedly puts it). Of greater concern for those bought in to the iOS experience is how this might play out with other established players.
Though Apple’s policy is barely a week old, the visceral reaction towards it is growing and, one wonders, how it might unfold as it moves the goal posts for established, and approved apps, like Amazon’s Kindle app which, as of June 30, will be forced into a choice: slash margins, raise prices or abandon the iOS platform altogether.
As Mac Observer put it, again in an article on the problems Readability is facing:
The reality is that Apple’s new stance is likely to be a massively disruptive force in its own ecosystem, and not disruptive in a good way. From Dropbox to Pandora to Kindle to Readability to a host of other online services, these app and service [combinations] add a lot of value to Apple’s iOS ecosystem. In the case of Dropbox and others, they fill a significant hole that Apple left open in its mobile platform.
Furthermore, in businesses like Amazon’s Kindle or any of the various music streaming services, there simply isn’t any room for Apple to take 30% from a pie that’s already stretched thin by publishers, labels, IP holders, and the needs of the third party services that actually offer the service.
In fact, it’s likely that if Apple doesn’t change this policy, all of the music services and ebook competitors won’t be able to do business on Apple’s platform due to simple economics.
Simple economics. Enough said.
The Register, in an article titled ‘Apple ‘Greed’ Tax Spreads Beyond Music, Movie, Magazines’, which reflects on the situation facing Readability, put it this way:
Readability’s slogan puts it: “Enjoy Reading, Support Writing.”
This should be amended, in Apple’s view, to read: “Enjoy Reading, Support Writing, Send a Buck-Fifty to Cupertino Each Month.”
It’s precisely this kind of commentary and bluntly worded opprobrium that poses a very real threat to Apple’s iOS platform as it moves forward. When the creators of applications like Readability, which place a premium on supporting content providers (to the tune of a generous 70% slice of the revenue generated), face this kind of choice and choose to abandon iOS, one wonders how more aggressively profit-focused organisations will follow.
The economics of content have already faced a beating as the web and a ‘culture of free’ has taken hold. Perhaps the stance Ziade and, increasingly, others are adopting will force Apple to reconsider its pricing model.
We leave the last word with Ziade, who reflecting on Readability’s iOS application rejection, states:
We’re always looking to give [our] readers the best possible reading experience and a native iOS client would help us do that. We hope you’ll change your mind [Apple]. If you do, we’d be happy to resubmit the Readability iOS app.
One wonders what Apple’s response to this widespread pressure might be, not least in the face of now becoming charged by many as a company that has abandoned its core values and, worse, for a company with such hard-earned brand loyalty is, on a daily basis it seems, accused of growing levels of arrogance. Watch this space, it seems the debate has just begun.
Japanese graphic designer Masaaki Hiromura’s kanji characters for Tokyo’s Kitasenjyu Marui department store fuse pictograms and kanji, creating, “food words that can be understood in any language,” that are beautiful in their simplicity.
As @issue put it:
Although Hiromura was probably focused on devising a witty and graphically interesting way to communicate to multinational customers who frequent the store, this display seems like the reverse of how written languages began in many ancient cultures.
Japanese and Chinese characters started as pictographs, ideographic symbols describing objects and actions. Over time, these characters became less pictographic and ideographic and more visually abstract. What’s amusing about these pictogram characters is that we’ve come full circle.
In a word: Lovely.
Every self-respecting geek knows that domain name availability is a pre-requisite for baby names in these internet-centred times. Thankfully, should you be that way inclined, Babysquatter has you covered.
Enter your impending son’s or daughter’s name and see if their domain name is still available. Simple.
Should you be a lady or a gentleman with a penchant for proper attire - tweed suits, plus fours, bow-ties, cycling capes and jaunty flat caps are all encouraged (or, should you desire, combinations of the aforementioned) - then The Tweed Run is one for you.
Established in 2009, and now in its third year, The Tweed Run is a friendly ten mile cycle around London that takes in the city’s famous sites – St Paul’s, Big Ben, Buckingham Palace, Savile Row (of course)… – with a stop for a spot of tea and an obligatory knees-up at the end.
With prizes for ‘Best Dressed Man’ and ‘Best Dressed Woman’ and (how could we not mention) Best Moustache, there are plenty of incentives to get involved.
Registration opens at noon on Saturday, 26 February, 2011 with a mere 400 places on offer. Put that date in your diary now; last year all 400 places were snapped up in a mere 45 minutes. We have it on good authority that a certain Mr Hicks will be in attendance, better still, he is even rumoured to be working on a moustache. As if that wasn’t excuse enough, we don’t know what is.
(Facial hair long overdue Mr Hicks! Welcome to the club.)
Keith Houston is, no question, an interesting character. As he puts it:
By day I write medical visualisation software, but by night I cycle, play bass and write about punctuation.
An interesting, and varied, mix of preoccupations, no doubt. Shady Characters is the result of one of these preoccupations: Mr Houston’s interest in the stories behind the different ‘marks of punctuation’, a world all but invisible to the untrained and unobservant eye. As he writes in the excellent (and bibliographically sound) ‘Introduction to Shady Characters’:
Some years ago — never mind how long precisely — a friend recommended a book to me. The book was An Essay on Typography, written in 1931 by Eric Gill, one of England’s most famous modern typographers.
Although it was both diminutive in size and short on actual instruction, [it] was a joy to read, full of philosophical asides and painstakingly hand-cut illustrations. Most of all, though, my interest was piqued by the unusual character resembling a reversed capital ‘P’ – ‘¶’ – which peppered the text at apparently random intervals.
As the otherwise comprehensive Typographic Desk Reference (TDR) explained in a disappointingly perfunctory manner, this character was called the ‘pilcrow’ and once upon a time it had been used to separate paragraphs…
Here Houston’s quest began. His interest, piqued by the lack of answers offered by the otherwise exhaustive TDR, was aroused. The result, by way of his pilcrow research is a forensic investigation into the birth of punctuation - taking in the ancient Greeks, Charles the Great … and England’s greatest 20th century typographer - a quest at once both typographical and historical. Or, more accurately, history seen through a typographic lens.
With the promise of future characters to whet our appetite - not least the ampersand and the hash - and a host of, “typographic raconteurs hiding in plain sight,” we’d encourage you to follow the shady character of Mr Huston as he brings the marginalia of typography; the often overlooked, yet critical, world of punctuation, to light. You won’t be disappointed.
Originally drawn in 2008 by Travis Stearns, of YouWorkForThem, Herzog - an exuberantly geometric display face - was revisited in 2011 to create a fully functional OpenType font, now available to purchase.
Herzog comes in regular and alternate options, with each style containing copious quantities of OpenType alternates in both upper and lower case. Buy both styles and the fine folks at YWFT throw in a free copy of the original handset (EPS) design file which contains, “several hundred letter options for your enjoyment.”
From the team of Abel Cabans (‘Standard Man’):
humans.txt is an initiative for knowing the people behind a web site.
It’s a TXT file that contains information about the different people who have contributed to building the web site.
Look at it as an extended
meta name="author", or a
robots.txt for humans. Lovely idea.
Sawyer Hollenshead has created an interesting CSS3 Depth of Field typographic experiment, sensitively combining CSS3’s
transition properties to create a 100% rendered-in-browser typographic treatment.
First, hit ‘Toggle (n)’; second, ‘View Source’. Great work.
For those who missed it, the 2010 edition of the Feltron Annual Report – subtitled ‘The Paternal Report 1929-2010 – is now available to view online, with the print and poster version available for pre-order now.
Mr Felton states:
This year’s report is an encapsulation of my father’s life as communicated by the calendars, slides and other artifacts in my possession.
Even disregarding the relatively weighty subject matter of the 2010 report, it looks to be one of the finest yet. You should get your copy now before they sell out (as they inevitably do).
Ladies and gents, fellow humans – presenting Pixelfari, a pixely, 8-bitty version of everyone’s favorite browser. Enjoy chunky fonts, blocky graphics, and a general sense of giddy inefficiency.
Free and fun, just like it says on the tin.
Brian Suda is an informatician, speaker and author with a passion for data. He lives and works in Reykjavik.
His book Designing with Data was the third to be published on noted independent publisher Five Simple Steps. “A journey through the basics [of] producing beautiful looking, accurate representations of data,” it is well worth investing in for its comprehensive overview of data visualisations and its words of wisdom on designing with data to tell meaningful and captivating stories.
Mr Suda is also a behind-the-scenes force to be reckoned with at 24 Ways where he occupies the role of co-editor with Drew McLellan and, most recently, assisted with the production of the The 24 Ways Annual.
Drawing from his study in informatics his interests are varied, encompassing cartography, chromatics and community (to name, but three). All are drawn from the ‘good portion of each day’ he spends connected to the internet. He writes in longform about these varied interests at (optional.is), a site which we’d wholeheartedly encourage you to bookmark.
We asked Mr Suda a dozen questions.
Where did you learn your craft?
Honestly, I’m not really sure what my craft is any more. I am a classically trained computer scientist.
I pursued undergraduate studies at Parks College of Aviation, Saint Louis University. At the time we were still learning to program in C and were taught all about waterfall and just in time methodologies. On graduating, I went to the University of Edinburgh and undertook a Masters in Informatics. There we did everything in Java and my thesis was about SOAP web-services.
Needless to say, what I do on a daily basis I didn’t learn in school. School was a great foundation for learning to organise your life and how to learn, so I am glad for my experiences, but the vast majority of what I do on a daily basis comes from the plenty of times I did it wrong!
Who inspires you?
Hmmm… Maybe less about who specifically and more about what. Right now I am very much interested in the concept of ‘Idleness’. I’m reading Bertrand Russell’s book In Praise of Idleness and the ancient Japanese book Essays in Idleness. I think in the next year, more of my work will revolve less around real-time, instant-gratification and instead a more relaxed, idle approach.
What are your influences?
Pretty much everything. I try to take it all in and filter it as needed. I peruse FFFFOUND! frequently for inspiration. I have hundreds of RSS feeds, but only 50% or so are technology-focused, the rest are interesting sites here and there.
My biggest influence at the moment is probably The Long Now Foundation. They’re thinking in the very long term, something that few in the technology industry seem to be doing - maybe because they’re chasing the money or because bits are relatively cheap. How many devices have you binned in the last ten years because the next version got shinier? (Cf. Last Year’s Model.) Designing a device that will last for 10,000 years makes you think about so many aspects you didn’t before, the technology, the materials, governments, political turmoil… it runs the full gamut.
You describe yourself as an informatician. This may be a new term to some, what does an informatician do?
My studies were in informatics, it’s a blend of several different disciplines which study how natural and engineered computational systems interact and behave. When your degree is in informatics, you need an equivalent job title. The study of mathematics creates mathematicians, ergo informatics begets informaticians.
Informatics has roots in computer science, cognitive science and artificial intelligence, but has spread to more disciplines including biology, psychology and mathematics. The concept now acts as a bridge bringing more cross-disciplinary interaction in science, but try putting that on your business cards! Having a single word for this concept created a Whorfianism that allows people to talk about a much more abstract concept in a single word. We saw something similar with the term AJAX.
As recently reported in The Guardian, Tim Berners-Lee believes analysing data is the future for journalism. How do we equip a future generation - of both journalists and beyond - with these skills?
A strong understanding of statistics and storytelling are key. A good journalist already knows what angle they want to write about, they’re great at teasing out facts and information. The next generation of data journalists will need the liberal arts skills to tell the story, but will need to extend their skill set to learn how to extract ‘loose’, unstructured data.
An investigative journalist already knows how to file Freedom of Information Requests, how and where to dig-up leads, facts and information from analogue sources. They will need to extend those skills into the digital realm and learn about things like regular expressions, cleaning and scrubbing data, and be familiar with off-the-shelf tools to visualise large data sets to see the ‘shape’ of the story.
We’ve noticed you format your dates, as follows:
Monday, December 13th, 02010 at 13:31 UTC. Why the leading zero on the year? Enlighten us.
The long now organisation is building a clock that will take 10,000 years to make one revolution. To help promote the idea they are prefixing all their dates with a leading zero. It reminds us that it isn’t the 11th year in 2000, it is the 2011th year in 10,000! I think it’s a great idea.
We all worried about Y2K and the 2 to 4 digit roll-over issues with ‘99 becoming 0 rather than 2000. Well, we’re going to have the same problem in the year 9999 to 0 instead of 10,000. By prefixing things with a leading zero it forces you to think to yourself, “that’s weird,” then think about things in a longer term manner.
You’ve written: “Maps are historically one of the most important and politically charged objects mankind has created.” 1 Considering your interest in cartography, what’s your favourite map, and why?
Maps are still one of the many items that are confiscated when travelling between some countries. Google is serving different maps in different regions where lands are still contested. Maps are powerful political tools.
My favourite map at the moment is an old Chinese map, Along the River During the Qingming Festival (above), a panoramic painting generally attributed to the Song Dynasty artist Zhang Zeduan (1085–1145).
It’s my current favourite because of the distortion. It isn’t a geograpghically correct map, I’m sure the river is winding back and forth all over the countryside, but here it is stretched out into a long linear format. Which is perfect, because if you are on the boat you don’t have much of a choice as to which way to travel, you only care about what points of interest you pass, how far there is between them and on which bank they will appear. It is perfectly executed for the task at hand.
There is a great deal of discussion about the importance of information design as an integral part of the design process. Given this emphasis, why do we still suffer carbuncles like, for example, ill-considered boarding passes?
I wish I knew the answer, then we could fix it.
My guess is that one of two extremes occurs: The bigger the company the more people need to sign-off, it goes through committee and gets so poorly watered down, or people are afraid to take risks, that you end-up with the lowest common denominator. (Like the old adage, “No one ever got fired for buying IBM,” no one gets fired for making Excel charts). Or conversely: Companies are so big that no one cares and really important activities and decisions fall through the cracks because over-worked people don’t feel it’s important or it isn’t their discipline or area of expertise in the first place. They are too worried about their job today that they aren’t thinking end-user experience of tomorrow.
Data visualisation is in essence storytelling. Is it possible, or even desirable, to maintain a semblance of objectivity when engaged in this endeavour?
In my younger days I thought facts were facts, how could they not be neutral, but the more I work with data I realise that it’s probably impossible to not be biased.
You can try as hard as you might to present the information in a neutral way, but you always have your own personal biases such as age, gender, race, upbringing, which bleed into your opinions. This doesn’t even get to the issues of the information you don’t show. Sure, the line graph might be full of facts, but you’re conveniently omitting other facts which can change the opinion.
What is missing is almost more important than what is present.
What’s your favourite typeface?
I enjoy Futura at the moment, but my allegiances are fickle.
What’s your favourite plain text editor?
For code, I’m using TextMate, but for more focused writing I’m using OmmWriter - very Zen.
What’s your favourite tea?
I’m not picky. I am more a fan of tea flavoured milk.
As with anything that becomes fashionable, style eventually triumphs over substance.
With the current vogue for infographics, this little gem, from Think Brilliant, which “explores commonalities between the seemingly vast expanse of contrived infographics that appear to have spawned in mass over the past year” was perhaps inevitable.
A pertinent reminder that the significance of the subject matter still matters.
Food has always been a social affair, and Foodily, with the strapline “Search every recipe from every website. Find the ones your friends like.”, is combining an innovative and delightful design with a powerful search engine and the de-rigour social networking aspects of any self-respecting modern-day website.
Surprisingly, or maybe not, there’s only one accepted social network currency, so liking, or even saving a recipe requires you to connect to Facebook. If that’s your cup of tea, Foodily looks tasty indeed.