If you have a dog beside you as you read this, bend down, look into her eyes, and stroke her. Via the hypothalamus inside your body, oxytocin will get to work, and dopamine – organic chemicals implicated in animal bonding – and, before you know it, you’ll be feeling good, even in the dark times of a pandemic. And, as it happens, so will your dog, who will experience a similar physical response to the bond between you both.
This is from The joy of being animalby Melanie Challenger, a great essay on acknowledging our identity as both a mind and a body.
Nowadays, I find it’s easier to see examples of us serving technology, than of technology serving us.
Your phone thinks you should install new apps. Your social network thinks you should follow these new people. Your bank “optimizes” your “client experience” by offering you new services based on what it records of your spending and saving. Gas stations have been tripping over themselves in their hurry to install screens at the pump, so you can be served video ads while you’re stuck in place filling up. Spotify loves Joe Rogan and won’t consider the notion that I might not.
Hi, I’d like to add you to my professional network on LinkedIn.
None of this is to improve someone’s life. Individually, they all rank from a minor annoyance to an offensive idea. Together, they make a big tapestry – they’re the everyday, routine pressure of technology used to turn people into optimized consumers.
I like Frank Chimero’s term for how this unravels in digital products: App Sprawl. As a popular utility matures, the pressure for it to grow into something more follows. Unless they’re confident in their values, and content with the fulfilling the actual purpose of said utility, the parent company ends up restless. Eventually, people who show up for a tool’s expected purpose (which they value!) are now faced with a labyrinthine offering of many things they shouldn’t even have to think about.
It’s why I prefer focused tools and services, that do one thing or manage one problem very well, and don’t bother with anything else. Like their physical counterparts, these are things that you pull out when they become useful, and and put back in place once you’re done. It’s technology as a way to amplify capacities, and free up time.
It’s much better to end up with more me time, more outdoor time, more friends time, more dog-petting time. It’s good to use technology that thinks the same.
See you soon!
❤ Loved lately
I’ve been using Michael Villar’s Timer application for a few years now (it’s for MacOS). It’s a good example of the point I’m trying to make in here. It’s useful, then it’s out of the way. As it happens, the app also free and open-source.
Why Russans do not smile, by Natalija Tancjura. A short and insightful explanation of the cultural role of a smile in Russian vs North-American culture.
I’ve been swamped by work recently, and have slowed down the dispatch to help me balance out my schedule.
A Seasonal Hours clock
This esoteric-looking clock represents all 24 hours of the day as a word, and maps those words to the same time across all time zones. This way, “soup o’clock on friday” can mean the same thing to everyone in a distributed team. This suggested standardization feels surprisingly warm and humane.
If it hasn’t appeared on your radar yet, MakeSpace is a fantastic take on what a truly digital meeting space can feel like. For lack of a better explanation, it makes the meeting “space” felt, and purposeful.
In my opinion, the best part is that it’s a group of interested people creating it – not yet an organization, maybe a not-for-profit, we’ll see later.
How to be lucky, a guide/essay by Christian Busch, on how to be a serendipitious person. Not too hand-wavey, not too rigid, it’s full of fun insights. And I’ll take all the positive mindset advice I can get these days.
Also, Aeon is a fantastic publication, and Psyche, from the above article, is a sister outlet of them.
Do you know about Procreate? It’s an accessible and powerful drawing tool for iPad – it’s very popular. One of its main attractions is how it emulates many traditional media with good enough accuracy. Budding illustrators get good results with it. Seasoned pros can put out work that’s pretty much indistinguishable from the real thing.
Photoshop is also pretty (in)famous for having “artistic” filters, that imitate traditional media. These may or may not be the what your uncle picked to jazz up his profile picture lately.
On the specialist side, AI researchers have been making leaps in what’s called style transfer, transposing any picture into the style of a given artist (the results from these networks are very impressive but also very WIP from up close).
And I really get where the interest for digital-but-like-the-real-thing comes from. Our senses are receptive to texture, to natural rhythms and proportions.
My own work uses what I call unimaginatively my fake plotter library (I’m open to name ideas). It draws shapes like a pen might do on uneven paper. I feel this need to mimick the real, too.
Tyler Hobbs has a great talk about deconstructing the properties of ink or watercolor on paper, and reproducing these qualities digitally. It’s a great watch, and nothing too scary for the less tech-oriented:
There’s the whole Art imitates life idea, which I don’t want to lean on too much, but we do have a sort of innate receptivity to certain visual structures and styles.
With the innate, we often conflate the fact that it is instinctive, with the idea that it can’t be explained, analyzed or deconstructed. I think that’s a false conclusion. Like with music, sometimes we’re deeply receptive to a quality before we learn the language that describes it.
But learning to describe and build the quality is such a trip.
If you haven’t yet come across Bartosz Ciechanowski’s Lights and Shadows article, do not miss it. Get to it when you have some time, too, it’s a deep read. It’s basically an explanation of how light works on surfaces, with fantastic interactive visuals.
This one is for product and digital design friends. Put on your nerd glasses 🤓
If you’re minimally familiar with GitHub, you know it as the de facto epicenter of open-source projects, especially on the web.
And if you think of open-source software (OSS), you probably think of development. In fact, you probably think almost only of software development. Coding.
The step before coding an idea would be, of course, design. In my industry, “design” is sometimes a shortcut when we mean “visual mockups”, but let’s keep it large: Design is when you go from an intent, to a documented way of how to accomplish it. It can be mockups, a product spec – anything you can pick up and use as the blueprint to develop a working piece of software.
Right now, OSS is heavily centered around development. GitHub, as a platform that propels OSS, is pretty mature and established at this point. It has this circular effect of listening and catering to developers, cultivating their majority at the same time. The way GitHub is shaped guides and influences global collaboration practices in open-source software.
On the design side, the situation is different. For an individual who wants to present an ongoing or a fleshed out “open” design project that lives online, either they post their design documents alone as an exercise on Dribbble/Behance, and consider them "done", or they build up a whole website to present a fleshed-out idea to the Internet, but not within a platform that facilitates the upcoming work. There’s no default structure for collaborating with fellow designers, nor with developers if they are interested in making the idea come to life.
If developers are interested, and GitHub is (likely) picked to provide the larger work structure, then all the interactions become owned by the development side by default. Design discussions become issues, big releases might become development milestones, and such.
I hope to see a better way soon. There should be a platform similar to GitHub, that fosters interacting and learning between designers on open projects. It would help build a better shared language of work between designers, as well as establish baseline standards of design-development collaboration (at community-scale, instead of team- or project-scale). Maybe that platform will be a future form of GitHub. It would make a lot of sense!
So what does an open design platform look like?
My litmus test for such a platform would be if it successfully encourages budding designers to jump into existing projects and start delivering concepts and incremental changes, with reviews and support from the mature team and community that's already there.
I think there are lots of products juggling with parts of the solution currently. Abstract (and previously, Layervault and others) is the answer to “What if design had git-like versioning?”. Figma answers “What if design collaboration means working on visuals together, real-time?”. Abstract’s Notebooks tackle the question of a design workflow that’s first about documenting intent – which is really fantastic, but since they sell it to internal, corporate teams, nothing changes at the community level. Honestly, I think Basecamp gets a lot of the design workflow right by focusing on working in public and exposing intent, especially combined with their Shape up methodology.
There’s also the question of what incentives exist within the tools. In an area that’s already dominated by developers, to ask designers to insert their work in a code-centric tools like GitHub, is to ask for design to be subservient to the development workflow. I think neither discipline exists under the other, and the right tools need to foster the right relationship there.
I wholeheartedly believe that there’s a design revolution waiting to happen when the discipline integrates an OSS scene.
A big part of it is to recognize that with design, “open source” means having access to the intent and the reasoning, not just the mockups.
Also, I don’t want to end this without mentioning that there are existing efforts, such as Open Source Design, who have already started building the bridges that lead us into this better future.
♥️ Loved lately
I should have loved biology– I think we all need a periodic reminder that even the most rigorous of disciplines don’t really exist – or thrive – without wonder.
Don’t go down the rabbit hole, a great essay by Charlie Warzel about the traps that misinformation lays, and how we should avoid burning mental energy on it.