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September 10, 2009

I Hear Prada's Collection Is All Voronoi Diagrams This Season

Robin says,

Here's a great post about Voronoi diagrams: what they are, why they're cool, and how to draw them. sevensixfive writes: "they can be used to describe almost literally everything: from cell phone networks to radiolaria, at every scale: from quantum foam to cosmic foam."

After you have drawn your own Voronoi diagram by hand, perhaps you will enjoy this rad Voronoi diagram animation made with Processing.

You know what Voronoi diagrams always really remind me of? Skin! But also, I suppose, leaves.

Comments (0) | Permasnark | Posted: 10:25 PM

September 3, 2009

Colorful, But Not Cute

Robin says,


Two things I like about this interview with The Little Friends of Printmaking: a) the colors, and b) the process. Near the end of the post, you get to see every stage in the creation of a new poster. Pretty cool.

Comments (0) | Permasnark | Posted: 2:38 PM

August 28, 2009

Robin's thoughts: Disappointment seems fair, even to my much-less-trained eyes; it's more of a grab-bag than any ki... >>

Titles Through Time


Oh lord. That new design blog idsgn is doing the Serpentor thing where they cross-breed bloggable memes into unstoppable super-posts.

Here they're filtering Christian Annyas's film title collection to present a crisp snapshot of film titles over time.

QUESTION: The idsgn post includes a frame from the title sequence for SE7EN, and this page says the sequence "changed the way we look and think about title design today and is arguably the most imitated main title ever made."

What was so special about it? Was it the layering of imagery? The jittery motion? (I realize this is probably one of those situations where the aesthetic innovation has now diffused so fully that I simply can't see it. But I wanna know what I should be looking for.)

(Via BA.)

Posted August 28, 2009 at 4:49 | Comments (2) | Permasnark
File under: Design

August 20, 2009

Tim's thoughts: Good points both, Matt and Jeff; I talked a little bit about Matt's <a href="http://snarkmarket.c... >>

How The iPod Changed The Way We Read

Since I slid this claim in at the end of a long post with a lot of literary theory, you might have missed it:

When the media landscape changes, we actually begin to SEE things differently, even (or ESPECIALLY) things that haven't changed at all.

This is the reason why the iPod didn't just change the way we listen to music - and later, look at pictures or movies or play video games. It changed the way we read.

And (because I couldn't help my ever-qualifying self):

(As did movies, television, video games, and many, many other things.)

(The big one I Ieft out in this list was mobile phones, but since the iPod and the smartphone wound up being convergent/complementary technologies, I think they're more arguably part of the same story.)

Let me try to spell out point by point how I think the iPod - or more precisely, the evolution of the iPod - changed reading.

  1. Design Matters. The iPod elevated the level of aesthetic pleasure people expected from handheld devices, as well as the premium they were willing to pay for well-made things. Looking back at the first-generation Kindle, it's actually astonishing how much of the early commentary focused on the perceived ugliness of the device. In particular, the first Kindle didn't just look ugly - it looked out of date. This was something we used to care about with home theater equipment and kitchen appliances - the iPod taught us to care about it on our handhelds, even when we were walking around with cheap plastic phones. If the e-reader breakthrough had happened in 1999 or 2002, even if the device had been similarly awkward-looking relative to the technology around it, I don't think this would have been as much of a problem as it became.
  2. Software Matters. I almost titled this "Design Goes All The Way Down." It's a truism now that Apple was able to swoop in on the digital music market because they wrote better software than the Sonys and Samsungs they were competing with on the high end. But it's true. You're not just creating a piece of hardware; you're creating an interface for an experience. And in particular, if you get the experience of buying, sorting, finding, and selecting media wrong, you've got real problems. You have to make the software intuitive, powerful, and fun. The goal is to reduce the friction between a user's intent and their goal - whether it's buying music, listening to it, or flipping through album art. If there's friction anywhere in the experience, it had better be deeply pleasurable friction. (That's right, I said it.)

    The Kindle actually seems to understand this really, really well.

  3. This is more specific: People Like Full Color. Was anyone complaining about the monochrome taupe-and-dark-taupe display of the first iPod? No. Was I when I bought my first iPod, in 2004? Not at all. Did I cry inside when they launched the first color-display, video-capable iPod about a month afterwards? Not exactly. I cried on the outside, too. Color is resource-intensive, and hard to get right on a small screen. But god - it's beautiful. It's also one of the things that easily gets lost in the transition from print to digital; there's nothing like a book with full-color prints, and the only thing sadder than an image-heavy book that's all in black-and-white is a digital version of the same book that doesn't have images at all.
  4. Images Make Reading Easier. I mean, this is one of the big lessons of the graphical interface on the desktop, right? Column after column of text is hard to look at, and it's hard to distinguish one version from the next. Seriously - sorting through an early iPod, like my third-gen one, is one of the most intense reading experiences you're likely to have, and I think it (along with text messages) totally softened people up for reading strings of text on small screens. But texts with icons - even generic icons that just look like little pieces of paper next to the text that identifies with them - reinforces the idea that you're dealing with distinct objects. Add covers - like book or album covers, or preview images of pictures, and you've got a hieroglyphic hybrid mode of reading that is frankly more powerful and intuitive than text or images alone. Create a software interface where you can manipulate those objects, and you've got something that's genuinely game-changing.
  5. Media Devices Should Do More Than One Thing. It's great that I can take my music with me, but I'd really like to listen to radio programs, too. (Podcasts.) I carry around all of these pictures in my wallet - maybe you could...? (Done.) What about TV? I like TV. And my kids like to watch movies in the car. (We can do that.)

    Was it obvious that there was a hidden affinity between pictures and music and movies? No. But once you've got a screen with a big hard drive, a great syncing tool, and a solid store that can deal with media companies... You follow the logic of what you can meaningfully offer and what your customers can use the device to do.

    The only thing more appealing for multiple media than a tiny screen with a big hard drive is a great big screen with a big hard drive. I can't believe that future reading devices won't take advantage of it.

  6. Make It Easy For Me To Get My Own Stuff On The Screen. Can you imagine if Apple had ONLY let you put stuff on your iPod that you'd bought or ripped through iTunes? The iPod moment benefited tremendously from the Napster moment, which in turn was driven by the CD-ripping and cheap fast internet moment. You had all of this digital material sitting on people's hard drives and floating around networks, and we just needed someplace to put it. There's no stuff we want more than our own stuff. Apple smartly opened itself up to it. Well, likewise, now, we've decades of office documents sitting on people's hard drives and hypertext pages floating around networks, and nowhere but our computers to put it.

    I'll say it again: There's No Stuff We Want More Than Our Own Stuff. If Amazon, or Google, or anybody, could find a way for me to get MY print library on a portable screen, I would both love and pay them dearly for the chance to do so.

  7. Devices Should Talk To Each Other. My DVD player is an idiot. It has nothing to say to anyone except maybe my TV and some speakers. Now, I just leave it in a drawer. My TV is a little better, because it listens really well, but not by much. From the beginning, the iPod could both talk and listen to your computer. Now, because of its wireless connect, the iPhone can talk to almost anything.

    The Kindle's networking ability, still limited as it is, stands on the shoulders of those devices. (And your computer, too, does a much better job of talking to small, post-PC devices than it used to, from video game consoles to mobile phones.)

  8. This last point is from Gavin Craig, and it includes the iPod, and the Kindle, but also is more general: "It should be possible to make the device useful in ways that the designer may not have intended." I call this half-jokingly "Media Existentialism." (Existence precedes essence; we come to terms with our determined place in the universe, and only afterwards do we define who we are and what we're for.)

    The point is that users, not designers, ultimately determine what an object is for; and any attempt to engineer-through that process in a closed-ended way restricts value rather than creating it.

This is a short list of the expectations we have for reading machines now that we largely didn't have a decade ago. None of them came from devices that were designed (except largely accidentally) to read anything.

But this list only barely begin to speak to the expectations we'll have for an electronic reader decades from now.

What might those expectations be? Where will they come from? How might they change everything else?

Posted August 20, 2009 at 7:53 | Comments (6) | Permasnark
File under: Books, Writing & Such, Design, Object Culture, Technosnark

August 19, 2009

A Piece of the Planet, Pinned To Your Chest

Robin says,


This seems really resonant to me: a piece of jewelry cut to the contour of any place on earth. The silver version is too expensive, but it's a cool idea; they should offer them in plastic.

Comments (0) | Permasnark | Posted: 9:41 AM

Rockin' Microsoft Fonts

Robin says,

Microsoft has taken an epic amount of abuse for Arial, their now-ubiquitous Helvetica knockoff. But, uh, did anybody notice... I think they took it to heart... 'cause the new Windows fonts are really good?


And they're not even that new, right? I think they've been out since 2007. Anyway, one in particular, Calibri, is just really nice. Of course, I think it's nice, in part, because it has many ligatures (see above).

Maybe this is old news and everyone has been joyfully typing away in Calibri and Consolas for years now. I'm just getting wise. And looking for synonyms with the "ti" word pairing.

Update: Actually, I totally remember when this Poynter piece by Anne Van Wags about the C-family came out. But it was all "ooh, wow, coming soon, maybe" and then somehow I missed the actual release of these fonts.

Comments (3) | Permasnark | Posted: 12:02 AM

August 7, 2009

Tim Maly's thoughts: I'm voting for fake TV's. ... >>

BLDGBLOG Book Contest: Snarkmarkitecture

It has been indicated, correctly, that I am in possession of two (2) copies of The BLDGBLOG Book. How this came to pass, only Etaoin Shrdlu knows. But two copies is clearly too many for one man; the double-dose of enthusiasm and imagination threatens to consume me.

Therefore, a contest: SNARKMARKITECTURE.

The premise is simple. Imagine Snarkmarket as a physical space. What is it? Where is it? What does it look like? What does it feel like to walk through or around it?

I'm intentionally leaving this open-ended—maybe it's a gleaming HQ, maybe it's a storefront, maybe it's a feral house of Detroit. Maybe it's like one of those taco trucks...

Leave your pitch in the comments. Focus on creativity and brevity. It can definitely just be a sentence or two—though, by all means, if you want to Etaoin Shrdlu it up, I'm not going to stop you.

The contest ends Sunday, August 9 Monday, August 10 at midnight EST. (Update: I wanted to accommodate non-weekend-readers.) I'll choose my favorite comment and send its creator a copy of The BLDGBLOG Book. (Be sure to use a real email address in the comment form so I can contact you if you're the winner!)

Snarkmarket co-bloggers are not eligible to win but they are required to enter.

Snarkmarket as a physical space. Go for it.

Posted August 7, 2009 at 10:05 | Comments (19) | Permasnark
File under: About Snarkmarket, Cities, Collaborations, Design

August 6, 2009

Shadows of Shenzen's Future

Robin says,


I like this proposal for a new stock exchange district in Shenzen—it's got some really cool lines. (However, it lost the competition, so those lines can only be enjoyed on computer screens.)

Comments (0) | Permasnark | Posted: 10:59 AM
Chris Saad's thoughts: Wait hang on - you MADE that - I thought it was an official demo lol... >>

Rhonda, Rhonda, Rhonda!

Wow. Tonight I got a chance to try Rhonda, a crazy drawing application that's somehow both 2D and 3D at the same time. It's like SketchUp for actual, uh, sketching.

So, this is just a video of me using Rhonda, played at 4X speed, which is to say, it might be really boring to watch, so feel free to skip it. All I know is, if some blogger I subscribe to tried out Rhonda, I would want him to post a video:

Posted August 6, 2009 at 12:46 | Comments (4) | Permasnark
File under: Design, Gleeful Miscellany, Technosnark

August 5, 2009

You Won't Find These on Threadless

Robin says,

Oh man, how much do I love these arcade boot-screen t-shirts?


Reminds me a bit of Gerhard Richter's stained-glass pixels. Or maybe it's the other way around.

Comments (0) | Permasnark | Posted: 1:50 PM

August 4, 2009

Tim's thoughts: That man is a glutton for attention.... >>

A Kiss from Tokyo

It's a book trailer! I am so into book covers for things that aren't books and movie trailers for things that aren't movies. I want the next plastic mixing bowl I buy at Target to come with a trailer.

Here's the book being trailer-ed. Love this style!

Another version over at Art of the Title.

(Via Create Digital Motion.)

Posted August 4, 2009 at 10:07 | Comments (6) | Permasnark
File under: Design

July 29, 2009

Quick Visual Links

Robin says,

A mixed bag of really cool sculptural stuff by Maryam Nassir Zadeh over at Covenger + Kester.

And PJ just keeps serving up the good stuff:

Comments (0) | Permasnark | Posted: 4:59 PM

Only One Thing

Robin says,

I like this format. A bunch of designers complete this sentence

So you’re thinking about becoming a designer? If I could tell you only one thing about going into the field, my advice would be...

—and their responses are presented as pithy one-liners paired with longer explanations in video. Random-access mixed media. This is what the web is for!

My favorites: "Hire the one who can write" and "Focus: Find a topic, [..] find a method and focus all your efforts on it."

(Via @coreyford.)

Comments (2) | Permasnark | Posted: 3:59 PM

July 27, 2009

The Feed Giveth, the Feed Taketh Away

Robin says,

Pieter's description of his reading habits resonated with me. I, too, subscribe to an info-megaton of feeds, and derive a sort of cruel pleasure from scrolling through them at warp speed. If you don't catch my eye, too bad for you. Mark all as read.

But then, over at Laura's site—which is crisp and appealing—I find a link to Jon Kyle's, which is amazing. Look at that quote treatment. That is the best quote treatment I have ever seen on the entire internet.

Now I'm imagining those quotes, completely stripped of style, in Google Reader. Mark all as read.

Jon Kyle's site just keeps going. It's stunning.

What do we do about this? On one hand: the demands of scale; the great, brain-tingling opportunities of aggregation. On the other hand: the richness of a great frame; all that the setting adds to the stone.

I don't even really have a dream solution. These two values feel really fundamentally incompatible to me. Scale vs. specificity.

Of course, I'm not just talking about a few beautiful sites; I could put those in a bookmark folder and check 'em every so often. I'm talking about the rapidly-growing regime of words and images as portable, style-free info-bundles—which has a lot going for it!—vs. a world where words and images are fundamentally linked to their design and context, because without them they'd just be lame quotes in a Google Reader window.

It actually feels like there's an opportunity here, but I'm not sure what it is. Anyway, until we figure it out, you should probably bookmark this and this.

Comments (7) | Permasnark | Posted: 7:43 PM

Today and Tomorrow: SECRETS REVEALED!!

So, at this point you know that I really, really like today and tomorrow. I feel like this is sorta my prototypical t&t link: presented without comment, and mostly just awed that he found it in the first place. That's what's most impressive to me about the blog: I see stuff there that I haven't seen anywhere else. Sometimes I get the feeling t&t is plugged into some other internet—some other, cooler internet.

Anyway, when I noticed that the blog was celebrating its fourth anniversary, I thought it might be a good occasion to coax Pieter, its proprietor, into giving me the password to his secret web.

(Snarkmarket) You live in Berlin; what do you do there? What kind of things do you work on besides today and tomorrow?

(today and tomorrow) I work in the digital department of an advertising agency. today and tomorrow started as my personal visual bookmarks, which it actually still is. Somehow I want to add a few items a day, so I have to invest quite some time finding them. And Berlin is a great city to spend the rest of my spare time.

My reaction to a today and tomorrow post is basically always the same: "Where did he find this??" So... where do you find it all? Is it simply from scouring other blogs? Are there any aggregators that you find useful? Any other go-to sources?

There are five sources for my content: my feedreader, bookmarks, browsing, emails, and offline.

When I find something on another blog, I mention it at the bottom of the post. So you should be able to recreate my feedreader pretty fast. And I can tell you, it's a very full feedreader.

I scroll really fast through my feeds, so if the title and the visual of an item don't catch my eye in second, it's gone. Most feeds are blogs, mixed with some news sites and even feeds from artists, architects, designers... I'm always disappointed when a good website doesn't have a feed.

Of course I still have a few bookmarks.

But some items I just find by browsing and searching the internet, or even offline...

I receive a lot of emails; I can't even reply to all of them anymore. But only a few of them make it on today and tomorrow. Strangely, I like it better when I find things myself.

I don't like aggregators anymore, especially those where everyone can post. It's not really cool to reblog your posts on those sites just to get some traffic to yours.

Some of my favorites:

Building on that last question: I feel like I see art on today and tomorrow that I don't see anywhere else. Where do you find it, and what's your personal filter for new art? Do you look for things that are creating buzz in the art world? Things that are just visually arresting? Something else entirely?

I visit a lot of websites of art galleries and there you can find the new and unknown artists. When I find an artist that I like, I google them and get to the next page where I find another interesting artist... and so on.

The filter is a very easy one: me. If the work doesn't catch me in second...

I never add something because there is a buzz around it, but it's possible that I found them because there was a buzz around them.

I guess you can tell that most of it is very visual work, I probably miss out on a lot of good work because I don't take the time for it. Others are about the material used, like kinetic sculptures made with ferro-fluids.

today and tomorrow is not an art or design news blog, otherwise I would cover anything what's going. today and tomorrow is a reflection of my personal taste.

* * *

Thanks and congrats on four years, Pieter. Two more t&t links, because I just can't seem to stop: whoah and whoah!

Posted July 27, 2009 at 9:19 | Comments (0) | Permasnark
File under: Design, Interviews

July 26, 2009

Swedish Covers

Robin says,


Oh yes. These Swedish book covers are quite fun.

I'd play a video game featuring these characters.

And I sorta desperately want to know the plot of this one. Mad moose attacks?

Comments (1) | Permasnark | Posted: 8:58 PM

July 22, 2009

Crunchy Color

Robin says,


Love the rough-textured, rainbow-bright work of Edward McGowan.

Comments (0) | Permasnark | Posted: 2:10 PM

July 13, 2009

Tim's thoughts: Well, I also think that Wolcott's essay eminently merits the monocle gesture. In fact, it seems t... >>

Meet The New Fetish, Same As The Old Fetish

James Wolcott laments the loss of personalized conspicuous consumption that goes with putting down a paperback and picking up a Kindle:

How can I impress strangers with the gem-like flame of my literary passion if it’s a digital slate I’m carrying around, trying not to get it all thumbprinty?

Books not only furnish a room, to paraphrase the title of an Anthony Powell novel, but also accessorize our outfits. They help brand our identities. At the rate technology is progressing, however, we may eventually be traipsing around culturally nude in an urban rain forest, androids seamlessly integrated with our devices...

The Barnes & Noble bookstore, with its coffee bar and authors’ readings, could go the way of Blockbuster as an iconic institution, depriving readers of the opportunity to mingle with their own kind and paw through magazines for free. Book-jacket design may become a lost art, like album-cover design, without which late-20th-century iconography would have been pauperized. (Try imagining the rock era without the gold lamé bravura of 50,000,000 Elvis Fans Can’t Be Wrong or the modernist graveyard of the Sgt. Pepper cover or Andy Warhol’s zippered jeans for the Rolling Stones’ Sticky Fingers—impossible.)

It's half tongue-in-cheek, sure, but Rex chops it at the root:

Argh! It's not that this form of nostalgia is unworthy of some passing historical fascination, because I'm sure digitization actually does represent a drastic change in how we perceive cultural objects. Rather, the obvious annoyance in this sentimental prose is its complete lack of awareness of just how silly the fetishized cultural object was in the first place. Shouldn't we be suspicious of anyone who thinks that showing off your CD collection was ever really the point?

I am all about passing historical fascination, so I'll stick around and dig a little bit. The first and maybe obvious answer is that the cool factor will transfer to the device rather than the book. If you're reading a Kindle DX, and I'm reading on my iPhone, and somebody else is furiously typing on a Blackberry - actually, in real life, I'd be that last guy - we've all effectively announced our identities. If that's not enough variety for you, give it time: capitalism will fill your need for an individualized brand. It's not perfect, but it is really good at that.

The second and maybe even more obvious answer is that you can still bring books on the train. This is Walter Benjamin 101: the outmoded technology gets its aura back. People still collect, and record companies still produce, vinyl records. (Some of them are actually really awesomely designed.) Actually - this may be news to Wolcott, who seems to be stuck on CDs -- people consider collecting vinyl to be kind of cool. As a friend of mine recently reported, "if you're like, a 6, collecting vinyl automatically makes you a 10."

In fact, in ten years, schlepping that beat-up paperback -- or, please, one of those coffee table books -- might make you the coolest guy on the train. It's like smoking a pipe, or wearing a monocle. Your retro aesthetic will identify you, Mr Wolcott, as exactly what you are.


Posted July 13, 2009 at 4:53 | Comments (2) | Permasnark
File under: Books, Writing & Such, Cities, Design, Object Culture

July 11, 2009

Tim's thoughts: Maybe we should put together a selected reading list. One essay I love is Johanna Drucker's "Lang... >>

Invisible Infrastructure

Britta Gustafson, "Learning to see wooden poles":

When I’m not in a rush to get somewhere, I look up at the tops of telephone poles. I don’t know anything about electricity, but I find myself reading glossaries of linemen’s slang and technical definitions, learning how to refer to the grey buckets that transform electricity for home use (cans, bugs, distribution transformers) and how to identify several other pole features, especially different varieties of shiny ceramic insulators.

It's a really nice photo-essay, with little detours about the pleasures of walking, childhood memories of the Mister Rogers crayon factory documentary, and generally finding joy in "functional and authentic technical equipment, the more elaborate and less appreciated the better."

My grandfather was (and my uncle is) a lineman for Detroit Edison, so like Britta, I find power lines really fascinating. The general tendency of this century has been to make our infrastructure and industrial more invisible and remote, even as it becomes more individualized and less communal. (Think about riding a train versus driving a car.) Utility lines, when you notice them, spell out the lie in all that. Of course, they're most conspicuous when they stop working. (Actually, they're really conspicuous when they're knocked over in a shower of sparks and flame, but that's a special case.)

One of my favorite parts in Terry Zwigoff's documentary Crumb is when R. Crumb explains how he takes photographs of ordinary buildings and street corners - apartments, gas stations, strip malls - so he can use them as reference for adding details like telephone and electrical poles, junction boxes, gutter grates. Otherwise, he says, you forget about these things; it's as if they were never there.

Posted July 11, 2009 at 10:07 | Comments (8) | Permasnark
File under: Beauty, Cities, Design, Object Culture, Recommended, Technosnark

July 7, 2009

A Fine Company of Newness

Tim says,

Just sayin':

Neue Typographie.jpg20090707_nlacover.jpgNew Typography.jpg

Comments (0) | Permasnark | Posted: 1:49 PM

July 2, 2009

Geeking Out, c. 1990

Tim says,


I love this; Hewlett-Packard is selling an exact copy of its HP-12C financial calculator for the iPhone.

The iPhone version of the HP-12C is a near carbon copy of the actual machine. It not only looks the same, but it actually runs the same code as do the physical calculators. The iPhone version is actually a bit better than just a clone of the original, though, because HP includes a simplified portrait-mode calculator (the 12C is a landscape-mode device). When used in portrait mode, you can use the number keys, along with all the usual math operators and a couple of other functions such as square roots and memory—perfect for those times when you just need a basic calculator.

The real power of the HP-12C is found when you rotate your iPhone to landscape mode; what appears on the screen then is a photographic reproduction of the actual HP-12C calculator, complete with the gold-brown-orange-blue color scheme that made the original so…endearing? Because the app uses the actual calculator’s code, absolutely everything works just like it does on the real calculator.

I used a calculator just like this to win a middle school mathematics competition - in those days, it was called a "Calculator Competition," because you could (gasp!) use a calculator. There was a school-wide thing, then a regional, and then a state final; it was a whole thing. The state final was the first time I'd ever seen a graphing calculator; that shiz blew my mind.

Comments (2) | Permasnark | Posted: 5:21 AM

June 23, 2009

Simulated Luckdragon

Weird, random Processing project. I just had this vision and felt compelled to make it. It's a cousin to this guy, clearly.

Posted June 23, 2009 at 12:25 | Comments (0) | Permasnark
File under: Design, Media Galaxy

June 13, 2009

Tim's thoughts: Har har. Hey, YOU try excerpting an economics article for blogreading. I didn't even major in it!... >>

Path-Dependence, Increasing Returns, and Technological Competition

I think anyone interested in technological change ought to read W. Brian Arthur's legendary paper on path-dependence (PDF) :

Modern, complex technologies often display increasing returns to adoption in that the more they are adopted, the more experience is gained with them, and the more they are improved. When two or more increasing-return technologies "compete" then, for a "market" of potential adopters, insignificant events may by chance give one of them an initial advantage in adoptions. This technology may then improve more than the others, so it may appeal to a wider proportion of potential adopters. It may therefore become further adopted and further improved. Thus it may happen that a technology that by chance gains an early lead in adoption may eventually "corner the market" of potential adopters, with the other technologies becoming locked out. Of course, under different "small events"--unexpected successes in the performance of prototypes, whims of early developers, political circumstances -- a different technology might achieve sufficient adoption and improvement to come to dominate. Competitions between technolologies may have multiple potential outcomes...

The argument of this paper suggests that the interpretation of economic history should be different in different returns regimes. Under constant and diminishing returns, the evolution of the market reflects only a-priori endowments, preferences, and transformation possibilities; small events cannot sway the outcome. But while this is comforting, it reduces history to the status of mere carrier--the deliverer of the inevitable. Under increasing returns, by contrast many outcomes are possible. Insignificant circumstances become magnified by positive feedbacks to "tip" the system into the actual outcome "selected". The small events of history become important. Where we observe the predominance of one technology or one economic outcome over its competitors we should thus be cautious of any exercise that seeks the means by which the winner's innate "superiority" came to be translated into adoption...

Under increasing returns, competition between economic objects--in this case technologies--takes on an evolutionary character, with a "founder effect" mechanism akin to that in genetics. "History" becomes important. To the degree that the technological development of the economy depends upon small events beneath the resolution of an observer's model, it may become impossible to predict market shares with any degree of certainty. This suggests that there may be theoretical limits, as well as practical ones, to the predictability of the economic future. (all emphases mine)

Here Arthur uses the examples of nuclear reactors and steam-vs-petrol car engines -- other classic examples are the QWERTY keyboard and the Microsoft OS, both cases where learning effects and coordination costs might lock-in an inferior (or at least quirky) product. (I'm also rereading Henry Petroski's The Evolution of Useful Things, which takes a similar historical-accident-over-essential-function approach to design history.)

Posted June 13, 2009 at 11:39 | Comments (2) | Permasnark
File under: Design, Object Culture, Technosnark

June 4, 2009

John's thoughts: If Dave Eggers' solution to declining newspaper circulation is improve the product and lower the ... >>

Luxuriating In Print

We slapped Dave Eggers around a little bit for his "nothing has changed" speech to the Authors' Guild, but his mass email for lovers of print is way more nuanced and inspiring in a constructive, non-cheerleaderish way:

Publishing has, for most of its life, been a place of small but somewhat profit margins, and the people involved in publishing were happy to be doing what they loved. It's only recently, when large conglomerates bought so many publishing companies and newspapers, that demands for certain margins squeezed some of the joy out of the business.

Pretty soon, on the McSweeney's website—— we'll be showing some of our work on this upcoming issue, which will be in newspaper form. The hope is that we can demonstrate that if you rework the newspaper model a bit, it can not only survive, but actually thrive. We're convinced that the best way to ensure the future of journalism is to create a workable model where journalists are paid well for reporting here and abroad. And that starts with paying for the physical paper. And paying for the physical paper begins with creating a physical object that doesn't retreat, but instead luxuriates in the beauties of print. We believe that if you use the hell out of the medium, if you give investigative journalism space, if you give photojournalists space, if you give graphic artists and cartoonists space — if you really truly give readers an experience that can't be duplicated on the web — then they will spend $1 for a copy. And that $1 per copy, plus the revenue from some (but not all that many) ads, will keep the enterprise afloat.

As long as newspapers offer less each day— less news, less great writing, less graphic innovation, fewer photos— then they're giving readers few reasons to pay for the paper itself. With our prototype, we aim to make the physical object so beautiful and luxurious that it will seem a bargain at $1. The web obviously presents all kinds of advantages for breaking news, but the printed newspaper does and will always have a slew of advantages, too. It's our admittedly unorthodox opinion that the two can coexist, and in fact should coexist. But they need to do different things. To survive, the newspaper, and the physical book, needs to set itself apart from the web. Physical forms of the written word need to offer a clear and different experience. And if they do, we believe, they will survive. Again, this is a time to roar back and assert and celebrate the beauty of the printed page. Give people something to fight for, and they will fight for it. Give something to pay for, and they'll pay for it.

Eggers is basically now saying not that nothing has changed, but that EVERYTHING has to change. But it needs to change not because we've just progressed forward from print to digital, but that by first betting on the infinitely expanding profit potential of mass publishing and then paring the experience back to try to meet that bet, we've made a huge mistake.

So, in some sense, we need to go back to basics; but in another, we need to rethink our direction forward based on what's best for the people and the product, not the margins. We were pushing so hard for so long in one direction that we capsized the boat.

It's still a conservative vision, but it's a David Simon/Michael Moore kind of conservative -- i.e., a nostalgic but critical liberalism, in the tradition of John Ruskin. And that's a good mood to strike, if not for everybody -- not least because it's not at all intended to be a model for everybody.


May 22, 2009

Tim's thoughts: Robin, the scone scene was almost exactly as you describe -- except: the scone was... >>

Papa's Got A Brand New Bag

File under: "Why didn't you just Twitter this, again?" I've been shopping for a laptop bag as we speak, so I am 100% primed for this, but I still love Lifehacker's "What's In Our Bags" series. Gina Trapani just posted her bag + contents, shouting-out a bagufacturer I'd never heard of, and an awesome idea I'd never thought of -- headphone splitters so two people can watch a movie on a plane or train!

Me, I keep insane junk in my bag -- whatever the Bookstore was selling the day my old whatever the Bookstore was selling up and quit on me -- for way too long -- receipts and airplane stubs, books and student papers (oops), pens in zippered components that don't even work (the pens, not the zippers). The only constant companion is laptop plus plug. Even then, sometimes I discover (as I did on a trip to central NY for a job talk) that there's a scone from Au Bon Pain where my plug should be.

But I wish, nay long for, a genuine system! And the Lifehacker folks actually seem to have one!

It's also positive proof that the dematerialization thesis (you know, the idea that objects themselves don't matter, everything is up in the cloud, etc.) is bunk at worst, needs to be qualified at best. We just pretend that matter doesn't matter, until you can't get your Prezi on the screen 'cause you forgot your DVI-VGA thingy, if you ever even took it out of the box in the first place.

Here are people living the life digitale to the fullest, and what do they do? Schlep their stuff around in a bag, just like us jerks. And when they have a good idea, do they whip out their magic pen-with-a-microphone for instant digitalization? Only if they're jotting it down on a 99-cent spiral notebook. All this is very reassuring to me.

Posted May 22, 2009 at 9:41 | Comments (5) | Permasnark
File under: Design, Object Culture, Recommended, Self-Disclosure

May 10, 2009

Phoenix's thoughts: I am a student today - a 42 year old who is finishing up a first BA and embarking on a second BA ... >>

Kindle Up Your Textbooks, Children

The Chronicle of Higher Education on the Kindle DX and the market for electronic textbooks:

Most college students—more than 80 percent, according to a survey by Educause—already own portable machines that can display electronic textbooks: They're called laptops. And more than half of all major textbooks are already offered in electronic form for download to those laptops.

Yet so far sales of electronic textbooks are tiny, despite efforts by college bookstores to make the option to buy digital versions clearer by advertising e-books next to printed ones on their shelves. "It's a very small percentage of our sales at this point," said Bill Dampier, general manager of MBS Direct, a major textbook reseller.

What the textbook industry needs is the equivalent of an iTunes store for e-books, say some experts, who note that sales of digital music never took off until Apple created the iPod and an easy-to-use online music marketplace. That's why Amazon seems like a promising entrant.

Except for one thing: Publishers have already set up a digital store meant to serve as the iTunes of e-textbooks, and it has been slow to catch on. The online store, called CourseSmart, was started two years ago by the five largest textbook publishers. Now 12 publishers contribute content to the service, which offers more than 6,300 titles. The e-books are all designed to be read on laptops or desktops, rather than Kindles or other dedicated e-book reading devices.

One problem for CourseSmart has been a lack of awareness by both students and professors that the service even exists.

Yep -- sounds about right. You think we'd be easy to target, but we're actually not. In fact, probably the ONLY two media/publishing companies with significant overlapping penetration among both students and professors would be Amazon and Apple.

Also of note: the only reason why publishers are really interested in electronic books is that they can use DRM to crush sales of used books beneath their foot forever. (I remember the first book I ever used that required you to register a CD w/ a unique ID number in order to use it; SBS sold it to me at about 75% of cover used and then refused to take it back. I had to buy the new copy again.)

Also also of note: one of the lines Bezos used again and again in his Kindle presentation (from the transcripts I've seen -- anybody know where I could find video) with respect to textbooks is "structured content." I actually think this is a hugely important idea. A book gives a text physical form, sure, but that physicality works together with paratextual devices to structure its content. Page numbers, title pages, tables of content, indices, volume and chapter devisions, footnotes/endnotes, captions, commentary, usw.

This is why Project Gutenberg or any other kind of throw-it-up-there text file service will always suck. It's also why a lot of digital archives don't work. We need ways to give content structure, and to make that structure easily and productively navigable to users. Ebooks have suffered from a lack of legitimate and visible marketplaces, but to borrow a metaphor, they've also suffered from really crappy gameplay. Whoever figures out how to solve these problems will solve long-form electronic reading.


May 6, 2009

tim's thoughts: You can always post more than one tweet, Saheli. :) This is what I want -- a whole market... >>


Gina Trapani hits on what might turn out to be Twitter's killer feature:

When you post a question on Twitter and get a dozen replies within the next 10 minutes from actual humans–some of whom you know and trust–it’s waay better than impersonal Google search results.

If shows you what random dudes think, Wikipedia shows you what nobody in particular thinks, and Google shows you what everybody thinks, Twitter shows you what the people you trust think. Who needs Wolfram Alpha or the semantic web when you've got real, live people whom you can ask complicated open-ended questions? You can keep the wisdom of crowds -- I'll take the wisdom of MY crowd.

The only trouble with this is that the answers stay bottled up in the little group. Google might not have the personal touch, but at least everyone can benefit from it.

But wait; Trapani's got you covered:

After 1,700 posts and two years on Twitter, this insta-Q&A is my favorite use of the service–except I always want to share what I learn from my followers, and it’s not easy. My post on what people love and hate about netbooks, sourced entirely from Twitter replies, took me hours to compile manually, because Twitter doesn’t easily list replies to a particular “tweet” in a very readable or republishable format. So this weekend I dug into the service’s API to make that happen. Using Kevin Makice’s new book, Twitter API: Up and Running, after just a day of coding I had my entire Twitter archive plus replies ready for viewing and publishing.

I like that this is the complete opposite of what Robin did with his Twitter feed a couple of months ago -- not least because it shows that while the basic principle of Twitter is extraordinarily simple, the implementations of it are varied enough to be tremendous.

What we need now, though, are Twitterhacks for the rest of us! Most of us don't have a day to devote to coding this stuff, even if we knew how to code in the first place. We need an ecosystem of smart implementations and variations that build on this simple infrastructure. We need these more than 101 different spiffy backgrounds or client apps.

So... what happens next?

Posted May 6, 2009 at 6:27 | Comments (3) | Permasnark
File under: Design, Technosnark

April 19, 2009

Things: (Re)Statement of Purpose

I really love this elegant digression inserted in one of things magazine's periodic collections of smartly-chosen links:

We used to notice slight spikes in traffic when we led with an image, but these seem to have tailed off (as has traffic in general). Things will always be about physical things but the role of text and analysis has and always will be central to the publication (although readers might have noticed that the physical publication itself has been in an extremely long stretch of self-imposed limbo). As talk of design, objects and collections shifts from the linguistic to the strictly visual, it seems ever more important to write about objects and the role they play in contemporary life -- and, by definition, the role that collecting and collections play as well -- rather than simply add to the ever-growing museum that is the internet. It seems increasingly clear to us that things' role is not one of curator, but guide.

In one sense -- and it's a particularly narrow one -- the change we are undergoing is one of "dematerialization" -- but in another and (I think) more profound sense, what's happening is that materiality and physicality are changing, becoming something else. I'm happy that things is around, in whatever format, to help document that.

Posted April 19, 2009 at 4:46 | Comments (0) | Permasnark
File under: Design, Object Culture

March 30, 2009

Marco's thoughts: We don't have much choice, non?... >>

A New Birth of Freedom

We will rebuild America the same way we built the Brooklyn Bridge:

When Brooklyn and New York’s population was booming at the end of the 19th century, the best way to get to and from Brooklyn was via ferries. As solutions were considered, I’m sure there were those who simply thought, “More boats!” These ardent defenders of the status quo were not engineers — they were the business. Their goal was not to build something great, but to make a profit.

It was an engineer named John Roebling who proposed a suspension bridge. We take bridges for granted now, but back in the 1800s, bridges were in beta. They fell. One out of every four bridges… fell. He convinced them by designing a bridge half again as big as any before it that was six times stronger than he estimated it need to be. Roebling designed the complete specification for the bridge in a mere three months and then died of tetanus from an injury he received surveying the bridge site...

We are defined by what we build. It’s not just the engineering ambition that designed these structures, nor the 20 people who died building the Brooklyn Bridge. It’s that we believe we can and decide to act. I’m happy to report our new President agrees when he says,

“In reaffirming the greatness of our nation, we understand that greatness is never a given. It must be earned. Our journey has never been one of shortcuts or settling for less. It has not been the path for the faint-hearted — for those who prefer leisure over work, or seek only the pleasures of riches and fame. Rather, it has been the risk-takers, the doers, the makers of things — some celebrated but more often men and women obscure in their labor, who have carried us up the long, rugged path towards prosperity and freedom.”

Someone, sometime soon is going to start describing the climb out of this impressive hole we’ve dug for ourselves, and they’re going to call it “America 2.0”. Clever, yes. We need a new version of ourselves and that’s going to involve bright, unexpected ideas from those we least expect them from, and they’re going to strike you as impossible. All you need to do to understand these terrifyingly ambitious ideas is to look back at what we’ve already done to understand what we can do.

I don't know what version of America we're on. But this is a heartening idea. And the fact that we've built and rebuilt ourselves not just once, but many times over, is heartening too.

Posted March 30, 2009 at 7:38 | Comments (1) | Permasnark
File under: Cities, Design, Recommended, Snarkpolitik

March 23, 2009

Designers! Always With the Designing!

Robin says,

Forgot to blog this last week: Suzanna LaGasa at Chronicle Books gets great mail.

Comments (0) | Permasnark | Posted: 5:55 PM

March 17, 2009

The Age of Bespoke Everything

Tim says,

Clive Thompson on Etsy, microbusiness, and personalized aesthetics.

Comments (2) | Permasnark | Posted: 11:18 AM

March 15, 2009

The New Haussmann

Tim says,

Nicholas Sarkozy wants to remake "Le Grand Paris":

The challenge however is not to reshape Paris, but rather to extend its inherent beauty to its outskirts, les banlieues -- a web of small villages, some terribly grand and chic (Neuilly, Versailles, Saint Mandé, Vincennes, Saint Germain-en-Laye), others modest and provincial-looking (Montreuil, Pantin, Malakoff, Montrouge, Saint Gervais) and others still, socially ravaged and architecturally dehumanised (La Courneuve, Clichy-sous-bois). And also to link them. But how do you bring together so many different styles and the city's "enormous disparity", as Richard Rogers calls it, into one Grand Paris -- especially when the city is so clearly defined geographically by its gates, shadows of former fortifications, and now le périphérique, the circular road encasing Paris? The simple answer is: by being bold. But also by understanding the fabric of French society and its psyche...

As a Parisian born and bred, I thought the most convincing presentation came from Parisian architect and sometime presidential candidate Roland Castro. He seems the only one to really understand the Parisian mentality, the importance of architecture and politics, grandeur and charm, poetry and citizenship. He not only suggests moving the Elysée Palace to the tough north-eastern suburbs, but also proposes to create new cultural landmarks and governmental buildings, together with a New York-style Central Park on the grim housing project of La Courneuve. The idea is to inject grandeur (as conveyed by the cultural and official institutions) and if possible, beauty, to Paris's many environs.

Via You can read about the actual Haussmann here.

Comments (0) | Permasnark | Posted: 11:38 AM
Tim's thoughts: Chrome is great. I don't use Windows much these days, but I basically pimped Safari 4 to work lik... >>

What Are People Doing In the Cloud?

Matt's experience at South by Southwest suggests that a lot of the big social networking companies actually don't have (or won't share) a whole lot of insight into what their users are doing on line, or how it's changed their lives. But is this because their systems are too simple (they just host/carry what other folks are doing) or too complex (too much information, too much noise -- they can't monitor it all)?

Clive Thompson's new article on netbooks and cloud computing suggests that it might be a little bit of both:

In The Innovator's Dilemma, Clayton Christensen famously argued that true breakthroughs almost always come from upstarts, since profitable firms rarely want to upend their business models. "Netbooks are a classic Christensenian disruptive innovation for the PC industry," says Willy Shih, a Harvard Business School professor who has studied both Quanta's work on the One Laptop per Child project and Asustek's development of the netbook...

A really powerful application like Adobe Photoshop demands a much faster processor [than a netbook's]. But consider my experience: This spring, after my regular Windows XP laptop began crashing twice a day, I reformatted the hard drive. As I went about reinstalling my software, I couldn't find my Photoshop disc. I forgot about it—until a week later, when I was blogging and needed to tweak a photo. Frustrated, I went online and discovered FotoFlexer, one of several free Web-based editing tools. I uploaded my picture, and in about one minute I'd cropped it, deepened the color saturation, and sharpened it. I haven't used Photoshop since...

It used to be that coders were forced to produce bloatware with endless features because they had to guess what customers might want to do. But if you design a piece of software that lives in the cloud, you know what your customers are doing—you can watch them in real time. Shirazi's firm discovered that FotoFlexer users rarely do fancy editing; the most frequently used features are tools for drawing text and scribbles on pictures. Or consider the Writely app, which eventually became the word processor part of Google Docs: When Sam Schillace first put it online, he found to his surprise that what users wanted most was a way to let several people edit a document together.

I'm really fascinated by this idea -- little companies with serious chops doing simple things (whether building netbooks or cloud apps) that users actually need and want. It's like the Unix philosophy expanded to clients and hardware!

This is actually one reason why (unlike Clive) I'm a little down on the idea that the web browser will just become the do-everything client that interacts with every cloud service. (Thompson writes, "I wrote this story on a netbook, and if you had peeked over my shoulder, you would have seen precisely two icons on my desktop: the Firefox browser and a trash can. Nothing else.")

The problem is that while doing everything most of us want to do over the web is possible, doing it all in the web browser isn't very satisfying. It means that every time I'm trying to do a specific task, I've got a whole bunch of stuff I don't need -- bookmarks to other sites, browser extensions I'm not using, link-and-click interfaces that aren't optimized for this specific task. You can solve this a little bit with Flash or AJAX interfaces, but it doesn't seem like a very good trade if I'm trading a bloated client app filled with tools I don't need for a bloated browser with tools that aren't even relevant to what I'm doing.
Especially on the smaller screens of phones or netbooks, we need interfaces that allow us to focus totally on what we're doing, without extra junk getting in the way.

This is why I actually prefer (with some limitations) the iPhone interface to the netbook's -- lots of little web-capable clients that just work with one cloud service, or one KIND of cloud service. You can see this already in dashboard gadgets and little tray apps like Twitteriffic, Dropbox, or Skitch -- that ideally don't interact with your browser at all. This is also why I'm more sanguine about a netbook that's more like an oversized iPhone than a shrunk-down laptop.

There's obviously room for compromise -- e.g. do you want/need a hardware keyboard or a software one, or are you willing to trade it for extra screen -- that will be similar to the kinds of hashing out we did with PDAs and early laptops before that. But it is going to change -- and we'd better all start paying attention to the folks at these little companies (plus smart observers) who actually know what's happening and why.

Posted March 15, 2009 at 6:51 | Comments (3) | Permasnark
File under: Design, Technosnark

March 8, 2009

skeleton's thoughts: I'd agree that it seems somewhat pointless when the audio and the text are synced. Most kinetic t... >>

Kinetic Typography

When I wrote my last post, I googled "North by Northwest" to check the train route Cary Grant takes in that film. I came across a term I hadn't (to my knowldge) seen before: kinetic typography.

Kinetic typography refers to the art and technique of expression with animated text. Similar to the study of traditional typography of designing static typographic forms, kinetic typography focuses on understanding the effect time has on the expression of text. Kinetic typography has demonstrated the ability to add significant emotive content and appeal to expressive text, allowing some of the qualities normally found in film and the spoken word to be added to static text.

A classic example of kinetic typography is the Saul Bass-designed title sequence for North By Northwest:

This concept reminds me of Walther Ruttmann's great documentary film Berlin, which did kinetic typography the old-fashioned way: take a big, horking street sign and zip past it on a train:

It also reminds me (of course) of Bob Brown's "Readies" and Eugene Jolas's Revolution of the Word.

But kinetic typography in these senses are in some sense old hat -- how are we taking kinetic type and making it new?

Here is a YouTube playlist of new, digitally produced exemplars of kinetic typography, assembled by João Bordalo:

As you can also see, Prezi is a particularly good example of kinetic typography, optimized for mass production, in action.

Posted March 8, 2009 at 8:00 | Comments (4) | Permasnark
File under: Books, Writing & Such, Design, Movies

March 2, 2009

The Suburbs Strike Back

Tim says,

Andrew Blauvelt, at Design Observer:

The mutual dependency of city and suburb is both physical and psychological. City dwellers and suburbanites need each other to reinforce their own sense of place and identity despite ample evidence that what we once thought were different places and lifestyles are increasingly intertwined and much less distinct.

The revenge of the suburb on the city wasn't simply the depletion of its urban population or the exodus of its retailers and office workers, but rather the importation of suburbia into the heart of the city: chain stores and restaurants, downtown malls, and even detached housing. If the gift of urban planners to suburbia was the tenets of the New Urbanism, it has been re-gifted, returned to cities not as tips for close-knit communities but as recipes for ever more intensive consumer experiences.

Suburbia has returned to the city just as most suburbs are experiencing many of the things about city life it sought to escape, both positive and negative: congestion, crime, poverty, racial and ethnic diversity, cultural amenities, and retail diversity. At the same time, cities have taken on qualities of the suburbs that are perceived as both good and bad, such as the introduction of big box retailing, urban shopping malls, and reverse suburban migration by empty nesters, who return to the city to enjoy the kind of life they lived before they had kids to raise.

For every downtown Olive Garden there is an Asian-fusion restaurant opening in a strip mall; for every derelict downtown warehouse there is an empty suburban office building waiting to be converted into lofts; the Mall of America is the largest shopping center in the country, but SoHo may be the nation's largest retail neighborhood; and everywhere we have Starbucks.

Blauvelt's exhibit on suburbia, Worlds Away: New Suburban Landscapes, is at the Walker Art Center in Minneapolis -- in the Target Gallery. Where else?

Comments (4) | Permasnark | Posted: 7:45 AM

February 22, 2009

Larry L's thoughts: Dont' forget PPTPLex: htt... >>

Sometimes a New Medium Sneaks Up On You


I'd seen references to Prezi here and there -- it's billed as a new presentation tool, a way to pan and zoom through ideas instead of clicking through slides. Which sounds pretty cool but, having now used this thing, I gotta say: The potential is much bigger than that.

I haven't been this excited about a new format in a long time. The tutorial video actually gave me chills. (Pretty sure I have never typed that sentence before.)

So here's my first prezi, which is just a little anecdote laid out in space -- absolutely not a good use of the technology. But it will give you a taste of the potential.

Cross-reference this with our ongoing future-of-books discussion. Also with Scott McCloud's infinite canvas.

Posted February 22, 2009 at 12:48 | Comments (9) | Permasnark
File under: Books, Writing & Such, Comics, Design, Media Galaxy, Technosnark

February 21, 2009

Tim's thoughts: I also have a SECOND "office" in my kitchen -- there's a half wall separating the main kitchen ar... >>

Workspace Minimalism

Oh, man -- Lifehacker has a powerful strategy for home office clutter. The principle is, don't add more shelves to organize your stuff or spaces to put it in -- they'll just fill up with more junk, like cars and highway lanes in Atlanta. Instead, eliminate physical matter wherever you can, by scanning and shredding your files. Then, you must prebind yourself into a limited, manageable, securable amount of space. You must move your workspace into the closet.


Attentive Snarkmarket readers may know that this is where it gets interesting.

You see, one of the Snarkmasters already has a workspace in his closet, and while not an exact copy, it actually looks a whole lot like that very elegant picture above. And sometimes we joke about the whole "office in a closet" idea.

Another Snarkmaster, who lives in a city that, while not cheap, offers a whole lot more square feet for the money than the locale of SM#1, has a whole library in his apartment, filled with bookshelves and comfy chairs and file cabinets. But it's also full of empty boxes, piles of books and papers, strollers and baby toys, the occasional laundry basket full of clothes, old card catalogues that are really cool-looking but that he hasn't figured out what to do with, and these super-beautiful pocket doors that he uses to just close up the whole mess while he taps away on his laptop in the dining room.

The point is, one of these methods has achieved a kind of zen simplicity. The other may very well offer its own path to enlightenment, but it's going to require a lot of digging to come out on the other end. So, to you, sir, kudos.

Posted February 21, 2009 at 1:32 | Comments (4) | Permasnark
File under: Design, Gleeful Miscellany, Object Culture, Self-Disclosure

February 20, 2009

Against Friction

Tim says,

John Gruber on reducing friction between thought and expression:

Friction is a problem for software in general, not just programming languages specifically. There’s the stuff you want to do, and there’s the stuff you have to do before you can do what you want to do. People have a natural tendency to skip the have to do stuff to get right to the want to do stuff if they can get away with it. Friction is resistance. Hence untitled document windows containing hours of unsaved work — there’s an idea in your head that you want to express or explore, and the path of least resistance is to hit Command-N and just start working.

I would say that friction in this sense is a problem for a Lot Of Things in general, not just software specifically. But Gruber's take on "Untitled Document Syndrome" is a really good illustration:

Saving a document for the first time is a minor chore, but it’s a chore nonetheless. The avoidance of such a minor chore is not rational; it is neither particularly complicated nor time consuming to hit Command-S and deal with the Save dialog. But we humans are not perfectly rational. We don’t always floss our teeth. We’ll pick the burger and fries instead of the salad. We’ll have one more beer. And sometimes we just don’t feel like dealing with the Save dialog box yet so we’ll put it off.

Gruber's post is part of an ongoing "everything buckets" debate in the Mac blogosphere. It kinda boils down to a debate about writing versus reading, users versus programmers, what's smart for software vs. what's smart for hardware. In short, the eternal dillemas.

Comments (0) | Permasnark | Posted: 12:31 PM

February 7, 2009

Robin's thoughts: Wow -- watching a bit of this, now. It's beautifully done. (Although, yeah, it'd be even ... >>

Personality and Urban Affection

So, this morning, during the Snarkmasters' sequifortnightly transcontinental gathering over email, coffee, cold pad thai, and cinnamon swirls, the conversation turned to Walt Whitman, and I was reminded of the really quite lovely American Experience documentary on Whitman that was broadcast around a year ago.

Well, as it happens, the whole thing is available to watch online, including this marvelous segment about Whitman's experience as a young newspaperman in antebellum New York City.

I love Ed Folsom's account of Whitman's experience of "urban affection":

Whitman feels the power of the city of strangers. He's looking at a city of strangers and how something we might now call urban affection begins to develop. How do you come to care for people that you have never seen before and that you may never see again?

Every day we encounter people, eyes make contact, we brush by people, physically come into contact with them, and may never see them again.

But Whitman's notebooks at this time are filled with images, just jottings, of these people, what they're doing, what they look like, what their names are. 'What is this person doing? What's the activity that defines this person?

"If I were doing that activity that person would be me. If I were wandering the other way, rather than this way, that person could be me. That could be me. That could be me. What is it that separates any of us?'

Folsom co-edits The Walt Whitman Archive, a fantastic resource with complete e-texts, photographic images of all of the alternate editions, biographies, scholarly essays, you name it.

The only real downside to the online presentation of the Whitman Documentary (and it's a real downer) is 1) there's no way to watch the whole documentary straight through and 2) the videos can only be displayed as teeny-tiny Quicktime/WMA pop-ups. Come on, PBS! Broadcast TV has finally figured out how to rock the computer screen in fullscreen HD -- so has YouTube, Comedy Central, and, um, everybody. The people demand that their public digital television be done up right.

Posted February 7, 2009 at 8:06 | Comments (1) | Permasnark
File under: Books, Writing & Such, Design, Media Galaxy, Recommended

February 4, 2009

Colors for All of Us


I'm gonna bookmark Ben Fry's Super Bowl logo palettes because I feel like they have probably been insanely well-tested to appeal to lots of people... people in Ohio and Florida.

These are populist palettes!

(Via P.J.)

Posted February 4, 2009 at 2:10 | Comments (0) | Permasnark
File under: Design

February 2, 2009

Hilda's thoughts: Exactly. I think I see it only because I worked as a digital intermediate post producer, so all I... >>

Drawings in Time

Ah, wow:


Katja Mater takes multiple exposure of her drawings as she creates them, so you sort of see them across three dimensions: width, height, and time.

Also, on her website, she has a gallery labeled "celebrating RGB color space" which I don't fully understand, but love.

Posted February 2, 2009 at 2:19 | Comments (3) | Permasnark
File under: Design, Media Galaxy

February 1, 2009

Robin's thoughts: This part is wonderful: At nine points in the story there are bracketed numbers,... >>

Post-Office Correspondence Art

Dan Visel at if:book has a super entry/exhibition on postal art from Ray Johnson to Ben Greenman:

Johnson ran what he called the New York Correspondence School; he used the word correspondence not simply for its reference to communication but for the way he made associations with words and graphic elements in his collages... Membership was seemingly capricious and full of contradictions: members included institutions and the dead; the school committed suicide publicly at least once; and it was at best the most constant member of a baffling parade of clubs and organizations that Johnson ran, including, at random, Buddha University, the Deadpan Club, the Odilon Redon Fan Club, the Nancy Sinatra Fan Club...

"The whole idea of the Correspondence School," Johnson told Richard Bernstein in an interview with Andy Warhol's Interview in August, 1972 "is to receive and dispense with these bits of information, because they all refer to something else. It's just a way of having a conversation or exchange, a kind of social intercourse." Emblematic of Johnson's work might be his Book about Death, begun in 1963, which consisted of thirteen printed pages of collaged images and text, which were mailed individually to Clive Phillpot, chief librarian at the Museum of Modern Art, and others. (A few pages are reproduced below.) The Book about Death was discorporate, as befits a book about death; more than being unbound, Johnson made sure that none of his readers received a complete set of the pages of the book. The book could only be assembled and read in toto by the correspondents working in concert: it was a book that demanded active participation in its reading. The content as well as the form of the Book about Death request active participation: the names of his correspondents feature prominently in it, but understanding of what Johnson was doing with those names requires some knowledge of the people who had those names.

One of my favorite recent literature/history/theory books is Bernhard Siegert's Relays: Literature as an Epoch of the Postal System. Visel doesn't quite say this, but it's clear that despite Johnson's humanist intents, he was using the technology of the mails in a way that was pretty resolutely anti-nostalgic. (In his fake-manifesto "Personism," Frank O'Hara says that he once realized while he was writing a poem for someone that he could just as easily pick up the telephone and call them -- you might say that Johnson realized he could just as easily send them a cheap postcard.)

Greenman, on the other hand, with his de luxe edition "book" collecting accordioned pamphlets and postcards, is working in a different register, where similar gestures connote a backwards-looking resistance to both electronic communication and industrial book design. But (and here Visel is spot on) both foreground the notion that literature doesn't just have a reader but a recipient -- a correspondent, so to speak -- whose contact with the author begins with (but isn't necessarily limited to) buying or reading or thinking about or talking about the book.

Posted February 1, 2009 at 6:12 | Comments (1) | Permasnark
File under: Books, Writing & Such, Design, Object Culture

January 23, 2009

Peter's thoughts: D'oh, I broke two of those links: <a href=" >>

Virginia Heffernan on the Pleasures of TED

It's just what the title says it is:

Once you start watching TED talks, ordinary life falls away. The corridor from Silicon Alley to Valley seems to crackle, and a new in-crowd emerges: the one that loves Linux, organic produce, behavioral economics, transhistorical theories and “An Inconvenient Truth.” Even though there are certain TED poses that I don’t warm to — the dour atheist, the environmental scold — the crowd as a whole glows with charisma. I love their greed for hope, their confidence in ingenuity, their organized but goofy ways of talking and thinking.

This is just for Robin:

I have seen about 40. Let me say straight up that one of my favorites is “Simplicity Patterns,” by the designer John Maeda. His talk made clear to me the uncanny resemblance between a block of tofu (the kind Maeda grew up making in his family’s business in Seattle) and the I. M. Pei building that houses the M.I.T. Media Lab (where Maeda, who is now the president of the Rhode Island School of Design, used to work). Almost haphazardly associative, Maeda’s talk expresses respect for the mandate of the talks — to change the world — without becoming sententious. You get rapid, straight-to-the-bloodstream access to his mental life.

And I don't know what to say about this:

The other talk that does this poetically is Jill Bolte Taylor’s “My Stroke of Insight.” A brain scientist who studied the way she lost her own faculties during and after she suffered a stroke, Taylor urges the audience to pay attention to the sybaritic, present-tense right brain. Repeatedly, she recalls the pleasurable aspects of her stroke with such sensory precision that she seems to enter a rapturous trance. Not only do I buy her case for unfettered right-brain experience, but I began scheming to unfetter my right brain then and there.
Posted January 23, 2009 at 1:34 | Comments (2) | Permasnark
File under: Braiiins, Design, Media Galaxy

January 22, 2009

The Page is a Screen, the Screen is a Page

Tim says,

Clusterflock: Paper is the New Internet.

Cf.: The Printed Blog, Things Our Friends Have Written on the Internet, Meet the New Schtick.

Comments (3) | Permasnark | Posted: 10:56 AM

January 20, 2009

Robin's thoughts: I love the word "artisan." I also love paisley.... >>

Artisan Blog Design

In 2009, can a blog's design matter? Readers of Kottke (and Fimoculous) say yes.

From Jason Kottke's response on Fimoculous:

I'm surprised (and flattered, I guess) that people want to talk about this. With everyone using newsreaders and "customizing" their blogs with default Wordpress, MT, and Tumblr templates, the days of artisan blog design would appear to have passed by, quaint and unworthy of further comment. Like Rex, I love that that's not the case, at least in a small corner of the web.
Posted January 20, 2009 at 2:24 | Comments (1) | Permasnark
File under: Beauty, Design

January 11, 2009

Now This Is Civilization

Tim says,

I'm typing this at the airport in Denver, at an open kiosk and charging station (!) and using free, ad-supported wi-fi supplied by the airport, while waiting for my connection. I've got my phone plugged in, too -- there's even a USB outlet to charge iPods or digital cameras.

This, friends, is genius. This is what we should have at every airport, train station, hotel, library, or other public gathering place where people come whilst in transit. Every place where you currently see a fifteen-year-old cluster of pay phones, you're going to see one of these.

It'll have internet-equpped voice and video calling too. There will be a touchscreen where you can get directions around town or order food. (Probably not at the library.)

What else will we find in the media carrels of the future?

Comments (5) | Permasnark | Posted: 9:31 AM

December 29, 2008


The amazing MIT Media Lab alum John Maeda is the new president of the Rhode Island School of Design. And his first order of business is collecting information:

The collecting began the week he arrived, when he asked 600 high school students attending a summer art program to applaud for the vision of the university that resonated most with them.

"A lifelong education in art and design" got polite applause. "Fostering the next generation of talent" did a little better. Then he suggested: "Building a justifiable case for creativity in our world."

"The response to that -- it was like being Bono in U2," says Maeda. "I began to understand why this calling came."

The chairman of RISD's board of trustees says:

"John said that he believes art and design will inform the 21st century as none other, that RISD has a real role to play in that. The analogy he used was MIT. Before World War II, MIT was a geeky science school. After World War II, with the explosion of science and technology, MIT's role changed. And right now he sees RISD in a similar position."

I love that proposition. I love it because I think somebody could pretty reasonably scoff at it. And if a proposition isn't scoff-able, it's probably not edgy and exciting enough.

Sounds to me like Maeda is talking about, among other things, liberal arts 2.0.

Read his tweets and RISD blog for a sense of how Maeda thinks and communicates. It's really remarkable. I've been reading haiku lately and I see some of their spirit in him. Spare, observant -- but with wit.

Posted December 29, 2008 at 11:59 | Comments (0) | Permasnark
File under: Design, Learnin', Society/Culture

December 6, 2008

Objectified: Industrial Design

Speaking of objects and our attachment to them, I'm excited to see that Helvetica director Gary Hustwit is making a new film about "the creativity at work behind everything from toothbrushes to tech gadgets." Sounds like a natural extension of that ingenious first film.

The Objectified site also has a blog for designers talking about everyday objects that they love. I really liked Marian Bantjes's praise of what she first thought was an overdesigned toothbrush:

If everything in our lives were afforded the design attention that my toothbrush has, we would sit in chairs that floated while tickling our troubled backs, have tables that yielded at our aching elbows while remaining firm on top, walk on floors that tingled like active sand, and sleep on pillows that would never allow our ears to flatten against our heads.

My favorite song*, Smog's "To Be of Use," summarizes my attitude perfectly:

Most of my fantasies
Are of
To be of use
To be of some hard
Undeniable use

Like a spindle
Like a candle
Like a horseshow
Like a corkscrew

* See also Nick Drake, "Northern Sky."

Posted December 6, 2008 at 8:14 | Comments (0) | Permasnark
File under: Design

October 19, 2008

'Bout damn time

Matt says,

Slate redesigns. Again. For the last year or so, I've debated doing a follow-up post on my snark-out of their 2006 redesign, just to verify that I never got over my initial awful reaction to the site. I've got some problems with the new design, but they're minor compared to my feelings on the former look.

I have this funny feeling that the separation between the "Today in Slate" and "Slate Blogs" tabs isn't going to last ...

Comments (0) | Permasnark | Posted: 12:21 AM

May 19, 2008

To the Capitol, and Step On It

Robin says,

For his architecture thesis, Bryan Boyer redesigned the U.S. Capitol. It's a very cool project, but honestly, I think my favorite part is this rendering.

(It's an important consideration: Forget about what your building looks like from the sky. What does it look like from the inside of a cab on a rainy night?)

Comments (0) | Permasnark | Posted: 4:40 PM

April 30, 2008


Matt says,

Jennifer Daniel's portfolio site is fun in all kindsa ways.

Comments (1) | Permasnark | Posted: 2:43 PM

August 6, 2007

Jan in Rio

Robin says,


Jan Chipchase, the on-the-ground design ethnographer mentioned here before, is in Rio: uno, dos, tres, cuatro (rad), cinco (also rad). What an awesome job.

Comments (0) | Permasnark | Posted: 12:32 AM

June 15, 2007

The Park at the Center of the World

Robin says,

The incomparable Witold Rybczynski writes up proposals for a new park on Governors Island in New York City. Really really interesting. And I agree with his pick for the best design.

P.S. Slate's slideshow format = not great, I know.

P.P.S. Read Rybczynski's book Home. It's transcendently good.

Comments (1) | Permasnark | Posted: 5:07 PM

May 22, 2007

Just Imagine What the Suburbs Would Look Like

Robin says,

You know how sometimes the avante-garde gets commodified, and styles and forms once special are suddenly just everywhere?

I totally hope that happens with this.

(See also.)

Comments (2) | Permasnark | Posted: 11:35 PM

May 16, 2007

A Matrix of Cost/Benefit Analyses, i.e., a Parking Lot

Robin says,

Short, weird, awesome post on parking lots from Jan Chipchase. Love his jotted-journal-notes-to-self style.

Comments (0) | Permasnark | Posted: 2:42 AM

Immortal Design

Robin says,

Advancing the argument that good design is bound neither to time nor to technology: Industrial designers choose some favorite products and the best of them are all old-ish.

Then again, maybe it mostly just advances the argument that good photography is everything... I mean, look at that Walkman! Hot!

(Via Core77.)

Comments (2) | Permasnark | Posted: 2:39 AM

May 7, 2007

Designing for the Other 90 Percent

Robin says,

Nice roundup over on Core77 of a Cooper-Hewitt show focused on design for the other (read: poorer) 90 percent. Very cool, though I wish somebody would throw a design show full of stuff invented by the other 90 percent. It's out there.

Roundup written by Natalia Allen, a "design futurist"! Rad!

Comments (0) | Permasnark | Posted: 8:01 PM

April 16, 2007

I'll, Er, Pass

Robin says,

Ew! The new U.S. passport is ugly! (Via Kottke.)

Comments (5) | Permasnark | Posted: 11:41 AM

April 10, 2007

Holy Crap, Best Blog Design Ever

Robin says,

I don't think I've ever actually pointed to a blog here based solely on its design -- but man, Magnetbox is cool. Via Rex, who still shuns RSS because he likes the way webpages look.

Comments (2) | Permasnark | Posted: 7:03 PM

March 8, 2007

Open Architecture Network

Robin says,

Ooh! The Open Architecture Network is live. Go sign up. Via email Architecture for Humanity says:

If we hit 2000 users then we will have an amazing announcement tomorrow.

Who doesn't love amazing announcements?

Comments (3) | Permasnark | Posted: 3:51 PM

January 20, 2007

Architecture for Humanity

Matt says,

By the way, speaking of open-source processes and design, I just learned about Architecture for Humanity's plan for an Open Architecture Network:

By embracing open-source technology and removing barriers to the improvement, distribution, and implementation of well-designed solutions, we can, more than ever before, ensure that communities in need receive innovative, sustainable and, most importantly, dignified shelter. Since the mid-1990s, the sharing of information and technology has steadily gained popularity in the high-tech and arts communities. Why not adopt this approach in the area of humanitarian reconstruction and long-term development?
I'm a bit skeptical, but it's also well-established that I'm a sap and an open-source triumphalist, so I wish them luck.

Comments (0) | Permasnark | Posted: 8:18 AM

June 26, 2006

Reviews of the New

Matt says,

From across the Web:

"An unmitigated disaster."
"Boo, Slate. Boo."
"It's hideous. Yuck."
"I think it's awful."
"We hate it, but, then again, we initially hated the last makeover too..."

Yeah, pretty much sums it up for me. (By the way, I didn't cherry-pick; those are the top mentions on Technorati right now.) Generally, I don't mind redesigns; I think I'm usually pretty good about detaching from my nostalgia for familiar layouts. But the new Slate aches my kidneys. It is so bad.

Comments (5) | Permasnark | Posted: 3:30 PM

April 2, 2006

File Under: Bright Ideas

Matt says,

A combo lock that uses words instead of numbers. I dig it. (Ferreterrific.)

Comments (1) | Permasnark | Posted: 2:42 PM

March 31, 2006

Good Tiled Background Images

Matt says,

Pixel patterns, where have you been all my life?

Comments (0) | Permasnark | Posted: 9:03 AM
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