The constraints that shaped grime

It’s interesting to read about how art is created in spite of—or perhaps because of—constraints and limitations. This tale of the tools used to make early grime singles is fascinating:

London’s unique, lickety-split digital version of rap was built by teenagers with little-to-no formal musical training, taking whatever cheap (or free, illegally “cracked” and downloaded) software they had to hand, creating strange, glowing, sci-fi sounds from whatever tools they could find.

Grime’s early-2000s pioneers like JME, Skepta, Wiley, and So Solid Crew broke the mold with none of the synths, samplers, and drum machines that had been vital to hip-hop production, instead doing much of their world-building on basic PC software like FruityLoops Studio. Inevitably, the sound was determined by the technology itself.

One of grime’s only consistent formal attributes is that, like its sibling genre dubstep, it runs at around 140 beats per minute — the consistency is important for DJs to be able to mix records seamlessly. Producer Plastician is not the only one to have observed that FruityLoops’ default tempo is set to 140bpm, which “may have a lot to answer for.”

Source: UK grime couldn’t exist without ringtones, Playstations, and other low-fi tech

The sound of failure

“Whatever you now find weird, ugly, uncomfortable and nasty about a new medium will surely become its signature. CD distortion, the jitteriness of digital video, the crap sound of 8-bit—all of these will be cherished and emulated as soon as they can be avoided. It’s the sound of failure: so much modern art is the sound of things going out of control, of a medium pushing to its limits and breaking apart. The distorted guitar sound is the sound of something too loud for the medium supposed to carry it. The blues singer with the cracked voice is the sound of an emotional cry too powerful for the throat that releases it. The excitement of grainy film, of bleached-out black and white, is the excitement of witnessing events too momentous for the medium assigned to record them.”

—Brian Eno, A Year With Swollen Appendices

The UX of 280

This is where the design challenge comes in: How can we make a UI that communicates these different character constraints that is still easily understood globally? Simply replacing the number doesn’t work because we can’t be certain which language you’re going to be Tweeting in. We could guess which language you’ll use, based on your location or system language, but that falls apart quickly, as many people live in foreign countries or travel regularly. Additionally, many people Tweet in multiple languages, sometimes within a single Tweet. Because we count dense alphabets differently than non-dense, mixed language Tweets can result in some intricate math that we want to be able to abstract away. The challenge here was to create a design that adapts to different character limits without relying on a number, works with the many ways people compose Tweets, and is intuitive enough that people don’t have to spend time thinking about it.

A recap of some of the UX decisions made to show that Twitter users now have 280 characters with which to compose their post, not 140.

Source: Looking After Number One-forty – Twitter Design & Research – Medium