On a type walk we will go

What advice would you give to a designer who’s looking to embark on her or his first type walk?

Look up! But also look down! Take your camera with you, and always, always, take a picture if you see something worthy—it might be gone tomorrow. If it is still there the next day, you can go back with your good camera and lens.

Perambulate. There is no need to go to a particular place. Repeat places—you might see something new each time. Just open your eyes and start reading the city. Books on basic architecture and local history could be good starting points. Most importantly, enjoy it.

On a Type Walk We Will Go | Communication Arts

Designer Elena Veguillas discusses the decline of ‘vernacular lettering’: “lettering on manholes, pipes, posts, etc. They are particular to and enrich each city or area, even if we don’t notice them at first.”

The result is this garbage

1: The website obesity crisis

A typically great talk by Maciej, who appears on this site more than most:

Let me start by saying that beautiful websites come in all sizes and page weights. I love big websites packed with images. I love high-resolution video. I love sprawling Javascript experiments or well-designed web apps.

This talk isn’t about any of those. It’s about mostly-text sites that, for unfathomable reasons, are growing bigger with every passing year.

While I’ll be using examples to keep the talk from getting too abstract, I’m not here to shame anyone, except some companies (Medium) that should know better and are intentionally breaking the web.

2: What’s a species, anyways?

The search for the red wolf’s origins have led scientists to a new theory about how evolution actually works.

3: All I want for Christmas is MIDI

i put “All I Want for Christmas is You” through a MIDI converter, and then back through an mp3 converter

the result is this garbage

4: The Music Word Processor: Who we are

In short: rather than music criticism, The Music Word Processor is music criticism criticism. This blog is a space to explore questions like: what is the state of music writing in the 21st century? Is the corporatization of music writing inevitable? What are the kinds of narratives constructed by music writers and publications?

5: Make Believe Mailer Vol. 6: ナイス ニューズレター! 力限りない

From a newsletter by Patrick St. Michel about supposedly “Japanese” artists on the web:

At some point in 2015, these badly photoshopped, boring homages to the first generation of vaporwave — which had been released unobtrusively through Mediafire for the most part — outnumbered releases from real Japanese artists. For a while, I just stopped using Bandcamp as a place to explore new Japanese music, because everything tagged “Japan” seemed like a lie. it was annoying, but not as annoying as toggling over to the “best-selling” section and seeing the exact same thing. And all of the albums seemed to come primarily from one place.

6: The science myths that will not die

Some dangerous myths get plenty of air time: vaccines cause autism, HIV doesn’t cause AIDS. But many others swirl about, too, harming people, sucking up money, muddying the scientific enterprise — or simply getting on scientists’ nerves. Here, Nature looks at the origins and repercussions of five myths that refuse to die.

7: What I’m currently reading

On what street did you lose your childlike sense of wonder

1: Karaoke ebooks

This is terrific. As you might guess from the ebooks part of the name, it creates Markov chains from your tweets, but it forms rhyming couplets and sets them to MIDI music. Brilliant.

2: Stop your team using technical terms and jargon – disambiguity

Most weeks I am ridiculed by someone for insisting on plain language – avoiding acronyms and technical language / jargon in particular. People tell me that I’m slowing the team down by making them use proper words, and that their end users or stakeholders expect them to use technical language.

These things are both true. You should still use plain language.

3: Across the USA by train for just $213

Traveling coast-to-coast across the United States by train is one of the world’s greatest travel experiences. Amazingly, it’s also one of the world’s greatest travel bargains — the 3,400-mile trip can cost as little as $213.

4: Scenes from our unproduced screenplay: ‘Strunk & White: Grammar Police’

BEAT COP
It’s over here, detectives. The body was found about an hour ago.

STRUNK
Use the active voice, rookie.

5: As the Guardian Berliner format turns ten, we look back at a decade of design change

Ten years ago this month the Guardian launched its Berliner format. We talk to its creative team about a decade of rapid change at the paper, and examine how design is now more important than ever in helping us navigate an increasingly complicated media landscape…

6: How to Have 106 babies (and counting)

Ed Houben is Europe’s most virile man. And after years of donating sperm the “normal” way (sterile room, cup, cash), he and some women looking to get pregnant for free began cutting out the middlemen and getting it done as nature prefers it (sex!). Today, Houben has over a hundred children—and Ed the Babymaker is in greater demand than ever. We imagine you have some questions

7: How Spotify’s Discover Weekly cracked human curation at internet scale

The algorithms behind Discover Weekly finds users who have built playlists featuring the songs and artists you love. It then goes through songs that a number of your kindred spirits have added to playlists but you haven’t heard, knowing there is a good chance you might like them, too. Finally, it uses your taste profile to filter those findings by your areas of affinity and exploration. Because the playlist, that explicit act of curation, is both the source of the signal and the final output, the technique can achieve results far more interesting than run of the mill collaborative filtering.

8: Me Inc.

The paradoxical, pressure-filled quest to build a “personal brand.”

9: P.G. Wodehouse On The Dangers Of Literature

It was one of the dullest speeches I ever heard. The Agee woman told us for three quarters of an hour how she came to write her beastly book, when a simple apology was all that was required.

And:

Freddie experienced the sort of abysmal soul-sadness which afflicts one of Tolstoy’s Russian peasants when, after putting in a heavy day’s work strangling his father, beating his wife, and dropping the baby into the city’s reservoir, he turns to the cupboards, only to find the vodka bottle empty.

10: Apologies To The Queen Mary turns 10

A truly terrific album gets a good anniversary review.

Apologies To The Queen Mary is far more approachable, an album that spins universal reverie out of family trauma, relational struggle, and spiritual crisis. It’s music that renders the horror and delight of life on Earth as an epic struggle we all share. “I’ll believe in anything!” Krug sings at the album’s peak, desperately reaching for a fresh start and the freedom of some anti-Cheers: “where nobody knows you and nobody gives a damn.” Apologies To The Queen Mary itself can function as that kind of common ground, a set of inspiring songs many kinds of people can rally around, if only for a few fleeting moments. A decade into its history, it remains music worth believing in.

11: Future reading

I’m not entirely swayed by this piece—straw men abound—but it seems to have gotten a lot of people talking about books and reading and formats and focus, and that can only be a good thing.

From 2009 to 2013, every book I read, I read on a screen. And then I stopped. You could call my four years of devout screen‑reading an experiment. I felt a duty – not to anyone or anything specifically, but more vaguely to the idea of ‘books’. I wanted to understand how their boundaries were changing and being affected by technology. Committing myself to the screen felt like the best way to do it.

11: Nihilistic password security questions

On what street did you lose your childlike sense of wonder?

12: WEIRD SIMPSONS VHS

How most people experience ink

1: The momentary compression of design

It’s not that designers coding is totally irrelevant right now; I would happily debate that with anyone interested. But if software is eating the world, software design ought to be as diverse as the world itself. I would encourage designers to think about their roles and skills in the broadest sense, in terms of their knowledge of humanity and the world, rather than the technical deliverables of today. Divergent processes will become mandatory for survival and in the future I expect the question “should designers code?” to make as much sense as “should urban planners carve wood?” Our practice on the other end of this moment has a good chance of entering the most diverse, vital era we’ve ever known, which should be celebrated and encouraged rather than squashed and judged.

2: Limetown

New fiction podcast: part Serial, part X-Files. A bit hammy at times, but promising.

Ten years ago, over three hundred men, women and children disappeared from a small town in Tennessee, never to be heard from again.

In this seven-part podcast, American Public Radio host Lia Haddock asks the question once more, “What happened to the people of Limetown?”

3: Radical sandcastles

These aren’t your prototypical bucket-and-pail sand structures. Matt Kaliner’s creations deserve an architectural category all their own.

See also Renzo Piano: how to build the perfect sandcastle.

4: Woman with no recollection of last 10 years asked to run major media company

She has a knack for a good story, she’s great with people. Sure she couldn’t remember whether the Prime Minister of Great Britain attended her 40th birthday party. But then, who does remember these sorts of finer details?

5: The guy who owns .xyz will only get $8 from Google every year

Sure, but he’s making over $160k per day on new registrations.

6: The hamburger menu doesn’t work

It’s a beautiful, elegant solution that gets it all wrong, and it’s time to move on.

7: How the ballpoint pen killed cursive

The ballpoint’s universal success has changed how most people experience ink. Its thicker ink was less likely to leak than that of its predecessors. For most purposes, this was a win—no more ink-stained shirts, no need for those stereotypically geeky pocket protectors. However, thicker ink also changes the physical experience of writing, not necessarily all for the better.

See also Bic uses the same photo to advertise their pens and razors.

My time as a cheese

A guy complained no one had wished him happy birthday on Twitter and things got weird. “On 13 January, Daniel was a bit miffed because people hadn’t wished him a happy birthday.” This gets super weird.

I tweeted to kids as a piece of cheese for a year. “My time as a cheese taught me that the internet is run by pre-teen girls (they were clearly that young, from their profile pictures and dodgy spelling), and that their fandoms demarcate the geography of Twitter. That social media, all its self-promotion and factions and bitching, was made not for childish adults so much as for actual children.”

Architects I work for just gave the best reactions I’ve ever seen in person. “I work as an intern at an office for a few architects as a draftsman. I make 2D drawings and 3D visualizations. I came with the idea to make one of their project into a VR experience and they liked the idea. They gave me a project to work with, which was a perfect fit for VR (a brand new college in Amsterdam with beautiful inside and outside spaces).”

An obsession – brutal, beautiful bus stop design of the former Soviet states.

The gorgeous typeface that drove men mad and sparked a 100-year mystery. “Over the course of more than a hundred illicit nightly trips, this man was committing a crime—against his partner, a man who owned half of what was being heaved into the Thames, and against himself, the force that had spurred its creation. This venerable figure, founder of the legendary Doves Press and the mastermind of its typeface, was a man named T.J. Cobden Sanderson. And he was taking the metal type that he had painstakingly overseen and dumping thousands of pounds of it into the river.”

A new index to measure sprawl gives high marks to Los Angeles. “There is perhaps no more vexing issue for urban policy makers than sprawl. And yet, there’s little consensus on how best to accurately measure it. It’s one thing to impugn the phenomenon for contributing to everything from long commutes, congested highways and worsening air pollution to growing segregation, poverty, obesity and mounting health problems. But it’s another to actually gauge the connection between sprawl and that daunting list of social and economic ills.” The curious and surprising thing here being that the ‘high marks’ in the article title refer to LA’s low levels of sprawl.

Influenced by. Ryan Boudinot (among other writers) on David Foster Wallace: “I don’t think I’ve ever had such a strong feeling that a book was going to change my writing so thoroughly. And of course it did, to the point where a lot of what I wrote for years afterward sounded imitative. That’s always the scary thing—we want so badly to be considered sui generis and hide our influences, but I go back to what Stevie Wonder once said about being afraid of not being influenced by great art. Infinite Jest seemed to me to continue the project that Pynchon was working on, to marry erudition to verbal looseness.” I’m slowly working my way through IJ for the second time. My first was a cold read, not really prepared for its density and length. Coming at it after having read so much about the book, its author, genesis and cultural reception, it is a very different experience. It feels like we’re nearing a Jeff Buckley-type situation, where DFW is over-romanticised to near-cliche by melancholy straight white males, but I’m hopeful his brilliance will outshine any such dismissal.

Design in a Nutshell

Design in a Nutshell‘ is our attempt to explain a few key design movements for the uninitiated. It’s six short animations, and a way to share your design alter-ego based on your design preferences.

The movements are Gothic Revival, Arts and Crafts, Bauhaus, American Industrial Design, Modernism, and Postmodernism.

To make this, I worked with Clive Hilton, from The Open University’s Design department, and Thought Den, a bunch of talented and handsome designers, developers and animators from Bristol.

With more time or money I’d have loved to include a couple more design movements. But I really like how this came out—there are some genuinely funny moments in the videos, and the quiz/diagnostic tool thing is pretty great. People seem to really like sharing their design alter-ego on Facebook and Twitter.

One thing to note is that the design department at the OU is based in the Maths, Computing and Technology faculty, and so is more focused on product design than what we might naïvely term art and design. I don’t think this is a problem, though: these design concepts should be of interest to designers of all types and help us all understand how we got where we are.

(Btw, my design alter-ego is Ludwig Georg Van Der Pound, modernist. Have a play and see what yours is.)

Design in a Nutshell launch image

Image copyright The Open University, used with permission.