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Archive for the ‘Design’ Category

In Person: Story Hour

notes

A few weeks ago I was able to make good on a promise and participate in the second installment of the Design Museum of Portland’s Story Hour series. The premise is quite simple: a group of storytellers have a short period of time to tell a story around a specific prompt. There are a few constraints, though: the time period is very short, either four or eight minutes, and you get a single image as your background, no slides or other a/v trickery.

The theme was ‘invisible design’ and while a bunch of kind of pop-design podcast fodder (Can you see the arrow in the FedEx logo?) came to mind I felt the constraints and format leant themselves to a little bit of meta tomfoolery.

So the whole thing was series of stories inside a talk inside an elaborate setup.

The effect was better experienced in person, but I’ll try to set it up here for you before sharing the substance of the speech.

The entire story was delivered as if I were reading notes off a sheaf of papers, and there were several references at the onset to visual aids helping me work in this unusual style. As the series of stories around the theme build, I begin to spread outward to talk about how this elaborate level of conscientiousness around how things are set up can ultimately deliver experiences that leave a real impression on people.

The big reveal was at the very end, when I turn my “notes” around and show they’re actually blank. The effect I was hoping to impart on the audience was one of “oh, he wasn’t reading from notes, he must have memorized it, that’s another level of invisible design that he’s incorporated.” I think there were a few clucks of understanding; to be honest, my heart was racing so much at flubbing a few final lines that I wasn’t paying total attention to the audience. But the overall effect was not, as was my fear, totally lost.

Despite the thematic around magic and creativity, there was no magic involved (unless maybe someone thought I erased the notes on the paper or wrote them in invisible ink). It was sheer, brute memorization. The short format (four minutes) and my tendency to want to pack these sorts of talks with information made it crucial that I get everything down to the second, timing-wise.

Suffice to say I rehearsed the shit out of this, in a bunch of different ways. I have talked in public in front of audiences probably 40-50 times a year for the last four or five years and to have a totally scripted thing that has to be super tight on time is one of the more challenging things tasks I’ve set myself.1

recordings

First, I wrote the draft. That took about a week of side-time. Then I went through proofs and made 3-5 paper edits to make the master. Then, I recorded myself speaking a version to time (four minutes on the dot) based on the final refinements. Then, I would alternate between a few elements: table reads, out loud, from the script; sessions where I’d listen to the recording continuously (riding my bike to work, or waiting for lunch at a restaurant); sessions where I’d listen and simultaneously copy the material in longhand. And lastly were sessions where I’d recite the speech cold, with no prompts, then listen and compare with the original printed draft. I have at least 15 of those saved on my phone.

I’ve never been good at memorizing, and respect that skill a lot in friends who can. (I am forever envious of one friend, trained in the classics, who has an enormous mental library of poems and toasts and whatnot.) I need musical accompaniment to make anything stick. And about 98% of my cultural HD is full of jingles and nonsense anyway. But somehow I managed to get through this with only a few flubs.

Anyway, here it is. Not sure if I want to do something like this again anytime soon but I done did it. And it managed (I think?) to be entertaining to the audience, and not just esoteric wank.

Here’s the background image I used:

parish_storyhour.001 (1)

 

I

I opted for the four minutes partly as a disaster mitigating strategy.

I’m here to talk about creativity but it could all go terribly wrong

Because normally my presenting style is clicking through slides, rapidly.

I would stalk around the stage and gesticulate and use clever Keynote builds and other slideware to keep your attention.

So I decided, with all these constraints, to be sure of my words, to write it down. <emphasize paper>

Because I just have this one slide. And it’s barely legible.

Whoops.

First rule of presenting, make the font big.

Fail part one.

That’s not my only problem.

I’m a poseur.

I’m not a designer.

I’m a writer.

I only discovered what a drop shadow was a few years ago when I wondered why my printed-out screenshots were black on the bottom.

And maybe my own design, of this talk, is no longer invisible.

‘Oh, ‘ you’re thinking, ‘he’s going to talk about how editing is invisible design’.

Fail part three.

Fuck.

 

II

Well, writing _is_ invisible design, that’s true.

Writers and designers, we’re cousins.

We both use craft to build worlds.

Some of you who appreciate vintage advertising will remember the Think Small-era Volkswagen advertising.

The layout was classic, a photo, a headline, copy.

But the art director saw the copy, and it was just a huge mass at the bottom of the page. So he used his X-acto to thin it out.

When his partner came in, he asked him to re-write it into the windows he had cut, and the ad finally worked, and is now famous.

Jason Fried, from 37signals, once said, ‘before you redesign, rewrite.’

This is fundamentally the same idea.

But there’s one step beyond this invisibility, beyond the craft of writing and editing: making it magic.

 

III

For my money Emily Dickinson is the greatest American poet.

<What was that? Some Emerson partisan there in the back?>

Almost all Dickinson’s 1,800 poems were published after she died, and they’re all clean copies.

We don’t know anything about her process; her craft was fully invisible.

And so scholars, trying to understand her work, are puzzled by things like this. <point to screen>

This is one of Dickinson’s Master letters, surreal drafts written sometime between when she was 28 and 32.

They’re otherworldly, almost an alternate universe to her poems, written to a figure only known as Master.

We don’t know the identity of ‘Master’.

It is a mystery.

Is it a lover?

God?

The Devil? Was Emily Dickinson involved in some kinda bluesman-at-Crossroads-type deal?

True Detective stuff.

Because we all want to know what kind of shadowy power lurks at the heart of Dickinson’s art—worldly or otherworldly.

 

IV

To create something truly sublime, you have to include elements of magic, and conceal, and keep secrets—and reveal them, maybe—in addition to all the craft.

You’ve got to have some of that ol’ Razzle Dazzle—at least a little bit.

Joseph Conrad wrote something to this effect in an essay called “Fiction Is Human History”.

“All creative art is magic, is evocation of the unseen in forms persuasive, enlightening, familiar and surprising.”

In creating amazing work, you take the invisible and choose if, and how, it reappears.

And that’s the magic…

<reveal papers>

…that craft can make design invisible…

<reveal papers>

…but only creativity can choose how to reveal it…

<reveal papers>

…to set an audience on a course to their own creative truths.

<reveal papers>

 

  1. Yes, the famous “short speech” quote (“If I am to speak ten minutes, I need a week for preparation; if fifteen minutes, three days; if half an hour, two days; if an hour, I am ready now.”) whoever said it, was running through my head pretty regularly. []

Written by Nick

August 12th, 2015 at 7:01 pm

Samsung’s Galaxy Gear Meets a Google-y Glass

samsungglassgear

I like Samsung’s new Galaxy Gear stuff—it’s direct, and right out of the hardware launch playbook Apple wrote for the iPhone.1 And we might, on first glance, think that’s where Samsung’s big competition for the watch lies.

This near-final frame though, the two seconds it the camera lingers on Jamie, and what are we left with? An Android UI, telling us Ms. Glass is calling? That’s a brilliant bit of priming to link the Samsung gadget with its the real competitor in wearables. These categories don’t invent themselves, people.

 

 

  1. The work is also everywhere right now, with tons of media spend behind the launch. []

Written by Nick

October 13th, 2013 at 1:02 pm

High Cheese

Angela Chapin at venerable Canadian pub Maclean’s called a couple weeks back to talk about Chuck E. Cheese’s new look. Immediately, it struck me as Poochie-esque, and that it’d probably do the company better to rethink how to convey it was in the family entertainment business than to give the mouse an alt-emo edge. (I mean, look at those eyebrows, and that sardonic smile.)

Written by Nick

September 15th, 2012 at 4:23 pm

Coming Home to a Company Town

I recently had the chance to head home on the dime of the Ford Motor Company, the great dynamo and historical symbol of prestige in the Motor City, or at very least its suburban birthplace in Dearborn. I got invited, I imagined, because we’ve covered the company’s efforts in the past. But now I found myself on a press trip home, to get sold on the innovation I grew up around, for Fordʼs North American Auto Show & Innovation and Design Fantasy Camp. If that’s not enough of a mouthful, here’s a rambling travelogue of what we got up to.

 

I took a car from the airport, and what can typically be a terse ride wound up moving quickly. One of the best things about talking cars with a Detroiter is that if you do it on the road, you have a constant source of conversation. My driver, an arabic guy in his mid-50s, was eager to chat. We talked about the driver’s Lincoln Town Car, a car that’s come to equal classy luxury transportation. We talked about what might replace it, now that Ford’s shut down the Canadian plants that produced it along with the Crown Victoria, cop car par excellence.1

We moved to the Chevy Volt (he’s never seen one around) the Prius (he’s seen plenty and likes ’em) and the changing American automobile appetite. I went to mention the new Fiat, and lo and behold we were passing one. “Italian design, it looks nice. Good for single people, maybe?” Then, the Dodge Charger. “It’s taken away a little from those guys,” he said, pointing to a Mustang. (See? It’s fun, it’s like I Spy crossed with the game where you move through the alphabet and say a different celebrity, or movie star, for every letter.) Toyota’s Avalon swung in front of us, and he remarked on its quality, being a former owner. He said the auto show, this year, would be a more positive affair, with the Big Three stronger than in previous years, a leaner and meaner American auto industry.

Read more about the trip

  1. The Town Car remains a weathered peak of luxury transportation for many, despite the changes in driver preference and civic fuel consumption standards Ford cited as its reasons for termination. I love the Town Car. Since the late ’90s, it’s been the longest car produced in the Western Hemisphere. My dad once told me it was designed to be able to carry four golf bags in its trunk, ferrying a foursome of chums to the links, where some real business can get done. []

Written by Nick

January 24th, 2012 at 2:57 pm

Expiration Dates for Creative Companies



A few weeks ago, my favorite music act abruptly broke up. But it wasn’t the standard faff from a band that’s released a bunch of albums and toured forever, ‘we’re having artistic difficulties’, the cover for a junkie drummer or clashing egos. The group was cautious and enigmatic in the first place, and its decision to quit further cemented the realization no one would ever know the full story. The group is called Sandwell District, and it makes deep, dark, often abrasive hypnotic techno dance music, the sort of stuff that begins going through your head after your third day trapped in a well, I’d imagine, or when you’ve spent too much time on a tilt-a-whirl. Some of us, due to genetic programming or maybe many hours of social conditioning in dark rooms listening to loud music, think better with this sort of stuff pumping. I’m one of them. And Sandwell was certainly, to me, the most expressive and aesthetic-oriented group I’ve seen in dance music in some time. It had a formed artistic ethos much like Detroit collectives Underground Resistance or groups like Drexcyia, far from the personality-driven side of the dance music world. In short, Sandwell innovated, and will, in some form or another, continue, apart or together, to make amazing, provocative music. This essay isn’t about Sandwell District, though if you want to find out more about it, its Tumblr is a good place to start , as is this piece from The Wire.

New Values
Beginning the 31st of December 2011, regular audio communication from Sandwell District will cease. All vinyl artifacts have been decommissioned. There is a possiblity of future, albeit irregular, print communications with audio accompaniment. However, details — and indeed content — is uncertain at this moment in time. The Sandwell experiment will exist through live actions — which will continue to expand into new sonic territory — in addition to audio / print installations as previously witnessed in New York, Los Angeles, Gdansk, Bialystok, Berlin and London.

Stasis is death.
See you on the other side.

So, you say, they’re breaking up, but they’re not stopping playing shows, and doing other ‘print communications with audio accompaniment’ — so what’s the big deal?

Well, I know we haven’t seen the last of Sandwell.

But what if we built our creative businesses, our design studios, our content companies, our  journalist’s collectives, with a set of time-based values?

What if businesses had an expiration date?

Obviously, this repels much of the capitalist ideal. Once the company reaches its peak, then is the time when it’s ripest for squeezing, a milking of profits that can continue, managed well, for some years.

If the participants were to agree to pack it in, and go their separate ways, after, say, three years, it would give no hope for investment, no hope for mechanisms of control that come with outside funding.

The best potential test case for this is a small design studio, with 3-5 partners. It is stated at the outset that this is a transient endeavor, meant to last three years, then everyone is released, the property liquidated, business cards tossed into the trash, web presence turned off.

Needless to say, it wouldn’t work as well with businesses based on making artisanal salami or high-grade thermocouples.

In the Wire story, one member of Sandwell, Karl O’Connor, says, ‘As we everything I have been involved with, it’s about creating situations – some you go with, an dsome you abort. We hate this whole ’20 years of so-and-so label’ or ’40 years of that label’. We know when things need to be killed or moved on.’

The ‘we know’ comes with a feeling of creative completeness, but a stated end point would set that feeling in stone, and force an arc higher and brighter than otherwise.

I often am able to connect the dots between people who have bonds to specific companies at specific periods, that is, they all worked at Company X during its heyday, and they all went on to places or things much more interesting than you would expect, given their relative lack of experience prior to Company X. There are a lot of factors at play here, like where Company X was in its life cycle already, or where the winds of novelty were blowing in its industry at the time, or the sort of work they were able to do  while together. But I believe companies with a stated half-life and a strong mission at the outset will create cadres of exceptional people.

Written by Nick

January 21st, 2012 at 12:00 pm

Applause: RDTN.ORG

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

In times of crisis like the world has been watching for the last week or so in Japan, our contributions to alleviate suffering will not entirely be counted in dollars. More and more the tools we build to help those afflicted return to a peaceful existence will be measured as essential.

I’m proud of some friends that joined together to build a hub for measuring the radiation levels in Japan, and hope their effort will bring calm to a few of the many lives changed by the crisis.

The ongoing nuclear crisis in Japan has highlighted our collective reliance on trusted sources. With conflicting reports of radiation levels in affected areas, Portland-based Uncorked Studios has built a way to report and see data in an unbiased format. Inspired by talking heads on news programs who could at best speculate about the nuclear crisis based on the dearth of data, Uncorked decided to create a platform that will crowd-source data to individuals, volunteers, and experts.

Introducing rdtn.org, a website that aggregates radioactivity data from throughout the world in order to provide real-time hyper-local information about the status of the Japanese nuclear crisis. The site is not meant as a replacement for government nor nuclear agencies. Our hope is that clear data will provide additional context to the official word in these rapidly changing events. While the site will focus primarily on readings from Japan, it will also incorporate data from the West Coast of the United States, hoping perhaps to quell the fires of paranoia that stem from a lack of credible information about radiation, the jet stream and its potential effect on US citizens.

We welcome users’ thoughts on how to improve the site/functionality, and appreciate any insight or feedback that will provide a richer understanding of this crisis. We will continue to implement improvements and functionality as soon as possible.

If you are interested in contributing in an official capacity, either as a scientist, journalist, or member of a government agency, please contact us at info@rdtn.org.

RDTN.ORG.

Written by Nick

March 21st, 2011 at 2:49 pm

SXSW Screenprinting

Contagious will be representing next week in Austin for SXSW Interactive1 and we decided to print up some T-shirts to give out to friends and allies.

We thought about just sending our logo and specs off to a printer, but what about making our own awesome shirts? And checking on colors and things? My awesome girlfriend gifted me time in a screenprinting workshop last year, so I already knew a thing or two about making your own shirts. So how about hire a studio and try to do it ourselves? Turns out that was much easier (and more fun) than we thought. We got in touch with Peter from Polluted Eyeball and arranged to visit him in his studio, in a loft building of artists’ studios, in Bushwick. We set up an evening session, so after work on Friday we could roll up and do some printing.

There’s a populist connoisseurship in T-shirts. Fine fit, fabric and a nice design can make a cheap item into a lifelong favorite. So we wanted to do these right. We stopped off on the way at Uniqlo to pick up around 70 of their Dry Pack Men’s T’s. I think they’re among the best going.

Once Peter had taken us through the process (and burned an extra screen for a white ink layer to sit below the fluorescent pink) we got to work, a three-person team, fitting the blank shirts on the platens2, then rotating them to the white and pink screens, through each ink phase, then under a heater, then off to be rolled and taped and sorted by size.

By the time we’d gotten our process right and picked up steam, we were out of blanks and had a whole load of handmade T-shirts to give away. Take a look at the photos below, and if you’re going to be in Austin, track down either me or Noelle for a shirt. Thanks again to Peter at Polluted Eyeball for all his expert guidance.












































































































































































  1. I’m on a panel called ‘Client Knows Best’ with some brainiacs from Droga5, McCann, Co:Collective and Verizon, it’s here, on Saturday at 5pm. Come if you’re around, it should be a fun chat. Noelle, meanwhile, will be raising heckfire in boots. []
  2. this was a new term for me, from Wikipedia: ‘In textile screen printing, a platen is a flat board onto which the operator slides the garment. It is generally made of either a plywood laminate or aluminum with a rubber laminate. Often the platen will be pretreated with a spray adhesive. This allows the garment to effectively become a rigid immobile substrate, especially important when printing multiple colors or utilizing an on-press infrared dryer. The screen is brought parallel and close to the garment (often within 1/32″) and the squeegee pressure then brings the screen into contact with the garment so that the ink transfer may occur. There are many special platen types, such as those for printing sleeves or pockets, vacuum platens, platens with clamps to hold bulky materials such as jackets, and even curved platens for printing on hats.’ []

Written by Nick

March 6th, 2011 at 2:05 pm

Small is Beautiful: Early Days at Crispin Porter + Bogusky

look at those faces

Leafing through Advertising Age‘s Small Agency Awards issue last week I was struck by this simple ad from MDC, one of the Awards’ sponsors: a group shot of Crispin & Porter Advertising in 1992.

Now, you all (probably) know what happened to little old Crispin & Porter. And nostalgia is great. But the underlying message of this ad–that you can go from a 13-person creative department to employing over 200 creatives over several continents in 17 years–is a fundamental testament to the spirit of entrepreneurship, as Alex Bogusky wrote for us when the idea of the Small Agency Awards became urgent. (And yes, I know that’s not a massive jump, considering the ascent of agencies like Saatchi & Saatchi, but, whether you like its ads or not, CP+B has managed to maintain a strong culture, unlike mega-networks put together via merger & acquisition.)

It isn’t very often ads in our magazine jump out, so I thought I’d try to give this one a little more light, and maybe see if there was some “where are they now” info on the people in it. I managed to put names to a few faces, but if you’ve got more info, by all means, contact me, or leave a comment.

1. Chuck Porter, now CP+B co-Chairman
2. Alex Bogusky, now CP+B co-Chairman
3. Markham Cronin, founded Markham Unlimited
4. Sarah Gennett, now CP+B VP/Dr. of Production Services & married to Markham
5. Dave Swartz, now CP+B VP/Creative Director
6. Mrs. Ana Bogusky, still Mrs. Ana Bogusky

It’s pretty amazing this many years later almost 40% of the people in the creative department are still with the company. I’m also digging the “good enough sucks” sign on the back wall.

UPDATE: The missing links have been found. Thanks, caller!

In the far back, next to Dave Swartz, is copywriter Steve Horowitz.

To Sara Gennet’s left is copywriter Michael Bettendorf (see his business card?) with art director Diane Durban to the left of Mrs. Bogusky.

That trio to the right contains Gloria Schmall (production), copywriter Shawn Wood (with the baseball hat) and intern Emily Chase.

In the front to the left of Porter, Bogusky and Cronin is Aileen Lopez, from the studio.

Written by Nick

September 28th, 2009 at 6:52 am

Posted in Advertising,Design

Whose Umbrella Matters?

I was a little surprised this morning to see one of my favorite blogs reference Do I Need an Umbrella, a site that, conveniently enough, answers the question Do I Need an Umbrella?

Turns out, Do I Need an Umbrella? (left) is a downmarket version of Umbrella Today?. Perhaps the most popular single-serving site out there. Umbrella Today? does the exact same thing (and more), was established earlier and has since become immensely popular. In the case of Umbrella Today? versus Do I Need an Umbrella? the former’s brevity of initial query and the quality it suggests shines through in all aspects, making the site, in every way possible, better than its more literal stepchild.

But, despite Do I Need an Umbrella? appearing to be a knock-off, it made me think. A few weeks ago, someone I know wrote something like “I didn’t like the weather report, so I just kept looking at other places until I found one that was suitable.”

So why not check and see if they agreed, and if not, which one was correct? I was after all, in the mood for something to tell me whether to bring an umbrella.

They didn’t agree. One told me I needed an umbrella, the other said I didn’t. So who do I trust?

I didn’t want to just toss it up between those two, so I hit my F12 and checked the old standby, the easiest weather report, the one I check nearly every day. My dashboard widget showed a thundercloud; the only icon for the day was rain. It’d have to be an umbrella day.

I hedged one more time–Weather Underground. My old standby said I could get away with not carrying an umbrella until 5pm, when the storms rolled in. (All these tests were done by inputting my zip code within a span of five minutes.)

Done, right? The binary yes/no nature of the Umbrella sites was conflicting, and Apple’s weather widget wasn’t detailed enough. With a better forecast I could make the decision.

But it’s interesting that the uniquely internet phenomenon by which we tend to select our news and choose only sources that are similar to our bias, say electing to receive only news that’s been run through a liberal filter, has extended to something that should be mildly scientific. I don’t want to carry an umbrella on a Saturday, so I’ll look around until I find evidence to support my position.

Meteorology is by no means an exact science, but we can now ask dozens whether it’s going to rain and get different answers. That sort of thing never happened down on the farm.

So, to that end, wrapping up this non-item item (really, blogging about the weather is about as prosaic and time-filling than talking about it) someone needs to develop an optimist’s Umbrella Today?, which will only ever answer with an emphatic “No” and indeed, additionally, let us know it’s going to be a beautiful day where we’ll get closer to our dreams then we ever imagined.

And we can curse the weatherman on the odd days it’s not correct, unless of course we want a spectacular summer storm and wind up getting one. I’ve been hoping for thunder and lightening from 5pm onwards today and Weather Underground has yet to deliver.

UPDATE: Never content to let an idea easily executed languish on the Internet unfulfilled, Noah Brier slapped up doineedanumbrellatoday.com, your one-stop shop for permanently sunny weather news. Another version of this whole affair came up recently when I was reading James Wood’s How Fiction Works. Speaking about the protagonist, Ricardo Reis, in Saramago’s The Year of the Death of Ricardo Reis, Wood writes “He reflects fondly on the story of the ninety-seven-year-old John D. Rockefeller, who has a speciall doctored version of The New York Tmes delivered every day, altered to contain only good news. ‘The world’s threats are universal, like the sun, but Ricard Reis takes shelter under his own shadow.'”

Written by Nick

May 9th, 2009 at 11:14 pm

Dropping in to the 99% Conference

99% Conference Sneak Peek!, originally uploaded by jeffreyk.

I peeled myself out of the office briefly Thursday to stop over at Behance’s 99% Conference (“It’s not about ideas, it’s about making ideas happen”) at the Times Center.

I was only able to see a few speakers, but I picked a good time to drop by. First, Seth Godin talked about squashing your lizard brain, the fearful primitive part of consciousness that’s forever impeding progress and preventing us from actually finishing projects with thoughts of fear.

After that, it was Jake Nickell and Jeff Kalmikoff from Threadless, who talked about implementation of ideas at various stages in their business (the slide above is one of their credos). Another laffer was a picture of a desktop PC set up in front of a door, monitor stacked on CPU with a desk chair in front. That was apparently Nickell’s setup to prevent himself from leaving the house in the early days of the site.

I especially enjoyed Scott Belsky of Behance, who spoke just before lunch. Belsky touched on the different types of creative personalities, how we can pair people to max our their effectiveness by combining traits, how competition and conflict can spur things, etc. It was interesting, in part because it was similar to Hyper Island’s philosophies of group dynamics, which they illustrated last month at South by Southwest.

I ran into a chum of mine, Jocelyn Glei, who informed me she’s working with Belsky on a book-length exposition of his findings, which will certainly provide a grounds for greater comparison of the two groups.

Written by Nick

April 17th, 2009 at 10:47 pm