Short Hiatus /& Links of Interest.
June 22nd, 2009 by Lex

As the title says, we are on a short hiatus due to technical reasons. To entertain and intrigue, here are a few things worth checking out:

  1. Eyebeam Lab Residency
  2. Look at Life Arts Competition
  3. TopLeftPixel Photo Blog
  4. Wooster call for Facebook Posts
  5. Personal Geographies book about, well, obviously

And last but not least, a preview of the upcoming Abstract Comics Anthology.

Venice Biennale: A Sinking Feeling.
June 12th, 2009 by Lex

The 2009 Venice Biennale “Making Worlds” has opened and has been covered wonderfully through a new media interface from the New York Times. The most entertaining piece of art so far (pointed out by BLDGBLOG and created by Mike Bouchet) has been a faux-suburban house meant to float along Venice’s canals. The entire house was engineered to provide a surreal image, but the results were far more surreal than anticipated. After some time in the water, the house began to sink, providing quite the statement on the American dream and the inordinately subsidized housing market.


Highly recommended is the Youtube video (cannot be embedded), which shows this Titan come to rest at the bottom of a Venetian canal.

Google, No to Design?
March 24th, 2009 by Lex

In the recent days, a story about a particular Google designer resigning spread quickly around the web. The decision to leave was driven mainly by the glass ceiling in the design department, and a general lack of perceived value in design expertise overall. Specifically, Google has a phenomenal and closely guarded brand, which is controlled with hyper sensitivity by the very few at the top. Such an approach is potentially damaging over the long-term, and at least comical in the short-term. As per Douglas Bowman:

Without a person at (or near) the helm who thoroughly understands the principles and elements of Design, a company eventually runs out of reasons for design decisions. With every new design decision, critics cry foul. Without conviction, doubt creeps in. Instincts fail. “Is this the right move?” When a company is filled with engineers, it turns to engineering to solve problems. Reduce each decision to a simple logic problem. Remove all subjectivity and just look at the data. Data in your favor? Ok, launch it. Data shows negative effects? Back to the drawing board. And that data eventually becomes a crutch for every decision, paralyzing the company and preventing it from making any daring design decisions.

Yes, it’s true that a team at Google couldn’t decide between two blues, so they’re testing 41 shades between each blue to see which one performs better. I had a recent debate over whether a border should be 3, 4 or 5 pixels wide, and was asked to prove my case. I can’t operate in an environment like that. I’ve grown tired of debating such minuscule design decisions. There are more exciting design problems in this world to tackle.

So what is the role of design in the development of technology? Information designers would relegate the visual to the background completely, as did Google, opting for clean fonts and easy indicators based on primary colors. There is a fundamental difference between “ease of use” and aesthetic beauty. Google the website holds no aesthetic value–at most it does not detract. Like Microsoft’s Excel, it is highly functional and concise, but woefully lifeless.

Should technology solutions be full of life, though? Even a tasteful beauty pulls aways focus and determination. But then, is life and work merely a functional, tasteless experience? Do we not deserve an environment that nurtures creativity and expands our possibilities? The cost-benefit analysis is not won by productivity alone! Design and aesthetic pleasure contribute to one’s quality of life, and to strip them out as distraction is fundamentally disrespectful to the self. It is a sign of incompetence and narrow-sightedness to do so.

The company on the clear opposite side of this spectrum is Apple. This is an easy example, and could thus be seen as frivolous. But it isn’t! Nothing could be more true than Apple’s, and specifically Steve Jobs’, fascination with the aesthetic. But what a mission–to make the everyday more useful, enjoyable and beautiful than the last! We may not even realize the quiet revolution of design in our gadgets, but it is everywhere. It is in those transparent shadows in ITunes, and the way that objects are moved through space, and elegance of transparent windows. The effect of Apple on computing is not simply within its own products, but in every Windows, Palm, Blackberry, Facebook, Nintendo product on the market. Here is an example of the invisible as highlighted by Steve Jobs:

Reed College at that time offered perhaps the best calligraphy instruction in the country. Throughout the campus every poster, every label on every drawer was beautifully hand-calligraphed. Because I had dropped out and didn’t have to take the normal classes, I decided to take a calligraphy class to learn how to do this. I learned about serif and sans-serif typefaces, about varying the amount of space between different letter combinations, about what makes great typography great. It was beautiful, historical, artistically subtle in a way that science can’t capture, and I found it fascinating.

None of this had even a hope of any practical application in my life. But ten years later when we were designing the first Macintosh computer, it all came back to me, and we designed it all into the Mac. It was the first computer with beautiful typography. If I had never dropped in on that single course in college, the Mac would have never had multiple typefaces or proportionally spaced fonts, and since Windows just copied the Mac, it’s likely that no personal computer would have them.

So, where are the design visionaries for the next epoch of technological evolution?

TED Video: Stroke of Insight.
March 22nd, 2009 by Lex

Below is an amazing video from TED.

Jill Bolte Taylor got a research opportunity few brain scientists would wish for: She had a massive stroke, and watched as her brain functions — motion, speech, self-awareness — shut down one by one. An astonishing story.

The Meaning Of.
February 9th, 2009 by Lex

An amazing passage from Salon’s Cary Tennis shone through the other day. Prompted by a writer’s fear of irrelevance, Tennis crafts a message worth passing on. As artists, we struggle constantly with questions of purpose. The meaning of life is not enough–we need the meaning of process. The meaning of urges and desires that must be pursued and fulfilled. We definitionally grapple with the irrational, left brain demanding its spotlight. Why?  

Will what we say here ever really be unearthed and used? Will there be a need for it? Are we just playing out the old fantasy of immortality, dreaming that our words will live on? And, as you say, does it matter?

I do not know, but you and I and all the rest of us go on dreaming, trying to see the order in chaos, to glimpse the perfection at the edge of madness, look for the souls of trees and hear the voices of clouds and see in each occluded heart some echo of divinity. I know that we keep on talking and writing and it goes somewhere. Perhaps in that universe that even now is spinning backward from our own, our words are coming back out of the spring air and into our mouths and back into our brains where they will lie dormant, as if never spoken, until the pre-universe universe contracts sufficiently to cause another Big Bang, and it will start all over again, and after millions of years fish will climb the rocks and grow lungs again and apes will pick up tools and invent language all over again, and again as they speak and speak they will begin to wonder, Will this ever be heard again? Will future generations benefit from all our thoughts and visions? Does any of this really matter? And again the apes will go to psychiatrists and lie on couches and fill the air with doubt and uncertainty.

So it goes. Our uncertainty and doubt extend to the infinite sky and throughout time, shrouding perfection, blurring truth, undermining what feeble faith we can muster, reminding us that we are both divine and mortal, that we live both inside time and outside time, that we are creatures of many worlds, and that we will always wonder, and always try to cheat death, and always listen for the echoes of our words in every strange town, on every strange mountain, in every strange dream that comes to us in the night.

Thoughts for New Project-2.
January 30th, 2009 by Lex

Here is another TED speaker that is worth paying attention to: Scott McCloud. McCloud is famous for his early work deconstructing comics, and as such deconstructing image, narrative, abstraction, connections and meaning. If one wants to build a new type of interaction or story, this video is a great place to start. The meatiest part of the presentation starts around 10 minutes in.

Wooster posted the video as a piece of art. But it is more than that–it is a challenge to remove the traditional thinking about narrative. Art does not have to be static (painting) or uni-directional (movie, song, music). It can be multi-directional, multi-media, and fully engaged with the user. It can be customized to the user.

Customization is incredibly powerful. For example, Pandora has been able to completely reinvent the radio industry by customizing the listener’s experience based on her input. And it takes so little to drive that customization: a computer’s IP address is enough. So, what is the next step?

The goal of the new project will be to: (1) draw on user input or characteristics to drive randomization, (2) utilize a library of multimedia elements, including video, photography and sound, (3) create a specific and fully customized artistic experience with unique narratives.

Thoughts for New Project-1.
January 27th, 2009 by Lex

A thought experiment, and the beginning of a roadmap for a new project (tentatively “Dream:Engage”).

One aspect of new media is the ability of the artist to relinquish control. “Random” or “living” pieces can be produced by introducing (literally programming) an element of self generation, or re-generation, into the code of a piece. The creative process is then not just limited to symptom (the visual work), but starts in the DNA of a subject (conceptual definition). All sorts of unexpected twists and turns are born through randomization. See below for a stark example at the Victoria & Albert museum.

A more familiar randomized world would of course be the ITunes Visualizer (found here).

Once the definitions and boundaries are set, this approach becomes all about the input that triggers programmed DNA to spread its feathers. Music, and audio in general, is one attractive way in. Another is direct user participation. Make the consumer of the media engage with her consumption. Pull her in. This line of thought brings us to the use of narrative. A rudimentary exploration of this can be found in the Panels project, where a user’s click to refresh the page brings in new elements and storylines. A logical direction is to
“float”, unfix, abstract not just the direction of the story, but the story-telling elements. Mix media in the delivery of the message. Pull continuity apart, and branch out from concrete realistic text into visual chaos.

Next up, Scott McCloud on experimental narrative and our take on how to use the idea …