Hold On or Let Go

Tim Gunn, from the Project Runway finale this week:

Sometimes, the things that you love, they hold you back.

Lately I've been accused of holding the bar of excellence a bit too high, and I want to task my own idealism about needing to operate that way. I love for things to be a certain way. But maybe I hold onto some of those things to my own detriment. 

I did a poll at home and around the office today, and found that there was a pretty universal preference for a brighter, more traditionally contrasted site. In all honesty, it's not my preference. I read everything in night mode wherever possible. But I want to move quickly to have a real conversation here, and it's important that I let as few things as possible hold me back.

I'll bring night mode back to the site as soon as I can. But for now, if you're in the majority, enjoy.

"too many mind" v1.0.1

We're off the races here with our first point release for the site. Included in this update:

  • orphan prevention for titles (labs level, not yet rock solid)
  • permalink indicators for linked posts
  • improved readability on desktop and mobile
  • new color scheme (don't worry, will find a way to include night scheme in a future update)
  • removed disclaimer on Archive page
  • minor tweaks to copy and positioning

New Apple TV Siri Remote

I've heard a lot of people complaining about swipe functionality of the touchpad on the new Apple TV remote. The first time we tried ours at home the remote was out of sync and we had to reboot the device to get the swipe functionality to work properly.

(In fact, we used the old remote to do all the setup.)

Thing is, I don't think we would have known that something was wrong if I hadn't already played with a dev unit. My wife just commented that swiping wasn't very responsive or intuitive and said that the new remote would take some getting used to. 

The other thing I'd mention that I think a lot of people are experiencing is accidental triggering of the touchpad. I do this thing all the time where I put the remote under my leg to hide it from our 18-month-old son. Now when I try to do that I'm accidentally pausing the show or fast-forwarding, or otherwise interrupting our viewing experience. 

Jennifer Daniel Burns San Francisco to the Ground 

During her talk at Creative Mornings San Francisco "Shock" series last month, Jennifer Daniel brought up the subject of Invision's new film, Design Disruptors, before leaning into a more blunt narrative on the subject of Capitalism:

...when designers (from a group of very infuencial companies) talk, they prosthelytize “design” as a solution to the world’s problems, it’s important to recognize that when they say “design” what they really mean is “money”


Design feels like a very precise cover for liberal white guilt

I don't disagree with the message or the sentiment; design isn't going to change the world. 

But if we're going to have a conversation about what's wrong with the world of design today, let's also acknowledge that the conversation is multi-faceted. Let's talk about what films like Design Disruptors do to support a march to ubiquitous ideology. And let's acknowledge that there is a subtlety of discourse that we're sorely lacking right now.

Good Designers Copy, Great Designers Feel

I have a selfish desire to learn more about what makes me, me. Some of that desire relates to questions about personality, but most of it has to do with an interest in my creative decision making. Over the last year I've spent time researching things that have a deep creative influence on me, and I discovered something interesting along the way...

Creative influence, at least in my case, is quantifiable. There aren't actually that many things that make me, me.

It's funny, when I started work on the "what makes me" project I was convinced that I was beginning some sort of life-long salmon run to the birthplace of my creativity, and that I'd be cataloging micro-influence and rare oddities forever. But what I discovered pretty early on is that I wasn't really looking for things at all, I was searching for people. Just a few incredible people who've created a ton of things that I love.

Let me give you an example. I love spaces with strong right angles. I love long spare corridors, and low couches. I love travertine floors and glass enclosures. I love the heavy, black steel skyscrapers that dot the Chicago skyline and the Barcelona Chairs that adorn their corporate interiors. The designer in me recognizes affinity for a particular sort of modern minimalism, something that I thought I'd cultivated personally over years of happenstance and intellectual exploration. But the reality is that it's simply not true. There was literally an architect guiding my perception. In this case, an architect by the name of Ludwig Mies van der Rohe. He designed spaces and objects, and at various points in my life, in city after city, in photographs and books, I was drawn to them. Not because of my own special vision, but because Mies had incredible vision. His creative intention was so direct and so purposeful that the feeling and experience of the things he created resonated with and became part of me.

Some of the people I discovered, along with a summary of the areas that I believe they actively influence in me:

Ludwig Mies van der Rohe
spacial sensibility, presence

Barbara Wojirsch, Dieter Rehm (ECM)
visual design, product design, patience

Manfred Eicher (ECM)
musical affinity, spacial sensibility, contemplation

Philip Glass
musical identity, obsessive repetition


So, what's happened now that I have this information about "what makes me?"

For starters, I have deep interest in the individuals that I discovered through this process. They're part of me. I realize now that these people are essentially the main source of creative influence in my life, and so I try hard to channel and remember them in my work.** I do that just by saying to myself "I'm channeling Philip Glass right now," and then I write a piece of music. 

No, the music that I'm making does not sound like Philip Glass. But I give myself permission to operate obsessively on the resolution of melody through repetition when I'm making my own music. No, the interfaces that I design don't look like ECM Album Covers from the 70s. But I give myself permission to remember Barbara's visual expression when I marry content with the interface throughout the process, and when I'm working to create a compelling hero image to market the product before launch. I give myself permission.

It feels good to let go of the construct of creative intellect now that I know I am the sum of parts. I can be honest with myself about why I like or dislike certain things, and I can understand more clearly why I'm making the decisions that I'm making. I know now that there are certain creative challenges I'll encounter that just don't align with my influence, and in those cases it will be hard for me to find solutions that align with my own creative intention.

But now that I'm purposely channeling these people that deeply inspire me, I feel strength and resolution to honor the deepest parts of who I am. I'm more honest with myself about the things that I'm copying and the things that I feel. 

**Designers have this culture story about the path to becoming great designers, and the early portion of the narrative is something like: you're learning the ropes and so you're busy copying (poorly) a bunch of things that inspire you that you want to try to replicate. And through that process you "learn to see", which is another way of saying that you learn to properly observe scale. That's not what I'm talking about.

Ahh, the Amazon Store 

A lovely design that's right at home amidst the shrubbery of clean, office-park America. If you pay close attention to the details, you'll also notice that the space is architected to quickly provide exciting new leasing opportunities for the savvy franchise restauranteur, should Amazon decide to devote its interest to other markets. 

Inventing the Future with Syd Mead 

Alexa Roman lands a fantastic interview with legendary creative, Syd Mead:

A: Do you think the VR stuff is going to be a positive shift for the movie industry? Or even for our reality?
S: I don’t know. I mean, would Big Momma’s House 2 be helped by higher resolution?

The whole thing is solid gold. There are plenty of laughs along with a heavy dose of design talk around creativity. Highly recommended.

MusicFinder. Duh. 

Adina Radke summarizes her contribution to the Rethinking iTunes project recently published by 2015 interface design students at FH Potsdam:

MusicFinder is based on Apple’s well-known file manager Finder. It organizes the music collection in column view. In the application’s sidebar the objects of the music library are grouped into categories. Thanks to the cascading principle, navigating through the hierarchies [sic] of objects is simple. The right column of the application is reserved for the music player. There, the currently active piece of music and its cover are displayed in a more generous format.

Execution aside**, I love the simplicity and straightforwardness of this interface. It's almost exactly like the Quick Look functionality that exists within Finder today, but with the substitution of file preview for a free-standing, fully functional UI. It feels like an idea that the iTunes team must have considered years ago. But, who knows? Sometimes obvious mashups like this take years to spontaneously manifest as design solutions. 

** Spacing and proportion on this project are all over the place in a way that takes away (fairly significantly) from the presentation of an otherwise beautiful idea. This is exactly the sort of mistake that strains the untrained eye and kills professional presentations.

See Previous Relationship With Apple TV

Apple TV sucks. It is the biggest, rebooty PoS that I’ve seen in my entire life. Jesus Christ. What torture.

I wrote that tweet a few weeks ago, and the honest truth is that I meant every word of it. In the months leading up to the release of the New Apple TV, our 2nd generation Apple TV has taken to rebooting at least once every 50 minutes of viewing, and on many occasions has refused to choke its way through the first five minutes of a production. It's completely possible that our unit is simply a dud or desperately in need of a secret firmware update that doesn't exist for 2nd generation Apple TVs. But I have been unwilling to part with the $60 required to test that hypothesis. Despite the relative affordability of the Apple TV line and the amount of television that we enjoy in our house, I've been a complete curmudgeon about what I perceive to be laziness or incentive conspiracy on the part of Apple. So, we've waited patiently as a family for the release of the New Apple TV, and now it's finally arrived. 

I sure hope it's great. 

Frayed Knot 

James B. Stewart, writing for the NY Times:

The attention lavished on Ms. Holmes has been effusive. Her goal of facilitating the early detection and prevention of disease by making blood testing easier and convenient is laudable. And the relatively young company may still work through its current difficulties.

But that so many eminent authorities — from Henry Kissinger, who had served on the company’s board; to prominent investors like the Oracle founder Larry Ellison; to the Cleveland Clinic — appear to have embraced Theranos with minimal scrutiny is a testament to the ageless power of a great story.

Theranos is in deep shit. But, count me among those who still hope, earnestly, that Holmes has what it takes to pull out of a nose dive and head for the stars again. Healthcare is due for a reckoning. 

Den Sorte Skole: Indians & Cowboys 

From the Den Sorte Skole newsletter:

We are super excited to finally share our new album, Indians & Cowboys, with you. The beast is 78 minutes long with 13 individual tracks (yes!) made from thousands of samples, lifted of more than 350 old vinyl records, bringing together music from 75 different countries across 6 decades and 6 continents. It’s raw and noisy, silent and calm, heavy and trippy, beautiful and enchanting. We encourage you to listen on headphones or good speakers, like with any other good music and please give it some listens to let it grow.

As always, all the original tracks that we have sampled from, are listed. This time in a booklet together with beautiful collages by the super-talented Claes Otto Jennow, in superior layout by Søren Severin from Re-public.

Haven't had the chance to do a complete listen yet, but so far the grittiness of the sound and composite art direction provide stellar experience.

UPDATE: Fantastic. Go grab it when you get a chance.

Marko Ahtisaari: Music as medicine 

The Sync Project’s mission is to develop music as medicine. We are bringing together the scientists, technologists, clinicians and musicians of the world to accelerate the discovery of the clinical applications of music. We’re building a data platform that maps music characteristics to real time, objective measurements of physiology from a rapidly growing variety of sensors and devices.

I've been a fan of Marko since the Lumia 920. It'll be interesting to see how he functions as CEO of such an ambitious project.

Solu: Rethinking The Computer 

Sarah Buhr, writing for TechCrunch:

Solu can operate as a standalone device, much like a smartphone, or connect to a display and keyboard for more functions.

Content gets automatically backed-up on a multi-gigabyte local cache on Solu’s cloud system that works on the proprietary SoluOS operating system. There’s no in-app purchases or limit to the storage.

I’m attracted to this. The whole thing needs better execution, but there are ideas here that feel unique. The UI isn’t pretty, but it’s foreign in a way that challenges perception.

Separating content (movie, image, webpage, etc) from control feels good too, and I think that’s because we’ve been obsessed with the marriage of content and control as a UI accomplishment. But the more I think about it, the more I begin to feel like that union isn’t ideal. When you separate the two, the movie becomes the movie, and the controls become the controls. It’s not a heavy conclusion, but it feels big to me in terms of the design of a UI.