June 14, 2010 § 1 Comment
- The best a trend can be is a signpost. Eventually, you can’t keep up because trends trend away from the trend. Make your own trend.
- I like to listen. Sometimes this brings enlightenment, sometimes toxic self-doubt.
- The more I do visual design, the more I see the cold, unromantic math behind it. Align this, grid that. But, for something to be truly memorable, it needs a hook. A good hook is magic, can be found through process, but it can’t be taught.
- The more I think about “Design Thinking”, the more I think it’s not “Thinking”, but rather “Process”. Thinking is a bit like happiness–you can’t aim for it, it’s the fruit of other labors.
- The most perfectly designed thing is a blank sheet of paper. It communicates exactly what it is, nothing more can be taken away, anything can be added, and has been a part of every major movement in Western Civilization.
- Making a design “feel” right rhetorically is 90% done before you even start. The remaining 10% can destroy that 90%, though.
- There comes a point where you know the rules and break them willfully. So, don’t be offended if I ignore your feedback because I already knew what you’d say and didn’t care.
- If you show your in-process work to others, they will only see a fixed result—concrete, not fluid. They will critique it as such. Be dead-on specific about what you want feedback on and ignore everything else said or done.
- You will try to ignore what they say, but you won’t be able to. Have fun with that.
- There’s a pea underneath your mattress and you can’t sleep a wink. Sound familiar? A designer is innately sensitive to the most minute of details—don’t let them drive you crazy. Learn to let go.
- Go be analog. No computer, no cell phone, no nothing. Your thoughts, creativity, and insights are your capital. This takes time and reflection. You can’t do this being constantly interrupted.
- If you manage your time well and ignore those interruptions, people won’t be angry—they’ll be jealous.
- If you can’t work your way through a problem, it’s OK to close your eyes for 20 mins to let your brain filter the problem. It’s amazing what a little rest can do.
- Let nothing distract you in your interactions except dire emergencies.
- I’m convinced you can often get 80% of the design research value for 20% of the cost for 95% of your clients. Do that more of the time.
- Just because something costs more money doesn’t mean it has more value. Donuts cost more than broccoli.
- Respect is the hardest thing to earn and the easiest thing to lose. Integrity can pull you through.
- Difficult clients make you better. Too difficult of clients can make you bitter.
- Some people practice design. Some people schmooze design. Both have their place, but one of them sucks and the other doesn’t.
- Thinking is not a deliverable. If you don’t give it a form, it never happened.
- Design is not unlike songwriting. You listen to songs, get inspired, practice, and then write your own songs. It is impossible to escape influence. But, taking a song, changing the key, and playing it for a different audience doesn’t make it your song. Don’t act like it does.
- With that, standing on the shoulders of giants doesn’t mean their shoulders are yours. Acknowledge what you’ve learned and from where.
- Nobody knows what you left out unless it cripples the design. Even then, most won’t notice or care. They’ll just tell themselves a story.
- The more refined your design, the more people will start picking on the smallest unrefined parts that you don’t care about yet.
- Pull a string, unravel the sweater. Make sure it’s worth it.
May 21, 2009 § 1 Comment
Is the result of an election a design?
I’ve been pondering this quite heavily for the past week or so since I took a couple days to travel to Carnegie Mellon’s School of Design graduate thesis presentations. What got me thinking about this was Kyle Vice’s thesis project where he created a website/program where people could vote on a series of posters and the winning poster was to be projected on a huge wall on campus. To achieve this, he designed and built software and various web applications for people to use to vote on the posters. Location-wise, he envisioned placing kiosks in public places as well as voting through a traditional website or iPhone app.
What this (very cool) project got me wondering is this: Is voting, and its ensuing results, a form of design? Specifically, is it participatory design? Now, in his project, the only thing people were voting on was a poster to be displayed, and no one person had any ability to massively affect the group’s collective choice outside of their own vote, but it begs the question: Does collective input equal “design”? Certainly each poster was designed, the software to manage the posters was designed, the interface and user experience was designed, even the physical means by which to vote was designed, but what about the process of choosing a design? Again, is that design?
Honestly, I’m not sure. Without getting into arguments about collective (un)consciousness, one could easily argue that we have elections all the time that hardly anyone would consider the outcome of as a “design”. However, in a sense, we are choosing a design in an election. How? In the case of a politician, he has ideas—or designs—on how best to run a community or society. A politician also has a carefully crafted persona that one could easily argue is a design. (It’s a design because there’s normally a carefully considered end-goal—no matter how unconscious—and measured actions to meet that end goal.) And then, voters vote based on that politician’s design of how to deal with various competing interests.
But, is the result of an election a design? Or is it the process that is designed to facilitate an acceptable outcome the “design”? Think of it this way: Is President Obama a design? Was President Bush? Clinton? Certainly their policies are designed and, in a sense, we choose a certain design to present ourselves both back to the U.S. and to the rest of world. But, we didn’t design them to do anything just like we wouldn’t say we designed a poster result through a blind voting process.
Or would we?
You might be wondering why I’m even bringing this up if I am so unsure one way or another. (I wonder myself.) I bring it up because this debate is a possible line in the sand in the debate about what is design and what isn’t design. It seems to me that you can design for something—a process, service, information, persuasion, experience—all for a higher cause of enabling action, learning, belief, emotion, or thought, but the end result of these designs, is, in itself, not a design. It’s not a design in the same way that a car driver is not a design, he is merely enabled to make certain choices, have a feeling about a car, and live his life how he sees fit.
In short, there is no reflection and where there is no reflection, there is no design, there is merely action enabled.
But, going back to the poster voters: if you give those poster voters a voice, a means to organize and wage campaigns to influence what poster gets on the ballot, then that begins to bear the mark of design.
How so? In the happiest accident of feedback loops (and one I didn’t realize until I got here), where design is driven by audience, the audience demand drives new designs until they don’t have to reflect any more and are contentedly enabled again. And so, in some strange way, a result of an election seems to be a design. But only if we are allowed to participate in the feedback loop. Which sometimes happens. And sometimes doesn’t (which is both good and bad).
Weird. This brings up so many questions.
May 8, 2009 § 8 Comments
In high school, when I would get in trouble for skipping class or being late for curfew or (gulp) was pulled over by the police while driving, I would design excuses to get out of the worst part of trouble. In this case, my close friend and I (whom I was often in these situations with), would think about what the discipliner was thinking, then we would think about how to shape the information, however truthful, to fit their worldview. Unbeknownst to me at the time, this was probably my first foray into the world of design, a talent that, given my various successes, I honed quite well.
Thinking about it this way, it wouldn’t be a stretch to say that children design all the time. They spill their brother’s drink and, when confronted, will make up a story about how it happened. Whether or not it works is a different matter, but nonetheless, it’s still a design. The lack of sophistication in thought process is actually their undoing here, not their desire for a well-designed story. They simply don’t yet have the mental processes in place to make a story that fits their audience.
And so we come to the crux: What is (effective) design? (Not again!)
Quite simply it’s: You + Your Desired Outcome ≥ Your audience’s wants/needs.
Now, there are many ways to achieve this. The ways, shall we say, are mediums and actions being greater than or equal to your audience’s reaction. The medium is whatever form you choose: Web, Print, TV, Movie, Product, Software, Furniture, Writing, Architecture, and so on. The action is making in your chosen medium to be greater than or equal to your audience’s reaction.
With that, effective design is ≥ your audience’s reaction and desired action. Less effective or ineffective design is ≤ your audience’s reaction and desired action.
How so? Design is merely moving your audience to your chosen destination through a medium. Yes, this is dangerous to say because you can take this all the way to those in obstructive and destructive power, like Hitler. Hitler was a great designer for a certain audience. Not so much for another audience (or two or three). Still, he anticipated his audience’s wants/needs and formed an entire ethos around that to unspeakably destructive ends.
But there are also good designs, those that foster life and love, independence and life-easing dependence. But it’s always a question of “Who is my audience?” Your audience needn’t even be human. Heck, it needn’t even be animated objects. Your audience could be trees and you design a way for trees to flourish.
Where design differs from strictly art is that oftentimes, the artist’s audience is him/herself. It is the audience’s responsibility, then, to come to the artist, not the other way around: The artist to the audience. Now, the artist can create baselines, guidelines, for the world of design, like the Bauhaus art, craft, and design movement. They broke things down to their simplest element, lending designers a baseline idea ever since. In this way, you could say they were artists for designers.
And who is a designer? Anyone who projects an audience’s needs and takes actions for a desired audience reaction and action. To me, anyway, it’s really that simple.
It’s just that some of us are better at anticipation than others. And some of us have better mastery over the making aspect in certain mediums. And judging effective or ineffective design is an extremely qualitative process and subject, but like the Supreme Court once famously said about pornography: I know it when I see it.
December 30, 2008 § Leave a comment
Some thoughts as we round up 2008:
• As some may have noticed, I have taken down nearly all my posts having to do with politics. While I greatly enjoyed writing about the election, in my current unemployed state, it seemed a tad reckless because, frankly, politics and work just don’t mix.
That said, I never really felt like I was “political”, per se, and yet, I’m still surprised at the reaction I got from some people. While I did have a candidate I personally supported more than the other, with my background in trial/courtroom communication and argumentation, my only real agenda was analyzing each candidates’ strategy and how it persuaded or affected the so-called moderate voter. Some of the reaction I got from people was pretty interesting, though. When I wrote something that I thought actually showed more support for one candidate, I got comments that suggested I was supporting the other. And vice versa.
I quickly realized that there’s no controlling how people will interpret your words, no matter how carefully you craft them, no matter how much you focus on the process of getting elected and ignore a hoped-for election outcome. Politics is just too hot-button of an issue. So, I took all those posts down except for one, because that post was about a personal experience regarding bigotry, hypocrisy, how we seek out those who agree with us and the collective need to challenge ourselves to be better. And if someone doesn’t want to hire me because of that post, then so be it.
• In general, blogging has been tougher to keep up on than I thought it would be. I thought that, in my current state of unemployment, blogging would be fairly easy. But I’ve realized that you have to have experiences and conversations that make you want to blog about something on your mind. In this, my unemployed (read: broke) state, I don’t have a whole lot to write about. Most of my days involve either going to the public library to get out of the house, finding a corner of the house to get some privacy, or going for a run. My nights tend to be made up of going to the corner watering hole to play a few rounds of Golden Tee Golf. (The interaction design in that game is stupendous, by the way.)
In other words, I’m not visiting the richest of environments for new thoughts and experiences regarding designerly things. Quite the opposite of Carnegie Mellon, to be sure. For the most part, this is fine: It’s been healthy to not obsess too much over design, but it also means there’s not a whole to say, but when there is…
• My posts tend to take longer to write than I mean for them to. I’m pretty obsessive about my thoughts and insights and writing and clarity. Basically, I don’t want to sound like a total schmuck and I’d rather be thorough and thoughtful than quick and controversial. For example, my Abilify post took a solid 14 hours of research and writing. (Yeah, I know, I need a job.) Why so long? I knew basically nothing about drug names, always had a curiousity about them, and had to get all my facts in line before spouting off about it (and I certainly had never thought about drug names as an ethos-pathos-logos thing. All that was made up on the fly, then hammered out, drawing on design school stuff that I never thought to apply in such a way.)
So, yes, this is why there are not as many posts as I’d like there to be. But hopefully, they have some quality to them, even if they sometimes verge on pedantry.
• I’m pleasantly surprised that I get any traffic at all and find myself intensely flattered when I get occasional unforeseen boosts in traffic. It’s like I’ve won an Emmy every time anyone reads a post. Thank you all for reading!
• If anyone knows of any design jobs you think I’d be good for, please let me know. The poor economy has made the job hunt much worse than it was, even as recently as early November.
Happy Holidays and Have A Wonderful 2009!
December 16, 2008 § 6 Comments
As a son of a doctor, my dad would often bring home random swag branded with drug names that left me as the only college kid I knew who would wear a shirt for anxiety medicine while using a pen with a Viagra logo on it. (Feel free to make inappropriate jokes about the relationship between ink and pens.) However, having all that swag around led to a familiarity and a mild fascination with all the different drug names and how the drug companies come up with them.
So, over the years, I’ve casually taken note of how the names of drugs have slowly changed from names that sounded scientific, like Amoxil, to names that sounded like a brand of bedtime tea, like the sleeping pill Lunesta. A few weeks ago, though, I sat stunned when I saw a television ad for the new drug Abilify. After initially laughing at the name and cheap-looking logo, I soon realized that the paradigm of drug names may have just shifted quite dramatically and it deserved a little more thought and research.
The first paradigm shift is in the phonetics of the name, “Abilify”. More often than not, drugs contain the letters V, X, Y, or Z, which make for interesting syllabic twists and unique names. As my dad would soon inform me, in the past 10 years, a lot of drugs started sounding the same (with names like Zyrtec, Zantac, and Xanax; Prevacid and Prevacol; Lotrel and Lortab—and on and on), making it clear that Abilify stood out in this context. Abilify obviously only contains the letter Y, and it’s at the end of the word. This is the only drug I found that ends in a Y.
Consider, out of the Top 199 drugs, the names contain:
43 instances of X
15 instances of Z
42 instances of V
25 instances of Y
That’s 62.8% of drugs with an X, Y, V, or Z in them. I don’t know for sure, but I’d bet that’s 100 times more common than those letters occur in a standard English dictionary.
The second shift is that it’s the first prescription drug name that’s a verb. Yes, the very first one. (Aleve works as a verb also, but it’s over-the-counter). What makes Abilify a verb? According to Oxford American Dictionaries, adding the suffix -fy to a noun “form[s] a verb denoting making or producing”. (Think: Amplify, Falsify, Deify, Horrify.) So, you are no longer taking a drug, you are actually making your body/self/life “able”, allowing you to “Abilify your body/self/life”.
While I don’t mean to denigrate someone’s needed medicine to balance themselves mentally, I think I just threw up in my mouth a little.
But all of that doesn’t constitute a paradigm shift until this last part is factored in. After this research, I began parsing out how drug names are created. (For all you branding, marketing, and design dorks like me, you should get a kick out of this.)
In general, the history of brand-name prescription drugs goes like this: Prior to the mid-to-late 1980s, the prescription drug brand name was often a derivative or shorthand for what the scientific name of the drug is. For example, the drug Amoxicillin was given the brand name Amoxil, while the drug Naproxen was given the brand name Anaprox. These sorts of names made the drug easier to pronounce, yet still sounded “scientific”.
Somewhere in the mid-to-late 1980s, the names started changing, This time, the drug names were derived from what the drug did. For example, the drug “Prevacid” is a drug for those with ulcers or persistant heartburn. It works by preventing your stomach from making acid. Take the words “prevent” and “acid” and you have “Prevacid”.
Not too much later, in the late 90s, drug companies changed the name game again. Only this time, they went for how the drug will make you feel. “Celebrex”, for example, is derived from “celebrate”. In Italian, the drug “Allegra” means “Cheerful, Lively”. On the further reaches of this movement is the sleeping drug “Ambien”, derived from “Ambient”, which connotes relaxation.
The reason these shifts are significant is because brands tell stories, they have an implicit and/or explicit meaning and we consciously and/or unconsciously absorb these meanings. Basically, it’s rhetoric. So, as the drug companies have fought to be heard above the noise of the marketplace, they’ve become increasingly savvy in telling the story of their drug through unique names that appeal to different aspects of the human psyche. And since the names tell stories, they all follow Aristotle’s ancient storytelling techniques of Ethos, Pathos, and Logos to a surprising degree.
The Ethos of a drug name is that of phonetics. That is, the credibility of the name is tied up in the sound of the name, that it sounds like a thing of science.
The Logos of a drug name is what the drug does, or treatment, like Prevacid.
The Pathos of a drug name is appealing to how the drug will make you feel, your emotion, like Celebrex.
Of course, not every name fits neatly into one of these boxes as there are crossover names. But, each drug name so far fits somewhere in this spectrum. Which brings me back to Abilify.
Abilify does not sound scientific in any way, shape, or form, so it loses on Ethos/Phonetics. As Logos/Treatment, it also fails gloriously because the name doesn’t tell you what it does. As a matter of fact, any drug that helped you in any way could be called Abilify. Think about it: Headache? Abilify. Muscle Tear? Abilify. Diarrhea? Abilify. High Blood Pressure? Abilify. The name literally means nothing. You could “Abilify” your car, for God’s sake.
So, that leaves us with how the name of the drug makes you feel, its Pathos/Emotion. Making yourself feel “able” is definitely a feeling—a good feeling, which is nice. (As an anti-psychotic medicine, it hopefully makes those people feel very good.) The feeling it connotes is one of empowerment. But, as a verb instead of a noun, it shifts the paradigm from a “thing” to consider to something to “do” to get better. And with that, it becomes not about Phonetics, Treatment, or Emotion, it becomes an Idea, which, in turn, requires action to make real.
The risk with a drug name that requires action, is it shifts the customer out of the realm of passive story-receiving to one of active story-making. A story where you are the active player, not the name telling you the story. And I have absolutely no idea how this fits into branding as storytelling or if I’m way off-base, but my immediate feeling is that making the customer an Actor brings a brand name into a form of Interaction, which really complicates things. And it also places it at great risk for being a total and complete failure, the kind of thing that goes down in medical history as “The thing to never do”.
However, on the other side, if Abilify has any success, then drug names could change drastically from here on out. In other words, drugs could then be named anything that doesn’t sound medical or scientific and doesn’t have a direct logic to a treatment, but is just an abstract Idea.
Finally, if my analysis is way off-base, then at the very least, Abilify sits at the highest tippy-top peak of Emotion, the Mt. Everest of drug names, either daring and smart, or risky and stupid, but where there is room for only one flag: Abilify.
December 8, 2008 § 1 Comment
As an avid sports fan and watcher of ESPN, I’m enthralled by ESPN’s new sportsticker wayfinding device. In the clip below, watch the rolling information at the bottom. (My apologies for the clip of a show I find annoying.) Underneath the NFL label on the bottom left-hand side, you will see a small yellow bar. As the news passes through, the bar reduces in size exactly in proportion to each bit of news. So, if there are 20 news bits, the bar reduces by 1/20th after each news bit. Anyway, take a look (the image becomes clearer around :30).
To many people, I’m sure this is no big deal. But, trust me, for sports dorks the world over, it is a big deal.
Why? I’ve been watching ESPN for about 25 years. The ticker is a mainstay on ESPN, predates the Internet, and is a common source for game updates, even with the Internet. I have flipped over to the ticker way more times than I could count (guessing, I’d say 18,000 times). Yet, it’s one of the most often overlooked experiences in the world of a sports fan. And until now, one of the most frustrating.
The reason the ticker has been so frustrating is because the time spent on each sport varies widely with no way for the viewer to know how much time would be spent on each sport. For example, if Major League Baseball is in season, but only 3 games are being played that day, then the amount of time the ticker spends on baseball is short. But, unless I follow baseball (read: “care”), I, the viewer, have no idea how long the ticker will spend reporting on baseball before moving on to, say, the NBA. 30 seconds? 2 minutes? 5 minutes? Longer?
Since I didn’t know how long the news would last, I had no sense of where I was in the flow of information I often cared less about. This made it so I either had to watch intently for an undetermined amount of time or take a chance on turning my attention elsewhere, hoping to catch it at the right moment. (Perhaps the most frustrating thing was waiting patiently, getting distracted for a few seconds, and in the process, missing your favorite team’s score that you were waiting to see.) In response, the reality is that as time went by, I would often change the channel or turn the TV off.
What is really nice about the ESPN ticker is how simply they added such useful information. They used the information structure already in place and gave it one extra feature that, like Lebowski’s rug, really ties the room together.
Consider the ticker’s underlying information structure already in place:
1. Alphabetical through different sports league title (MLB, MLS, NBA, NCAA, etc.);
2. News (about 5 seconds per bit, depending)
3. Scores (about 4 secs per game)
And now: 4. The line segment.
That simple line segment uses humans’ ability to make quick spatial judgments to give micro-level information that, in turn, guides the macro-level information. For example, if the line is moving in little chunks, based on a constant starting point of line length, we can quickly estimate how many news bits there are. And given the underlying structure of alphabetical ordering and a fairly constant time for scores and news, we can quickly estimate how much time will be spent before moving on to the next sport.
Seriously, this was the simplest little thing that I applaud for its, well, simplicity. And yes, this is completely inconsequential in the grand scheme. But it’s little things like this that show audience consideration that help make design what it is.