Notes

Interesting and/or cool stuff I've come across from art, design, technology, photography, movies I've watched and liked and, occasionally, my thoughts.

Noted, May 2021

Collected bits and pieces I've noticed this month.

Signal ad campaign reveals creepy tracking, gets them banned

The secure, privacy focused messaging app Signal created a series of ads that cleverly exposed the data Facebook has on you to target the advertising you see. You'll never see these ads on Instagram though, cause Facebook swiftly banned Signal's ad account.

I loved this last bit:

So, here are some examples of the targeted ads that you’ll never see on Instagram. Yours would have been so you.

NFTs Weren’t Supposed to End Like This

Anil Dash writes about the origins of NFTs and how the original ideas behind it were, let's say, more noble than the inevitable reality of most things tech and crypto.

The idea behind NFTs was, and is, profound. Technology should be enabling artists to exercise control over their work, to more easily sell it, to more strongly protect against others appropriating it without permission. [...] But nothing went the way it was supposed to.

Bertone porn

This Docubyte ministe celebrating (mostly, I think?) Bertone designed concept cars is gorgeous. Check out their other stuff as well.

Create better links

A link is a promise, not a surprise.

Rian Rietveld writes at length about creating better links on the web from choosing better copy instead of "Click here", to design considerations for better accessibility.

Create better anchor links

More link talk from Amber Wilson, this time about crafting better anchor links and the accessibility pitfalls to look out for.

Portfolio update

Almost forgot, I created a little logo for a food truck called Van Der Fritt.

Noted, April 2021

Collected bits and pieces I've noticed this month.

Om Malik has some samples of what happens when computational photography meets (more) artificial intelligence — Apple's ProRAW image format combined with Adobe's new Super Resolution feature.

Huum, an Estonian design sauna heater maker has won two more Red Dot awards, very cool! I mean hot!

You should buy a whole chicken, really. I've never considered eating the cartilage, until now, and learned there's a piece of chicken called the oyster.

Microsoft is planning to replace Calibra with a new default font in Office apps. I never really liked Calibra. (via The Verge)

In other things Microsoft, a concept design that doesn't feel like a concept — reddit user u/Alur2020 re-imagines the Windows File Explorer UI. (via The Verge)

Hackers for Dear Leader: The Incredible Rise of North Korea’s Hacking Army

"In Conversation: Mads Mikkelsen" in The Vulture had this nugget in it:

"My approach to what I do in my job — and it might even be the approach to my life — is that everything I do is the most important thing I do. Whether it’s a play or the next film. It is the most important thing. I know it’s not going to be the most important thing, and it might not be close to being the best, but I have to make it the most important thing. That means I will be ambitious with my job and not with my career. That’s a very big difference, because if I’m ambitious with my career, everything I do now is just stepping-stones leading to something — a goal I might never reach, and so everything will be disappointing. But if I make everything important, then eventually it will become a career. Big or small, we don’t know. But at least everything was important."

"Waves of Abandonment" The number of neglected abandoned oil wells in Texas alone is startling, the result of lax regulation and jerks running oil companies.

"When New Yorkers Were Menaced by Banana Peels" A brief history of slipping on banana peels in New York.

Noted, March 2021

Collected bits and pieces I've noticed this month.

Terminal bonsai

John Allbritten created this little thingumbob that lets you grow a bonsai tree in a terminal window.

The difficulty of doors in video games.

I don't think I've ever given much though to doors in video games, unless they act real weird - badly designed doors are just as annoying in video games as they are in real life. Well designed doors on the other hand should be forgettable and achieving this in a video game is harder than you might think.
"Why game developers can’t get a handle on doors", The Verge

The booze shader

Another thing that's hard to get right in video games is liquids and still stay within a reasonable performance budget. Vfx developer Matt Wild nailed it for Half-Life: Alyx, I especially loved this clever bit of performance optimisation:

“When I shake a bottle, [the liquid] kind of wobbles around a bit. So we make it wobble around a bit, inasmuch as the wobble looks about right.”
It’s this wobble that initially delayed the shader, as there wasn’t an efficient way to get the information into the game. In the end, the performance cost was negligible, because Wilde’s colleagues at Valve realized they could store data in the shader’s vertex color.

"Why the bottles in Half-Life: Alyx look so dang good" Polygon

Pictures of apps and websites

I've long been of the opinion that modern design tools are lacking or perhaps even misguided. While I admit that big strides have been made in reducing the amount of work designers have to do to get an idea to a working product, we are still largely making pictures of apps and websites. It's much easier these days to link these pictures to quickly prototype an idea and describing specs for developers has largely been automated, but at the end of the day it's still pictures of apps and websites.

I was reminded of this again when I came across this article by Carol Chan on how to construct complex variants in Figma. I mean, 288 card header variations? Sure, a card header may very well have this many variations and the design should be robust enough to handle them elegantly, but there must be a more effective way to go about this. Working closer to actual code and trying to break the component while testing and then iterating on it perhaps, not making 288 pictures of the component.

On watch typography

File that one under unexpected — Liz Stinson writes on Hodinkee how among stellar examples of watch face typography like Hermès' beautiful custom numbers, there are some rather 'meh' approaches from otherwise big names like Rolex, but this one certainly takes the cake:

Patek Philippe, for example, has used ITC American Typewriter and Arial on its high-end watches.

That's right, the Patek Philippe Minute Repeater Perpetual Calendar Ref 5207G, with a price tag of around a million dollars, has Arial on it's face.

via Pixel Envy

Noted, February 2021

Collected bits and pieces I've noticed this month.

Manet did not mess up with perspective on "Bar at the Folies-Bergère" (via Futility Closet).

I like the website of Kalu, a design studio.

This Tenet timeline from Reddit user pesteringneedles (via Khoi Vinh).

After 200 years, a new shade of blue called YInMn Blue (for yttrium, indium, manganese) has been discovered.

In the sixth chapter of the Web History series for CSS Tricks, Jay Hoffmann focuses on the early days of designing for the web. Brings back memories, good and bad.

J. Kenji López-Alt goes deep on perfecting scrambled eggs.

And, last but certainly not least, life advice from the late great Anthony Bourdain.

Noted, January 2021

Collected bits and pieces I've noticed this month.

There were quite a lot of high profile rebrands recently, good and... no good.
The good: Burger King
Not sure: CIA and KIA
The no good: GM

More good: Midi, the hugely important audio technology from 1981 has now reached version 2.0 and Pentagram created a very cool new brand to go with it.

The new amazon app icon is not a white square with a single color logo and it's already the butt of hipster Hitler jokes. Because, internet.

This post on hyphenation on the web by Richard Clagnut is almost two years old now, unfortunately pretty much nothing here can actually be used. A bit more control over hyphenation without reaching for Javascript qould be nice is all I'm saying.

"Why I’ve tracked every single piece of clothing I’ve worn for three years" Olof Hoverfält. Yes, Olof did data science on his wardrobe. via Boing Boing

Michael McWatters writes about the shadow-death of InVision Studio and, to some extent, InVision itself.

If you're into watch faces, Arun Venkatesan has written about some of the classic styles behind Apple Watch faces.

Font Detectives

Glenn Fleishman in a fascinating story for Wired that involves the Prime minister of Pakistan, Justin Timberlake, a rabbi and typography.

The prime minister’s daughter, Maryam Sharif, provided an exculpatory document that had been typeset in Calibri—a Microsoft font that was only released for general distribution nearly a year after the document had allegedly been signed and dated. While Sharif’s supporters waged a Wikipedia war over the Calibri entry, type designer Thomas Phinney quietly dropped some history lessons about the typeface on Quora, and found himself caught in a maelstrom of global reporting. Phinney said that because Calibri has been in use for several years, people have forgotten that it’s a relatively new font.

Onomatopoeic Japanese Chockolate

This is zaku zaku, japanese for the crunching sound that stepping on ice might make. It’s one of a set of chocolates designed to represent japanese words for certain textures, by studio Nendo for the Maison et Objet design show in Paris. Go see the rest of them on Nendo’s site because they’re all fantastic.

Seduction of the Superficial.

Peter Merholz writing about how the conversation around (digital) design has increasingly become about the superficial, often neglecting the deeper underlying layers that make up a product:

It  plays into the still-prevailing attitude among business and technical types that designers don’t grok the deeper concerns in these complicated  systems, and are best to bring in when it’s time to make something look good. Still, we must be vigilant in maintaining similar attention to those deeper layers, precisely because their abstraction makes them more challenging to discuss.

Your app makes me fat.

Great article by Kathy Sierra on how limited our cognitive resources are:

Spend hours at work on a tricky design problem? You’re more likely to stop at Burger King on the drive home. Hold back from saying what you really think during one of those long-ass, painful meetings? You’ll struggle with the code you write later that day. Since both willpower/self-control and cognitive tasks drain the same tank, deplete it over here, pay the price over there. One pool. One pool of scarce, precious, easily-depleted resources. If you spend the day exercising self-control (angry customers, clueless co-workers), by the time you get home your cog resource tank is flashing E.

A method for grouping files without folders.

Folders are hard. Organising information into deep hierarchies with a structure that makes sense and navigating it later takes mental energy.

The mental burden of it might be small and unnoticable, much like the simple fact of having gears on your bike reserves some of the cognitive resources of your brain to constantly think about them. You may not notice it and if someone tried to tell you it’s so, you might even disagree. But these things add up, and you really should use your brain for more important stuff.

Folders are also hard in the sense of being unconditional. You’re taking some stuff, putting it into a drawer and closing it. It’s  hiding things from view, making you remember where, in which drawer that thing you’re looking for is.

I’m not entirely against folders - big complex projects need this level of organisation. But at times I find myself wishing for a softer way of organising files. Continuing  with the drawer metaphor, I’d like a way to just group items on my desk, so they’re always visible, but still organised to some extent. What I’m wishing for is something like Fences, but not limited to the desktop. Windows 7 allows grouping by a myriad of criteria, but I can’t define my own groups.

Working on a design project I might have multiple iterations of the design as Photoshop or Illustrator files, multiple preview jpeg’s, reference files, stray ideas and wild guesses plus specs from the client and, last but not least, the finished work. I might stuff all these into respective folders and that would give me a nice clean desk, but I would  also lose the one glance overview. Out of sight often means out of mind.

Here’s how I imagine it could work.

Let’s start off with the aforementioned imaginary project. It’s a folder with other folders and miscellaneous files in it.

Instead of stuffing the loose files into respective folders (previews, feedback, client etc.) one would select the files to group by either drawing a box around them or ctrl clicking on the files. One could also right-click anywhere and create a new group from a context menu.

The groups would be collapsible and show how many files they hold just like the current way groups work in Windows 7. You could rename a group any time and also change it’s color, for example you could decide that groups containing preview files are always blue and groups of client files are red, making them easy to distinguish by a glance. Deleting a group would not delete the files in that group. You could also have empty groups for visual clues of the projects structure before all files get there.

And that’s it, a more lightweight way of organising files.

By the way, I recommend reading Oliver Reichensteins blog post about getting rid of deep folder hierarchies in Apple’s Mountain Lion OS.