“Photographing oneself has become a singular pastime, an instantly rewarding yet indisputably time-sucking activity poised somewhere between narcotic and sport. Welcome to the new narcissism: look at me, like me, comment and retweet and hashtag me. Warhol’s “fifteen seconds of fame” has effectively devolved into a serially renewable data plan. This is selfie culture, writ large.”
To Thine Own Selfie Be True by Jessica Helfand

A Day at the Museum

“Right now, I’m lost in a transition. The old is dead, and I don’t know what the new is. The only way to find the new is to start different things and see if there’s something that can come out of experimentation. It’s somewhat unsettling, but it’s a hopeful thing in a way. I’ve been here before, lots of times.”

August Art Series: Reflections and Inspiration

Yesterday was the final day of my August Art Series project. The project—which challenged me to create a new piece of art every day for the month of August—began as an opportunity to form the habit of daily making. To be honest, I wasn’t expecting much from it as I was more interested in the process of developing a habit but about halfway though the month, I found myself surprised at where the pieces were going and I became much more interested in charting my inspiration and following the strange threads that lead me down the various art styles, periods, and genres.

As you look over the month of pieces, you can see definite interests—collage, color, cut paper, drawing. I did not expect the range of output to be so varied and diverse and I especially didn’t expect the inspiration and ideas to come easier and easier as it went on. I thought it’d be nice to conclude the month by looking at some of artists who inspired me over the last few weeks—some of their influence will be very obvious while others may be less direct. I hope that you too, will find inspiration in these works.

Thanks for following along. This was fun.

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“Why should a teen send subtle signals about her identity by dressing in a certain brand when she can define herself explicitly on Facebook and Instagram?”
“Might we not do well to take up Chase’s challenge? To look and listen intently, letting ourselves experience our own sensations at the images of life slipping and sliding this way and that on the screen, instead of relying on marketers and formulas to regiment and organize us? It’s not whether a character dies on screen that is at stake, but whether we die to our own capacity for wonder.”

Did Tony die at the end of The Sopranos?

Once you get past the clickbaity headline and intro, this Vox profile on David Chase is actually really, really interesting. The above quote fits in nicely with a topic that comes up on this blog a lot: wonder.

I also oved what he had to say about his first feature film, Not Fade Away: “I guess what I was trying to get to in Not Fade Away is that experiencing art is the closest an atheist or agnostic can get to praying.”

“I’m writing the books to change myself, you know. Writing books is just an experience to me. So when I’ve finished writing a book, I have changed. I don’t write books for bread and butter. I just write books because I want to be something new.”

Haruki Murakami interviewed by Josh Wesley Harding in Bomb Magazine. More:

When I’m writing I believe that somebody else can understand my feelings, somebody else can experience those things I’m experiencing. I call it empathy. When I ran the jazz club, customers came to the club. Maybe eight out of ten wouldn’t like my club. But if two people liked my club, they came back. And my club did well. But some people would want ten out of ten people to like their club. I just think two out of ten is enough. I can feel somebody will know what I’m feeling. It is a lonely life sometimes, like throwing a stone into the deep darkness. It might hit something, but you can’t see it. The only thing you can do is to guess, and to believe. You have to get accustomed to that—to being isolated.

“The internet is full of decontextualized symbology that winds up in the Kangaroo Court of Lulz, which finds things lacking in appeal — although they were not those things’ intended audience. There are other things to aspire to than being cool or even appealing. Comic Sans is fine. You are fine.”

Jessamyn West looks at Comic Sans for the Kern Your Enthusiasm series. Also:

“It’s often badly used,” he goes on, but that’s really a problem with society and not a problem with the typeface. And so Comic Sans joins the ranks of Nickelback and Hot Pockets as a thing you’re only allowed to like in a so-bad-it’s-good way. But I make posters for the library, and sometimes the puppet show poster looks best in Comic Sans. A victimless crime, no? So why does anyone care?

“Wallace had a deep-seated fear of being seen as a fraud, and this fear worked its way into his fiction. In the story “Good Old Neon,” which comes from his last and darkest collection, Oblivion, the narrator explains, “The fraudulence paradox was that the more time and effort you put into trying to appear impressive or attractive to other people, the less impressive or attractive you felt inside—you were a fraud.” As Max astutely puts it, “Behind the ordinary fears lurked the fear of being ordinary.””
“The 1990s saw a boom in sweeping metaphors for the entire internet, mostly because it was a time when people who were very excited about the internet were trying to explain it to people who didn’t understand it at all. That’s when you get your “internet superhighways,” “infobahns,” “global villages,” and “coffee houses with a thousand rooms.” But these metaphors weren’t simply clumsy attempts at communicating what the internet was; implicit in each of them was a vision of what the internet ought to be.”

A history of metaphors for the internet

This is a great piece on The Verge from Josh Dzieza on the metaphors we’ve used to talk about the internet. He goes on:

"Information is fairly formless, so almost everything we do online we do with some kind of metaphor," says Judith Donath, who studies interface design at Harvard’s Berkman Center for Internet and Society. Moreover, because information is formless, the metaphors we use to describe it are particularly powerful — they’re what gives it form, telling people how a service ought to be used. Software metaphors can be both verbal and visual.

Though I would love to bring back “cyberspace”, I really like the “stream”.

Luke Stark and Kate Crawford have a a great piece for The New Inquiry on the history of Emoji and what it means for communicating digitally. Especially interesting is Nabokov remarked on the potential for symbolic languages in 1969:


  Nabokov, Fahlman remembered, had called for such a symbol in an interview with the New York Times back in 1969:
  
  
    Q: How do you rank yourself among writers (living) and of the immediate past?
    
    Nabokov: I often think there should exist a special typographical sign for a smile — some sort of concave mark, a supine round bracket, which I would now like to trace in reply to your question.
  


Thought emoji provide additional emotion to messages, they are still a mostly closed system and limit the amount of expression available:


  But emoji remain a restricted, top-down language, controlled by the Unicode Consortium and the technical platforms that display them. Media theorist Laura Marks uses the term lame infinity to describe the phenomenon where digital technology seems infinite but is used to produce a dispiriting kind of sameness. Emoji, as “a perfectly normcore system of emotion: a taxonomy of feeling in a grid menu of ideograms” fit that description. While emoji offer creative expression within their own terms, they also may confine us to a type of communicative monoculture. What’s more, emoji also hold out the promise of emotional standardization in the service of data analysis: If a feeling can be summed up in a symbol, then theoretically that feeling can be more easily tracked, categorized, and counted.

Luke Stark and Kate Crawford have a a great piece for The New Inquiry on the history of Emoji and what it means for communicating digitally. Especially interesting is Nabokov remarked on the potential for symbolic languages in 1969:

Nabokov, Fahlman remembered, had called for such a symbol in an interview with the New York Times back in 1969:

Q: How do you rank yourself among writers (living) and of the immediate past?

Nabokov: I often think there should exist a special typographical sign for a smile — some sort of concave mark, a supine round bracket, which I would now like to trace in reply to your question.

Thought emoji provide additional emotion to messages, they are still a mostly closed system and limit the amount of expression available:

But emoji remain a restricted, top-down language, controlled by the Unicode Consortium and the technical platforms that display them. Media theorist Laura Marks uses the term lame infinity to describe the phenomenon where digital technology seems infinite but is used to produce a dispiriting kind of sameness. Emoji, as “a perfectly normcore system of emotion: a taxonomy of feeling in a grid menu of ideograms” fit that description. While emoji offer creative expression within their own terms, they also may confine us to a type of communicative monoculture. What’s more, emoji also hold out the promise of emotional standardization in the service of data analysis: If a feeling can be summed up in a symbol, then theoretically that feeling can be more easily tracked, categorized, and counted.

Although the last episode was just a week ago, we’ve just posted episode 11 of Sway:

Episode 11: I’m just trying to sound philosophical now

Rory has a flash of inspiration while drinking lemonade at dinner so we jump on a call to talk about design education and the advantages of teaching design in a broad sense—ignoring typography and layout and color and focusing on thinking, ideas, and process while looking outside the field. We then question if a course like this could benefit more than just designers and whether graphic design could be seen as a liberal art.

This was a fun episode to record—it’s a bit shorter than our standard episodes and we didn’t plan or prepare for any of it. Rory had an idea while he was eating dinner and messaged me to ask if I wanted to record so we could talk about it and we were recording a half hour later. It was a fun, impromptu topic but I think it went into some interesting places.

The New Yorker Profiles, Part II

In October I posted a list of some of my favorite New Yorker profiles. With its recent redesign, The New Yorker temporarily made the entire archives available for free for the summer. I devoured a lot of the profiles that were previously locked behind the paywall and want d to share an updated list of some of the profiles I’ve read over the last few months. Enjoy.

But don’t just listen to my suggestions, be sure to read as many as you can while they are still available.

Today would have been Paul Rand’s 100th birthday and Design Observer pulled together some of their previously published essays about the iconic designer. One of the essays they’ve resurfaced is Jessica Helfand’s Logocentrism that focuses on Rands corporate identity work.

IBM is perhaps more the exception than the rule. Rand typically designed trademarks, not corporate identity programs. His marks were simple, modern, geometric abstractions of letterforms, recognizable shapes, and symbols. He designed them to work at any scale or at an angle, on the side of a truck or emblazoned on an annual report cover — but they were rarely conceived of as part of larger, more complex communications programs, designed to embrace evolution and permutation over time or across disparate media. For Rand, a modern mark was a simple mark, and the secret to making things last lay in keeping them simple. In keeping them simple, he was indeed able to lay claim to the greatest endurance record of any trademark designer to date: while the Westinghouse logo was retooled five times between 1900 and 1953, Rand’s 1960 redesign has remained intact for 37 years. His 1961 logo for UPS has lasted almost as long. (It is now reportedly being redesigned by Pentagram.)

That UPS redesign, of course, never happened—Michael Beirut chronicles some of that experience in his essay Graphic Design Criticism as a Spectator Sport.

Now here is everything I’ve posted on this blog about Mr. Rand. Last month I added From Lascaux to Brooklyn, Rand’s book, to the library.

re:form has published a fascinating essay from Lauren Archer on the history of the [x] to close button that is central to many of today’s desktop interfaces. She goes digging through the archives and finds, interestingly enough, that the earliest use of the interaction occurs in the Atari TOS:


  This is a screenshot of Atari TOS 1.0. Built on top of GEM to be ported to the Atari ST in 1985, from the computers division of Atari Corp. It is the earliest example of the [x] button I’ve been able to find.
  
  So why here? Why now?
  
  This may be another example of Atari, an American company, borrowing from Japanese culture. The first example, of course, being the name Atari itself, a Japanese term from the game Go that means “to hit the target”.
  
  The use of [x] for close and [o] for open could come from the Japanese symbols batsu and maru.

re:form has published a fascinating essay from Lauren Archer on the history of the [x] to close button that is central to many of today’s desktop interfaces. She goes digging through the archives and finds, interestingly enough, that the earliest use of the interaction occurs in the Atari TOS:

This is a screenshot of Atari TOS 1.0. Built on top of GEM to be ported to the Atari ST in 1985, from the computers division of Atari Corp. It is the earliest example of the [x] button I’ve been able to find.

So why here? Why now?

This may be another example of Atari, an American company, borrowing from Japanese culture. The first example, of course, being the name Atari itself, a Japanese term from the game Go that means “to hit the target”.

The use of [x] for close and [o] for open could come from the Japanese symbols batsu and maru.