Viral responses

I’m happy to discover that plenty of people are meeting these “tests of severe circumstances” with humour.

Empty toilet paper rolls and a ‘closed’ sign: Emoji get redesigned for COVID-19Fast Company
“I believe what the world is going through right now is a big moment in history which will have a profound impact on the way people behave, communicate, and perceive their reality,” Lee says. “With this in mind, I thought we needed a new set of emojis which reflected our new reality.” The work is funny in some instances, though also quietly sad.

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Human figures removed from classic paintings by artist José Manuel BallesterColossal
Despite being a couple of years old, José Manuel Ballester’s artworks feel eerily familiar in the time of COVID-19. The Spanish artist recreates classic paintings like Goya’s “The Third of May 1808,” Vermeer’s “The Allegory of Painting,” and Botticelli’s “The Birth of Venus,” except he leaves out one central aspect: humans.

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See famous logos get reimagined for the coronavirus ageFast Company
“I tried to find something in every brand that communicates perfectly in normal circumstances, but is wrong in these difficult times—mermaid without a mask, Nike telling us to simply do it, Mastercard circles overlapping,” Tovrljan explains over email. “If you turn it completely around, it becomes even more powerful.”

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Rotary club

Remember that new/old rotary phone from a while back? Turns out it’s not the only one.

Rotary dial In today’s world: Artist imagines what if the rotary dial existed to this day?Design You Trust
According to Valerii, a CGI Artist and motion-designer: “What if the rotary dial existed to this day? I’ve thought about it, and I’ve created some visualizations of how it could be recently or today. All math would be terrible! Especially if you remove the number keys from the QWERTY layout.”

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A purposefully not smart phone

Phones. It’s a love/hate relationship for sure. Technology companies have long since realised how bored we get with what we have, and are forever designing “better” versions of the same thing for us to buy next—shinier, bendier, or just plain bigger. This is not without problems.

Z Flip and Razr: Folding screens bubble and scratch, tests findBBC News
It follows the troubled release of Samsung’s first foldable phone one year ago, leading some analysts to question whether foldable screen technology is ready for mainstream release.

Large screen phones: a challenge for UX design (and human hands)Imaginary Cloud
Each OS version ends up having their own UX animations but at the end of the day, the truth is, many navigation elements are still situated at the top part of the screen, with emphasis on the top left corner. Where are these giant handed UX designers? Can’t we solve that?

In an area forever pursing the latest gimmicky design, how refreshing to see this pared-back, no-nonsense approach.

An anti-smartphone with a rotary designed and built by space engineer Justine HauptColossal
Justine Haupt, a developer of astronomy instrumentation at Brookhaven National Laboratory, spent the last three years developing a device that strips away all of the non-phone functions of modern smartphones. The Portable Wireless Electronic Digital Rotary Telephone (aka Rotary Cellphone) does not have a touchscreen, menus, or other superfluous features. It fits in Haupt’s pocket, and it makes calls.

She’s sharing the open source design on her website, if you fancy getting yourself one.

Portable Wireless Electronic Digital Rotary Telephone (AKA: Rotary Cellphone)Justine Haupt
This is a statement against a world of touchscreens, hyperconnectivity, and complacency with big brother watchdogs.

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Update 26/02/2020

I’m not sure that phone would be getting all this attention if it didn’t have a rotary dial that pinged all our nostalgia nerve endings. Here’s a follow-up piece from The Outline on that and the Freewrite “typewriter” which thinks that, unfortunately, “technology nostalgia won’t ever be enough to conquer smartphone addiction.”

Go ahead, rotary phone, try and distract meThe Outline
Anti-distraction tools such as these be effective, in the same way that driving a Ford F-150 pickup truck is an effective way of carrying piles of dirt or whatever people who use pickup trucks carry around in them. But many people do not buy a truck because they use it for such purposes, they buy it because it’s comfortable to drive, and they like how it looks and what it says about them. The aesthetics of distraction-free hardware, consciously or not, are rooted in nostalgia as much as they are in functionality: the rotary phone and the portable “typewriter” have not been in common use for decades, but the virality of Haupt’s phone and the apparent sales success of the Freewrite suggest that people long for an older, less distraction-prone time. […]

Harris and his cohort at the Center for Humane Technology are not on a buddy-buddy basis with big tech conglomerate leadership, but they ably represent how anxieties about the deleterious impact of technology can be repurposed by tech companies themselves. Justine Haupt’s rotary phone suggests a separate DIY approach, an open-source invitation for others to disconnect. The Freewrite is an easier, more expensive alternative. What they both lack is a sense of the politics of distraction, how the only way to actually end mass distraction is to completely remake the conditions that allow it to flourish in the first place.

The hills are alive with the sound of the Oomphalapompatronium ♪♬♫

More marvellous musical contraptions.

Len Solomon and his amazing DIY musical contraptionsThe Kid Should See This
Making instruments can be as simple as adding different amounts of water to a row of bottles or as elaborate as creating your own pipe organ-style instruments from any object that suits a musical vision. That’s what Len Solomon does. For over 30 years, he’s invented instruments by “filing and sawing” parts like “old vacuum cleaner tubes and plastic bottles, hardware supplies like PVC pipes and copper tees, and specialty items he makes himself like rubber squeeze balls and fipples.”

How this guy makes amazing DIY musical contraptions – YouTube

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Tasty type

You don’t normally associate McDonald’s with minimalism, but these new billboard ads are pretty cut back, to say the least. No photos, no logos, no branding.

These ads make you think of McDonald’s with just 5 words and 5 coloursDigital Arts
The messaging is equally simple. It isn’t introducing ‘healthy’ options, a new burger, offer or competition – or putting the idea of McDonalds as comfort food in your mind. It’s just designed to catch your eye, bring a moment of delight at the recognition of what you’re seeing and make you think of picking up a McDonalds on the way home or stopping during a long journey.

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I admit I find these ads quite appealing. The product, not so much.

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Lorem ipsum, but for images

I wish I had more of a use for this, it’s a cool little resource from Stefan Bohacek.

Generative placeholders
Use generative art as your image placeholders.

There are lots of different styles to choose from.

Keep hitting ‘refresh’ to generate new versions. And in case you were wondering, this is what lorem ipsum means. Possibly.

Lorem ipsum translated: it remains Greek to meThe Guardian
The apparently random Latin placeholder text, used to help design pages, has been translated. Despite the absence of meaning, it’s weirdly mesmerising.

Moving away from paper monitors

Thinking about the old web again, and how different web pages looked back then, compared to now. In a word, tiny.

A short history of body copy sizes on the WebFlorens Verschelde
Ten and 11 pixels may seem puny today, but in the early 2000s that was deemed readable for two reasons:

  1. the 800×600 and 1024×768 screens of the late 1990s and early 2000s had biggish pixels, so the result was on the small side but not as small as it might look today;
  2. designers and their clients were accustomed to 9, 10 and 11 point sizes for body copy in print (books, magazines, leaflets…), and the prospect of using bigger values felt like shouting at readers.

It took quite an effort to pull web designers away from this assumption that screens should be treated the same way as print.

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In November 2006, iA’s Oliver Reichenstein ran a simple experiment: he compared a magazine’s body copy at arms’ length and a typical site’s body copy at a common, eye-to-desktop-screen distance. The website’s text looked much smaller. Oliver argued for setting the body copy to the browser’s default, or 100%, which by convention is 16px in common browsers. In 2006, and even a few years later, it was a revolutionary proposition. Web designers and clients thought it was extreme. Five years later, we still had to fight for the death of 11px body copy (example, in French).

It’s been interesting to see how text has been treated over the years, not only on the various default WordPress themes but on blogs like Jason Kottke’s, and my own when it was on Blogger. Layouts like Swiss Miss’s look anachronistic now.

Verschelde’s exploration into this aspect of web design is full of links to examples and other articles about typography and layout, including Jeremy Keith’s Resilient web design, a online book that uses CSS to smoothly vary the font size depending on the width of the screen. It’s a great read, especially the opening chapter’s review of the intertwined history of interfaces.

Resilient Web Design – Chapter 1
The hands on a clock face move in a clockwise direction only because that’s the direction that the shadow cast by a sundial moves over the course of a day in the northern hemisphere. Had history turned out differently, with the civilisation of the southern hemisphere in the ascendent, then the hands on our clocks would today move in the opposite direction. […]

These echoes of the past reverberate in the present even when their usefulness has been outlived. You’ll still sometimes see a user interface that displays an icon of a Compact Disc or vinyl record to represent music. That same interface might use the image of a 3½ inch floppy disk to represent the concept of saving data. The reason why floppy disks wound up being 3½ inches in size is because the disk was designed to fit into a shirt pocket. The icons in our software interfaces are whispering stories to us from the history of clothing and fashion.

The quote used in the introduction to that online book seems appropriate here.

We look at the present through a rear‐view mirror. We march backwards into the future.
Marshall McLuhan

Claiming colour

Whilst colours can be strange sometimes, they all have names, right?  From red, green and blue to maroon, mint and midnight. The designers at the paint shop Farrow & Ball come up with some great names: mouse’s back, skimming stone, elephant’s breath. Now you can get in on the act and name your very own colour.

Kolormark – The world’s leading color naming platform
The Kolormark project aims to name all the colors in the world. There are 16,777,216 colors, but only a handful have a name. We believe that every color has its own unique personality and deserves an original name.

This platform is designed for people and colors. We want to allow people to leave a colorful legacy by taking part in the Kolormark project. Participating in the project means more than naming a color. It’s giving a color a loving home.

Sounds a little scammy, though I’m sure it’s legit. It reminds me a little of that million dollar homepage selling off its pixels. Or naming and claiming your very own star. There isn’t a real, physical product for sale, and you don’t really get anything concrete or tangible for your money.

So of course I had to buy one.

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If you’re struggling for inspiration, they have an AI colour matchmaker (because of course they do), “powered by a proprietary set of algorithms fine-tuned to match you with that perfect hue.”

Red and black have already been taken, unfortunately.

Why red means red in almost every languageNautilus
The results revealed two remarkable patterns, which Kay and Berlin laid out in their 1969 monograph, Basic Color Terms. First, almost all of the languages they examined appeared to have color words that drew from the same 11 basic categories: white, black, red, green, yellow, blue, brown, purple, pink, orange, and gray. Second, cultures seemed to build up their color vocabularies in a predictable way. Languages with only two color categories chunked the spectrum into blacks and whites. Languages with three categories also had a word for red. Green or yellow came next. Then blue. Then brown. And so on.

BMW unveils “blackest black” car sprayed with VantablackDezeen
“Internally, we often refer to the BMW X6 as ‘The Beast’,” said Hussein Al Attar, designer of the BMW X6. “The Vantablack VBx2 finish emphasises this aspect and makes it look particularly menacing. We often prefer to talk about silhouettes and proportions rather than surfaces and lines,” he added. “The Vantablack VBx2 coating foregrounds these fundamental aspects of automotive design, without any distraction from light and reflections.”

Hiding behind cuteness

Earlier, I shared an article about the cute infantilization of corporate logos. It seems there’s a corresponding drift towards patronising, cartoony blandness in illustration too.

Don’t worry, these gangly-armed cartoons are here to protect you from big techEye on Design
How do the cheerful, Mastisse-like illustrations that fill up the corners of any given Facebook page temper the expectations of people using these platforms? Their palpable joy is friendly, approachable, inviting, even—all of which translates to trustworthiness. Facebook has of course, proven to be one of the most untrustworthy public-facing companies in the world, repeatedly spying on users and leaking private data with impunity. Between the Cambridge Analytica scandal and other outrageous mishandlings like Facebook’s role in inciting genocidal violence in Burma, the company’s public persona is now more than ever in need of a face-lift. As a quasi-monopoly, Facebook seems to never pay for its sins in terms of usership decline—we’re all still there, staring at pages that have become cuter and bubblier as the company they represent grows more and more powerful.

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Bringing the click wheel back

There’s something fundamentally pleasing about a solid, tactile interface. That’s missing from all our gadgets now, I think, as we jab at our pictures under glass. The original iPod was on to something, and now it’s gone.

But now it’s back! Kind of.

This iPhone app will make you nostalgic for the iPod click wheelThe Verge
Elvin Hu, a design student at Cooper Union college in New York City, has been working on the project since October, and shared an early look at the app on Twitter yesterday. It essentially turns your iPhone into a fullscreen iPod Classic with a click wheel that includes haptic feedback and click sounds just like Apple’s original device.

The sea and the Kroner

The inspiration behind the redesign of the new Norwegian banknotes.

Norwegian banknotes: Original design and main conceptMetric
Norway is a coastal nation. The Norwegian coastline is unique on a world scale; it is Europe’s longest and extends over 13 latitudes. 90% of Norway’s population live within 10 km of the ocean. When it comes to productivity, diversity in species and distinctive character, it is unparalleled throughout the world. The Norwegian livelihood is the ocean – it is the origin of our most important resources. It is our food basket and our major source of income. It is also the origin of our shared history and knowledge – a source to our worldview and our identity.

The banknote motifs are all about how Norwegians use the ocean; about how we combine our access to resources with knowledge and how the ocean affects the Norwegian way of life and social model – both politically and socially.

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I love the way black and white photography is used here, to contrast with the macro shots of the notes themselves.

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Pragmatic password pointers

It’s 2019 and we’re still having a problem with passwords.

The Disney+ hack shows why you need to up your password gameWired UK
Although it can still be referred to as a ‘hack’, it wasn’t Disney’s servers that were compromised – but its customers.

“What hackers do is they have a huge list of previously stolen username and password combinations and they use hacking tools to automatically check those username and password combinations against the target website,” says Andrew Martin, CEO of DynaRisk, a cybersecurity company. “They throw hundreds of millions of account details at them, and they see they see what sticks.”

Here’s some essential digital literacy advice that should be a compulsory part of every school’s curriculum. And every company’s induction programme.

The ultimate guide to passwords in 2019Fleetsmith
Putting to rest some of the most persistent falsehoods about passwords and what it takes to come up with strong passwords and practice good password security in 2019.

The main points:

  • How long should my password be? 10 characters long, minimum, but make it as long as possible. Length is the most important factor to strength.
  • Does my password need special characters to be strong? Nope.
  • Does my password need numbers to be strong? Nope.
  • What about switching numbers for letters(1337 speak)? This does nothing.
  • How often should I change my password? Only change it if you think it’s been compromised. Never force users to rotate passwords, this actually lowers security.
  • Can I use the same password on multiple sites? Absolutely not. Every service should have its own unique password so that you don’t have to change all of them when (not if) they get breached.
  • How can I remember my password? Don’t try to remember your passwords, use a password manager. If you don’t want to, write it down. If you have to make a long, memorable password, use the diceware method. But never reuse a password.
  • What about two-factor authentication? Always turn on 2FA if it’s an option. Use the strongest 2FA method you can. A text message is weaker than an authenticator app is weaker than hardware-based authentication. Never give a service your phone number if you can help it.
  • What about password recovery questions? Don’t give honest answers to these. For maximum security, generate a secondary random password for each question and store it in your password manager.

Via Khoi Vinh, who goes on to examine the poor user experience of passwords across platforms and products that almost encourages carelessness.

Passwords are a design problemSubtraction.com
Create six different accounts at six different web sites and you’ll very likely encounter six different approaches to encouraging and enforcing password strength and security, some egregiously lax and others excessively restrictive. That inconsistency alone undermines much of the vigilance that otherwise responsible users might bring to password creation.

Past and future of gaming

Google’s leapt into gaming with the launch of Stadia.

Why Google Stadia is a ‘leap forward’ for gaming, according to its bossBBC News
“I don’t think what we’re doing is particularly revolutionary when you consider what’s happened in the music, television and film industries,” Google Vice President Phil Harrison tells Radio 1 Newsbeat. “They’ve moved from being packaged goods, discs, CDs, DVDs, blu rays, to almost exclusively an online and streaming experience.” And he believes Google will be just the first of many companies who ditch consoles and discs forever, and make the switch to a browser-led game streaming service.

No launch is ever perfect, though.

Google Stadia review: a terrible but tantalising glimpse of the futureWired UK
So, does it work? Kinda. Or, to be slightly harsher, not as such. At launch, Stadia does not live up to its promise of being able to play anywhere, on any screen, just by connecting a controller and accessing your library. It is utterly, expectedly, beholden to the stability and speed of your internet connection, which means for the great majority of players staying at home – just as they would with a console.

Stadia: Google’s online game streaming service launches to complaints about lagSky News
Gamers are finding that the process of communicating with Google’s servers where the games are being run is adding significant delays between when they press a button and when that action is carried out in-game.

These games might not have those heavy server demands and latency issues.

TweetTweetJam 3: Make a game in 560 characters of codeitch.io
Why 560? Because you don’t always need a ton of code to make something fun. Because sometimes it’s nice to scale back. But mostly because it’s the length of two tweets.

But let’s not lose sight of where we’ve been. Have a stroll down memory lane with this collection of gaming graphic design. It’s just one of several collections of logos Reagan has on his website.

Video game console logosReagan Ray
This list covers the second (1976) through eighth (present) generation consoles. According to Wikipedia, there were 687 first-generation consoles produced, so I decided that was a rabbit hole I didn’t want to enter. I had fun designing the page to look like an old video game ad or one of those posters that came in Nintendo Power. The TV screen borders even made me nostalgic for playing games on an old crappy 19-inch TV.

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And if you want to learn the dark truth about what’s behind platform games, watch this.

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Sounds good to me

Yes, it can get a little too loud for us oldies sometimes, but movie music — and cinematic sound more broadly — is such a fascinating area.

Making Waves: The art of cinematic sound
Directed by veteran Hollywood sound editor Midge Costin, the film reveals the hidden power of sound in cinema, introduces us to the unsung heroes who create it, and features insights from legendary directors with whom they collaborate.

An incredible amount of vital yet laborious work goes on behind the scenes.

A new documentary explores the underrated art of movie sound
Synchronised sound came in with “Don Juan” in 1926, and synchronised speech followed in 1927 with “The Jazz Singer”, starring Al Jolson. But sophisticated sound design wasn’t born until 1933, when Murray Spivack created the giant ape’s bellow in “King Kong” by mixing a lion’s roar with a tiger’s roar, and playing it backwards at half-speed. Cece Hall did something similar on “Top Gun” more than 50 years later. Actual fighter-plane engines “sounded kind of wimpy”, she recalls, so she concocted her own substitute from big-cat growls and monkey screeches. The producers nearly fired her for her pains, she says, but she went on to win an Oscar.

The documentary is the work of Midge Costin, a sound editor-turned-academic. It took some time to get off the ground, however — getting clearance for the samples of so many movie clips can be a costly affair.

Making Waves: behind a fascinating documentary about movie sound
The courts have since ruled that sampling footage will be acceptable so long as it’s done in the spirit of public edification, and just like that, Costin was off. Between the connections she’d made in the industry and favors called in from fellow sound people, she put together an all-star lineup of commentators. From her former student Ryan Coogler to Steven Spielberg, who named her the Kay Rose chair at USC’s School of Cinematic Arts, the deep bench of experts dissect scenes classic and contemporary to illustrate the great quantities of work that go into creating and fine-tuning a soundscape. Spielberg, for example, goes into the subtly expressionistic quality of the shellshocking beach invasion that opens Saving Private Ryan.

The bizarre methods by which sound effects are captured often remains a mystery, but in this music video, it’s all on show.

A brilliant highly rhythmic music sample created from abandoned industrial equipment on the docks
Multimedia artist Daniel Gourski and DJ Jonas Appel have created “Docks”, a brilliant, highly rhythmic music sample made entirely from abandoned industry equipment. Gourski and Appel creatively banged, scraped and knocked at the waterside equipment with all sorts of objects.

Gourski & Appel – Docks

More accidental typography

Some years ago I came across a photographer who had discovered an alphabet written in the skies over her head. Here are a few more examples of letter-forms in unusual places.

Put words into action with ‘Gerry’, a new font created from the silhouettes of gerrymandered electoral districts
The font, created by Ben Doessel and James Lee, is composed of 26 districts whose absurd boundaries resemble alphabet letters much more than they resemble logical, cohesive population groupings. Alabama’s pronged 1st District bears a striking resemblance to the letter K, while New York’s 8th District looks like an M with its tall legs connected by a curved middle.

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And here’s another example.

Stone alphabets
[A]ssembled by Belgian type designer Clotilde Olyff from stones collected at the beach.

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Playing hardball

An interesting discussion with movie prop designers that just had to include this iconic figure.

The hardest props I ever made
It was very strange because I approached representatives of the company [Wilson Sporting Goods], and they were not interested at all. It just didn’t matter to them. I told them, “You know, we have Tom Hanks here. We have Robert Zemeckis, who did Back to the Future. We have this venue for this ball of yours that is incredible. And it’s named Wilson.” They were very polite, but not interested. I told them, “We’re depicting your product. It’s a wonderful character in this movie, and it saves this man’s life.”

At some point, I called back and got some kind of great sales rep. And she got it. She understood exactly what this was. She said, “Let me see what I can do.”

And the rest is history. So much so, that you can now buy your very own Wilson, as well as a variety of other movie-themed balls Tom Hanks might recognise.

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Book cover comparisons

Further to some previous posts about book cover design, here’s a birds-eye view of a whole load of them.

11 years of top-selling book covers, arranged by visual similarity
An interactive map of over 5,000 book covers, organized by machine learning.

It’s interesting to play around with the filters, to see how samey some of the genres are. It all reminded me of those photomosaic images from the 90s.