The Numerati vs The Designer: Why Google Web Designers Keep Quitting

March 28, 2009

Yesterday, Silicon Alley Insider tried to shed some light on why Google web designers keep quitting. Fundamentally, Google is a data-driven company; All decisions made there, including design choices, must be supported by data. While a case can be made for running a company this way, many designers would find it particularly difficult working there.

Read about it here:
What Google Web Designers Hate About Working For Google

Also, read my original thoughts on this topic. As a designer who has worked in a fairly data-driven company, I’ve thought about this quite a bit.
The Numerati vs Designer Dialectic

I just died and went to Flickr

March 27, 2009


What Is Good Design Now? A Conversation with Three Designers

March 27, 2009

photo by Swissmiss

Last night, I had the pleasure of sitting in on What’s Next For Design?, a VW sponsored panel discussion held at the New York Museum of Arts & Design. Moderated by Adam Gopnik, author and staff writer for the New Yorker, the panel featured three designers from three different disciplines: Pentagram partner, Paula Scher, architect, Ahmad Sarder-Afkhami, and furniture designer, Jonathan Adler.

The discussion began with Gopnik speaking briefly about his own relationship to design, its power, and his view of how design has always been “the primary impetus for innovation,” even in the realm of fine art. He then introduced each panelist, briefly discussing their work and engaged them in conversation. The atmosphere was informal and Gopnik did a wonderful job of moderating what shaped up to be a fairly lighthearted discussion.

His first question asked of the panel, what, if they can remember, was the first thing that made them notice design. Paula Scher recalled Alex Steinweiss’ album cover for South Pacific, while Jonathan Adler (who was absolutely hilarious) talked about a ceramic leopard and a ceramic cake owned by Mrs. Goldstein, his neighbor growing up in southern New Jersey. Ahmad Sarder-Afkhami discussed what he called “the permeability of sound” in his childhood home, in Iran.

South Pacific album cover by Alex Steinweiss. What Paula Scher recalls as the item that made her first notice design.

The discussion then moved to the design process, specifically, the rationale and logic each designer has when approaching a project. Adam set this question up by talking a bit about Paula’s recent design for The New York Philharmonic. It was interesting to hear her speak about the logic behind some of the design decisions. For instance, the brief called for a mark that needed to be legible regardless of language barriers, which is why Scher chose to do a circular lock-up. The mark itself, though it’s a wordmark and in English, communicates without ever having to be read.

Paula Scher’s design for The New York Philharmonic

In posing the question, Gopnik spoke of good design possessing a certain “lucidity” in that the style dictates the solution, to which Paula responded, “That’s what you’re supposed to do.” (Probably my favorite quote of the night. Can I get an AMEN?)

No discussion on contemporary design can be had without the recent Tropicana gaffe getting a mention. Gopnik used it as an example to ask the question, how does bad design happen. While Paula spoke specifically about the problems with the Tropicana redesign, Jonathan Adler summed it up succinctly. “Bad design is done by focus groups. . .The more idiosyncratic the design, the more a focus group would hate it.” Yet, often the most memorable designs are fully idiosyncratic. He spoke specifically of a banana vase he recently designed, a terrible idea in the eyes of his business associates, which proved to be a hit at a recent trade show.

Jonathan Adler’s banana vase. An example of idiosyncratic design being good design. Photo from

The final question, directed at Mr. Sarder-Afkhami, asked how an architect works through a recession. Although he has been fortunate enough to not have experienced a major drop-off in work, Ahmad has found himself thinking more about what is excessive and what “inherited programs” of living are no longer pertinent to the way we live. It’s a fascinating subject, which I’d love to hear more about.

When the floor opened up, I asked if the designers noticed that design has been getting more media coverage than ever, and how that affects the way they approach a project. The consensus is that it certainly has. “Every magazine has a design column,” said Paula Scher. It’s definitely true, but where does that leave us as designers? Moreover, how does this new transparency in design affect what is considered good design, now?

more coverage of this event over on Swissmiss

Passion Pit Releases New Single, Unveils Album Art

March 25, 2009

With Fleetwood Mac’s recent show at Madison Square Garden, Tori Amos playing a show at SXSW, the release of 88 Keys’ long awaited album, and Yeah Yeah Yeah’s It’s Blitz!, 2009 is shaping up to be a pretty good year in music. One of my favorite bands from late last year, Passion Pit, is poised to keep things going with the release of the first single off their upcoming album, Manners.

Passion Pit first grabbed my attention when the blogosphere lit up with the song “Sleepyhead” off their Chunk of Change EP. If you haven’t heard it, here’s a link to the video. The song is in constant rotation here at the command center.

The new single, “The Reeling,” is a bit of a departure from the energetic and somewhat frenetic sound of “Sleepyhead.” Instead, the band has gone for a much more relaxed tune — the kind of track that may not initially wow you but you’ll find yourself liking with each subsequent listen. Hear it on Passion Pit’s myspace page.

Here’s the art for the new album, Manners

(via Stereogum)

Why The New Facebook Doesn’t Suck. Part 2 of 2

March 24, 2009

brought to you by the Zuckerberg Appreciation Society

In part 1 of this article, I pointed out some of the changes that made the new Facebook a little, if not significantly, better than the old Facebook. If you’re still not convinced the new Facebook doesn’t suck, I’m not sure what else I can say to sway you, but here are some more notable improvements.

I recently had a client request that I design his Facebook page. “Why would you want to do that?” I asked. My stance was that Facebook pages weren’t all that effective. On Myspace, there is no distinction between a regular user profile, and a musician profile; A musician profile can interact with others in the same manner as regular profiles. It is this direct connection with their audience that prompted musicians, such as David Hasselhoff, to create Myspace pages.

cover for Hasselhoffs hit single, Hooked On A Feeling

On the other hand, Facebook’s band pages were little more than a page on Facebook that served no real purpose. Sure a band (celebrity or business) could message users who became “fans” but beyond that, they couldn’t really interact with users. The overall effectiveness of the page was questionable. I suspect most bands created Facebook pages just to make sure all bases were covered.

The new Facebook has done away with Pages. Instead, profiles for organizations or public figures are no different than regular user profiles. The owner of such a profile now has the ability to become an active part of the information stream on user homepages. This means their messages have a much better chance of reaching their intended audience. Moreover, it forces them to actively engage their audience, which is crucial to successful new media marketing.

While an average user may lament a marketer or organization’s ability to “infiltrate” their content stream, it is important to note that for this to happen, the user would have to have already added the organization as a friend. Also, as I’ve mentioned before, with the click of a button, users can silence an overzealous marketer. This is far more effective than the old Pages model, where contact was made via messages that may or may not have been opened.

The other change, which I have to admit I’m not entirely crazy about, is the Highlights section. This acts somewhat like the old newsfeed in that it shows “photos, notes, and other content you probably don’t want to miss” over a longer period of time. While the stream is updated in realtime, the Highlights section only changes when something you might be interested in is added.

My issue with the Highlights section is that it’s not customizable. Unlike the stream, a user can’t determine what and from whom she wants highlighted. The whole thing seems kind of arbitrary, which was my problem with the old newsfeed. It’s a good idea, but unless they make the section customizable it’s working against what they’re trying to do with the rest of the site.

The last change I’m going to note, and I’m not really sure if this was changed in the last version of Facebook, is the toolbar. In the last version of Facebook, I found it thoroughly confusing that there was no obvious way of seeing all your events, or going to all your applications. If I wanted to go to an application, I’d do the ass-backwards dance of viewing my profile and clicking the app there. To see all my events, I’d look in the right column, and under whatever events were happening that day, there was a “see all events” link.

When the new Facebook launched, I found the link had been removed. After cursing aloud, and even considering writing a Why The New Facebook Sucks post, I realized all that information was easily accessed via the toolbar. This may have been the case in the old Facebook, but the fact that there were several other places to access the same information was more confusing than it was helpful. Now, if I want to access my applications (not that I ever use them. Well, only that cool bookshelf one.), I know to look at the bottom of the browser, on the toolbar.

I also noticed Facebook widened the rightmost column. It may look a little clunky but it makes sense from an ad space perspective. I don’t know much about Facebook’s click-through rates, but I suspect they’re pretty low. Anything that can be done to make it better is a good move on their part.

Well, that’s all I have to say about that. If you still don’t believe the new Facebook is an improvement, you should consider not using it. There are tons of other social networks out there. You’ll just have to convince everyone else to join.

read part 1 of this article


March 23, 2009

What’s up with the 30 degree weather, here in NYC? I thought spring was here. Oh well, here are some things worth checking out.

What Does One Trillion Dollars Look Like
Hint: It looks exactly the way it sounds.

Vandal (Squad) Vendetta
Two weeks ago, I posted about a Powerhouse Arena panel discussion which pitted Vandal Squad graffiti cops against their nemeses, graffiti writers. I did attend, however, of the notes I gathered, I couldn’t come up with anything remotely interesting to report. Hell, I even forgot to bring my camera. Luckily, freelance writer, Pauline Pechin was also present. She wrote a nice little recap of the event.

This Is Why You’re Fat
Just looking at most of this stuff gives me heart murmurs.
(thanks ASF&K)

“Music Covers Are Not Graphic Design. . .”
says Peter Saville, in a recent interview. Read about it over on Eye Magazine’s blog.
(via Design Observer)

Sci-Fi Channel becomes SyFy Channel, not that anyone cares.
Couldn’t tell you the last time I watched this channel. For some reason, the change makes me think of the book 1984 and the concept of newspeak. Let’s just hope I don’t get accused of thoughtcrime.

Hand Dryers From Around The World
Very cool…errm…dry.
(via Clusta)

Why The New Facebook Doesn’t Suck. Part 1 of 2

March 21, 2009

A few weeks ago, when Facebook announced it was going to once again be changing the user home page, I had no choice but to hunker down and prepare myself for the onslaught of complaints that would inevitably fill my newsfeed.

Only months before, Facebook launched their first new homepage. It was drastically different from the home page that users had grown accustomed to. After starting off as a site where friends could stay connected, with simple functions like an address book, and a “wall” that functioned somewhat like a dry-erase board, Facebook had slowly been evolving into something else. The newsfeed, a sort of play-by-play of what a user is up to, was our first glimpse of the driving philosophy behind the direction in which Facebook was going: from a social network centered around staying connected, into a robust platform for users to not only stay connected but to willingly (and not so willingly) share information about themselves.

When the newsfeed was added, many people were understandably concerned about privacy issues. As expected, some folks didn’t like the idea and they either stopped using Facebook altogether, or complained about it for a bit but eventually got over it. Others simply adjusted the way they used Facebook to accommodate the changes.

At the time, I was working at a social-networking site, so it was absolutely necessary that I stay on top of what was going on with similar sites. As much as I bitched about the newsfeed and the new profile, my job essentially made it impossible to do the obvious thing and stop using Facebook. Over time, I inexplicably found myself not only using Facebook more, but actually, feeling somewhat enthusiastic about what the company was doing. In my eyes, they had successfully overthrown Myspace as the social networking site of choice for the average person. Part of what made Facebook special was the inclusion of the newsfeed, and to a lesser extent (thank God!), the inclusion of apps.

That being said, when Facebook launched the previous iteration of the homepage, I was not happy. I didn’t quite understand the Facebook ethos, so I viewed the changes from a primarily aesthetic standpoint. I had a gut reaction to the fact that Facebook no longer looked the way I had grown used to. I also didn’t like the fact that I now had to learn a considerably different user interface (UI). Alas, I once again couldn’t stop using it. This time, however, for a different reason; I was still working at a social network, but now I couldn’t stop using it because it had become one of the primary ways in which I stayed in touch with family and friends.

The more I used the new home page, I realized the new UI was quite good. Suddenly, I found myself using Facebook in different and more meaningful ways. It was far from perfect, but I was forced to admit that it was an improvement on the old Facebook. For instance, I found myself actually using the status update, something that up until then I had chosen to ignore. I also found myself uploading pictures and even using Facebook to share my recent blog posts with people who were actually interested in reading.

Where I think the previous homepage failed was the seemingly arbitrary way in which content was streamed. For some reason, the feed always seemed to focus on the wrong people. Maybe I just didn’t know how to adjust the settings properly, but it seemed to me that the people I actually cared to follow weren’t ever making it into my newsfeed. Instead, I had a million things from folks I hadn’t spoken to in years.

Out of nowhere, Alf was all up in my newsfeed. I knew I shouldn’t have added him after our falling out.

The newly launched Facebook homepage not only addresses that by making the newsfeed update in realtime, but also makes it easier to filter out the folks I may not be so interested in following. This feature alone won me over to the new homepage, but there are a few other things that I think are worth mentioning. The previous homepage’s newsfeed seemed completely random in the type of content it featured. Sometimes a friend would upload a video and I’d have no idea because, well, it never quite made it into my feed. The tabbed homepage addressed the issue but it wasn’t something I’d even discovered until recently. Not only that, but from a UI perspective, the tabs just weren’t clear enough. The new homepage basically takes the tabs idea, but makes it even clearer by moving it to the left and changing the nomenclature. They’re now referred to as filters. Suddenly, a user isn’t just sifting through content, but actively filtering content by who is posting it, as well as the type of content being posted. It’s a much more intuitive UI.

Many complain the new homepage is too much like twitter

The big issue most folks have with the new homepage is the fact that it’s somewhat similar to twitter. While I can’t say I’m all that familiar with twitter and the concept of micro-blogging, or “oversharing”, as my good friend Corey would say, I know that there are folks who love it and are more than happy to share what’s going on in their lives in a few short sentences. When Facebook first added the status updates, I noticed a lot of folks were updating it several times a day, in a way that is basically what twitter is. The new Facebook homepage, and the addition of this new realtime newsfeed, allows users who choose to share more do so in a way that actually reaches other users. Some folks go a little overboard with the sharing, which is why the new “hide” filter is, again, one of the best features of the new homepage. In one click, a user can effectively stop people from pooping all over their newsfeed.

read part 2 of this article

For All You Lovers Out There (with iPhones)

March 17, 2009

NY Times $300 Makeover: Williamsburg Edition

March 14, 2009

photo by Michael Falco for The New York Times

With spring just around the corner and my roommate of nearly four years leaving the bachelor pad, I’ve been thinking a bit about interior decorating. While my former roommate and I are both fairly low maintenance guys, who prefer a simple environment, I sometimes longed to add a little flair to our otherwise utilitarian Brooklyn apartment. My initial idea of getting an area rug for our living room was met with a frown. And we never did get around to getting those Mucha prints for the common areas. The one place I did get my druthers was in the bathroom, where I pretty much went all out Martha Stewart and got a nice shower curtain and a few other things (which now that I think about it, are in need of a serious update).

Now that my roommate is on his way out, and my new roommate (a fashion designer and all-around awesome gal) is moving in, I’m excited about the possibilities of turning my post-collegiate bachelor pad into a mid-twentysomething abode a la mode.

This week’s NY Times Home & Garden section has a great feature in which they’ve given New York City apartments a $300 makeover. The feature has a few makeover stories but the one that caught my eye was the sprucing up of underemployed sales director, Benjamin Segal’s Billburg one-bedroom. The before photo of his apartment is pretty much what my apartment looks like these days, utilitarian furniture, naked walls, and a “hardwood” floor that’s begging for some kind of acknowledgment.

The results of the makeover are quite impressive. With just a little duct tape (is it too late to make a duct tape joke? Yeah, probably.), some fabric, pvc pipe, and some paint, the decorators managed to make Segal’s apartment look like the inside of a magazine that might have Alanis Morisette on the cover.

No irony here; Alanis is still a total babe. Then again, she didn’t become a babe til about 2005.

Follow the link to see the article, and check out some of the other $300 makeovers.

The $300 Makeover: One-Bedroom in Williamsburg, Brooklyn

V-Scanwiches: The Best Thing Since Sliced Bread (and scanners)

March 13, 2009

a scan of the coveted V-Sandwich

Last year, one of my favorite hypothetical local hangouts shuttered their doors. I say hypothetical because I never actually hung out there, but I always liked having the option of hanging out there, were I ever inclined. Hypotheses aside, The Tea Lounge on 7th and 10th closed, interestingly enough, they day after I perhaps might have kissed a woman for the first time on one of their sidewalk benches. Truly, it was a sad day. Not only was I being robbed of one of my favorite hypothetical hangouts, but also a monument to newfound love and true Annie Hall-esque romance.

I was not forlorn very long, however, because within weeks of the closing, my local paper reported that the space would soon be occupied by a Vietnamese sandwich spot. If you haven’t yet experienced a Vietnamese sandwich, stop reading this and go find yourself a Hanco’s and order two. Skip the bubble tea though; superior bubble tea can be had elsewhere.

So anyway, I was totally stoked. Vietnamese sandwiches are among the best sandwiches in the world. If the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles movies were a scale of how good V-sandwiches compared to other sandwiches, V-sandwiches would definitely be TMNT II: The Secret Of The Ooze which is, in my humble opinion, the best in the series. After all, it practically launched Vanilla Ice’s rap career. And that’s my point entirely: V-sandwiches are so good they could launch a rap career.

I won’t tell you what they put inside them (b/c honestly, I’m not sure). You’ll just have to find out for yourself. I will however direct you to this awesome new blog, Scanwiches. Described simply as scans of sandwiches for education and delight, it truly is both educational and delightful. Plus, it just so happens they have scans of not only one but several V-sandwiches. Go forth and be delighted.


(thanks Kristy)