Archive for July, 2008

work+play: Notes from New Views

Wednesday, July 30th, 2008

Laura Chessin’s thoughts on the New Views conference:

I was challenged by the view that ‘Graphic Design is in Crisis’. I developed a conviction that graphic design is undergoing an evolution and it is those who operated under previously–accepted assumptions and systems who are in crisis themselves.

I think she’s right here, and this is an important way of looking at it. To amend my earlier post, it’s not graphic design that’s dead, it’s the old way of looking at it that should be put to rest.

Does design education work against ‘Indie Fever’?

Thursday, July 24th, 2008

As Michiel van Meeteren points out in ‘Indie Fever’, one of the hallmarks of the independent programming community on the Mac is their willingness and desire to share tips and discoveries. Will Shipley is a good example of this – he blogs code, sets puzzles, and twitters. John Gruber of Daring Fireball is another example of what Gladwell would call a ‘connector’ – indeed it was via him that I found Michiel’s paper.

I said in my last post that I thought this paper has implications beyond the programming community, and that this sharing of knowledge is typical of design in general. But then I wondered if this is true. While I can think of many examples of designers who blog, and who run workshops for others, or who meet up socially to discuss what they do, I can also think of many more who guard their knowledge jealously.
This even happens among design teachers – I once worked with someone who told his students “I’m not going to tell you how to do this because you might be a competitor one day”, which half the class actually thought was entirely reasonable!

Design education is horribly individualising. We set students briefs and then set them against each other, making it all a competition to see who is better than everyone else. The ‘critique’ or ‘crit’ is a great example of the sort of judgemental, competitive element we’ve built in to how we teach what we teach.

Of course, most programmes include ‘group work’ which, as a colleague and I tried to explain to others recently, is not really the same as ‘team work’. I’ll let you try to figure out the semantics of that one.
But team work isn’t really ‘taught’ – we just put students in a group, tell them to get on with it, then punish or reward them for producing something at the end based on whether they got on. Teamwork needs to be taught, not just assumed to be a natural talent.

Whatever, team work is pretty much a ‘tick box’ exercise, something programmes include because it’s on the list of key skills, but it’s not something students enjoy or see a value in doing (because what happens if they’re in a ‘bad’ team?) and I haven’t met many teachers who are particularly good at it (either teaching it or, let’s face it, doing it themselves)

But team working, or rather collaborative working (another important distinction, see below), needs to be part of the culture of design education, not the focus of a single project, because it is the culture of design practice.
There are many who do this, or encourage this. In my own teaching I’ve encouraged students to collaborate in ‘tutorless tutorials’, peer mentoring and chats over coffee (or even beer), and though it’s unscientific I suspect there’s a direct link between students’ desire to talk about stuff socially and their grade.

But there is a proven link between collaboration and success: Angela McRobbie’s study of fashion graduates from Central St Martins makes it clear that success is not a measure of the skills you’re taught at university, but the social and cultural capital you acquire just by being there (something that the ‘skills agenda’ being driven by industry at the moment completely misses). Every time I think of that I think this is what university should be about. Not the accumulation of skills but the accumulation of social and cultural capital. Without this, you stop learning the moment you stop being in class. With it, you never stop learning.

And so my programme for second years next year is based around collaborative ‘design quests’ that are all about developing this sense of shared knowledge-finding and out-of-hours discussion. And in the past few months we’ve launched a book group, a sustainable design group, and a documentary film club to get this culture of sharing going. (Some people reading this will no doubt have been doing things like this for a long time, or their students will).

The future of design practice depends on collaboration, not just at the client/designer level, or even designer/end user level (co-design) but more fundamentally between designers for continuing development and research. The indie developers Michiel writes about are working for themselves, by themselves. Yet they still collaborate and this definition of ‘collaborative working’, as opposed to ‘group work’ or ‘team work’ is not something we encourage in design education.

It’s something we need to make a core aspect of what and how we teach.

Two quotes worth sharing. A jewellery student complained to me about having to work with others. “It’s a waste of time, I don’t need to learn that. I’m going to be a jeweller, I’ll never work with other people”.

So wrong on so many levels, but do you see how a culture of ‘collaboration’ rather than ‘team work’ might have helped here?

And my favourite (told to me by a colleague) from a computing student: “I’m not very good at working in teams, but that’s okay because I’m going to be an academic”.

Indie Fever

Thursday, July 24th, 2008

Michiel van Meeteren (University of Amsterdam) has published a study of the Macintosh independent programming community as a PDF. It looks like it might be interesting to anyone involved in programming, but also has wider implications for the studies of communities of practice and how people share knowledge to improve their own skills – in other words ‘design thinking’ in general.

Excerpted from Michiel’s website: “

‘Indie Fever’ is the first result of a multi-year human geography research program to investigate the social and economical world of so-called ‘Indie’ developers on the Macintosh platform.  ‘Indie’ is the self-chosen nickname of software developers that serve worldwide markets from the Internet, hold their artistic values in high esteem and celebrate their ability to make high quality software as small companies.  […]

Indies have organized themselves informally but strongly in a virtual community.  Although they are scattered over several continents, they continuously interact over the Internet, share rumors and code, and discuss business and private interests as if they were coworkers while –technically– they are competitors.  They share a common culture which is intertwined with the history of the platform they develop for and the Cocoa programming environment in particular. […] it analyses how Indies sustain and reproduce their particular culture primarily through online means, something that is argued to be rather difficult in the social-scientific discourse.

Almost 50 hours of interviews were recorded for Indie Fever.  These interviews were combined with the results of extensive data mining of blogs and other online resources.  The resulting thesis focusses on both the cultural and economical aspects of the Mac Indie world and the ways these reinforce each other by applying theories of, amongst others, Pierre Bourdieu, Michael Porter, Norbert Elias, Chris Anderson and Malcolm Gladwell.”

Bourdieu and Gladwell, eh? That’s basically my reading list for my first years…

Check out the site for a link to the PDF (I would link here but I suspect Michiel would like to track numbers). There’s also a blog related to the research project.

Coincidentally, at the same time I heard about this I also read several reports about a new website launched by developers of iPhone apps for whom the Non-disclosure agreement they effectively signed with Apple means they are forbidden from sharing knowledge and tips – precisely one of the things that defines the indie culture. When you see the title of the site you’ll see they’re not best pleased with the restriction. According to a publisher (I forget the link, sorry) the NDA is also holding up publication of books on iPhone programming.

Fun with fonts

Tuesday, July 22nd, 2008
See more funny videos and funny pictures at CollegeHumor.

Proof that McDonald’s beverages are undrinkable

Tuesday, July 22nd, 2008

A story in The Guardian that Fox News channels in the USA have started selling McDonald’s the opportunity to have their iced coffee on morning programmes comes with this interesting bit of info:

Two cups of coffee, their cubes of ice glinting in the studio lights, now daily stand before the channel’s morning presenters. The presenters conspicuously do not drink from the cups, which is just as well – the cups contain a bogus fluid and fake ice to prevent the cubes melting.

From my recollection, in the UK McDonald’s tea has always contained an undrinkable fluid so it’s nice to see some consistency.

Spot the difference

Tuesday, July 22nd, 2008


Yes, that’s right. There’s a disembodied knee in the bottom picture.

TV adverts to be quieter. Still annoying, though

Sunday, July 20th, 2008


According to the Guardian:

after decades of receiving complaints about TV adverts sounding louder than the programmes, the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) has finally acted: as of this month, commercial breaks may be no louder than the transmissions in which they appear.

I can’t remember the last TV ad I saw. I don’t watch live TV anymore except on rare occasions and if I ever watch a commercial channel I pause it, then wait 15 minutes before beginning just so I can fast forward through the bloody things.
Mainly because they’re just too loud.

Interestingly, however, despite fast forwarding through ads I can still tell you about the different campaigns. I think they’ve cottoned on to people like me and are deliberately making them so they’re as easily understood at x32 speed as they are at normal rates.

Except perfume ads. They’ll always be unintelligible no matter what speed you play them.

Like-ability does not equal ability

Saturday, July 19th, 2008

Jamison Fraser on why the US media’s obsession with politicians’ “like-ability” is a bad thing

Voting for president based on who seems the most likable — or, in the media’s favorite shorthand, based on who you would rather have a beer with — is a spectacularly bad idea, what with the almost total lack of similarity between talking about the Knicks over a bottle of Bud and running the world’s most powerful nation.

It requires very little judgment or analytical skills to determine that the Knicks stink. Deciding whether to send Americans off to die in a foreign land is (or should be) a little different.

(Via Media Matters for America.)

What replaces oil?

Saturday, July 19th, 2008

This is one of those questions that keeps me up at night. I don’t mean ‘what are the alternatives to oil’ but something far more puzzling…

All these billions of barrels of oil that have been sucked out of the ocean bed and deep beneath the ground must leave holes behind, right?

So what do they fill the holes with?

There… that’s stumped you, hasn’t it?

Nice to see the US media focusing on the real issues in the election

Thursday, July 17th, 2008

Good grief

During the 10 a.m. ET hour of the July 16 broadcast of MSNBC Live, host Monica Novotny devoted a segment to discussing Sen. Hillary Clinton’s ‘new look,’ specifically the ‘short[ness]’ of Clinton’s hair and the fact that Clinton ‘shifted her part from the left side to the right side.’

At the beginning of the segment, Novotny contrasted a video of Clinton’s July 15 speech on the floor of the Senate with her official publicity photo in order to illustrate the difference, stating, ‘All right, if fashion — as far as hairdos go — isn’t your forte, Clinton’s hair is apparently shorter than it used to be, and she’s shifted her part from the left side to the right side.’

Novotny asked MSNBC congressional correspondent Mike Viqueira, ‘So, it’s Hillary’s part that’s shifted to the right? Not her political positions?’ Viquiera replied: ‘Monica, all I can say is, I’m not really crazy about standing here talking about a senator’s hair, especially Senator Clinton’s hair, but I’ll just say this: When it comes to senatorial hair, she’s way ahead of the game. I mean, we’ve got some combovers around here that are engineering marvels, modern engineering marvels, I tell you. And look, I mean, you know the price of Grecian Formula these days — I could use — I could use a raise for that, and some Rogaine.’

Novotny later stated: ‘Look, I’m just going to say this: I mean, you remember there have been some other reports where people were focused on other things, so I say, better the coif than the cleavage. That’s just me.’

As Media Matters for America documented, on July 30, 2007, MSNBC devoted a total of 23 minutes and 42 seconds to segments discussing Clinton’s (D-NY) ‘cleavage’ between the hours of 9 a.m. and 5 p.m. ET.

Better the coif than the cleavage… oh yes, I get your point. We wouldn’t want people focusing on other things in this election, would we?

(Via Media Matters for America.)