Links

What should you think about when using Facebook?

Vicki Boykis:

Facebook started as a way for college students to connect with each other, and has eventually gotten to the point where it’s changing people’s behavior, tracking their usage, and possibly aggregating information for the government.

The problem is that each person, whether he or she uses Facebook or not, is implicated in its system of tracking, relationship tagging, and shadow profiling. But this is particularly true if you are an active Facebook user.

So the most important thing to is to be aware that this is going on and give Facebook as little data as possible.

An alarming – but unsurprising – analysis of the data Facebook collects and who has access to it.

Climb Dance

Climb Dance is a famous cinéma vérité short film, which features Finnish rally driver Ari Vatanen setting a record time in a highly modified four-wheel drive, all-wheel steering Peugeot 405 Turbo 16 GR at the 1988 Pikes Peak International Hill Climb in Colorado, USA. The film was produced by Peugeot and directed by Jean Louis Mourey.

I love everything about this film (which I had not seen until Adam Perfect mentioned it on his blog): the cinematography, the score, and of course Vatanen’s daring cliff-edge driving.

Election Expenses Exposed

If the Conservative Party wasn’t already rigging the system in its favour, be that by redrawing consistency boundaries (gerrymandering by any other name) or reforming party funding, it turns out they may have broken campaign spending rules as well.

A Channel 4 News investigation has uncovered evidence suggesting large-scale and systematic abuse of spending limits, both at last year’s general election, and during three key by-elections in 2014:

Our investigation has uncovered hundreds of pages of receipts for more than 2,000 nights of hotel stays. In each of three by-election campaigns, we found a pattern – luxury hotels for senior staff, while junior campaigners were put up cheaper rooms – usually the local Premier Inn.

The campaign spending was similar in other ways: 770 rooms were booked in the name or home address of one Conservative staffer - Marion Little - while others appeared under the name “Mr Conservatives”.

None of these hotel receipts seem to have been declared by the party.

This is nothing short of a scandal, yet one helpfully suppressed by the current EU Referendum campaign. All this, revealed on the same week David Cameron hosted the international Anti-Corruption Summit; maybe we need to focus on the corruption taking place a little closer to home, first.


Beyond the depressing particulars of this story, as someone who worked on an earlier design of the Channel 4 News website, I found the presentation of this story to be encouraging, not least because of its uncluttered layout, digestible content and accessible data visualisations. As a news team renowned for its in-depth reporting and investigations, I hope this article is a sign that we can expect more of its online coverage to meet those same high standards.

Declining reputation of Formula One in danger of reaching critical mass

Richard Williams:

Ecclestone is no ignorant newcomer to the sport but he has always treated traditional fans with contempt. Now so many of them are fed up with the squalid political shenanigans and bare-faced cynicism, with the endless rows and constant changes to the contrived and artificial regulations, and with the spectacle of obscene and meaningless waste, that the sport’s declining reputation is in danger of reaching critical mass.

For many, the switch to Sky could be the last straw. As Ecclestone parades with President Aliyev on the grid in Baku in June, his CVC bosses will count the money and feel that his methods are justified.

Others – and now they even include the heroes of the spectacle – fear that his full-throttle pursuit of profit risks leaving the sport in the same state as Fernando Alonso’s crashed McLaren in Melbourne a fortnight ago: an unrecognisable pile of junk, fit only for the breaker’s yard.

Bernie, it’s time to go.

What Happened On Easter Island — A New (Even Scarier) Scenario

Easter Island lives as an example of a society that destroyed itself by overexploiting its own resources. However, some anthropologists are now suggesting that the island’s ecological destruction might not be the fault of humans alone, but their imported population of Polynesian rats:

The ecosystem was severely compromised. And yet, say the anthropologists, Easter Islanders didn’t disappear. They adjusted. They had no lumber to build canoes to go deep-sea fishing. They had fewer birds to hunt. They didn’t have coconuts. But they kept going on rat meat and small helpings of vegetables. They made do.

In this article, Robert Krulwich argues that this success story provides a gloomier example for us to learn from:

Humans are a very adaptable species. We’ve seen people grow used to slums, adjust to concentration camps, learn to live with what fate hands them. If our future is to continuously degrade our planet, lose plant after plant, animal after animal, forgetting what we once enjoyed, adjusting to lesser circumstances, never shouting, “That’s It!” – always making do, I wouldn’t call that “success.”

People can’t remember what their great-grandparents saw, ate and loved about the world. They only know what they know. To prevent an ecological crisis, we must become alarmed. That’s when we’ll act. The new Easter Island story suggests that humans may never hit the alarm.

The boiling frog anecdote offers a similar conclusion.

Olympic Heritage Collection by Hulse&Durrell

Canadian design super-duo Hulse&Durrell, worked on what could only be described as my dream project. Researching 120 years of Olympic design heritage, they then documented and digitised hundreds of assets for use on officially licensed merchandise:

Beginning with the core elements of each Olympic Games identity (emblems, pictograms, mascots, and official posters), we set out to find their most authentic sources. The journey took us from the Olympic Museum archives in Switzerland to Olympic historians, private collections, and past-Games design directors around the world.

Where possible, emblems, mascots, and pictograms were re-created with the original techniques of their time. Design manuals originally intended for use with protractors, compasses and paintbrushes became blueprints once again – this time with a digital toolset in mind.

For wordmarks, classic typefaces like Univers, Helvetica, Times, and Futura were adapted to reflect the movable type printing process of their respective times and places. Physical artifacts were also referenced against the modern Pantone colour matching system to ensure tonal authenticity.

The result is the most comprehensive, authentic Olympic art and design collection ever created.

Jealous? I’m green with envy.

Why You Should Take A Black Cab, Not An Uber, This Christmas

Chris Lockie puts forward the case for why Londoners should support black cab drivers this Christmas, even if it means paying a little extra:

Black cabs are fighting back, but without the support of the people of this city we are going to lose a fine service that is doing everything it can to keep up with the terrifying march of modernity. Give black cabs time to adjust to the Age of Cheap, and eventually you’ll come to appreciate their solid, dependable service.

If you don’t, black cabs will die, an honest occupation will go with it, Uber will put their prices up immediately, and the moment driverless cars become a reality they’ll be all over it like Cameron on swine (because if you think Uber cares about their drivers, you’re way off).

This article pretty much sums up my feelings regarding Uber: avoid at all costs.

Beyond the Style Guide

With Drew kind enough to let me write for 24 ways again, this year’s contribution was an opportunity to bring together a series of thoughts that had been languishing in my drafts folder. These centered around modular design, in particular the growing use of front-end style guides:

In straddling the realms of graphic design and programming, it’s the point at which they meet that I find most fascinating, with each discipline valuing the creation of effective systems, be they for communication or code efficiency. Front-end style guides live at this intersection, demonstrating both the modularity of code and the application of visual design.

I also wanted to write about the role CSS preprocessors can play in this context, one that ensures their use is more considered and focused. Such is the power of preprocessors like Sass, that without exercising restraint, we can find ourselves creating endless abstractions, with even the most fundamental aspects of CSS being drawn into the mixin. Much like jQuery (and frameworks like Bootstrap and Foundation), we can find ourselves growing dependent on such tools, to the extent that simpler, more effective alternatives get ignored.

Thinking of Sass an an intermediary between CSS and a visual language, is one way I try to keep my reliance in check: if you see a mixin or variable in my CSS, it should relate to an attribute in my design system.


So, I end this year much like I did the last, with one final article on a topic of interest. Unlike last year, I’m looking towards a new year that sees me write less long-form pieces like this. Instead, I wish to spend more time making things (my list of abandoned/neglected/potential side projects can only grow so long), and perhaps embracing a means of writing that’s a little more fast and loose.

‘The Late Show’ Opening Titles - Director’s Cut

I’ve yet to see a full episode of The Late Show (which I wrote about shortly after its debut), but thanks to clips posted online, I’ve still been able to get my regular Colbert fix.

One of my favourite aspects of the show is the opening titles, which feature shots taken from this extended version. Fernando Livschitz’s vivid tilt–shift photography pairs well with Jon Batiste & Stay Human’s signature tune, and showcases New York City to the extent that I now want to make a return visit.

‘It’s a bonkers, outsized flagpole’: Brighton greets the world’s tallest moving observation tower

Leo Benedictus writes about Brighton’s new ‘vertical pier’ in the Guardian:

About once a century, Brighton builds something mad. Between 1786 and 1823, it was the Royal Pavilion, an Asian fusion fantasy fun palace where the Prince Regent could eat, drink, gamble and fornicate more ostentatiously than would be polite in London. Between 1866 and 1916, with mass pleasure-seeking now enabled by the railways, it was the West Pier, the great masterpiece of the architect Eugenius Birch, featuring a pavilion (later a theatre) and eventually a concert hall. Next summer, right on time, it will be something new. Most of Britain doesn’t know about it yet, but pretty soon it will be one of the country’s most famous buildings.

My friend James referred to the i360 as a “self–indulgent, grossly–oversized phallus complete with champagne bar cock–ring”. I’m reserving judgement.

The Slow Web

Reflecting on Hossein Derakhshan’s recent article about how the web has changed since he was incarcerated in an Iranian jail six years ago, Cole Henley draws comparisons with the work of Fernand Braudel:

Despite the seeming irrelevance of a mid-twentieth century scholar’s study on late medieval Europe, I have lately started to see a lot of parallels with Braudel’s views on the study of history; the evolution of the web and this evolution as part of a broader history of publication.

While the rise of blogging in the early 2000s can be seen as enabling true democratisation of publishing, the emergence of social media – within whose walled gardens content is curtailed and controlled – has begun to undermine it. Yet Cole suggests there is another problem with these new communication platforms:

Micro-blogging emphasises short-form over long-form, rapid fire over deliberated. Which brings about the ultimate problem of this ephemeral rhythm of publication: accountability. With everything moving so fast there becomes less and less time to digest and respond. Communication has become of the moment, robbing us of time to collect our thoughts and weigh up our responses.

Taking on board Cole’s advice to comment deliberately and thoughtfully within spaces we own, it seems only right that I should share a few thoughts about his piece here, not least because a few related ideas came to mind, such as Stewart Brand’s shearing layers as described in his book How Buildings Learn.

It also reminded me of Jack Cheng’s essay which shares the same title, but instead describes the ideas behind the Slow Web Movement. This is a set of ideas that value timeliness over real-time, prioritise reliable rhythms over unpredictable randomness, and encourage moderation over excess. That this asks companies to build websites for effectiveness rather than outright growth, is probably why there are still so few examples. Page views and advertising impressions currently dictate business models on the web, but their days seem numbered. It’s encouraging to know that alternative ideas are, perhaps appropriately, simmering away in the background, waiting for their moment to come.

On a more personal level, I have long tried to curtail this overflow of information. I use few social networks (mainly due to their impropriety) and limit most of my activity to Twitter. I aim to keep the number of people I follow below 75 (Dunbar divided by two), and follow a stream composed mainly of friends and former colleagues. I find it surprising (and somewhat annoying) that given this number, ‘hot drama’ still manages to surface. The more I read about our growing reliance on social media, the more I’m given to thinking, that like most things, it’s best enjoyed in moderation.

Cole concludes:

…let us write more enduring things. Let us appreciate the history of our situation; and rather than dismissing fading technologies seeing these in terms of how they have contributed to our present.

I’m certainly trying to achieve this in my own writing, and I’m very glad Cole appears to be doing the same.

Tomorrow’s Technology, Yesterday’s Insights

Jonas Söderström on how Google’s ‘People Analytics group’ goes to extreme lengths to work out how to improve workplace happiness, something Europeans figured out decades ago:

In my view, the dream of “Big Data in the Workplace” thrives in that hole in the American corporate mind where more human ideas – such as decent trade unions, a commitment to conversation and dialogue between employees and management, and empowerment of employees, even giving them some say over how their workplace is designed – should rightly be found.

Give technologists a problem, and they’ll try and solve it with technology.

The Ethics of Digital Design

Cennydd has written a short piece for the Design Council about ethics within the realm of digital technology:

Disruption is Silicon Valley’s current watchword. Startups are optimised for shaking up vulnerable industries rather than assessing the resulting social, legal and ethical impact. Progress itself is the yardstick; whether that progress is in a worthwhile direction is sometimes secondary.

Beyond advocating that designers should have a central role in empowering and protecting users, Cenyydd suggests that we should also push for increased diversity within our product teams as well:

As ambassadors for global userbases, designers know well the range of mentalities and approaches people bring to technology. Homogenous teams are too easily swept up in camaraderie, seeing only exciting gains for people like them, yet blind to potential harm for people not like them. The broad perspective of diverse teams offers better insight on tough choices: early warning of ethical issues that may disadvantage particular groups.

I couldn’t agree more. Go read, it’s a good one.

Better CSS with Sass by Cole Henley

For those looking for a quick and succinct introduction to Sass, the popular CSS pre-processor, my friend Cole Henley has written a pocket guide:

Sass is a tool that takes a lot of the legwork out of writing good CSS. This pocket guide will provide an overview of how Sass can dramatically improve your workflow and make your CSS more flexible, robust and reusable.

This guide only takes 30 to 45 minutes to read, but on turning the last page you’ll be up to speed with all the features of Sass, know why you may want to use them and be thinking about building upon these features to take your Sass usage to the next level – careful now! The book is available now from Five Simple Steps for just £3.