Design

Habitables

Habitables

Having lived in my current flat for just over two years, I’m determined for this to be the year I finally make it feel like a home.

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.

‘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.

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.

Break

Last Thursday I attended Break Conference, where content, graphic, product, UX and web design practitioners took to the stage in Belfast’s Assembly Buildings. As the spiritual successor to Build, organiser Christopher Murphy hoped the event would remove the artificial barriers erected between these different specialisms.

Designer Duds: Losing Our Seat at the Table

Mills Baker:

Much of the work for which we express the most enthusiasm seems superficial, narrow in its conception of design, shallow in its ambitions, or just ineffective.

A necessary critique of the state of design emanating from Silicon Valley. It would seem its best designers are putting lipstick on pigs; adding gloss to products that most people outside San Francisco neither want or need. Also, this:

Design is about solving problems that humans have, not problems that products have.

Cennydd Bowles on the Ethical Designer

Possibly the most important design talk you’ll hear this year:

For decades, the spaces we live in have been built by consensus. Planners, architects, councils, consultation; and always the watchful eye of the regulators and elected officials. But the world’s favourite digital spaces are largely in the hands of people like you and me. We have to oversee ourselves – and it’s not going very well.

Are we focusing on the right problems? Or just aggrandising the mundane? How do we know what the right problems are? How can we guide ourselves to appreciate the cultural and personal impact of the decisions we make?

It’s time for our industry to become ethically aware, if we’re to have a chance of doing the right thing.

Landmark Olympic Websites, Where Art Thou?

Landmark Olympic Websites, Where Art Thou?

Whereas the world’s foremost architects, graphic artists, typographers, iconographers and illustrators are asked to create their best work to celebrate each Olympic Games, still we wait for the Olympic movement to give equal consideration to the design of its websites.

Redesigning 24 ways

Redesigning 24 ways

The tail end of this year has been rather hectic. If moving house and changing jobs weren’t enough to be getting on with, I was also busy redesigning 24 ways.

Visual Design Explorations

Since Mikey joined us in February, the number of designers working at Clearleft is at an all time high. As the company grows, we want to maintain the same level of knowledge sharing and collaboration that happened more spontaneously with a smaller team.

The Trend Against Skeuomorphic Textures and Effects in User Interface Design

John Gruber:

The trend away from skeuomorphic special effects in UI design is the beginning of the retina-resolution design era. Our designs no longer need to accommodate for crude pixels. Glossy/glassy surfaces, heavy-handed transparency, glaring drop shadows, embossed text, textured material surfaces – these hallmarks of modern UI graphic design style are (almost) never used in good print graphic design. They’re unnecessary in print, and, the higher the quality of the output and more heavy-handed the effect, the sillier such techniques look.

John’s article forms part of a larger discussion about the possible emergence of a truer digital aesthetic. Flat interfaces, such as those seen in Microsoft’s Metro UI and the BBC’s GEL project are certainly fashionable, and thankfully, to my taste. Simpler interfaces are particularly suited to the web; high-fidelity interfaces can require a large number of image assets or many lines of CSS, reducing overall performance.

I’m not sure this trend has much to do with HiDPI displays though. I suspect, like most design movements, it’s just a reaction to what proceeded it. Skeuomorphism is to Art Nouveau what flat design is to minimalism. What goes around, comes around.

Be sure to read Max Rudberg’s counter argument, too.

Usable yet Useless: Why Every Business Needs Product Discovery

Rian van der Merwe for A List Apart:

A “shiny citadel” from far away, as The Guardian once wrote, up close Brasília has “degraded into a violent, crime-ridden sprawl of cacophonous traffic jams. The real Brazil has spilled into its utopian vision.”

This problem echoes across today’s web landscape as well, where the needs of ordinary users spill constantly into designers’ utopian vision. All around us we see beautiful, empty monuments erected not for their users, but for the people who built them – and the VCs who are scouting them.

‘Digital Brasílias’ is a great term for all the beautiful – yet ultimately useless – products emerging from the Valley. Product discovery can help us not only design things better, but design better things.

Material Thinking

Material Thinking

Earlier this month, Team Clearleft headed up to London for a day of design related exhibitions: Bauhaus: Art as Life at the Barbican and (after a ride across the city on a ‘Boris Bike’) British Design 1948-2012 and Heatherwick Studio: Designing the Extraordinary at the V&A.

Flying The Flag

Andrew Mitchell, the International Development secretary, has unveiled a new logo that will appear on overseas aid provided by his department; be it grain packets, schools or water pumps.

Flipping The Bird

With a worsening financial crisis and continued destruction of the world’s natural resources, there are undoubtedly more important things to worry about than Twitter’s slightly tweaked bird logo. Yet here we are.

Inspiring Nobody

Rather than showcase British interactive design talent, the biggest cultural event of our generation has been represented online by an uninspired mess that flies the flag for the status quo.

Inventing on Principle

Bret Victor talks about why he is motivated to create creative tools, during his presentation at CUSEC 2012:

Ideas are very precious to me, and when I see ideas dying, it hurts. I see a tragedy. To me it feels like a moral wrong, it feels like an injustice. And if I think there is anything I can do about it, I feel it’s my responsibility to do so. Not opportunity, but responsibility.

He also asks a good question; what’s the guiding principle behind everything you create?

(Via Tim Van Damme)

Next Larger Context

Eliel Saarinen:

Always design a thing by considering it in its next larger context – a chair in a room, a room in a house, a house in an environment, an environment in a city plan.

Created by Machines

Marissa Mayer addressing Google designers, as quoted in In The Plex by Steven Levy:

“It looks like a human was involved in choosing what went where,” Marissa told them. “It looks too editorialized. Google products are machine-driven. They’re created by machines. And that is what makes us powerful. That’s what makes our products great.”

This explains everything.

(via Buzz Andersen)

A Week with Windows Phone 7

With three years of iPhone ownership I’ve become accustomed to the design and behaviour of iOS, yet at the same time ignorant of other smartphone platforms. Thanks to Clearleft’s new mobile testing environment, I can now spend a week or so with different operating systems to get a feel for how they differ. First up; Windows Phone 7.

Change the World

Facebook’s continuing hoovering up of top design talent has been worrying me for some months. The shopping spree continued earlier this month with the acquisition of Push Pop Press, a promising start-up building an innovative digital publishing platform.

Own a Shape

Clayton Miller:

Microsoft’s Metro UI owns the square. Apple has a corner on the roundrect, from the Springboard launcher to the iPhone hardware itself. Nokia, despite its late entry with MeeGo’s Harmattan UI, found the squircle unclaimed and ran with it beautifully. Palm has used the circle from the early days of PalmOS, and in WebOS, HP continues the tradition with care (one might even note that both Palm and HP structure their wordmarks around the circle).

I have a nagging feeling this observation will become useful on future projects. (Via John Gruber)

Design Principles

I’ve been thinking about redesigning this website for the last six months, but haven’t been able to find a strategy for making these changes happen. To keep this project on course, I’ve defined a set of design principles.

Learning to Sketch

With Dave Gray speaking at this year’s UX London, Andy asked if he would then visit Brighton and run a sketching workshop for everyone at Clearleft.

Logo Spotting

My love of detail is often reaffirmed by my noticing the almost inconsiderable tweaks in the designed environment around me.

Driven to Design

In a recent conversation with a client, he asked why I got into design. Its something I’ve been meaning to write about for sometime, so I’ll try to publish my answer here.

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