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January 10, 2016 - Comments Off on How Design Will Continue to Evolve in 2016 and Beyond

How Design Will Continue to Evolve in 2016 and Beyond

As we head into a new year, there are a few patterns that I’ve seen within the design world as a whole. In general, it’s a good time to be a designer. It’s a skillset that is highly in demand, and the level of design fluency among the general public continues to rise. The field is increasingly becoming visible and valuable, which can only mean good things.

Things Keep Getting Better

It may be some of my own personal bias, but the design of the world is getting better. Not to say that there isn’t room for improvement, but having well designed things and experiences is increasingly more common. The primary reason for this is the success that valuing design can bring to businesses across all sectors. As long as design continues to improve the bottom line, the quality of design will continue to improve.

Designers Can—and Should—Be Business Leaders

For years designers have been vying for a seat at the business table. With the success of designer-led startups like airbnb and Pinterest, as well as the presence of designers at VC firms, we are achieving some of these goals. It would be wonderful if this was more common, but the successes that we’ve seen thus far will continue to compound.

Back to Our Roots

The digital designers of today can learn a lot from designers in other disciplines. The best brand designers think in terms of holistic strategy and concentrate on touch points. Successful retail designers think about the customer’s entire experience that begins outside the store, and continues well after they’ve left. Designers that focus on user experience are seeing that the walls of the physical and digital are starting to blur further, and they need to consider experiences outside of the screen. Digital designers have a lot to learn from these disciplines, and we can decrease our learning curve by researching how other designers have tackled problems before us.

Experimental Interfaces

With the major launches of several VR products this year, the growth of wearables, and the very nascent world of IoT, not to mention the increasing digital interaction of existing products (e.g. cars), it’s clear that designers will be tasked with learning the nuances of more and more interfaces that are further removed from the PC or smartphone models that they are used to. The possibilities are both frightening and exciting, but whatever your feeling, it’s impossible to deny the amount of potential for designers to shape the world around us. With that potential comes a great deal of responsibility to design for safety and accessibility, but designers are up to the task.

Nearing Peak Prototype

This one is pretty close to home, but 2015 was fantastic for digital prototyping software. Existing software matured dramatically, a bunch of new players came onto the scene, and we got some previews of what’s around the corner. In 2016, there are at least two major product launches that will doubtless have an impact on the landscape of available tools, which brings us close to the point of saturation. No tool is perfect, and technology is changing quickly, so there is certainly room for multiple options, but in the next 12–18 months we’re going to reach Peak Prototype™ where some of the smaller players aren’t sustainable. The field of competition will narrow and designers will arrive at a selection of tools that are able to create efficient, effective workflows. We’re not there yet though, and it’s going to be an exciting year for prototype software.

All of these trends and developments signify both growth and maturation of design as a discipline. It’s never been more exciting to be a designer than it is now. The practice has the potential to operate in every industry and to impact people all over the globe. It’s going to be a wild ride, but doubtless quite a fun one.


This is an entry in my writing project series. For more detail about that, see here. The header image is created by me, and part of my recent experiments with Processing.

January 2, 2016 - Comments Off on Top 10 Albums: 2015 Edition

Top 10 Albums: 2015 Edition

2015 was a great year for music for me. In 2014, I was hard-pressed to put together a list of ten albums that I was excited about, but this year narrowing the field to just 10 was a bit of a challenge.

TL;DR

Here’s a playlist of my 10 favorite albums of 2015, in no particular order. Give it a listen. If you’re still interested in watching me dance about architecture, then read on.

Sleater-Kinney — No Cities to Love

I hadn’t been a huge Sleater-Kinney fan before this album, but these tracks really hit me. I remember listening to this album almost a year ago, and knowing that this album would leave an impression. From the hardly relenting pace of the beat to the poetic lyricism of the lyrics, this one secured a spot early.

Will Butler — Policy

 
As a huge fan of The Arcade Fire’s

  • Reflektor
  • album from two years ago, the presence of Will Butler’s solo debut on this list shouldn’t come as a huge surprise. It’s quite a quirky album that jumps all over the place from a few garage-y numbers to straight-ahead pop, with a dance track or two in the mix as well. It remains rather bouncey throughout and upbeat, however, with lyrics that fall somewhere on the spectrum from cryptic to just pain nonsensical.

    Crocodiles — Boys

    Despite being a rabid fan of Crocodiles’ first album, Summer of Hate, I’d lost interest in their recent albums. They just didn’t have much new to say, so the music didn’t catch hold of me. I started listening to this album with similar expectations, but was pleasantly surprised when this one stuck with me for most of the year. The guitar remains drenched in feedback, while the rest of the band pulls in references from primitive rock ’n’ roll, disco, and New Wave. Assembled together, it resembles a more mature and effortless release.

    Wavves & Cloud Nothings — No Life For Me

    Catching me rather unexpectedly, this album was a frequent spin from the day of its release. Not the longest album, it aims for quality over quantity and delivers a tight low-fi punk package.

    Alabama Shakes — Sound and Color

    I’d heard a lot of people talking about this record, but passed over it because it just didn’t seem like my thing. I’m glad that I gave it a chance though, because it’s a really fantastic release. What really strikes me about this album is that although it sounds like a fairly standard R&B release at first, as the tracks they begin to sound like a band coming apart at the seams; slowly and painfully. The sparse accompaniment sets the stage for vocals just drip with emotional weight in a way that I find completely fascinating.

    FIDLAR — Too

    Let me level with you: FIDLAR is the kind of punk band that bothers me. They seem to have sprung fully-formed from the head of Fat Mike’s NoFX, and for the most part I couldn’t really care less about an album full of two minute songs glorifying getting high or drunk (or both). This time around, things aren’t necessarily different musically, but the songs deal a bit more with the real stuff of life and that made it a much more interesting package.

    Hanni El Khatib — Moonlight

    A little bit rockabilly, a bit garage, and a bit punk, I’ve been a fan of Hanni El Khatib’s other releases as well. This particular one seems a bit better than the rest, and proved to have solid staying power. The one puzzling track is the last track which is disco rehash that is an memorial to lost brothers (friends?), and comes across as cheesy and poorly done. It doesn’t sink the album though, so this one makes the cut.

    Mike Krol — Turkey

    Krol and his band have released a delightful, fun, raw rip through nine speedy tracks of punk rock. No more, no less.

    The Arcs — Yours, Dreamily,

    This album was both what I expected it to be, and a bit of a surprise. As a frequent fan of The Black Keys and Dan Auerbach’s solo effort, it seemed pretty assured that I would enjoy this one as well. It took me longer than I thought to really crack the shell of this one though, because if you’ve listened to the Song Exploder episode about one of the singles, it’s quite a layered affair. The further that I sunk into its depths, however, the more that I came to really enjoy its layered production. The unusual samples and deceptively simple lyrics have resulted in a truly engaging package.

    Fuzz — II

    This entry should be of little surprise to anybody, as one that ticks some of the major boxes for me: heavy riffs, distortion piled on distortion, Ozzy-esque vocals, and a brisk pace from start to finish. Sure some of the tracks meander a bit, topping out at nearly 14 minutes, but it never feels boring. I’ve been a fan of Ty Segall’s projects, and this is no exception.

    Final Thoughts

    While there are millions of “Year’s Best…” lists this time of year, I like to look at it from a more personal angle. I’ve never been drawn to creating music as a creative outlet, but it’s always followed my creative endeavors. Looking back at the music that resonated for me each year always provides a snapshot for me of what I was interested in at the time. With any luck, others also find a few releases that they might’ve missed over the past twelve months.

    This is the second entry in my year-long writing project. If you’re curious about its method or impetus, check out this post.

    December 22, 2015 - Comments Off on Thinking About Writing; Writing About Thinking

    Thinking About Writing; Writing About Thinking

    The idea of writing regularly is just one of those things. The kind of thingthat you know will make you a better person, but remains painful and difficult to start, so you put it off. As a visually focused person that occasionally (read: frequently) has difficulty communicating with words, I’ve always found the process of unstructured writing to be daunting. However, this is that time of year when one starts to think about what one wants to do differently in the future, so that brings me to writing.

    In a conversation with a friend, we discussed a shared desire to devote more energies to writing. He mentioned a goal that he’s setting for himself to spend an hour a week writing for the next year. Of course, he challenged me to do the same. I made an excuse about it at the time, and may do so again at a later date, but the idea has stuck in my head. So heading into the new year, I’m planning to make writing a larger part of my creative energies.

    The Goals and Guidelines

    I wouldn’t be a good designer if I didn’t have a love for structure and limits. It’s always helpful to have something to aim towards, and something else to push off of. To that end, I want to set up some loose goals for myself, as well as some guidelines that—I hope—will allow for the realization of this goal.

    First thing: Publish once a week, before 12:01am Monday morning.

    Second thing: I give myself permission to not write something profound, life changing, topical, or even coherent. The point is to write; not to be precious about it.

    Third thing: The whole thing shouldn’t take more than an hour to complete, from the first click of the keyboard, to the pushing of the “Publish” button.

    Fourth thing: I won’t wait to publish for want of a cool image, better editing, or more interesting topic. These are just excuses, and will get in my way.

    My goal—plain and simple—is to be more self reflective. At the risk of this format being a public diary, it’s becoming increasing important to have the mental space to examine ideas that kick around in the back of my head all day. My own art practice is often an outlet for these ideas, but I would like to discuss ideas related to design and my professional life that don’t often have a place in my art. My express purpose then, is to use this space to reflect on these elements of my life, career, and passions that could use an addition element of scrutiny. To some degree, it would be nice if these thoughts resonated with others on some level, but that would be a secondary bonus.

    Test & Then Analyze

    This will be my plan, but I want to give myself the permission to change my mind as this experiment progresses. I couldn’t start something like this at the close of 2015 without acknowledging that most people that embark on a journey of some type of New Years resolution fail. This project is important, and I don’t want to fail, at least not completely. I want to give myself the permission to change the parameters of this exercise if it’s just not working out. It will probably be difficult sometimes, so the challenge will be to recognize when I’m struggling as opposed to when I’m growing.

    The simple act of setting up this project set up has been somewhat relieving. It’s helpful to have a project, and something to work towards that I can tackle on my own terms. I have a backlog of ideas for things to write about, so I’m looking forward to kicking into gear next week. I’ll close this entry with a line from Mike Watt, bassist of the seminal hardcore band The Minutemen. To be more accurate, in an interview with Mark Marin, he was quoting his friend and band mate D. Boon who would say, “The knowin’s in the doin’,” which is precisely my aim.

    December 29, 2014 - 1 comment.

    Top 5 Albums (That I Bought) This Year: 2014 Edition

    It's always interesting to look back at the music that I listened to in the past twelve months what overlaps stand out. As you might imagine, my choices aren't premeditated, but often follow some similar patterns. Indeed some things never change: lots of pretty loud, pretty fast, and slightly experimental music.

    2014 was definitely a year for straight-up Rock 'n' Roll. Despite rumors of its death, the genre saw several releases come out this past year that felt really alive and interesting. They combined some of the best references to the past, with some new licks and new tricks; something that rock has always done really well. Most importantly, artists keep exploring the boundaries of the rock sound.

    One major connection through most of my picks is this strong connection—and reference to—musical history. In all cases, however, it doesn't manifest in nostalgia, but really a celebration tempered by recontextualization. Taking that one element that was successful for another artist or prevalent at another time, and recycling it to work in a current context.

    As in previous years, most of these albums are pretty loud, but I didn't really hit on anything particularly heavy that I fell in love with this year. For whatever reason, I didn't listen to much metal over the past year or so. The tempo stayed high though while the running time stayed short, with the average song length clocking in around the 2:45 mark.

    The final interesting thing to note: all of these records are releases by relatively seasoned artists. It's harder to find those amazing début artists, but I'm having trouble recalling a new artist that really grabbed my attention this year.

    With all that perspective, let's kick off the list of this year's hits with my absolute favorite:

    tUnE-yArDs - nikki nack

    As infatuated as I was their previous record, W H O K I L L, I'm really entranced by this record. Indeed, it is more polished, more heavily layered, and the end I think more enduring release. The loops and quirky lyrics are still there, but gone is the hipster ukulele and the super low-fi approach. Instead the band has grown both in number and aural range to create a more robust sound, adding in more of a Caribbean flavor to its African beats. It's a bigger album in all respects than previous effort, but thankfully it feels like an evolution instead of a departure.

    Parquet Courts - Sunbathing Animal

    Few bands of recent memory have grown in reputation so quickly as Parquet Courts. Taking the usual trappings of a garage band, they've really refined it the sound to a smoothly running machine that churns out catchy track after catchy track. They'll lure you in with stupid lyrics and hand claps, then the next verse drop pure poetry wrapped in a wall of sonic feedback static. A more magical recipe for success I can't imagine.

    Death From Above 1979 - The Physical World

    I couldn't be happier that DFA1979 didn't fall into the pit of other "One Hit Wonders", but instead of returned from their hiatus with a really killer album. It's still really loud and really fast, but sandpaper to the eardrums feeling has abated somewhat. Even though I loved that with their first album, I really don't miss it here. In its place is songwriting that has stepped up a couple notches. Sure, there's still the lyrics celebrating the fast life, but there's also a real attempt at narrative storytelling, such as on the track, "White is red."

    Ex Hex - Rips

    With an album title like that, it's not easy to avoid cliché descriptors, but this really is a tight collection of songs. While I haven't read any discussion of this band without the mention of their front woman Mary Timony, I can't help but feel that she's just one of the strong creative forces behind these tracks. Blending super catchy choruses with an unrelenting pace, it's hard not to tap your foot and bounce your head from start to finish.

    Jack White - Lazaretto

    To be totally honest, this last spot was a tie for a while between Lazaretto, Ty Segall's Manipulator, and Bass Drum of Death's Rip This. What tipped the scales was ultimately the feeling that I get while listening to this album: it's just plain fun. I think Jack White has written better songs, and I enjoyed Blunderbuss a bit more, but what is really on display here is his virtuosity. He jumps from traditional Blues licks to hard rock, from folk to country and everything in between. In the end, it feels like he's just playing for himself and letting us all hang out and listen, which it turns out is a really good time.

    Wrap-up

    That puts a bow on it for 2014. If you haven't listened to any of these tunes before, check out the full playlist of everything below. And by all means, if there's something that I should've checked out (and loved) in 2014, drop a line on Twitter and let me know.

    [Rdio playlist is dead. RIP Rdio]

    January 1, 2014 - 3 comments

    Top 5 Albums (That I Bought) This Year: 2013 Edition

    It was definitely an unusual year in music for me. For whatever reason, I bought about half of the music that I usually do. As a result, I scrambled to round-up a list of my favorites for this year, but before I get into it, a few thoughts.

    One of the factors contributing to declining purchase rates is most likely an increased reliance on Spotify for my music playing. I don't rely on it to be my main music library, though I do use it to listen to albums before buying. In some cases, this has made me more wary of purchasing, whereas in the past I have committed with a few short 30 second listens. I'm not sure if that means that my purchases have generally been of higher quality, but it has allowed me to listen to music in a more impulsive and free manner, which is a good thing. I also went to a few concerts of bands what I hadn't heard about previous to discovering them on Spotify. Long-term, I haven't decided if this is a good or a bad thing, but certainly a change in pattern and something to be aware of.

    Another reason is that I'm seeing a certain change—both in my musical tastes and in the musical zeitgeist. Musical genres are much less of a "thing" these days, but there is a palpable sense of nostalgia to a lot of the music that is being released. This isn't a bad thing in and of itself since what is old is always becoming new again. What's really popular now reminds me of a lot of the key movements from music that was popular when I was really young or a teenager (grunge, digital synths, "indie") but feels like it has gone through the grinder and fermented with time. Sometimes it seems like I've heard the song before, but then I realize that it's all new. I will say that running through a lot of the music that I've been interested in has had a certain amount of dissonance running through it, which probably has some reflection of the times. Not a sense of outward anger, but there's just the sense that something isn't quite right and a lingering feeling of unrest.

    With those thoughts in mind, I decided to cut my list down to the top 5 albums that I bought this year. Here's the run-down:

    OutRun by Kavinsky

    It shouldn't be surprising that an album titled "OutRun" would reference late '80s, early '90s video games. This album could easily have been run through a Midi processor and been the soundtrack for an NES game. That definitely touches something from my childhood, but the unrelenting pace is what keeps me hooked. It's also exemplary of the type of electronic music that I'm increasing drawn to, and want to explore more of in the future.

    Reflektor by Arcade Fire

    This one is everybody's favorite album this year. It's crazy how many Top 10 (…Top 50, Top 100) lists I've seen this on. I'm really surprised that I liked it as much as I do, especially considering the fact that I've never really liked another Arcade Fire record. Maybe it's because this is a rather unusual release, and the fact that it feels like several different records all tossed in the blender until something magical comes out. At times, it feels like three of my favorite records: The Clash's Sandinista, Paul Simon's Graceland, and LCD Soundsystem's s/t. The mixed whole is really an album that I think I'll keep back to for quite a while.

    Bass Drum of Death by Bass Drum of Death

    Where Reflektor feels complex, layered, intellectual, and collagey, BDOD feels simple, straight-forward, and fun. Sometimes this really just fits the bill, that it seems that's all these guys are trying to do. I managed to see these guys live, and their live show is just as fun. This is a great spin for getting psyched and just going for it.

    Mosquito by Yeah Yeah Yeahs

    Another weird one, I was a bit on the fence about including this album. I've been a die-hard fan of the Yeah Yeah Yeahs since the Fever To Tell days, and their releases have been flagging a bit, in my opinion. The last album, It's Blitz, stripped out a lot of the angst from previous efforts, but it seemed to me that a lot of the passion got lost along the way. Mosquito brought a lot of that back in, with some more variety, but a little bit more inconsistency as well. The title track is more than a little corny, and not in a good way, but the other tracks range from solid to great. Even the slower songs keep things interesting with evocative, emotive passages that play a much different spectrum than the band usually does.

    Silence Yourself by Savages

    Somehow I missed this one when it first came out, so I was a little late to the party. It's been on heavy rotation though. Occasionally—but not to heavily—indebted to the Riot Grrl sound, each of these eleven tracks blister with fury and distortion. There are also some dark psych overtones that leave me with the feeling that these girls spent more time listening to Black Sabbath and Television than Sleater Kinney.

    The Wrap-up

    There are definitely some commonalities in my picks, but I'll let you make judgements for yourself on what those really are. I've included a playlist embed below, so hit me up if you dig any of these tracks. I'm interested to see how this next year develops with my musical tastes and purchasing habits, with doubtless more Spotify listening.

    July 18, 2013 - Comments Off on Nursery Rhyme

    Nursery Rhyme

    I've long been fascinated with the origin of language, specifically colloquialisms that lose their original meaning but are still used in common speech. "Pop goes the weasel" is phrase that began as Cockney rhyming slag the meant "pawn the coat." It turns out that the cheery-sounding nursery rhyme is actually about being down on your luck, selling your clothes and going to the pub. Who knew?

    If you're not so down on your luck, you can purchase a print here.

    July 18, 2013 - Comments Off on The Dark Knight Rises

    The Dark Knight Rises

    Being a comicbook nerd for years, I was extremely excited for the Dark Knight Rises to come out. I made this poster to celebrate its release.

    July 18, 2013 - Comments Off on Veggie BBQ

    Veggie BBQ

    As a vegetarian, one often feels left out of the BBQ party. Of course, there's always the tofu burger.

    If you can sympathize, I'd be much obliged if you purchased a print.

    July 18, 2013 - Comments Off on Megatron 2012

    Megatron 2012

    How long would Megatron keep trying to defeat the Autobots? It seems like it would only be a matter of time before he decided to go through official channels.