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I’m finding myself referencing the “Timeless way of Building” again to help me through a self-imposed designer’s block. The biggest lesson in the book is the word Quality, which is actually framed as “The Quality without a Name”.
It’s elusive as a concept because it escapes language as a way to describe wholly from one person to another, it needs concrete examples to fully demonstrate. Probably even with examples the entire meaning cannot be fully captured and it remains elusive because context changes, time moves on, and perspectives renew.
However, this book describes the Quality without a Name tangentially with other words like Alive, Whole, Comfortable, Free, Exact, Egoless, Eternal.
It also describes it as a configurational milestone influenced by the relationships and context surrounding a built environment, a balance of the system of forces that achieves the words above.
I just find it awesome that a word could mean nothing and something positive at the same time. i.e. “This thing has certain qualities.” and “This thing is quality thing.” Even though the word can be modified with negative connotations (i.e. “This thing is full of bad qualities.”) the greater implication is that qualities exist and that bad qualities can be transformed into good qualities.
I guess this brings me to a recurring theme about process around product-building. Discipline in design is discipline in process and that begins always on context. A speaker came by some time ago and acknowledged the ground she stood on before her talk, and I couldn’t forget it. Jarrett < Broadview < Ballard < Berkeley < Salinas < Fairfax < Ras Tanura. Somehow I need to infuse it in my process.
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In my journey through Human Factors and into Design, I’ve always attributed the profession, process, and output of Design to be rooted in communication. The communication of meaning, either between inanimate objects or interfaces to humans, or between humans, facilitated by some medium or interface.
Understanding design as inherently communication simplified a lot of problems that I encountered through work, and continues to frame how I work. I was and am still able to look at a problem, use case, or scenario and model it as an experience through time that needed clear communication between a state of not-understanding and a state of understanding. Sometimes that could be accomplished in one step, and other times many steps. A clear path or loop might be obvious, or a set of possibilities must gracefully present itself through the journey.
However, my challenges now is flattening that interaction to become almost transparent, and to allow other moments to flourish because of that experience flattening. That means not only communicating quickly, but representing extremely rich emotions and meaning through a fat pipe, instantly, so our customers can get to the really good stuff.
To make this concrete, imagine the macro-view of our current Pokemon Go zeitgeist. Armed with more than 20 years of loaded language and meaning, merely the name Pokemon sends an emotional response to a whole lot of people. Getting people to click “Get” in the App store and subsequently tap on the App icon was never the problem. (Props to the team resisting the urge to reinvent recognition of Pokemon, and simply represent the app with the iconic Pokeball). The user is then ushered into an experience that’s both physical and digital. A blinking blue dot and a map appears. Instantly references google maps and the “God-view” and I realize that my physical location matters in this game. The phone vibrates, and a Pokemon appears, but in the Pokemon’s context is the real world behind my phone’s camera and in my disposal is a digital Pokeball that somehow begs to be flicked towards the Pokemon in the real world. I must keep flicking to catch it.
Done-zo. Tutorial over. The good stuff ensues. Pokemon Go is a good example because of the sheer cultural weight of the franchise, where the motivation to get the game was irresistible enough to download. But to keep playing? That’s a whole different magic altogether. Magic that I’m trying to harness and make into a sweet science. The science is elusive, but the journey is enjoyable so why not.
“Process is as valuable as the product, method as revelatory as the Motive”
I’m paraphrasing Jessica Helfand from her latest book that I just finished, Design: The invention of desire.
I’m taking more leaps in honing a semblance of a design process in my work since last year, which feels incredibly encouraging in what I feel like my career has been headed since I decided to “do UX” 5 years ago.
I guess what I mean by that is that I’m slowly unpacking what I’ve been doing, and getting better at doing, and separating that from what I’m trying to achieve or what my clients are aiming to achieve in their medium or interface.
However, the more I understand, the more becomes a mystery as I’m reaching back to principles of human factors, human psychology, sociology, other humanitarian studies or political science to provide solutions. The feeling is recursive, but re-invigorating as I’m able to traverse through familiar and updated information equipped with new lens to interpret and design.
I’m so good at being vague but damn it if I can’t explain it better than that. Well the real purpose to this blog post was to force myself to write a chapter outline to the above book by Jessica Helfand in my own words.
Design: The Invention of Desire
Summary: The act of design is coming into age with honesty to itself as integral and inseparable from human history itself. Maybe the best summary is her analogy she supposes — Design:Civilization::Self:Society.
0. “Conscience” – Design matters because it is an intrinsically humanist (and practical, in the sense for its ability to engineer and change humans) discipline, tethered to the very core of why we exist.
1. “Authority” – A great title to juxtapose a design critique of products or solutions that are designed to help humans define their sense of self, identity, uniqueness, belonging, power, authority, citizenship, ownership, authorship, etc.
2. “Fantasy” – Helfand frames desire into the sense of play that is human-universal, and how in practice that can manifest itself into trying many ideas, dreaming different scenarios, enriching conversations, and the process of design itself is fun. She quotes Einstein, “Knowledge is limited to what we know and understand, while imagination embraces the entire world, and all there ever will be to know and understand.”
3. “Identity” – Helfand specifies a design problem of solutions in place today of harboring or attempting to contain human identities. First, is hopelessly shallow and navel-gazing when it requires constant curation of what you think is your identity. Second, it’s fickle as control is ultimately not in the hands of the user, and could be lost at an instant. Design here is maybe creating more problems than solving them.
4. “Consequence” – A chapter exploring the how design today sometimes frames their scope to knowingly or unknowingly be ignorant to the consequence of these designed actions. Helfand is passionate here about how humanly ignorant we are in expense of not being aware of the consequences, esp. in regard to the locks on that dangerously overloaded bridge in Paris.
5. “Compassion” – Another passionate chapter where she explores the human nature of being conceited in the practice of design. When it comes to the practice, it’s also important when to not try to solve problems but to instead impart the basic human quality of compassion instead. Not everything can and should be solved.
6. “Patience” – Probably the best chapter in my opinion, where in combination to the previous human qualities, Helfand brings up great examples where interfaces and our other modern designed artifacts have no weight, mass, or even energy to deal with human scenarios that require patience. It’s too easy to “click” and time is rarely even felt anymore.
7. “Solitude” – Great follow up chapter that explores reflection and the importance of honoring the self’s unique voice to be contributed in our increasingly connected and more neutral world. Reflection and solitude is the source of that and should be inseparable from the human feeling of experiencing something truly unique/original.
8. “Melancholy” – Awesome chapter exploring solemnity and why it’s important in the human experience. Maybe loops back into “Compassion” but is more about how to also facilitate that for the self when appropriate.
9. “Humility” – A revealing chapter for Helfand as she reflects on her husband’s battle with cancer. Combines ideas of “Compassion” and maybe the intro “Conscience” to remind about how confounding it is to practice design and participate in the human experience. It sucks/probably painful to try to remove yourself from a human experience that a designer might try to keep their designer glasses on for.
10. “Memory” – A fascinating chapter about being really honest about the capabilities and limits of human memory and its crazy interactions with “designed” memories like photographs, videos, and the crazy internet. Some fresh questions about what human memory is and what is should and shouldn’t do with regards to the sense of self (some overlap with “Identity”).
11. “Desire” – Helfand’s thesis. She asserts Desire a third of the trifecta that defines human behavior, along with Emotion and Knowledge. Communicated with human emotions appeal, want, judgement, choices, deserving… She asks “Desire might lead, but must we follow?”
12. “Change” – Basically this quote: “This is what it means to strip away pretense, to understand design as a function of who we are, not what we do. Detached from hyperbole, removed from the machine-dominated enterprise of modern culture, design is to civilization as self is to society.” Both Civilization and Society has changed in all of human history, and thus, self and design shall too.
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I’m slippin! Unlike Splett, who is just killing it.
I’m reflecting on how fiction superheroes probably make the best role models. Exhibit A: Black Panther. The heir and king to the dictionary definition of a sovereign nation of Wakanda. His powers are humbler than most but Prince T’Challa’s character is just something else. His every action and thought is driven by his fierce independence clashing with the weight of a grave lineage. I’ve never really been a Batman guy, but respect the lore. I just feel like it’s an exciting time where we could have a character like T’Challa live on the big screen and be exposed to a new generation. I’m really looking forward to how Coogler and Boseman will do in the next film.