Interview on Revision Path

I was recently interviewed by the amazing Maurice Cherry for his podcast Revision Path. I was one of the first designers Maurice interviewed way back in the day for Revision Path, so it was wonderful to chat with him about the state of design today, and what I have been working on. Most interestingly for me, we had a chance to talk about science fiction, Afrofuturism, and “that black rights in space…”

Check it.

Episode 152: Senongo Akpem

Network Access: Finding and Working with Creative Communities

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I wrote recently on A List Apart about finding and working with creative communities. Too often in the Western design world, we hear that design is stale, or has become homogenous.
This view views creative communities, essentially, as pools of user-generated content, that freely available content is there to be mined and the best ideas repackaged for profit. This is idea as commodity, and it very conveniently strips out the people doing the creating, instead looking at their conceptual and design work as a resource.

But another way of thinking is to view creative networks as interdependent networks of people. By nature, they cannot be resources, and any work put into the community is to sustain and nourish those human connections, not create assets. The focus is on contributing. How you build connections among other creative people makes you part of the network. See them, however ephemeral and globally distributed, as a powerful way to expand your design horizons and be part of something different.

Read the whole article at ALA!

South African Ethnographic Study Drawings from 1872

I found these drawings by Gustav Fritsch recently while doing some other research. In this paper by Andrew Bank of the University of the Western Cape, we learn that “Fritsch indicated right at the outset of his expedition that his aims were ‘ethnographic’ and ‘anthropological’ … and the collection of a portrait portfolio of ‘natives’ (‘eingeborenen’) was the most important aspect of this project“. Note that the men and women are drawn with no background or context- this was a deliberate act on the part of Fritsch and other ethnographic portrait artists. Quite a few of these were drawn after photographs, but because of the clunky photographic setup and chairs needed for the subjects, “the background or the context has been painted out of the negative, thus stressing the de-contextualized nature of the subject.

As with all art, they are interesting once you understand the background in which they were made.

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Running Effective Design Workshops- a Blog Series

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Over the past few weeks, I’ve written a series of articles on A List Apart about planning and running design workshops successfully. In the first article, I discuss effective planning and goal setting. In the second, I discuss choosing the correct activities during your workshop, ones that map clearly to your goals. In the third and last article of the series, I go over ways that attendees might disrupt your workshop, and some ways to keep things on track.

When you have a few minutes, have a read through and let me know what you think!

Pixel Fable Featured on The New York Times

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Imagine my surprise when I woke up last month, to a Google Alert about Pixel Fable in the New York Times! The project has been a long-running one, and has allowed me to stretch my illustration and dev skills. So I was very happy to see it featured in April, as part of a story about interactive children’s apps.

You can read the article here, and purchase a subscription to the iPad app.

Some CSS Compositions By Kim Asendorf

I just rediscovered these CSS compositions recently in my bookmarks, and thought you might enjoy them.

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http://kimasendorf.com/css-compositions/

Work by Chyrum Lambert

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Some amazing work by Chyrum Lambert. All Chyrum’s work is hand-painted, with inks, arcylics, oils, wax, etc. He then cuts the shapes and assembles them onto paper.

They feel tactile, carved, almost. Looking at the jpegs, its difficult to imagine how they were made, a quality that I really love. The use of grids, borders, and large geometric shapes is familiar to me as a graphic designer, but then a lot of that structure gets erased and cut away to reveal other more organic shapes and lines. h/t to Able Parris for the link.

Culturally Responsive Design- AIGA NY talk

Though this is short notice, I’m really happy to say Ill be speaking at the AIGA NY about Culturally Responsive Design on November 4th.

The description:
It’s a given today that design responds to our devices, locations, and preferences. But do we expect it to be responsive to cultural differences? Senongo Akpem will talk about factors that can affect how design is perceived in places with different cultural norms and how visual and cultural diversity can be built into every stage of a project. Senongo will also talk about how design can advance diversity in publishing, through projects such as Pixel Fable and Lost Nigeria.

Hope I see you there!

Concept Art by Nivanh Chanthara

I’ve been looking a lot at sci-fi concept art and paintings recently, and came across the work of Nivanh Chanthara. All of it is beautifully done, but I liked these best.

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Design As A Second Language

There are a lot of similarities between teaching english and designing websites. I taught ESL (English as a Second Language) full time in Japan for over 4 years before becoming a designer, and I’d like to think that experience better prepared me for a career on the web.

User Research in Teaching (and Design)

Some element of user research should go into every design project. Some studios hire researchers, and use that as a core selling point. Others are comfortable using the findings of outsiders. If research is built into how your team operates, you might reuse what data you’ve already gathered. In any situation, it plays a big part in the development and deployment of sites and web apps.

The same was true in the English lessons I taught in Japan. Teachers wrote down all kinds of interesting tidbits in student files. They were where I learned if they had siblings, pets, even a passport full of visa stamps. Looking at a student file before class gave me just enough background to plan a targeted lesson. In much the same way, I now use analytics, user research, and interviews to get data about our audience and plan designs that work for them. It makes it a much more personal experience for them, if done right.

The Interface as a Challenge

I sometimes think that classrooms are like user interfaces. It takes a lot to get them working correctly. I used to get clammy hands when a lesson started floundering. The flop sweat and frustration when someone didn’t get a grammar point or a vocabulary word- agh! That process of deciding what worked in class, and then doing more of it, feels to me the same process I take when designing for the web. Find the parts of the interface that are failing, and rework them.

Repetition As A Path to Smoother Communication

One of the most hated parts of the students lessons was the “listen and repeat”. It was used for grammar exercises, pronunciation, and pretty much every dead spot in the lesson. It worked for my students when used judiciously. Giving students practice with language patterns helped to solidify the ebb and flow of the English language.

I find the same principle holds true with the design work I do now. I find myself unconsciously looking for repeated interaction patterns. Those become learned behavior on the web- just think about those now-ubiquitous hamburger menu buttons. A few years ago, as responsive web design was just starting out, those hardly existed! Now it’s a known pattern, one built on a few years of user repetition.

I can even trace certain mark-making from my years in art school, patterns that I still use again and again. In that way, I’ve built up a design language all my own, one built on years of practice.

Encountering Conceptual Dead-ends in my Design Process

There were always a few students no one could stand. I don’t miss a single one. They were the people with the most obvious and grating personalities. They would find creative ways to derail lessons, interrupt the shyest students right when they were about to open up, or vehemently disagree with some established scientific fact. One highlight was having a middle-aged man laugh in my face when I told him the population of Nigeria was larger than Japan’s. You had to learn to think on your feet, though, and avoid situations that would let the the crazy ones take over the class.

But here’s the thing. They forced me to change the way I taught. They made me spend an extra minute or two explaining a complicated idiom, or a grammar point, or even just wait patiently while shy students got up the nerve to speak. The waiting patiently was the hardest, to be honest.

But in the same way that those bad students forced me to innovate and change the way I conducted classes, the complex humanity of people online forces me to simplify and rethink my interfaces, to eliminate those kinds of situations.

A Concluding Thought

Web designers are not always teachers, but we can learn a lot from what happens in a classroom. I view Design as a language, one that I speak with varying degrees of proficiency, depending on the problem I’m solving. How information is passed from one person to another matters greatly, whether it be the spoken word, or web content. Teaching one has made me much better at the other.

Found Typography in Japan, New Years 2014: Part 2

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Udon. The riot of color in this tiny bit of street was really incredible.

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Fushimi Inari shrine- the Dentsu Corporation Torii.

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A street in Fushimi.

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Nagahama Ramen, a Kyoto institution. The place is almost always packed.

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man taking a break from making okonomiyaki

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Parking

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Oh! Satsuma Imo (sweet potato) man

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Door to a public bath, Kiyamachi Street

Transmedia Storytelling Tools: Part 1

Over the past few year, I’ve been exploring transmedia and non-linear storytelling. Transmedia storytelling is the practice of telling a story across multiple platforms and formats. It follows the distributed, non-linear way the web is set up, with hyperlinks and content split across multiple sites, and is a radically different way of telling stories.

Part of my research has been on the tools we can use to do this. I’ve listed a few below. Hopefully you can use a few of them to start telling new kinds of digital stories.

Images and Multimedia Platforms

Thinglink allows you to create interactive images by adding popup interactivity. Spread out across multiple images, this could be a really interesting way to explore a story.

Klynt is a webapp that allows you to create rich, multimedia content. It is a paid platform, but has a good set of features and integrations.

Meograph is another multimedia content tool, but has a smaller feature set.

Cowbird is a storytelling community. It uses a very simple set of interactions to tell human interest stories. As part of a larger narrative, it would be a very good way to explore a characters motivations or inner thoughts. A Jonathan Harris project.

Aesop Story Engine is a WordPress theme that uses a variety of plugins for different story content. This gets very close to the atomic narrative content I discussed in my FOWD talk in London.

Zeega is another multimedia content tool. The emphasis on audio and gifs makes it accessible for the modern web.

StoryCorps is a platform for telling personal stories. It is focused on the American experience, and offers a great model for audience-led personal narrative.

Twine is an open-source tool for telling non-linear, hyperlinked stories. It is one of those pure web tools, and does not rely on extensive functionality or tools to work, but is kind of inaccessible for those with no technical background. For an example, see Transit

Mapstory is community focused on sharing data and knowledge. The emphasis here is on spatial, open-source data. This model could potentially be used in other contexts, such as to create starmaps, or other fictional narrative content.

I will be posting more examples in Part 2, so stay tuned!