October 26, 2014
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Udon. The riot of color in this tiny bit of street was really incredible.
Fushimi Inari shrine- the Dentsu Corporation Torii.
A street in Fushimi.
Nagahama Ramen, a Kyoto institution. The place is almost always packed.
man taking a break from making okonomiyaki
Oh! Satsuma Imo (sweet potato) man
Door to a public bath, Kiyamachi Street
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.
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.
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!
The entrance to Fushimi Inari Shrine, traditionally a place to pray for good luck and prosperity.
The sign reads Ishida. I love the typography on this- hand-painted, faded, but still very bold and readable.
The walk up to Fushimi Shrine.
Taiyaki stand. I’m not sure why, but the way the blue tarp sat underneath the fish banner, it made me think of water, or piled ice.
Old and new Kyoto advertising together. Teramachi Street.
One of my favorite shots of the whole trip, taken around Sanjo. The sign reads (or rather used to read) Kiyota, but one of the letters has long since fallen off.
A series of images taken at Mt Fuji, Japan, January 2014. All of them have been edited with Vscocam on an iPhone. Standing underneath such a massive and lonely mountain, I understand now why so many artists dedicate their lives to painting and describing it. Each time I looked at it, Fuji seemed different. The colors, the cloud cover, the shadows, all seemed to shift every few minutes.
I was a Computer Arts subscriber for 2 years. I learned all sorts of things, from how to set up an augmented reality webapp, to creating efficient patterns in Illustrator. The new talent and agency features were also great, as I could see what others in the industry were working on.
I decided, though, to cancel my membership. The magazine had a serious lack of diversity in its pages. There were hardly ever any designers from South America, Asia, Africa, or ‘other’ design communities. The same few people were featured constantly, month after month, and I just got tired of seeing nothing but white European faces.
The design world is bigger than that. I wanted to also read about agencies in Lagos and Accra, translated interviews with Colombian designers, and tutorials from Indian typographers. I wanted to learn, not only about what has been in the design news, but what others were doing around the globe. That wasn’t in the pages of Computer Arts, so I cancelled my subscription.
I thought it would be interesting to document for everyone the fascinating symbols and tombs in Saint Louis Cemetery 1, New Orleans. What I saw there was really amazing, visually and historically.
Marie Laveau lived from 1794 to 1181 in new Orleans. She was a very powerful figure, and led a following of tens of thousands. She and her family are buried in this family grave. A false rumor persists that by drawing three “x”s (XXX) on the side of her grave, she will grant you your wish.
Our tour guide said the only proper way to pray to her is to make a wish, and if she grants it, to return and leave a small offering. The “x”s are simply vandalism, and need to be continually removed.
This “society” tomb is noteworthy for a few reasons. It contains the bodies of a number of soldiers that fought against the British in 1815. The symbols on the tomb all have very specific meanings. Here is a closeup.
– the hourglass at the top: The impermanence of time
– the wreath: victory or immortality
– the cannon balls: their roles as artillerymen
– the upside down torches: the extinction of life
Perpetual Care markers are put on graves entrusted to the care fo the Catholic Church for upkeep and maintenance. Because of the costs involved, many of them are simply restored with concrete and latex paint. Restoration means making a new tomb in the same shape as the old one, but with modern materials. They don’t work well in the humid environment and soon decay. Preservation, on the other hand, means taking care of the original, and fixing it with original materials and techniques.
Note the difference between the restored step tomb on the bottom left, and the original step tomb to the right.
The marks of the Freemasons and the Shriners feature prominently here.
Many tomb covers are made of marble, which is extremely susceptible to the hot, humid climate, and soon warps and crumbles. Note the curved marble piece on the second one from the left.
In 1892, Homer Plessy and a Citizens Committee challenged the racist “Separate but Equal” doctrine. It was part of a highly coordinated attempt to have state-sponsored segregation ruled unconstitutional. Although the case reached the US Supreme Court, they did not succeed. It was not until 1954, in the Brown v. Board of Education that the law was struck down.
These striking silkscreen, lithograph, and woodcut Work Projects Administration (WPA) posters were designed to publicize health and safety programs; cultural programs including art exhibitions, theatrical, and musical performances; travel and tourism; educational programs; and community activities in seventeen states and the District of Columbia. The posters were made possible by one of the first U.S. Government programs to support the arts and were added to the Library’s holdings in the 1940s.