April 12, 2013

I’ll Be Speaking At UXPA NYC on the 16th of April

Just a quick note to say I will be speaking at the New York City User Experience Professionals Association next week, on the 16th of April.
The talk is one that is close to my heart, and is entitled The Art of Effective Narrative. I'll be looking at examples of effective digital storytelling, and asking some pointed questions to help attendees use storytelling to create unique user experiences.
Thanks to Rodrigo Sanchez and all the UXPA crew for hosting me, hope to see you there!

You can register here: The Art of Effective Narrative

March 31, 2013

The internet is full of answers, but it’s not full of questions

Sugata Mitra, a Professor of Educational Technology at Newcastle University, talks about how his Hole in the Wall Experiment helped poor children in the slums of Hyderabad, India teach themselves English. His point about the internet being full of answers, but not full of questions, speaks to a larger shift in our society. Is data taking the place of curiosity? These children seem to go against that notion.


(Not sure why I didn't post this before, but here you go.)

March 28, 2013

An Afternoon Boating on Lake George

I found this on artsy.net.

An Afternoon Boating on Lake George, NY, 1867 is an absolutely brilliant painting by Nelson Augustus Moore, an artist in New York in the mid 1800s. These works, and others from the Hudson River School, had a tremendous effect on the national psyche. They idealized the disappearing wilderness on the frontier, and encouraged people to migrate west of the Mississippi. The paintings seem quaint these days, but they helped define the nation.

If you look closely at a lot of my illustration and collage work, you will see bits and pieces fo these paintings all over the place. Just saying.

March 22, 2013

Cultural Factors in Web Design on Net Magazine

I was really excited to get an article published on .net magazine this week.

We need to start using cultural queries in our designs as a way to adapt content for different groups of people.

By factoring in cultural variables, we can create sites that are relevant for a wide variety of users around the world. Over the past three years, we’ve been captivated by media queries. Our focus on responsive design has been incredibly successful, especially when you look at statistics saying the majority of web users demand mobile ready sites. I believe that something is still missing. By looking so exclusively at technology and code, we have largely ignored cultural differences and the global mindset necessary in our connected world.

Go check it out!

Cultural Factors in Web Design

March 5, 2013

Four Things I Wish I’d Learned in Art School

Design Is Methodology, Not Technique

Much time was spent in art school on the technique of painting, on the mechanics of the perfect litho ink mix, or on the procedure for etching copper plates. I hardly focused on the methodology of creation. It was all about the nuts and bolts, of assembling things, and not of designing systems and methods. I don't mean how much nitric acid to add to your gum arabic. I mean how to see visual creation as a set of interlocking prinicples.

I cringe a bit when I see posts about OOCSS or grid systems. I love these ideas, but I was never taught to think or act in an analytical manner like this. The methodology behind structured content, of functional operations as a basis for creativity? Not so much. Perhaps these revelations come after a few years on the job. In my opinion, however, they should have been taught from the outset.

Money Skills Are Really Really Important

Being broke sucks. Not knowing what to charge for work, or how to write a basic contract, or how to negotiate a budget? These are the most important parts of being successful in the creative industry. Just ask all those super-talented art school classmates of yours that don't actually make anything anymore. As a designer, if you can't fight for yourself financially, you are at a severe disadvantage.

Why the hell did none of my art school professors think it was important to tell us this stuff? Perhaps I was in the wrong class. Maybe I slept through that session. But I doubt it. There were drawing classes of all kinds, and not one core curriculum class about financial planning for creative people.
Well, look where we are now. We still struggle to convince clients of our worth, probably because we can hardly even define it.

Career Decisions Are Never Final

“Art School” was a bit roundabout for me. I started in the graphic design track, in Graphic Design 102. Yeah, I goofed off. One day, our professor asked me what I wanted to be after graduation, and I said I wanted to be a graphic designer. She looked knowingly at me and said, "Are you taking any other art classes here?”

I said yes, that I had some painting classes on my schedule.

“You should think about taking more of those then.” She said, flatly encouraging me to drop Graphic Design as a major.

I took a few painting classes. After a semester or so, a teacher asked me privately, "Are you taking any other classes?” When I said I was taking some printmaking classes, she replied, “Well, maybe you should think about taking more of those...”
I'd been encouraged to leave ANOTHER department.

That winter, relegated to the printmaking department, I randomly began talking to a printmaking teacher. She asked if I was taking any other classes. “Oh, no,” I thought. “Not again.” When I asked why, she says to me, “Well, if you are, you should drop them, and take more printmaking. You have the knack for it.”

And there it was. Affirmation. A direction. Of those three professors, only one of them really thought to help me forge a career path. Two of them actively encouraged me to drop a concentration and do something else. Perhaps they talked about me in the teachers room between studios. Perhaps there was a tenured professor blood pact to get me into the Print Lab. I could care less. The path I took has little bearing on what I do now.

Career choices at that age are usually worthless.

Your Ideas Are Not Precious

Everyone has a great idea. Actually, no we don’t. Most of our ideas suck. So did most of the printmaking I did in school. So did most everyone's. We took 20 minutes to think of an “idea”, or got offered one, and the it was off to the races. We had a few weeks to deliver a set of editioned prints. There was a little time to revise our ideas, but they were often not aggressively challenged.

Doing the first thing that comes into your mind can be a great way to generate ideas and form connections. In this day and age, however, when every single tumblr and twitter feed is exactly that, it’s important to cultivate a thoughtfulness and brutal honesty about your creative thought process. That selectiveness, the ability to separate the unmemorable from the good, is something I still struggle with. I wish I had started learning that lesson sooner, when I was still in art school.

There's a lot I did learn in school. Most of it was really useful on campus, and totally useless in the real design world. I just wish I had been taught these lessons then, instead of in the chaos of the real world. Perhaps nothing can truly be taught, it needs to be learned. For these 4 things, however, I should have known.

December 29, 2012

So Many Details

So Many Details from Toro y Moi. Hadn't heard of this before, but I'm digging the video and beat. A lot.

December 29, 2012

An Online version of The Manual of Linotype Typography

Vitorio Miliano, a design in Austin, has given 13 old typography books to the Internet Archive to be scanned. You can find them all here: http://vitor.io/its-a-gift-never-lend-books.

h/t Typographica

December 2, 2012

The Reality of Stories

Last year, I started on Pixel Fable, taking children’s stories from my native Nigeria and putting them online. For the very first one, I hit on using augmented reality and webcams to show additional content within the story. While it wasn’t ever crucial to the story arc, it added animation and illustration that was otherwise not there. The technology proved ultimately to be ineffective (only 12% of visitors even opened my AR popup), but I found it a great experiment in the art of the possible.

But why even bother? That goes back to how these stories were transmitted in ancient Nigeria. Oral literature has always been a critical part of our culture, serving to transfer morality, history, myth, and proverbs to each new generation. It serves to remind people of who they are, and the rich fabric they are a part of. Every member of society old enough to understand would remember these stories, but only a few people were qualified to tell them publicly. Griots, or professional storytellers, were our ancient cloud storage, before such a thing technically existed.

The video above was shot with a Super-8 by Arnold Rubin in the 60s, in central Benue. This was the original augmented reality. The use of props, masks, natural lighting, and acting- they all served to create an additional view of the listeners world. Even in traditional societies in Africa, the physical and the fantastical worlds were entwined, not considered separate things. This weaving of experience also happens today, in our digital, augmented lives, and it was the same back then.

Pixel Fable takes this and attempts to overlay it digitally instead of aurally, transferring information over the web and not from memory. Billions of stories are being enmeshed and collectively saved on our cloud storage every minute. I wanted my stories to be within this modern cloud, an interleaved part of our physical world, a digital facet.

African communities are now, more than ever, able to save, disseminate, and speak of their collective history. Pixel Fable, for me, brings that history fully into the modern. It is not digital dualism, the splitting of a digital and physical world, but rather an intricate layering, with access and endpoints, cubbyholes and tangents of content, as well as a strong common story that runs through it all.

November 25, 2012

Faces, Marks, and Brands

A few months ago, on a twitter rant, I commented on the mixing up of the words logo and brandAlexis Madrigal's reply, though, was a bit unexpected.

Animal husbandry is not my strong suit, but it did raise a very solid point. Our use of the words logo, brand, and mark seem hopelessly entwined.

Tribal Marks

Tribal marks in Nigeria were, for ages, a ready identifier or tribe and affiliation. They effectively served as your community brand, for lack of a better 21st century term. Not everyone was a fan. My father waited until he was in grade school to undergo the procedure (it started with small cuts around the mouth, in his case) but after they did just one, he realized how badly it hurt and chickened out. He still has a scar to the left of his mouth, but its hardly noticeable. Lots of others have written about their changing attitudes toward tribal marks, both physical and social.

Those marks signaled group membership to anyone who cared to look. But what is the difference between a brand as a mark of belonging, and a brand as a mark of ownership? Where is the line?

The Final Cut

In 2004, I saw a Robin Williams movie called the Final Cut. It was based on the idea that in the near future, all humans had bio-mechanical chips implanted in their heads at birth. The chips recorded everything you heard and saw. Robin Williams' character, called Hakman (yes it's a pun), met a group of dissidents who got heavy tattoos across their heads, in an attempt to prevent the chips from recording. That group of Neo-Luddites were happy to tattoo him up.

Although it is a commentary on our voyeuristic society, I found it interesting, that in this dystopian future, tribal marks became the only way of opting OUT, rather than joining.

Full Circle

So it comes full circle. From brand as a cattle mark, to the current social and personal tribal marks, and then (perhaps) to facial branding that prevents you from being watched.

Tribal marks are going way out of fashion in Nigeria. That permanence is being replaced by a more ephemeral mark of social status and wealth, marks that revolve around the logos on possessions, not on one's skin. Our new tribal marks are malleable, erasable, and over all, social. There's no guarantee, however, that they will remain that way. Neither will the language we use to discuss them.

November 23, 2012

Websites by Rafaël Rozendaal

I recently came on the work of Rafaël Rozendaal, a Dutch-Brazilian visual artist in New York. Its impossible to really explain his work, so just go check it out. Most, if not all of his sites are built with Flash, so they are best viewed on a desktop.


©Senongo Akpem. All Rights Reserved.