Design Indaba 2017: what you missed and whether it matters

Sometimes. When people write REALLY lovely things about me. I keep them. Especially as it is the very very very last thing she mentions and I thought I was (understandably) not going to get a mention at all.

My personal favourite: delightful and profound, philosophical in a way that doesn't alienate the somewhat intellectually lazy (me).

TL “Tea” Uglow is creative director of Google's Creative Lab. A brilliant, quicksilver visionary whose mind darts through her multiple interests ranging from non-linear, immersive storytelling to quantum physics to the nature of reality, about which she says “your confidence in your reality is very, very misplaced”. It is really worth looking up her body of work, which frequently explores how we can use tech to augment traditional art forms; notably a reimagining of digital books as non-linear and interactive.  Her closing words were “… maybe between us we can deal with this multi-dimensional, non-linear, information-saturated world,” and out of all the speakers, she left me feeling hopeful that perhaps the future is not a dystopian episode of Black Mirror, and that perhaps, between us, we can.


Do you read a newspaper?

I'm enjoying FriendFeed and the 'shared items' on Google Reader. To be honest I don't have many FF friends. But I value the input of those that I do. Facebook suddenly seems genuinely inane and self-obsessed where previously I only thought it was (just shouldn't-be-seen photos, dumb games, and amusing status updates)... now I see it clearly. As if through a dark glass (? never understood that bit)... basically

Anyway - my point is that FriendFeed & Reader is very much like an online version of sitting around a table with some good friends who are more intelligent than you, with coffee, danish pastries, a light breeze and some quality newspapers. Every now and then someone will look up and say, "Did you know.." before reading out an article or offering some elegant piece of analysis, and you will either lap it up or quite ignore them and carry on reading. Enriched by their input.

No my life is never like that either - but that's how I see FF. It's F'ing fab. I feel enriched.

Hello FriendFeed! Hello FriendConnect!

I just added FriendFeed and Google's Friend Connect to my site. It was really simple. Even for me.

FriendFeed is a brilliant site for those who don't know it - it allows you to package together all your feeds in one place. A 'feed' is anything that we would normally call an update. (e.g. your Facebook status, or new photos on Picasa/Flickr, a new bookmark on, or even additions to your Amazon wishlist). So it shows a list of everything that you might want to share - in one place...

At the FriendFeed site you can see all the updates from your 'friends' articles they've 'shared' from Google Reader, or the latest Twitters, or blog entries. In fact there are a number of 'feeds' that one can be quite unaware of. I guess that number will rise rather than fall.
It points to a time after email-forwards, where you can surf the social wave of viral videos, baby pics, inane twitterings and 'saw-this-and-thought-of-you' articles - and be at one with your multi-national, scattered friends interests, pursuits, and obssessions without lengthy calls or frantic IM pings. It points to a place where everyone can be both connected and in control. I'm quite keen so I stuck my personal feed at

Friend Connect from Google is a different tool, which I think will grow as it is adopted by sites who want to allow communities specific to those sites to grow without having to build their own. Put simply, imagine if your Bebo id, or Google account, or MySpace, or OpenID meant that you could just 'sign in' to a community on your favorite recipe site, or arts, or movie, or birdwatching site and that you could then update your status or comment across sites without having to stick in all those details again? Sound helpful? Well it will be.
Join my community if you like. Another interesting watch will be to see if Facebook (who have their own version of this called 'Facebook Connect') will join in or if they'll just try to brave it out with a proprietary version.

We shall see. I'm all geared up and ready for a year of a bit more sharing, and a little less mute consumption. We shall see how that goes too...

The art of non-verbal communication

We have to do way more of this sort of ambient communication - even if the translation tools don't work yet (with a decent reader you should be able to translate the QR code into a message, an image, a link...) How sweet will that get when a multi-storey carpark can be turned into an illuminated billboard and it still just looks cool and non-intrusive.

Full article:

Andrew Marr gets comfy with an e-book

It has long been predicted that traditional books are about to be replaced by little machines on which you can download any novel you fancy. But the technology has never really been up to the job - until now. Here Andrew Marr, who treasures his smelly, beautiful library of real books, spends a month with one of the new gadgets

This is a rather honest appraisal of why e-books and e-paper won't upset bibliophiles but may well change the world from Andrew Marr, a highly-respected political commentator for the BBC (and self confessed 'bibliomaniac').

It's quality is in its understanding; the potential of technology like the Rex Iliad clearly drives the prospect of having entire bookcases in your hand, and he is very balanced in driving home his (and my) absolute love of books, both as fantastically efficient technology in themselves and also as the finest mass-produced luxury object. How many other knick-knacks could possibly contain entire worlds and dreams, histories of empires and of peasants and do so in such a beautifully corporeal way. Marr even advises the manufacturers
on this:

'my advice to the makers is to refine the page-turning just a little more, offer a battered blue cloth-bound wallet and, above all, make it smell - just a little musty, please. Or dank. You could offer a choice. '

Ultimately he is 'reluctantly impressed' - knowing that the next time he heaves a box full of holiday reading out to the car he could fit it all in his back pocket. Also the certain knowledge that it will impact enormously on more transient literature and general ephemera is quite noticeable. Eventually you'll never search for the manual that you think you left in the drawer under the sink - it will just be saved on the e-book, along with that pamphlet that you downloaded on gardening in Nova Scotia, the insurance dockets, the latest copy of the TLS, every crossword Araucaria ever penned, and all your notes for the novel you intend to write...

The Power of Pariah Politics

So Greenpeace are taking a bite out of Apple:
"Jobs looks for a greener Apple" (FT, 3 May): "Electronic waste has emerged as a hot-button issue in recent months as environmental groups take aim at the toxins contained in computer equipment, such as the lead in cathode ray tubes and the arsenic contained in specialty glass."

Today Greenpeace say "jolly good but we're still watching..."
"Call for Apple to go even greener" (BBC News online, 3 May): "Greenpeace has given a cautious welcome to Apple's ambitions to be more environmentally friendly."

Well isn't that good? Nice to see good news coming out of a campaign. And it is yet another testament to the power of pariah politics. I get annoyed with friends who try and justify their inaction and apathy by arguing that you can't single out companies (or politicians); that they're all as bad as each other etc. Yes you can. You pull one out - like Klein did to Nike in No Logo - and put them in the corner in the SHAME hat.
It's like kindergarten, you don't take one child out to tick them off, you single them out to give all the others a warning. ...and shame is more powerful than legislation. Companies can put aside millions as risk-assessed slush funds for when they break the law - but no brand can ever quite overcome the ignominy of, say, McLibel or Gap sweatshops, or (hopefully) Yahoo's disgraceful Chinese dalliance. It hurts their profits, and a kick in the profits is one of the few guaranteed ways to 'stimulate change'.

So if you want to change things - don't fine them - damage them, place a stigma on that brand. Let it stand as a warning that brands aren't above the conscience of consumers, even if they can pay their way out of every other crime they commit.

Shantaram! A book that could be edited with an axe

Just finishing Shantaram - fantastic romp. Bravo.

A few teeny criticisms:
1. Firstly - surely any legitimate editor would have taken a chainsaw to this book (which weighs in at 950 pages). I mean nine hundred pages... for a debut novel/ memoir? Yes, a lot happens - but please God and Allah couldn't it have happened in 450?

Axe mark one - hack out 90% of the cod philosophy - the prose verges on fluro-purple at points and bores you senseless with spurious and bombastic pseudo-indo-hippy nonsense.
Axe mark two - machete to the neck of 50% of unnecessary, obfuscatory, florid, bamboozling, inappropriate yet strangely entrancing adjectives.
Axe mark three - every time fear crawls out of the woodwork and grinds his blood into a whirling whirlpool of despair. CUT!
Axe mark four - each paragraph that says exactly what the preceding paragraph says only this time with a hint of menace!
Axe mark five - every "if only I'd known then what I know now". Greg - if life was like that we'd all be considerably happier and fewer people would die in car crashes - it's a weak device.
Axe mark six - every time someone smiles in an enigmatic or un-enigmatic way or smiles in a way that tells him that was the first time he knew that they loved him (150 pages at least)
Axe mark seven - each reminder that the Australian prison service is comprised of torturers and Nazi's ....
I could continue, but on to point two.

2. It's the biggest pile of self-mythologising, self-obsessed, unabashedly self-congratulatory and ego-centric tosh I've ever read.

He's a fantasist - lots might have happened to the guy - and it's amazing (almost unbelievable) to think that he went through all this. But his story is so heavily saturated in the rose-hued, honey-dripped love-fest of Indian honour and smiley happy people who just happen to be mass murderers, con-artists and gun-runners that only a moron (or Johnny Depp) wouldn't find it a trifle disconcerting.

It's like the longest PR puff piece in the world - first of all our hero (heroin addict and violent criminal) turns out to be a cross between Robin Hood and Mother Theresa, then Bombay becomes the city of love, Leopold's restaurant I assume threw him a few bob, the Indian mafia come out a bit rough around the edges - but y'know, 'earts of gold, everyone of 'em, bless em. Even the Mujahadin come out of their cave complexes smelling of roses and misunderstood.

I'm sure he's a nice guy who learnt valuable lessons from his extraordinary adventures - but people aren't this 'good'. The characters are so cardboard in their tortured complexity you think they'd been cut out of a cereal packet. There are about three genuinely unpleasant people in the book and, conveniently, they fit beautifully into a traditional narrative structure (and let's not get started on that!).

3. So why does this book incite such a rant? Well, firstly because it's held up as auto-biography - which implies some basis in fact; secondly I think it's because so many people seem to think that this is profound, significant and (scarily) that it's well-written.

Reviewers who should be embarrassed:
Daily Telegraph - 'A literary masterpiece'
Sunday Telegraph - 'Powerful and original'

Lets be honest, it's a gripping page-turner, an over-long schoolboy adventure, a racy romp in the classical tradition with guns, chases, treachery, despair, hope, comic relief, a spurned love interest, redemption, re-redemption, a war and a bucket-load of east-meets-west 'philosophising'. What it lacks in depth, subtlety or poetry it makes up for in 'poetry', pace and vivid descriptions of Bombay life.
It is good fun, if only epic in page length.

So - Yay for Shantaram which enters a glorious #3 in the "Internationally Best-selling Novels I Would Happily Burn" chart!
(Number two is that post-modern classic that redefines the concept of quality: Da Vinci Code)
(Number one is the worst book ever written by anyone ever, and I mean ever: The Celestine Prophecy)

Review in a line: If you loved The da Vinci Code you'll really love Shantaram.

iPhone: the future's bright, the future's apple

When Steve Jobs introduced the iPhone in Apple's MacExpo keynote in January my office went mental; a spontaneous centithread moment. But I kind of forgot to look properly - so I was interested to note when I went back and looked at the speech again - that this still looks like an epoch-changing product.
It's going to get hacked apart obviously! Yes the battery life will suck; yes it will scratch, snap, smell funny, burst into flames in peoples hands; GPS?; expandable memory?; and yes - it is just an amalgam of various existing touch screen technology. But what an amalgam, and what marketing, and what design... Basically this little thing is going to change the way we think about phones because if you put it next to anything in Carphone Warehouse it looks like putting the latest Nike's next to a pair of clogs.
I also really like this CBS preview because by the end of it the guys sounds like a 12yr old, he's practically speechless and drooling... "do it again! do it again! make it do the sideways thingy!"
It's going to be interesting to see what happens - because if this works, (i.e. early adopters love it) and Nokia, Blackberry et al don't respond fast... we could have an iPod market happen all over again in telecoms. Sorry Orange: the future's bright, the future's Apple.
PS: re: no exchange functionality for corporate users : Google Apps anyone?

Is design about enabling or just rules

I was talking and walking on the mobile today ranting and raving about design-repression.
This is the bit of design where either the style guidelines are set down so tight you can't kern a character without turning heads or the studio is just populated by people who have forgotten the perks of working in the 'creative' industries.
This is the time when basically the design equivalent of etiquette, (even morality!) gets ugly. A hierarchy is established on an understanding of 'the rules'. i.e, mm precision on underlines and runarounds; military-style grids; unbreakable canons of image use; people who demand kerned back caps despite the fact that the result is physically unoticeable. It is pure, disciplined design.
The only problem is that (99% of the time) it's a complete waste of time. 99% of design is about enabling communication - someone else's communication. 99% of design isn't noticed (this is a good thing). 99% of design is thrown away within a week of production. (Yeah OK so all these 99's are made up - but it is an illustration not a literal truth).
SO. Given that all this design is actually for normal people, who shouldn't notice it, and will dispose of it almost instantaneously - why is design facism so prevalent? Why do we go beyond the reasonable desire that corporate graphic design should work as a collection, have high production values and follow house style? Why ruin your life with 'unbreakable' rules?
My own personal opinion is that it is our own form of office politics - how do you decide what's right and what's wrong in a relatively subjective field, how do you demonstrate hierarchical superiority, how do you keep junior designers in their place if there actually perfectly good? By enforcing a rule-system of absolutes that become so specific that you need to study to understand when they are broken. Rules that make NO difference to the product or it's effectiveness in the market. "High production values" easily becomes a rod with which to bludgeon or repress.

I'm not advocating bad design here; it's not an apologia for sloppiness. I'm just saying that designers should watch for when the feedback means something to the product, and when the feedback means something to reviewer.

I have had clients who live by the book and others who seem not to give two hoots about design. But the latter is learning design value; it's value is in bringing quality to their communications, not killing the fun in the name of consistency.