aesthetics posts

ChittahChattah Quickies October 14th, 2011

Take Care of Your Little Notebook [nybooks.com] – This piece reflects on (and gently romanticizes) the instant, tangible, temporal act of jotting down a note. Jotting does validate a thought, document the moment and capture it for future reflection by self or others. The writer suggests that ink on paper is somehow more permanent, or at least more accessible, than similarly documented digital thoughts. The piece relies on the conceit that analogue note-jotting is perilously endangered; this seems exaggerated to me.

Writing with a pen or pencil on a piece of paper is becoming an infrequent activity, even for those who were once taught the rigorous rules of penmanship in grade school and hardly saw a day go by without jotting down a telephone number or a list of food items to buy at the market on the way home, and for that purpose carried with them something to write with and something to write on…No question, one can use a smart phone as an aid to memory, and I do use one myself for that purpose. But I don’t find them a congenial repository for anything more complicated than reminding myself to pick up a pair of pants from the cleaners or make an appointment with the cat doctor. If one has the urge to write down a complete thought, a handsome notebook gives it more class. Even a scrap of paper and a stub of a pencil are more preferable for philosophizing than typing the same words down, since writing a word out, letter by letter, is a more self-conscious process and one more likely to inspire further revisions and elaborations of that thought…Just think, if you preserve them, your grandchildren will be able to read your jewels of wisdom fifty years from now, which may prove exceedingly difficult, should you decide to confine them solely to a smart phone you purchased yesterday.

Revolution in a Can [foreignpolicy.com] – Has Western graffiti standardized itself into a visual language that is easily exportable, a global commodity? I disagree with some of his assertions – that Western graffiti is merely aesthetic, that graffiti expressions are cliched and “tired” – but the idea that graffiti has been appropriated by Middle Eastern and other very different cultures around the world as a visual form to communicate back to us on recognizable cultural terms is provocative.

…it does seem clear that the stylistic clichés of graffiti in the West — the huge loopy letters, the exaggerated shadows dropped behind a word — have become an international language that can be read almost transparently, for the content those clichés transmit. Look at New York-style graffiti letters spelling “Free Libya” on a wall in Benghazi or proclaiming “revolution” in Tahrir Square: Rather than aiming at a new aesthetic effect, they take advantage of an old one that’s so well-known it barely registers. That thing called “art” in the West is essentially an insider’s game, thrilling to play but without much purchase on the larger reality outside. We have to look at societies that are truly in crisis to be reminded that images — even images we have sometimes counted as art — can be used for much more than game-playing.

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ChittahChattah Quickies August 7th, 2010
  • [from steve_portigal] MOBA : The Museum of Bad Art – Art Too Bad To Be Ignored – [The web is full of snark, but this manages to make fun of the "bad" while keep the tone fun and somehow inclusiveThe Museum Of Bad Art (MOBA) is the world's only museum dedicated to the collection, preservation, exhibition and celebration of bad art in all its forms. The pieces in the MOBA collection range from the work of talented artists that have gone awry to works of exuberant, although crude, execution by artists barely in control of the brush. What they all have in common is a special quality that sets them apart in one way or another from the merely incompetent. [Thanks, Mom!]
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Sexy Ergonomics July 28th, 2010

I was shopping for laptops recently, and was shocked by how difficult it was to find a reasonably priced model with a comfortable keyboard and trackpad, and a front edge that was wrist-friendly. The experience made me wonder why so little attention seemed to be being paid to such a fundamental aspect of the product.

Why don’t ergonomics have more sex appeal? Shouldn’t a well-designed physical interfacing of human and built object be one of the most valued aspects of design? While in truth ergonomics are interwoven (or should be) with aesthetics and materials, our excitement seems to gravitate towards how things look and feel, or cleverness of concept, rather than how well they work with us.

A quick read through this recent interview with Jonathan Ive on Core77 reveals a worshipful discussion of iPhone 4 materials.

It is this sort of materials obsession and constant experimentation that led to a decision to use scratch-resistant aluminosilicate glass for the front and back of the phone, as well as developing their own variant of stainless steel to edge the device.

I had to travel all the way back to 2007 to find someone talking specifically about a sexy merger of design and ergonomics/usability.

Is it that when ergonomics work, they are invisible? That they generally succeed by creating an absence of negative experience, but don’t extend into the realm of pleasure creation, where they might generate more attention?

Dieter Rams’ “weniger, aber besser (less, but better)” design philosophy – and indeed Jonathan Ive’s as well – heads in a similar direction – the absence of superfluous elements, but yet we still find it sexy.

Perhaps part of the picture is the lack of sex appeal that discussions of ergonomics tend to have. Is this an issue of professional culture? What is more important than objects that – never mind giving us pleasure – at the very least don’t injure us? Maybe that’s it – it’s too serious an aspect of design to engender the fun spirit we find in aesthetics?

The movie Waterworld (one of a handful of movies-most-people-think-are-bad that I like), while over the top and mostly quite silly, nicely illustrates the balletic relationship of person and object that good ergonomics make possible, as Kevin Costner’s character Mariner singlehandedly sails and otherwise operates his boat throughout the film. The boat’s steampunk aesthetic won’t be for everyone, but it’s perfectly designed to work with the needs of its user, and to me there’s something really sexy about that.

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ChittahChattah Quickies April 11th, 2009
  • LA Times runs front-page ad that resembles a news item – [Nice unpacking of a concern I explored in my recent interactions column, Interacting With Advertising (ask us for a copy)]
    There was no intent to fool readers, Mr. Stotsky said. He said the ad used fonts that differed from the standard Los Angeles Times fonts, and it included the NBC logo. NBC staff wrote the ad, and The Times’s business staff approved it; the editorial side was not involved, he said. “I think most consumers will recognize that this is an ad,” Mr. Stotsky said.

    Whether readers knew this was advertising or not was beside the point, said Geneva Overholser, director of the school of journalism at the University of Southern California’s Annenberg School for Communication.

    “Some people say readers are smart and they can tell the difference, but the fundamental concept here is deeply offensive,” she said. “Readers don’t want to be fooled, they don’t like the notion that someone is attempting to deceive them.”

  • Another Los Angeles Times Promotion Draws Fire – (again, an issue I explored in my recent interactions column, Interacting with Advertising)

    “You dress an ad up to look like editorial content precisely because you think it will make it more valuable,” said Geneva Overholser, director of the school of journalism at the University of Southern California Annenberg School for Communication. “Fundamentally, that’s an act of deception.”

    The supplement is clearly marked as an advertising supplement, said Nancy Sullivan, a Los Angeles Times spokeswoman. The bylines have “special advertising section writer,” and the font is different from the one the newspaper uses, she said.

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Aesthetics of interactivity July 23rd, 2008

carnabystreetnav.jpg
Carnaby Street kiosk, London, July 2008

In a previous post I described an interactive display that looked like a static display. Here’s a static display that looks like an interactive display, through the color palette, the type of graphics, and the use of touchable materials (such as the black rubber) from consumer electronic devices.

See more of my London and Sheffield pictures here.

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