Musings

Hi there, it’s Rob again to go on and on about how amazing Simple is.

I often think of how great it would be to design for this product, but then maybe it’d be a room-mate kind of scenario where you risk souring the relationship – who knows!

In any case, I had a bit of surprise-fraud today. Long story short, I saw an Amazon transaction even though I didn’t buy anything on there recently. They quickly disabled my card until everyone could investigate. As it turns out, I had pre-ordered something and it was one big false alarm.

When I let Brenna know (customer service), she was equally relieved. I really cannot say more about how much I appreciate a normal, human response to situations such as these.

Simple Bank customer service screenshot

Yes, you might have noticed. She even included a reaction GIF!

Simple is awesome

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Musings

Brain Dump

What’s on my mind?

There’s a misconception that the practice of meditation involves clearing your mind of thoughts. There are amazing resources to learn all about it, but in short: the aim is to remain aware of thoughts as they come and go like clouds and not grab on to one and get lost in a train of thought.

Perhaps that’s not the best definition, but I think it explains how I’ve been this week. I used to meditate once a week at this place in Manhattan for about a year straight, and for whatever reason I lost the habit. Last Tuesday I returned and I’m already excited for next Tuesday’s sitting.

I’m definitely feeling more aware of so many thoughts passing by, but I’m very out of practice in letting them go. I feel some mental arms flailing around as I want to keep each one and nurture it into some nice, grand thought.

I heard something interested on a podcast recently about letting go of identifying with your thoughts. If you’re a Game of Thrones fan, think of the House of Black & White where Arya is training to become “a girl” and lose her identity.
Jaqen-Hghar
A girl may think a thing, but Arya does not. If you have a blog, podcast, or just love to talk a lot, you might notice how the further you elaborate a thought, the more you’re trying to inject your identity into the idea as though it is your own. At least that’s the case for me.

Of course, a specific thought at a specific time can only happen inside your head, so in that regard you are the owner of the thought. The idea however is likely to be shared by thousands. There’s a point where I disagree with the above however: I think sharing ideas is the most important thing humans can do. We developed the ability to communicate and that’s probably our best attribute.

So, on a personal note, I hope to put things here in a spirit of sharing, not identifying or owning, or to be an expert or visionary, but for the sake of the same ideas that reside in so many others to light up and become connected; which is how great philosophies can be born. Also, fully knowing that all of this can happen without me entirely, but for my entertainment at least, I’d like to learn and to listen.

Now that the meta is taken care of…

Minimalism and Wabi-Sabi

I’ve been reading Kenya Hara, and John Maeda lately. I also started getting into Wabi-Sabi: Further Thoughts, which hasn’t expanded much of what I learned from his first book, but has definitely rekindled my interested in thinking of this aesthetic applied to digital interfaces.

Just yesterday I saw this beautiful phone interface designed by Kenya Hara, for an elderly population, but something that I would love to use!

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Now I have this crazy desire to make such an operating system in English, and include the sensibilities of Wabi-Sabi that I’m always talking about. I have no idea where to start in such an ambitious project and would probably need a whole design studio to be honest, but I think it’s going to be a fun concept to explore for myself.

Podcasting

For a guy that starts out a blog post about not identifying with thoughts, and letting them pass by, I’m really anxious to create more things. What can I say, humans are complicated.

I’ve had this idea for quite a while now, but I’ve set a deadline to complete a first episode by the end of January. The recording and editing will be done by then, and depending on the technicalities of publishing it, you may not see it until February.

In short, I’m trying this new style where I record a Voice Mail for a person, send it to that other person and wait for a response. With a few responses, or a few people, I hope to have something interesting that can be stitched together into a short episode.

This is inspired by old-timey hand written correspondence, but we’ll see how it really plays out. Recorded conversation is most interesting because it can have unexpected turns, and people can quickly adjust their stance on something and arrive at a natural conclusion. I’m afraid this won’t be as interesting to listen to, but I have a hunch that I could be different enough to still be interesting.

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fern leaves
Musings, writing

Observations

An observation and its moment are equally unique. Language is a time capsule for observations.

I’ve felt very awake in my awareness of new observations. Most preciously, I heard feedback about who I am at work. My advisor shared with me a collection of peer observations.

I am always ready to defend my idea of myself. Seeing how rare it is to have considered observations about myself from those I respect, I forced my guard down. I listened.

Later the same week, I happened upon a composer. I heard an inspiration and felt again nostalgia of the unknown. Ryuichi Sakamoto somehow introduces me to the past and carries a limp trail of the future with each phrase.

Each musical sentence is brief. I can imagine each bit standing alone in conclusion. Yet each turn is a natural extension. Most valuable to me: the space between is where my mind wanders.

Putting my observation into language is slowing down the experience. Music and reading and watching are all conversations. The spaces in the moment you craft is where the exchange between the observer and the moment happens. The music, book, video, pastoral view will not respond to me. But the following moment will be different after the space between allows me to wander.

His solo piano feels like Eric Satie, which in a direct way, inspires me to play piano again. The nostalgia is for being in Japan, and the many parts of my life when I watched a touching movie or show from Japan. These descriptions are failing my visceral mash of memory.

Finally picking up a book has added another feature of inspiration to my week. Several Short Sentences About Writing is a self-evident title. I don’t expect to be enthralled with an academic book. I’m absorbed in it, and I no longer believe it’s “academic.” It’s a fascinating treatise on cutting the fat. Say what you say, while respecting the reader.

I’m certain that all of the above reads awkwardly. I’m doing things differently.

I’m trying short sentences. I’m trying to say everything. I think the idea of a short sentence is not to force it to a certain length,
but to remove every bit until you can remove no more.

Like a beginner, I see myself mimicking the author’s style. I’ll soon find room for his advice and my voice in the same sentence.

What you don’t know about writing is also a form of knowledge, though much harder to grasp.
Try to discern the shape of what you don’t know and why you don’t know it,
Whenever you get a glimpse of your ignorance.
Don’t fear it or be embarrassed by it.
Acknowledge it.
What you don’t know and why you don’t know it are information too.
Verlyn Klinkenborg (more excerpts)

I’ll leave you here. It feels good to be inspired again.
It’s amazing to have three inspirations at once!

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Musings, writing

Design Career Inspiration

I recently watched a documentary about Hayao Miyazaki and Studio Ghibli called The Kingdom of Dreams and Madness1. It’s a beautiful movie, and I recommend everyone who has a career of “making things” watch this. No, you don’t have to be familiar with his films, but it may be more interesting if you watch The Wind Rises2 beforehand.

I found myself pausing this movie to write down a few quotes that really struck me. This also happened within the context of a weekend where I happened to be reading a design publication that got me thinking about my own work. The design magazine was, of course, more explicitly focused on my own industry and happened to call out one of my major qualms with working at design agencies in general: they exist to serve big corporations, but the employees within are always dreaming about smaller, more beautiful things they could build.

A photo posted by Rob Brogan (@robrogan) on

As seems to be the theme for me this last year, I find myself in an adolescence of design where I’m of course working (I’m an Interaction Designer) but I feel there’s little control over what I work on (projects come from the company of course), and I don’t exactly know what I’d ideally work on. Some inspiration that came out of this documentary was that (1) doing good work, work that you want to be a part of is of utmost importance, and (2) the people you do this with are very important.

Toshio Suzuki, Producer, Studio Ghibli —

I’ll say this, based on my experience. In your work, obviously, you’ll meet many people. But ultimately, it’s about who you work with. Only those who choose the right people to work with will be able to do the work they want.

I understand they go hand-in-hand, but thus far I haven’t found the two to overlap in one place. I guess that’s what I need to be more aware of, and always seeking out.

Hayao Miyazaki, Establishing Studio Ghibli —

We’re going to build a three-story studio […] Basically, our foremost objective here is making good films. No guarantees of lifetime employment here.
But companies are just conduits for money. Its success isn’t our priority. What’s important is that you’re doing what you want, and that you’re gaining skills.
If Ghibli ceases to appeal to you, then just quit. Because I’ll do the same.


1. The Kingdom of Dreams and Madness IMDB | Trailer
2. The Wind Rises IMDB | Trailer
Bonus: The Wind Rises Soundtrack: Stream

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Reblog, Wireframes

dialog box wisdom
Out of context, some of these one-liners you’ve probably seen in a dialog box have a deeper meaning. The last one is an honorable mention; a classic, non-tech artifact.


Everything not saved will be lost.
Nintendo “Quit Screen” message

Accept Change
Microsoft Word

Wait some time and then reconnect
Canon webcam

Remove all attachments
Microsoft Outlook

Make sure your own mask is secure before assisting others
Airplane safety card

I’m sure you can google for plenty more, but these were my favorites.

Dialog Box Wisdom

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Musings

Redesigning the Map of the Web

Leverage what information representation can be

It may seem like old news to some, but I very recently got around to reading Frank Chimero’s treatise about the essence of a pixel medium in What Screens Wantand found myself musing about a potential Web that doesn’t conform to our assumptions of what sites and pages are supposed to be made of. I also found myself explaining the whole article to a couple of developer friends that didn’t want to read it themselves.

One key point

The article leverages some historical references with materials in product design, but most convincingly compares the state of the Web as we know it to our centuries-old use of maps.

In the way that a map is a representation of territory, which is likely skewed for one purpose or another, we can use a new one that suits our needs and changing the map doesn’t mean changing the territory. In that same breath, using a different map doesn’t imply the territory was “bad.” The lesson for technology and the Internet here is that we have long since built off of one convenient representation of data, information, and the nature of its exchange. Our concept of a web page is just one map upon the territory of computers and the protocols to connect them.

Chimero quotes Ted Nelson to reiterate our position in the digital world:

“The world is not yet finished, but everyone is behaving as if everything was known. This is not true. In fact, the computer world as we know it is based upon one tradition that has been waddling along for the last fifty years, growing in size and ungainliness, and is essentially defining the way we do everything. My view is that today’s computer world is based on techie misunderstandings of human thought and human life. And the imposition of inappropriate structures throughout the computer is the imposition of inappropriate structures on the things we want to do in the human world.”
— Ted Nelson, creator of hypertext

For more context, I recommend that everyone visits — or revisits — the site. The grand takeaway is that we can and should build something greater/better than than web pages. Not only can information be represented differently, but I think we are just barely touching on how flexibly it can respond to, and be interact with users. Laying back in a metaphorical Summer meadow with arms behind your head and eyes tracing the clouds, I could come up with wilder takes on a new Web, but it may be practical to focus on some softer, more accessible points.

Soft Revisions

Web content should branch off into more applications. While this already happens in mobile environments (perhaps too much so), the trend is inverted on desktop. As a service reaches a critical mass of content+popularity, or if the interaction is constrained by browsers, then it should live in more software than just a handful of browsers. Facebook is a great example of this thinking. Most people are using the app on mobile, but there is only a web interface on desktop. In the early days of twitter, I used the website and SMS to send tweets, but as soon as a desktop application appeared, that became my primary interface with the service. In that respect, it’s almost crazy that Facebook is just a website.

I’m not advocating for a fragmentation of the Internet into hundreds of desktop applications — that would be disastrous on many levels. When user adoption is no longer a huge issue, it could make sense for some sites tomature into internet-based software. Specifically to Facebook, as many people use it so frequently and often for long periods of time, it deserves an option to break out of the browser.

I think there’s a big opportunity for Finance; not necessarily a single bank, but perhaps a broader service (yes, MS Money tried that but I don’t see newanswers). I’m hesitant to list other recommendations, and can already see the counter-arguments, but I prefer to see that as a point of discussion.


Medium Revisions

No pun intended, but…

It’s already apparent that some sites are innovating how we share and interact — Medium.com being one of my favorites, for the side-line commenting that other sites are starting to adopt.

Hyper-specific sharing

I’m putting this in the bucket of “medium” revisions to the Web because it would require a bit more work than what already exists. With this idea I’m taking a note from two existing functions:

  • With Medium’s comment system, you can highlight a string of text, write a comment, and any user that reads the comment also see the same text highlighted again. This is the digital equivalent of pointing your finger to a point on the page that you’re referring to in a detailed discussion, or a well-loved book borrowed from a friend that shows underlines of passages that directly affected your friend.
  • Anchor links are a classic HTML tag that is seeing interesting use in contemporary websites. Long scrolling pages will use anchor link navigation to push users down to a segment in their single page site. Articles will reference specific explanations in a foot note. A List Aparttakes a subtle, but very useful approach by segmenting their articles so that an HTML literate user can share a specific section of the page to someone else. If you visit an article (example), and hover your mouse on a section title, it will display gray #anchor text that you can’t click but — with an experimental mindset — can append to the article URL as a bookmark you’re referencing when shared (example).

Combining the two features above would be a very interesting, and more personal method of sharing. Posting an article link on your social media account might interest a portion of your friends/followers, but it’s open-ended; a suggestion that “hey, you might be interested in this topic.” If you can highlight a paragraph or sentence, and have the page generate a dynamic anchor link to share with someone, that’s direct and suggests more intention. Akin to reading a book across from a friend, and handing it across the table so they can read just that one pithy paragraph, dynamic anchor linking and highlighting the referenced text is an excellent way to rekindle the human connections that seem to be fading away in our “social” media culture lately.


Hard Revisions

This the domain of true revolutionaries

Having been invited — so to speak — to think about an internet that doesn’t run on HTML, PHP, CSS, or any of these languages it has been raised on, I am starting to dream in abstractions. There must be alternative representations of our information-rich landscape, and most of us can only iterate or improve upon the existing system. These scrolling pages with various media buckets — usually requiring some kind of chrome/framework — that fit inside of a screen (if: responsive web design) are our current maps, representations of information.

What about the integration of more user info? Contextual browsing, listing, etc.? This implies some things that exist (foursquare), some things that don’t (the local paper where you’re online), and might be horrible ideas (who wants to read the local paper), but a very thin slice of that implication might be the turning point of something new and amazing.

Break the rules. If you can!

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