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Rob Brogan – Page 2 – Design, The Recycled Web and Other Thoughts

February 23, 2016Comments are off for this post.

Kicking off “Letters” podcast for real

About a month ago I wrote a quick outline of my process setting up my new podcast.

Here I am to do a bit of self-promotion – if it's my blog, isn't everything self-promotion? – to announce the first full episode of Letters.


Episode 01: Work


screenshot

Editing the show in Adobe Audition

I don't have much to say about it at this point, but wow that was quite a learning curve and a process to edit. In college I used to edit four different podcasts with my friends, but those were pretty linear, conversational types of podcasts. I'm trying to push myself with this personal project to go a step further and give it a more polished feel as well as a (hopefully) unique format.

Anywho — that's all! I hope you check out the first episode and let me know you what you think. It's a lot of musing about life and work, so I wouldn't recommend multi-tasking during this one.

screenshot

So many cuts!

February 20, 2016Comments are off for this post.

Voice Interaction

As phones have transitioned to smart phones, our personal technology has graduated from conduits between people to a more sophisticated breed that allows for – even invites – direct control. In tandem, people are getting rid of voicemail, making fewer phone calls, and texting more. In one vein, this seems like a more truncated, efficient behavior, but it also implies greater intimacy with the device.

We’re also growing to expect the similar level of control we have over our phones to expand to the devices of our environment. The “smart home” and “connected” objects are commanded with our phones for the time being. Contrary to the shift in phone use, control of these devices that is buried in a growing library of apps is not efficient.

The technological response to surfacing quick control over these smart objects is the use of voice interfaces. The Xbox’s Kinect allows for voice control of your Xbox apps and access to media. The Xfinity remote control makes “change the channel to HBO” possible. Apple’s Siri, Microsoft’s Cortana, Amazon’s Alexa, and the Google Now services are all serious attempts at broadening voice control to access many services.

While speech-to-text recognition has largely improved, the voice controlled services themselves still lack in the sophistication that people presume exists when communicating through a nuanced medium as speech. Even if this level of sophistication is attained, and the services understand and respond exactly as we expect them to, the challenge of intimacy remains.

When common interaction with phones shifted from calls to text as the interfaces allowed more direct (read: intimate) control, we’ve created this controversial-yet-accepted balance of interacting with people directly and multitasking with our pocket computers. Voice interaction necessitates a more public display of that human computer interaction. One that is so uncomfortable, directly inhibits its use. Think of the times you have used your voice input on a phone: public settings, private settings with people around, or solitary settings?

Although we may not be able to out-design social mores, we can take the first challenge—that of accuracy, intuitive use, and predictable outcome—to the whiteboard and to the APIs.


Design Team:

Kristen Kersh • Niamh Parsely • Rob Brogan

February 12, 2016Comments are off for this post.

Swag Socks!

An Instagram comment from someone at Tumblr inspired me to whip up a few potential sock patterns for Tumblr. All based on the brand colors and official logo. The sock shape is adapted from an icon file.

swagsock

February 1, 2016Comments are off for this post.

Creating “Letters”

I've been thinking about starting up another podcast (I had four of them in back in College) and after setting a personal deadline of the end of January, I finally got it together!

You can learn more about the podcast from visiting the site or listening to the introductory episode, but basically it will have a different topic in each episode and feature opinions, perspectives, and thoughts from other people.

Since all the podcast stuff has its own home online, I'd like to briefly share my process for getting everything set up here:


1. Site & Hosting

This was the easiest step for me, because I already have hosting (thanks Dreamhost!) and a domain name set up. I might buy a unique domain name for the podcast, but that's a bit premature right now. For the time being I set up a sub-domain (anything prefixing the main domain) as letters.robrogan.com.

If you don't have any of the above, you'll want to shop around for some affordable hosting and a domain name. Both of these should be super easy to find with Google and I don't feel like writing a tutorial. ;)

2. Setting up the CMS

A CMS is yet another tech acronym for Content Management System. You'll have lots of content—blogs, podcasts, etc.—and you'll want to manage it. WordPress is by far the easiest to set up in my opinion so I'm using that.

With WordPress, you can quickly get it set up to distribute your podcast with a single plugin. There are a few to choose from but so far I recommend: Seriously Simple Podcast. What a godsend. Literally all I had to do was fill in the title of my show, author, description, and a few other pieces of info and it was good-to-go.

There are a few other details that I put into my WordPress, but you should set it up however you like. I'm trying to find a balance between practical, low-maintenance customization with just a dash of unique design. Using the plugin Easy Google Fonts I changed the typeface to a much softer sans-serif called Nunito. Note: I would not recommend using more than one or two web fonts as each font file increases the loading time for your site.

3. Making the Podcast

Well this point could be all sorts of things, but let's just say that at some point you'll have to sit down and record some audio, then edit the track, save it as a reasonably sized *.mp3 and upload it to your blog's "Media" (if using WordPress).

In my case, I have a USB microphone (even a cheap one is a lot better than the built-in source) and I recorded with Adobe Audition. If you don't have Adobe then Audacity is 100% free and gets the job done. Podcast editing a pretty big topic that is covered elsewhere better than I could here, so I'm not going to go into detail.

4. Album Art, Finishing Touches

People can agonize for hours—nay, days—trying to create the perfect artwork for their show. Right from the start I told myself that it will never be perfect, and it's not going to ooze symbolism either. Erring on the side of simplicity, I just typed up the podcast name in a few fonts and colors and went from there.

I ended up using a strong serif font for the base, and then I masked-out most of an ornamented font, retaining just a few interesting characteristics, and overlayed that in a bright color. I think it has an interesting effect, so that's good enough for me! Lastly, I needed something else to give it a bit of weight and not feel like a word just floating in the middle of a square. In addition to adding the two lines (reminiscent of lined paper), I added a thick border so that the light background didn't get lost in the mix of a white web design or podcast app.

Letters podcast artwork

5. Now It Really Begins

So, setting up all of this was a bit of a chore, but in reality it's just the beginning. I think the interesting challenge remains in creating each episode, especially if I require the participation of other people. I hope it turns into something great, but if not, it's been a fun design and build process.


January 29, 2016Comments are off for this post.

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!

2

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.

January 28, 2016Comments are off for this post.

Una Corda Piano

January 25, 2016Comments are off for this post.

Brooklyn Blizzard

This is probably going to take a while to load, sorry.

GIFs from the January snow storm in 2016! I ventured out a couple of times during the blizzard and made these GIFs with Google Photos. Enjoy!

Google Photos Album

January 21, 2016Comments are off for this post.

Design Thinking

On our work Slack today, someone linked this Wired article:

IBM’s Got a Plan to Bring Design Thinking to Big Business

To which I quickly replied with:

FullSizeRender.jpg

Anyone who knows me will know that I'm always crusading against saying words that don't mean real things, and buzzwords. Design Thinking, in my mind is just thinking! Maybe that's because I'm already a designer, but I feel like anyone can bring this type of thinking about a problem if they simply step outside of their typical problems and concerns of the day and dedicate some thoughtful time to an issue.

Later, someone shared this wonderful, 4 year old diatribe about design thinking by Dan Saffer.

Love. It.

On a more personal note, I suppose a lot of this comes from my perception that I'm not doing anything magical or special. I simply get paid to focus on certain things, and people in these "big corporations" we nebulously try to understand are just other people focusing on other things. I have no problem (and welcome) the inclusion of designers to help solve a problem. I also think that a business person can do a lot of this "design thinking" without involving a designer. You have to be willing to put your train on hold, switch tracks, and dedicate yourself to that problem. I fear the most toxic outcome of sharing vague words about an entire profession is to miss the point, and in some cases, acquire a design firm so that you have "in-house designers" to add value to your company – this won't work.

January 21, 2016Comments are off for this post.

Reading

"People don't read, almost anything, unless they set out with the goal of reading." Andy Mangold

Also my favorite UX Myth.

January 7, 2016Comments are off for this post.

Design Considerations for Virtual Reality

Preamble:
Yes, much hype. Much much hype.
Yes, I'm always skeptical, and I'm assuming that VR headsets (e.g. Oculus) will take a few iterations, and price points to catch on. Now even a few years into it, wearables are still getting mediocre traction. At best, Apple has people wearing them for social status or fashion. Nevertheless, new technology is deserving of design consideration even more than existing, common devices. They need to be nurtured, and "done right" in order to have a longer life ahead.

What follows are a few things I would keep in mind if I found myself in a position to design for Virtual Reality. Perhaps with more exposure to VR, I can add to this list in the future.


Sharing the room
Others that are not wearing the headset have no insight to the VR experience; unlike a TV, which can be a shared experience. Devices will either have to become more affordable so that everyone can wear them at the same time, or the solitary device should provide some external feedback to others in the room; such as an outward-facing display that mirrors a 2D version of the virtual experience, distinct audio signals (for the room, not the wearer), or as some currently offer: an optional feed that displays on a TV/monitor.

Accessories to support and enhance
Accessories can enhance the experience, further immersing you into the virtual reality by giving you a great approximation of bodily control. These can range from the more necessary, to nice additions.

The ability to turn in place with ease (and not falling into real world objects) is probably the most important and can be solved with a basic swivel chair or the more expensive 360° treadmills.

Oculus accessories

In concert with existing wrist wearables, or custom-made wristbands, the VR headset would no longer need to be the main point of interaction (click, tap, or toggle). Using accelerometers and Bluetooth that are already included in any fitness wearable, one could wave an arm in front of them and have the action mimicked in VR. Or similarly, a shake or a tap on the wrist could replace the need to tap a button on the headset for making selections.

Keep things out of frame (move the eye)
The same principle that applies to photography, painting, or any kind of visual medium: you want the eye to move across the canvas. In this case, you want heads to turn. Succeeding at this influence are short films that have a rich and beautiful environment, but also play between primary and secondary subjects. At times, both are not within the same gaze and you must turn to see either subject.

This should be used in moderation however, as you can easily tire a VR participant with too many subjects in different directions, and also risk a poor experience that leaves observers feeling they might have missed out on parts of the story because they were forced to follow one subject while another of equal importance remains out of view.

Sound quality is as important as image quality
A truly immersive experience relies on tricking your senses. A well-crafted story also relies on directed attention. Audio quality aides both of these by bringing the observer into the virtual world with realistic ambient sound, and the ability to subtly distinguish voice will help people grasp if there’s a character standing next to them that they need to turn and face, or if the speech is coming from an omnipresent narrator.

Prompt to enable Do Not Disturb when starting the VR
This is a short one, but nothing ruins a virtual experience like a pesky notification pushing its way into view. Before starting a VR experience, there should be some reminder or prompt to enable Do Not Disturb mode for the phone. More aggressively, VR software could just disable notifications, but I prefer to let users make the choice.

Subtitles should remain fixed, detached from video movement
Another specific point is that layered content, like subtitles, should be fixed to an easily legible portion of the screen. In one demo, they were out of view, below the general plane of vision. Although moving around and exploring the setting is a hallmark of VR, some visual elements should be fixed or represented "out" of the virtual space - another plane, or layer, if you will.

December 14, 2015Comments are off for this post.

Rilke

A friend sent me this book with the note that it's one of his favorites and still picks it up again once in a while. That last part is most impressive to me, since I never read anything twice – there's too many books in the world! I could immediately see why this one might be so re-readable.

I won't give much background – descriptions and summaries you can find online – but I think I first heard of Rilke from the podcast Entitled Opinions. He was some German poet that left a lasting mark on his era, but I didn't know much more than that. I know it's sad, but I never pick up books of poetry. I guess I don't know how to read it. Maybe it's because poetry is work, and unless you sit and think and feel for a few days with the words in your mind, it never goes deeper than the surface. A story however will do the work for me, and I have a character to follow down deeper into some other experience. I would completely recommend this book to anyone that feels the same about poetry. This is Rilke's only novel, and it holds my hand (somewhat) to where I need to go – as novels do – but along the way I can get an idea of some of the beautiful poetry out there that I'm missing.

Here's my favorite paragraph so far. The only context that you need is that there's a bit of fog in Paris.

“What such a small moon can achieve. There are days when everything about one is luminous, light, scarcely defined in the bright air, and nonetheless distinct. Even the nearest of things have the shades of distance upon them; they are remote, merely sketched in rather than bodied forth; and all things that do indeed partake of the distance—the river, the bridges, the long streets and the prodigal squares—have absorbed the distance within themselves and are painted on to it as upon silk. Who can say what a slight green vehicle on the Pont Neuf might be at such times, or some red bursting forth, or even a mere poster on the fire wall of a pearly-grey group of buildings. Everything is simplified, rendered into a few exact, bright planes like the face in a portrait by Manet. And nothing is of slight importance or irrelevance. The booksellers along the Quai open up their stalls, and the fresh or faded yellow of the books, the violet brown of the bindings, the more commanding green of an album: all of it is just right and has its worth and is a part of the whole and adds up into a fullness where nothing is lacking.”

Rilke

November 29, 2015Comments are off for this post.

Mexico GIFs

Probably my favorite aspect of using Google Photos is the automated GIFs that come out of similar or batch photos. In fact, I've changed the way I take pictures now - just to get a cool animation.

The following are from my family trip to Mexico City and Acapulco, Mexico for Thanksgiving. Click to get a better look: