Design

Or, all the ways in which content is experienced and used by its audience

Someone on Imgur is doing a newsletter. For news.

The website, usually the respected source of that unparalleled art form, the meme, seems an unlikely place for news. But it works: the poster, whose handle is YourNewsToday, is an American law student who has hundreds of “upvotes” and views on her/his posts. Sources include CNN, AP, Fox, NYT, BBC… and RT. “Given Russia's growing influence in our society, I think RT news provides an interesting perspective on current events. Given the fact that they are state controlled however, and have a clear and obvious interest in presenting stories in the way most critical of the West/US, perspectives from RT will be clearly identified and treated with some skepticism.”
Imgur

Nikkei Asian Review launched a new site.

Nikkei says the new website, aimed at global readers, is designed for reduced load times, grid-based navigation, and better skimming. Visually, they use their usual dull corporate blue, and the typefaces are the uninspiring combination of Roboto Slab for headlines and Arial for almost everything else. The only exceptions to the otherwise-fairly-decent vertical rhythm on mobile are the ads, which are haphazardly spaced. The website was developed in collaboration with their other fairly-recently-redesigned product, the Financial Times.
Nikkei

I saw The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time at Singapore’s Esplanade last week.

The design of the production, by the otherworldly talent Bunny Christie, is brilliant, sensitive, frantic, filled with more LED wattage than a slap upside the head, and it has many more decibels than are physically available in the world. Christie, winner of a mountain of awards, is known for designing “psychology as well as space”, and she certainly redesigned my psychology for good. Interestingly, but not surprisingly, the production comes in another flavour: Relaxed. I think this is excellent design that addresses a very real need for audiences in the market for a different pace. From the programme: “Sound and lighting cues are modified to be less startling. Leaving the auditorium to take a break is fine and there is a designated Quiet Area available. There is an easy-going attitude to noise and movement, doors remain open and lights are dimmed staying on throughout the show.” Nice. Now if only life came with a Relaxed mode.
The Guardian

A year after they jumped on, The Economist gets over 7 million viewers a month on Snapchat.

Their daily Snaps are deep topical dives into things like racial divisions, vaping, the possibility of another cold — or World — war, and office predators. The experience is true to the medium (brisk, anonymous-but-personal) but also true to the brand (highly produced, perfectly-researched, documentary-style editing). Surprisingly, some of the visual design can be downright hideous: for a timeline of sexual harassment, they choose to go with white, drop-shadowed text against a background image of a cave painting. “Others are “top-Snap only” content. These often have lots of text on them... intended to be shareable/screenshot-able primers on a topic.” Huh. The ads are programmatically annoying (I got one that promised more Instagram followers). But I love how The Economist is using the platform, as do millions of Snapchatters. This day in the life of Lucy Rohr, their Snapchat editor, is revealing, and it's the only reason I have exhumed my Snapchat app after my short-lived and bewildered run-in with it many years ago. Okay fiiiiine, I also want to Boost My Brows.
Digiday

A couple of weeks ago, I was one of the fortunate few (or so I like to think) that got early access to InVision Studio.

InVision, not known for making claims they can’t substantiate, says Studio is “the world’s most powerful screen design tool”. I still use the mighty industry standard Sketch for production work, and the functionality and features of Studio are very similar. I’ve only been test-driving Studio in bits and pieces, and it’s truly wonderful to use: responsive artboards! advanced animation! It’s free! But I’m not sure I’m have a reason to move just yet. Does anybody you know use Studio?
UX Design

Intercom, that ubiquitous messaging popup on every other website in the world, has just raised $125M in a Series D round led by Mary Meeker of Kleiner Perkins.

While I have used it for support with a few web apps that I work with, I often find it annoying, like that extra-hovery store dude. But there is little doubt that the Microsoft Clippy of this era has changed the way we interact with businesses, and how they raised the bar for customer acquisition, engagement, and a sense of entitlement about real-time customer feedback. So wait — a billion-dollar company built entirely on finding out what your customer wants? “Last year, we shipped 156 new things.” What? No wonder they’ve marched right into unicornland.
Intercom

Oliver Munday has wokeness — and a new book called Don’t Sleep.

The young graphic designer is known for his bold covers for Time magazine and Elif Batuman’s The Idiot as well as his work for the New York Times, The Atlantic, and The New Yorker. His work is socially powerful, and he is best known for how he juxtaposes images that speak not only for themselves and the issues they stand for, but as counterpoints to each other. “I’m after the thing that makes you stop and think for just one extra moment.”
The Paris Review

The homepage is back.

That always-delicious newsletter, The Idea, nails it by saying that it’s because social referrals are less dependable, so publishers are focussing on keeping users on their sites. The Techcrunch model, where scrolling past the end of an article serves up the homepage, is roughly where the Splice website is currently, but we’re still working hard on getting it just right. Like Politico, who recently redesigned their homepage, we get a lot of traffic to our homepage, so we want to make it work just right.
Politico

So here’s the whole list of changes Facebook made to your privacy settings, right after the CA backlash.

1. It’s made them easier to find. 2. That’s pretty much it. According to a blog post by their Chief Privacy Officer, they’ve made their existing settings more accessible (now in a single location rather than having them spread across nearly 20 screens), cleaned up outdated settings, and made it easier to download and delete your data. “These updates are about transparency – not about gaining new rights to collect, use, or share data.” What she isn’t saying is whether Facebook will make any changes in what information it gathers, the way it gathers it, or how it uses it.
Facebook

Indonesian Go-Jek drivers don’t like Google Maps.

They blame the the app for being glitchy and short on detailing like shortcuts for two-wheelers. This is a good example of how data (back-end mapping databases are more detailed for the US; less so in Asia) have a direct impact on usability. Getting lost is bad UX — and bad news for a ride-hailing industry that is projecting $20 billion by 2025. There’s hope: Google Maps launched motorcycle driving directions for Indonesia last month, but expect the speed bumps to continue for a bit.
SCMP

Speaking of design thinking for government, Macron’s interview reminded me of Estonia 3.0.

First, port your whole government to the cloud. Then blockchain it, encrypt it, and secure it, but also make it available — and eminently usable — to its citizens, residents, e-residents, and other assorted stakeholders (stateholders?). But the tech is underpinned by a robust national philosophy of trust, responsibility, and accountability. When Kersti Kaljulaid, the Estonian President, spoke at the E.U. Digital Summit in Tallinn last fall, Macron was seen “nodding vigorously”. Estonian e-governance is unwaveringly user-focused: backlogs in the legal and health systems have melted away, and public buy-in is near-total. “[The tech] is not important. It’s about the mind-set. It’s about the culture. It’s about the human relations—what it enables us to do.”
New Yorker

Emmanuel Macron talks like a design thinker.

Did you read Le President’s recent interview with Wired about his strategy for AI in France? What struck me was how much like a product designer he sounds. He welcomes the disruption of AI but wants to future-proof it so he has jobs waiting for the disrupted. He talks of “defining the rules of AI”. He emphasises that the DNA of European democracy is the same sensibility he wants to bring to his AI revolution: “to assert collective preferences and articulate them with universal values”. He wants to frame innovation “by design within ethical and philosophical boundaries”. Above all, like any good designer, he speaks about building more than tech; he is building trust. It’s not about what tech you have, it’s about what you choose to do with it. Now all he has to do is get buy-in.
Wired

“Make” book maker Pieter Levels is clearly insane. In a good way.

Levels is a bit of an indie-net star: he made Nomad List, a crowdsourced digital nomad listing; Remote OK, a job board for remote work, and twelve startups in twelve months. The book offers to teach you how to “bootstrap profitable startups the indie way”, and was bootstrapped as a profitable startup the indie way. Meta. So get this: he announces the book without writing a single line, and opens it up for pre-orders at 30 bucks a pop. In exchange, buyers get to list the things they want the (as-yet-unwritten) book to be about. He starts writing — in a publicly live-streamed public Google Doc, and sends out finished chapters to the pre-order customers to review, until the book is finished and he ships copies. The book is about launching early and building with users who pre-pay. Boom. The downside? There are irate people who pre-ordered in 2015 who are only just receiving their books.
Makebook.io

If you’ve tried using Vietnamese fonts on the web, you’ll understand why it’s challenging.

Unlike most Asian character-based writing systems, Vietnamese is written in Latin alphabet. It uses diacritics to denote tones (like thíš). So if you can’t get legible diacritics, you can’t figure out what it all means. Worse, there aren’t many web fonts that carry diacritics. Our friends at New Naratif, who publish in multiple languages, found this fascinating resource.
Vietnamese Typography

Netflix now has its own typeface called Netflix Sans.

Why? Because Apple and Google and Samsung have their own. Kidding. But isn’t that just crazy extravagant? I mean, there are plenty of fonts out there. Well, actually, continuing to license Gotham can get really expensive across platforms, so this will save them “millions of dollars a year”. Huh. And because a bespoke typeface “created an ownable and unique element for the brand’s aesthetic.” But what’s different about it? I mean, it looks like Hel… Shush. It has an “approachable geometric grotesque”, and the cut on the “t” has a “cinemascopic curve”. How dare you talk to me like that. And it still looks like Helvetica. I’m going to call it Helnetica. Heathen.
It's That Nice

The tyranny of screens wasn’t quite the problem for Richard Appiah Akoto, the Ghanaian high school teacher whose pics of him using a chalkboard for his computer students went viral.

Owura Kwadwo Hottish, as Akoto is known on Facebook, has now been deluged with computers from different parts of the world. He was in Singapore last week for the the Microsoft Global Education Exchange Summit. It’s a great start; as Akoto says about his students: “They are lacking more than just equipment.”
TechCrunch

But how do you measure empathy — or the lack of it? And how do you do it screenlessly?

HappyOrNot, that little Finnish startup has distilled it down for millions of us with their frictionless IRL interface. This realworld emoji comes in four big push buttons—dark green and smiley, light green and less smiley, light red and sort of frowny, dark red and very frowny — that you’ve probably seen at countless checkout counters. “One client discovered that customer satisfaction in a particular store plummeted at ten o’clock every morning. Video...revealed that the drop was caused by an employee who began work at that hour and took a long time to get going. She was retrained, and the frowns went away.” At worst, it’s all a bit Black Mirror; at best, “even flu shots are more effective if people are in a good mood when they receive them.” Ask your users how they feel; make it better.
New Yorker

So I’d like you to find 62.36 minutes to watch this video of a talk by a person named Golden Krishna about designing for a world without screens.

Despite the contradictions, it’s brilliant. He details three basic ideas to think about: to design for our typical processes instead of screens, about leveraging computers instead of serving them, and to create a system that adapts for individuals. It all smacks of empathy to me — and isn’t that the whole point of design?
YouTube

One of our favourite beards and designers, Van Schneider, hung out with the folks at Farmgroup, a design firm in Bangkok.

They’re largely a branding shop, but have grown into a full service design consultancy. They work on lots of interior and restaurant design projects, and I really like what they do with menus. “Graphic design is relatively young in this country; we are all still finding a place to stand in the world. I think one of our fortés is being crafty (in both meanings).”
Van Schneider

The Sydney Morning Herald launched its redesign a couple of weeks ago.

The new design system has a read-later feature called Shortlist (do people still use those?), contextual info-dives, and skimmable ‘talking points’ boxes (us old newspaper designers loved those). The website is now more horizontal in its scroll navigation, with cards in rows going across, compared to the earlier version with sections tottering about in columns. But good design is always about more than just what you see. I asked Frames subscriber and SEO dude Vahe Arabian what he thought. “I like that they’re using Varnish for the shortlist tool, and to to boost site speed. But they still need to work on optimising their topic hubs. They also need better linking to related stories instead of over-relying on their tool.” Thanks, Vahe!
Sydney Morning Herald

Noun Project is a delicious vocabulary of visual abbreviation.

In plain-speak: crowd-sourced icons for everything. But it’s interesting to think about what a hyper-simplified icon says about race, and this essay nails it. “Many depictions of race — icons or otherwise — rely on outdated tropes, stereotypical depictions, or fetishized myths to accomplish recognizability. Icons of race should celebrate physical differences as representative forms because failing to do so will result in misrepresentation by homogenization.”
The Noun Project