Tag Archives: design

Designers designing for designers are missing something (ditto writers!)

Fascinating article – full version here – talks about how people putting designs on sites like Dribbble tend to have more of an eye on how it’s going to go down with other designers rather than as an actual successful product that works. It’s also a really good example of credible self-promotion, and as applicable to other types of content creation as it is to design – a useful reminder to keep my eye on the desired outcome first, rather than just making more flannel. I’ve cut out a few bits below:  

“…Pixel perfect, retina ready PNGs might look great on Dribbble, but they will have decreasing value as a primary design tool in a real product building environment.

This is why redesigns of other people’s work is pure folly e.g. the new Yahoo logo, iOS7, changes to Facebook, the New New Twitter, the American Airlines rebrand. People have no context for the decision making process involved in these projects, no knowledge of the requirements, constraints, organisational politics.

If product design is about solving problems for people within the constraints of a specific business, then it simply feels that many people calling themselves product/UX designers are actually practicing digital art. They are Artists. They are Stylists. Executing beautiful looking things, certainly an important skill, but not practising product design…

Once you have a clear mission, vision and product architecture, you can start to think about the other details. The goals people have, what makes them happy, fulfilled, successful. The jobs your product does for them, where it works well, where it doesn’t.

The rough ugly sketches and scribbles that describe these things are far more important than the png that ends up on Dribbble…All the whiteboard sketches, hand drawings, and back of the napkin problem solving is what designers should be posting. Show me those things. Even a written description of what is being built is more important than the PNG or PDF.

Design is a multi layered process. In my experience, there is an optimal order to how you move through the layers. The simplest version of this is to think about four layers:

I see designer after designer focus on the fourth layer without really considering the others. Working from the bottom up rather than the top down. The grid, font, colour, and aesthetic style are irrelevant if the other three layers haven’t been resolved first. Many designers say they do this, but don’t walk the walk, because sometimes it’s just more fun to draw nice pictures and bury oneself in pixels than deal with complicated business decisions and people with different opinions. That’s fine, stay in the fourth layer, but that’s art not design. You’re a digital artist, not a designer…

At Intercom, we’re working with Clay Christensen’s Jobs framework for product design. We frame every design problem in a Job, focusing on the triggering event or situation, the motivation and goal, and the intended outcome:

When _____ , I want to _____ , so I can _____ .

For example: When an important new customer signs up, I want to be notified, so I can start a conversation with them.

This gives us clarity. We can map this Job to the mission and prioritise it appropriately. It ensures that we are constantly thinking about all four layers of design. We can see what components in our system are part of this Job and the necessary relationships and interactions required to facilitate it. We can design from the top down, moving through outcome, system, interactions, before getting to visual design.


Amazing: 3D projection mapping on moving objects


Love this sort of thing. Paves the way for amazing theatre but also interactive window displays, all sorts of things.

“Box explores the synthesis of real and digital space through projection-mapping on moving surfaces. The short film documents a live performance, captured entirely in camera. Bot & Dolly produced this work to serve as both an artistic statement and technical demonstration. It is the culmination of multiple technologies, including large scale robotics, projection mapping, and software engineering. We believe this methodology has tremendous potential to radically transform theatrical presentations, and define new genres of expression.” — The Creators Project

The little phone layouts that couldn’t…


Always interesting to see other versions of things now ubiquitous. Such as this great Gizmodo post on The Atlantic:

If you look at the layout of the number buttons on a phone — smart, cell, landline, what have you — the number buttons will feature, almost inevitably, a uniform layout. Ten digits, laid out on a three-by-three grid, with the tenth tacked on on the bottom. The numbers ascending from left to right, and from top to bottom.

This layout is so standardized that we barely think about it. But it was, in the 1950s, the result of a good deal of strategizing and testing on the part of people at Bell Labs. Numberphile has dug up an amazing paper — published in the July 1960 issue of “The Bell System Technical Journal” — that details the various alternative designs the Bell engineers considered. Among them: “the staircase” (II-B in the image above), “the ten-pin” (III-B, reminiscent of bowling-pin configurations), “the rainbow” (II-C), and various other versions that mimicked the circular logic of the existing dialing technology: the rotary.

Everything was on the table for the layout of the ten buttons; the researchers’ only objective was to find the configuration that would be as user-friendly, and efficient, as possible. So they ran tests. They experimented. They sought input. They briefly considered a layout that mimicked a cross.

And in the end, though, Numberphile’s Sarah Wiseman notes, it became a run-off between the traditional calculator layout and the telephone layout we know today. And the victory was a matter of efficiency. “They did compare the telephone layout and the calculator layout,” she says, “and they found the calculator layout was slower.”

Via Paleofuture/Gizmodo

Ooh! Lovely paper alphabet




Spotted by Slevinator, Super Excited! PS, “alphabet” is one of those words that, when you type it a few times, just never looks as if it is spelled right. You know?


And THAT, my friends, is how you design a book cover.


Why a designer made the transition from advertising to a startup

This is a post Keenan Cummings wrote for BEAKER. Keenan is the creative director and co-founder at Wander, a beautiful way to experience and express yourself through places. He spent his career working in branding and design strategy roles at Fwis, Johnson & Johnson, and VSA Partners, before realizing he wanted to build products from the ground up. He spent the last eight months reshaping his portfolio and leaving behind most of the illustration, copywriting, and branding work to focus heavily on product, UX, UI and even some front-end code. He keeps a running log of work and information at blog.keenancummings.com


I was an agency-trained, senior-level, print/branding designer and left to work at a startup. Here’s why:



I want my work to feel valuable.

It seems the higher up the institutional chain you climb, the more abstract the value you generate, and the more you are worth. The roles become so far removed from the end goals they are managing, and you have to wonder how long you can stay focused on what matters — making peoples lives better.

“The vast majority of the wealthiest people I’ve met are far more about building value for themselves than they are about creating value for anyone or anything beyond themselves.” (Are You a Role Model, HBR)

But this doesn’t add up in the startup world, mostly because there is not time nor room in the equation for anyone that doesn’t directly affect the outcomes of pursuing whatever the goals may be.

In a startup, value is a concrete measure of your contribution. I enjoy the clarity and trepidation that brings to the work. Things can fail, and the onus is on the person or team that failed to solve the problem correctly. (No blaming ‘bad’ clients!) Likewise, the triumphs are deeply felt because of the intimate relationship you have with the possibility of failure.



I want to stop talking about good work and start making good work.

Startups are notoriously biased toward action — it’s a survival tactic in a competitive field.

I’ve spent a lot of time on research and development, writing pages of airy ‘positioning statements’ and the like. It often felt like intellectual glut that gummed up the process. “Research & Development” feels valuable, but I’ve found that it rarely delivers.

Startups trade R&D for insight and iteration: talk to users, find a solution, something elegant and surprising and useful, and try it out, not as a print out on the wall to be discussed and over-thought (and yes, over-thinking is symptomatic of many if not most stalled innovation processes), but something out in the real world with other people using it.



I want other people to find value in my work.

That value is directly tied to making people’s experiences — and *hopefully lives — better. You have to deliver on that if you expect any kind of real impact.

Client work can often be far removed from any real world positive affect. When your goals happen to align with a client’s, then sure, it’s great to help them achieve that. You’re lucky if you can build a roster of clients you deeply believe in.

More often you are operating under one major but overlooked assumption — that lending clarity and delight to any message makes the world a better place, regardless of the real value of the message you are helping to sell.

Working as part of the team that is defining not just how a product gets communicated and used, but what that product is and what it does for people — that’s an opportunity you rarely get with client work.

*Part of the reason I have a very specific idea of the type of startup I want to work for. There are plenty of problems I don’t care to solve, and more power to the people out there tackling those.


I want my mom to understand what I spend my time doing.

You ever meet someone very successful and say to yourself “what the hell do they do?” You ever meet someone that can hardly answer that question themselves?

I’ve come to believe that “coordinating teams of interdisciplinary, strategic partnerships for generating long term sustainable growth” is code for makin’ spreadsheets and delegating real work (the spreadsheet has even become the symbol of faux productivity).



I want to design with empathy, and that means being close to the ground.

I want to get as close as possible to the people that will love, hate, use, abuse, praise and sh*t on my work.

There is power in making something for someone you know well, someone that you’ve taken the time to listen to.When you are designing for a real person with a real problem you exercise that designer’s empathy that you’ve been trying to squeeze out of yourself when you read vague marketing reports about a ‘target’ consumer or an archetypal customer.

You sit down for a casual cup of tea and a chat and they blow your mind with insights into what the problem is and how to make something that really works. You take that with you, synthesize and sift through it, and cone up with something that you are uniquely qualified to come up with. It is grueling, sweat-dripping-from-the-brow work — empathy exercise. Getting it right is intense and rewarding.


I want my stamp on the things I make.

I don’t want to contractually hand over credit for my work to any institution. Too many designers do great work that is absorbed by client’s contracts or even by the agency they work for.

The industry is changing. Designers are getting involved long before the brief is created. They are helping identify opportunities and build platforms and even products and in turn, generating an immense amount of value. The industry is demanding much more out of agencies but the rates aren’t changing. And we aren’t just talking learning new tools or building a web team or hiring film producers. Clients are demanding deeper domain knowledge, broader expertise, and bigger ROI.

I can go create this value somewhere else, for something I really believe in, and for a company that is moving quickly and iterating responsively.

Europe according to Berlusconi

(click image to view large – thanks for the tip, Olly! Think I might spend summer on the Mare Criminale)

M.C. Escher in Lego

Escher was a Dutch graphic artist known for mathematically-inspired woodcuts, lithographs, and mezzotints. These were often impossible constructions, explorations of infinity, architecture, and tessellations.

The great thing about them is that they’re impossible constructions. Or at least, they were until Andrew Lipson and Daniel Shiu built them out of Lego. I like that in the top one, the lamp is resting on a Linux book. Rather heartening.


Dallas Clayton: writer, illustrator, generally awesome

I think I’ve seen some of Dallas Clayton’s books around and about, but I didn’t know about his AWESOME WEBSITE until I stumbled upon it here. If you have a spare minute or two, go check him out. He posts pictures, poems, musings, messages and more. Lovely job. Here are some things he has done (ps – where can I get a falconer’s glove?):



Buy a falconer’s glove.

Approach the girl you like wearing the falconers glove.

Ask her “Excuse me, have you seen a falcon fly by here?”

Look up to the sky, hopeful/sad.

If she says “No,” look distraught and ask her if she wouldn’t mind helping you look for your falcon.

No human being would ever turn down an opportunity like this.

Use the time you spend together searching for the falcon to get to know her.

At the end of your search (10 minutes) you will probably need consoling re: the loss of your one true friend.

By this point her interest in you based on the fact that you were able to put so much love and time into the raising of a falcon will more than ensure a second date, and from there it’s just a hop skip and a jump to marriage.

Good luck!

*NOTE: If by chance a falcon does appear out of nowhere, simply say ” (falcon’s name) I’ve missed you so much! Don’t ever scare me like that again!” Then offer to take the girl to dinner for helping you find your lost falcon. Bonus: You just got a free falcon!



At the dinner table
upon her going away to college
we discuss what dogs we would all be,
a common enough question
but not one you can answer on your own.
You cannot choose
because we cannot all be show dogs
or winners of races.
But if we are lucky
and spirited at all the right times
some can get named
half-golden retrievers
with big sloppy smiles
warm and perfect for cuddling.




How important is it,
On a scale of one to ten
for an adult human being to know what a stegosaurus is?

Answer: 4


How important is it
for an adult human being to not not know what a stegosaurus is?

Answer: 8.5



When you’re in the midst of a breakdown

remember that others with far more to lose

and much further to go

have been where you are

and emerged unscathed

by doing little more

than continuing forward

with their heads down

and their boots tightly laced.



Been washing the cement
on this same parking lot
every day for the past six years.

No one pays me.
Just like doing it.

It doesn’t get much cleaner
than it was the day before.

But the smell is nice

And I get to wave to people
on their way
to whatever jobs
they’ve been cut out to do.

Don’t know the name of the man who owns this parking lot
or where this hose is connected
but I like what I do.

And I don’t have to dress up for it.

Draughtsman’s alphabets

From 1877. Very pretty. More here.

Classic packaging

Snake oil? The scientific evidence for popular health supplements

This image is a “balloon race”. The higher a bubble, the greater the evidence for its effectiveness. Click HERE or on the image to see the full, interactive version. But the supplements are only effective for the conditions listed inside the bubble. You might also see multiple bubbles for certain supplements. These is because some supplements affect a range of conditions, but the evidence quality varies from condition to condition. For example, there’s strong evidence that Green Tea is good for cholesterol levels, but evidence for its anti-cancer effects is conflicting.

On the right (once you click through to the full version on InformationIsBeautiful) there’s a little tab that says “show me”. Click that to navigate different conditions and so on.

This will change your life



The Willow Pattern Story

I’ve been surrounded by blue and white china my whole life. Mum is a massive fan – the kitchen has always been packed with jugs, tureens, plates, dishes, and more, sometimes chipped but always loved. Thinking on it, it has been a massive influence on me, the idea that something utilitarian (a plate) can also have aesthetic value. This was drilled into me at an early age when I used to have to eat my food to see which Peter Rabbit plate I had. Then there’s The Dining Room Shop – Mum’s shop – which has always had gorgeous stuff – some really quite rare and beautiful (I’ve always liked the old Wedgwood, personally, especially the quite plain Jacobean (?) stuff).

Nowadays it’s a sort of collective term for knock-offs – usually transfers – of various other patterns. But Willow Pattern is named after an original Chinese design, first engraved by Thomas Minton in 1780. He was then followed by Royal Worcester, Spode, Adams, Wedgwood, the whole gang (Burgess and Leigh’s modern Willow has been in continuous production since 1922).

There’s a story behind the original pattern, and it’s quite beautiful. Look at the plate first. It might look like a single image, but there’s a whole narrative happening inside it.

Once upon a time, there was a very grand Mandarin (that’s his palace under the big tree) who had a stunning daughter, Koong-se. She was so beautiful that he had knew he could do very well out of marrying her to the right person.

He also had a secretary, Chang. A personable young man who, while doing the Mandarin’s acccounts, full head over heels with Koong-se, and she with him. It was proper love too. Not an infatuation but an all-consuming need. When he found out, the Mandarin was livid. How could this lowly secretary ever dream he was suitable for his daughter? Something had to be done.

Poor Chang was banished, and a huge fence was build around the gardens of the Mandarin’s palace – you can see it at the bottom of the dish – so that Chang could not get in, and Koong-se was trapped inside, a bird in a gilded cage.

One day she was standing at the water’s edge when she saw something in the water – a shell, with tiny little sails on it. She picked it out of the water and found inside a poem, and bead that she had given her lover. Chang was outside, and he still loved her.

But then – terrible news – the Mandarin came in to tell her that he had found a suitable match. Ta-jin, a powerful warrior Duke. Not only that, but he was on his way to meet his betrothed, with loads of jewels for her (that’s him on the boat on the left hand side, making his way to the palace).

Chang had a plan though. Disguised as a servant, he snuck in to that night’s banquet, and up to Koong-se’s room. They kissed and decided to make a break for it. The Mandarin and Ta-Jin had drunk themselves into a stupor, and the two lovers quietly crept out. But just as they were leaving, the Mandarin woke up and tore after them (that’s him chasing them over the bridge – she’s holding jewels and I think the Mandarin has a whip).

They just managed to escape, and hid with a maid who the Magistrate had already fired for conspiring with the lovers. Koong-se had given the casket of jewels to Chang, so the Mandarin, who was also a magistrate, swore that he would use the jewels as a pretext to execute Chang as a thief when he caught him.

One night the Mandarin’s spies reported that a man was hiding in a house by the river (on the plate it’s just behind the boat) and the Mandarin’s guards raided the house. But Chang had jumped into the ragging torrent and Koong-se thought that he had drowned.

Some days later the guards returned to search the house again. While Koong-se’s maid talked to them, Chang came by boat to the window and took Koong-se away to safety.

They settled on a distant island, and over the years Chang became famous for his writings. This was to prove his undoing. The Mandarin heard about him and sent guards to destroy him. Chang was put to the sword and Koong-se set fire to the house while she was still inside.

The two birds on that plate? The gods, touched by their love, immortalised them as two beautiful doves.


There’s another story to the plate – a secret Shaolin legend.The Shaolin Monastery is burned by the Imperial troops of the Manchu rulers, called invaders by Chinese nationalist and later communist factions. Souls of the dead monks take a boat to the isle of the Blest. On the bridge are three Buddha awaiting the dead souls: Sakyamuni, the Buddha of the Past; Maitreya, the Buddha of the Future; and, Amitabha, the Ruler of the Western Paradise. Beyond them is the City of Willows – Buddhist Heaven. The doves are the monks’ souls on the journey from human to immortal life.

[I might get Mum to check this 😉 – oh, and with all fables and legends, there’s always another version, so apologies if this isn’t the one you know]

Mapping stereotypes

Yanko Tsvetkov has produced a fantastic series of maps looking at the way we see stereotypes. You can see the full set and buy large prints on his website – but these are some of my favourites.

Where I Live
Map. Digital illustration. Editorial for Süddeutsche Zeitung, June 2009

Europe according to Germany
Map. Digital illustration.

Europe according to Italy
Map. Digital illustration.

Europe according to Britain
Map. Digital illustration.

Europe according to Gay Men
Map. Digital illustration.

(ps, thanks for the spot, Max)

The Grand Taxonomy of Rap Names

From the World Famous Design Junkies comes this work of genius, The Grand Taxonomy of Rap Names.

Beautiful design work

Sasha Prood has produced some beautiful pieces of illustration that explore typography through nature and watercolour. Really breathtaking. AND she has a website with some rather natty horizontal scrolling, which is something I’ve been wanting to try for ages.

Repetitive, bored or urgent – which one are you?

When designing applications, Google breaks down users into three different categories: repetitive now, bored now and urgent now.

The “repetitive now” user is someone checking for the same piece of information over and over again, like checking the same stock quotes or weather. Google uses cookies to help cater to mobile users who check and recheck the same data points.

The “bored now” are users who have time on their hands. People on trains or waiting in airports or sitting in cafes. Mobile users in this behavior group look a lot more like casual Web surfers, but mobile phones don’t offer the robust user input of a desktop, so the applications have to be tailored.

The “urgent now” is a request to find something specific fast, like the location of a bakery or directions to the airport. Since a lot of these questions are location-aware, Google tries to build location into the mobile versions of these queries.

The same is true of writing (especially for web). The best applications, and indeed the best magazines/papers/blogs/whatever all have something in them that appeals to all three types.

Scientific American gets an iPad makeover

Based on their great Mag+ concept unveiled late last year, Bonnier and BERG have developed a really nice looking iPad version of Popular Science. No page-turning business…you swipe left/right to page through stories and then scroll to read through single stories.
Mag+ live with Popular Science+ from Bonnier on Vimeo.

What amazes me is that you don’t feel like you’re using a website, or even that you’re using an e-reader on a new tablet device — which, technically, is what it is. It feels like you’re reading a magazine.