Communicate with certainty
and your Voice will be heard.


In this episode of The MechCast, Team Mechanism gathers to discuss the connected world in which we live, better known as The Internet of Things. We take a slightly different approach to this episode, in the form of a QI episode. We hope you enjoy!

Music
Howard Goodall – QI Theme Song
Aphex Twin – Taking Control

Related Links
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Jonathan Harris: “We Feel Fine”
Jonathan Harris: “The Whale Hunt”
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David Pogue on Glassholes
Randall Meeks on Google Glass (SNL)
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By 1995, David Carson was the poster boy for an avant-garde and increasingly, subversive direction that graphic design was headed. He had built a global following of design school kiddies by bucking the traditional “ad-man” approach previously taken by Ogilvy, Burnett, Brownjohn and others with regard to clever, effective and readable advertising. Much like the controlled chaos of the Deconstructivists before them, in the cyclical karmic wheel of creative expression, Carson (and arguably Segura, Brody and others) had taken accepted graphic design in a direction that tore up the rules and started over. Their sauce was the gateway drug for Sagmeister and his ilk in later years.

I recall attending a HOW Conference in Monterey, California, where Milton Glaser, Bob Gill and their colleagues were publicly seething at Carson’s new found popularity. These arguably brainer, and certainly more seasoned road dogs of the graphics industry, were, for the first time, being ignored by the graphic masses for a new, hot little surfer boy (who openly admitted he just fell into the industry like like a leaf into a big pond of ducks). There were lines around the block to have his new book, “The End of Print: The Grafik Design of David Carson“, signed by the man himself.

For the ad-men, this was a moment of reckoning. At the Monterey HOW Design conference, Glaser was very publicly rushed off to a hospital due to a heart issue, Bob Gill was more vicious and crabbier than usual. The unsuspecting rock stars of the past were now being exorcised by the new punk regime. The Sex Pistols were coming – and there was nothing that Jethro Tull and Yes could do about it. A creative tool called the computer, had replaced hand-cut rubylith and type.

Digital printing would slowly all-but-kill Gutenberg’s printing press as a cheaper solution to your printing press expert, who was always there on press to get your colors just right. The industry of graphic design was becoming cheaper. We began to believe “shitty” was acceptable, and various economic factors and corporate budget cuts didn’t help matters either. Software took away the human touch, tablets would later take away the notepad, and being digital began to slowly take root – a fungus to wash over the senior graphic Luddites, like a creeping red tide.

A dear departed friend of mine once quipped, “What happens when everyone has a website?” Now that’s a bit naive, but I get his point. While the convenience of smartphones and tablets has pushed us into a post-PC world, where expansive experiences are more desirable and useful than a website. Websites, by definition, are just a group of connected pages regarded as a single entity, and they are practically free if you look hard enough. The modern digital branded experience is much more.

Mobile devices and likely the upcoming wearable industry will continue to steadily infiltrate and replace the experience of a single website for an organization and brand’s digital expression. In recent years, the concept of social media has raised the stakes by creating two-way conversations in real time with real expectations from your audience. We prefer to not be removed from experiencing one form of entertainment or educational media to sit down at a computer and look up a website. We want to experience all things collectively and collaboratively with our friends, and the distraction of a website, as we once knew it, is not nearly complex enough to satisfy our desires.

…Back to Carson and the End of Print. He later claimed that he wasn’t trying to infer that the print industry was dead, but those who had just raised the flag of technology and the new coming internet revolution didn’t care. His mostly unreadable style and grungy approach to design was necessary. It rocked the industry boat – and as music, fashion and entertainment fell into line – it forced the rules to change. The web would later become a viable and uniquely positioned means of both creative expression and a way for businesses to connect to consumers in sometimes profound ways – the world’s most accessible art show and trade show under the same roof. The Nerds had their revenge while the ad-men were left to their martinis, suits and stories.

The Mechanism recently retired the word “website” from our vocabulary. It’s too close-minded and obvious a concept to exist as an agency without discussing the future of an integrated digitally-branded experience. In fact, we were 13 years ahead of our time when we started The Mechanism and used “From Media to the Medium” as our tagline. We believe that a website has always been a thread in the expanding tapestry of brand expression. We understood from the start that everything begins from the brand outwards, and given the technological tools that were available then (and are available now) the implementation of an idea in any Medium wouldn’t be the problem – it would be the enormous and interconnected creative collaborative that would be required to see through the changing variety of media delivery mechanisms.

The “website” as we all know is less important than what’s coming next. Website development was the catalyst, a “blip” towards an interconnected omnipresent, ever-communicating “Singularity“. We will soon live with systems that plug into an artificial or ambient intelligence to manage your life, curate your interests, drive a vehicle, keep track of your day to day travels and never force you to remove yourself from an existing experience to use a website to research what the Network will already know you’re looking for. The next generation will be the “Mighty Untethered”, ubiquitously connected to a Universal Machine. You and your friends and colleagues interests will be part of the system, and as they change, so will your personal experience to match your tastes. Diseases, dangers, economies and civilizations will be repaired on a global scale due to mass shared information and the artificial intelligence to be gained from it. Privacy will continue to suffer, but it has since the first time you signed up for a college loan.

Web developers, this is your moment of reckoning. When nearly everyone can make a peanut butter sandwich, it’s not just time to suggest a banana – it’s time to introduce it to the 10,000lb gorilla in the room.

Sitting on the couch, plugging-in and tuning out, growing fat, eventually growing tentacles and remembering what it once was like when we were knuckle-dragging Homo sapiens is a possible future. Or hopefully, our wearables, implants and attached digital devices will feature new, usable interfaces and non-intrusive experiences enabling us all to once again perceive the world around us with better clarity and understanding of the human experience.

The Web is dead, long live the Medium…

Search is the compass of the internet. It guides us to the content that we are really looking for and helps avoid the stuff we don’t really care about. Or at least that’s how it is supposed to work. It turns out that beyond just the complexity of installing and configuring a search server, it can also be difficult to account for the various use cases of your search tool. Lets take a quick look at how The Mechanism engineers were able to tackle this challenge when building a restaurant search application for SafeFARE.

The good folks at foodallergy.org enlisted our services to build a restaurant search application that will allow users to find allergy-aware restaurants based on any combination of 9 criteria. Using the Ruby on Rails framework and Sunspot Solr (a Ruby DSL for the Lucene Apache Solr search server) we built this search app, and learned a few things on the way.

If a user searches for restaurants in a ZIP code should we only return restaurants within that ZIP code, or should we include restaurants from other nearby ZIP codes in our search results? And if we include other ZIP codes, how many other ZIP codes? How should we order the results? These and other similar questions helped up to come up with the structure of our search controller.
Figure 1.1
if params[:search].present?
@search = Restaurant.solr_search do
fulltext params[:restaurant_name] # runs a full text search of
with(:approved, :true) #facets approved restaurants
if params[:cuisine_search].present? #user also entered cuisine preference
any_of do
params[:cuisine_search].each do |tag|
with(:cuisines_name, tag) # facet by matching cuisines
end
end
end
if params[:address].present? || params[:city_search].present? || params[:state_search].present? || params[:zip_search].present?
#if any location fields are present, geocode that location
with(:location).in_radius(*Geocoder.coordinates(whereat), howfar)
#facet based on user given location,
end
order_by_geodist(:location,request.location.latitude,request.location.longitude)
@restaurants = @search.results
end

It took us about a week but we were finally able to come up with enough if statements to cover every one of the 362,880 possible combinations of search queries. Figure 1.1 is a small sampling of how we implement search when a user types in a restaurant name, cuisine preference, and restaurant location. First we search the solr index for whatever the user enters in the restaurant_name field, then cut that list down to only the approved restaurants, then we check to see if the user also entered a cuisine preference, if so we facet our list down to restaurants that match that cuisine, if the user did not enter a cuisine, we skip that step, then we check if the user entered a location that they would like to search like a city, or state, and we facet our list down to only restaurant’s in that area. Using this strategy we can create sort of a Venn diagram that allows us to drill down only to the information that we want, and point that result to the restaurant variable. To increase the functionality of the site, The Mechanism engineers implemented an IP lookup to automatically detect the IP address and location of the user, and order search results by how close the restaurant is to the user.

A second major challenge that many developers face when using a search server is deployment. In order to use solr in a production environment, you will need a Java app servlet like Tomcat or Jetty, and you will need an instance of Apache Solr. Developers may consider installing standalone versions of Tomcat and Solr Sunspot depending on their hardware capabilities, but sunspot comes bundled with a Jetty server which can be used in production by running the command RAILS_ENV=production rake sunspot:solr:start

And voila! we have implemented an advanced search tool that will help users find allergy-aware restaurants all across the nation and may even save somebody’s life one day.

image copy

A few weeks ago, I took a trip back to the 90′s by heading down to Terminal 5 for the Pet Shop Boys concert. The British electro-pop duo actually hit it big in the mid-1980′s and have never stopped working, but I remember dancing all-out to their club sounds in the early 1990′s.

This show was the last stop of their world tour and I had asked several friends to go with me… months in advance. Mood- pretty darn excited by my choice.

As the concert date drew closer, I wondered – will the Pet Shop Boys still feel relevant? Sure I think their music is great, but then I worried, will this be a memorable “experience” for all? or will it feel dated, quirky, and somewhat nostalgic.
Either way I thought this will reflect on me. I know we all worry when we are throwing down big bucks for a concert and coercing friends to go. YOU become the host and you are somehow responsible for everyone enjoying the event. Your mouth is saying “come on… it will be great!”, while your brain is whispering – “it had better be since you bought 8-pricey tickets to this shin-dig”!.

Well I have to say the show was amazing. Neil Tennant, and Chris Lowe are still a perfect blend of electro-pop craftsmanship and really interesting performance art. A funky spacious club in New York City was the perfect venue to share the experience. And we really did “share” the experience. All around me people were holding up their Smartphones – taking pics, recording video (see photo above – I took that one at the show) – and thank goodness, since half the time I couldn’t see the stage – I could however see it on the phone of the tall person in front of me – revelers were Tweeting, Tumbling, Pinning and sharing the experience in real time.

Which got me to thinking …

Not that long ago people went to concerts and went nutty. We danced, sang, and sweated and told our friends about it the next day. “You should have seen Blink-182 last night man, it was insane!” (I went mid-2000′s here to illustrate my point…remember the first release of the iPhone was June 2007 – and all of the realtime sharing came in the following years).

So my thought. Technology moves faster than a one-hit-wonder drops in the charts.
Right now, We are a culture in motion.

Everyone participates in the moment equally in realtime. Snaps and videos of your experience are up online before you leave the parking lot.

My question to friends, clients, and potential clients is this…. are people dancing to your brand? Or is your website a Wallflower? (Yes I know another great band from the past).

Internet browsing from smartphones and tablets grew 35% from Q4 2012 to Q4 2013. Simply put – Almost a third of global Internet traffic to North American web sites—31.3%—in the fourth quarter of 2013, came from smartphones and tablets, according to marketing and public relations firm Walker Sands Communications’.

According to Mill and Brown Research, per day Americans spend -147 minutes on mobile phones, 113 minutes viewing television, and only 108 minutes on their PC. easy to see who is winning the race here.

Now ask yourself – How does your company’s website hold up when you hold your phone up? How are people accessing your website? Is it a satisfying user experience?

In the same way I thought about my friends judging me based on a concert experience… I wonder, how are your clients judging your brand based on the mobile experience your website provides? Does your site feel relevant? Is it satisfying and engaging? Is your mobile web experience worth sharing and talking about? Or does it feel dated, quirky, and somewhat nostalgic?

The Mechanism has been a pioneer of Responsive Design from its earliest days.
Check out our own site right now on your smartphone or tablet.

Functional design and a pleasing user interface, these are the things that excite me as a designer, creator and a user.

Note how our site reconfigures gracefully to maintain large action buttons, and behold – text that remains readable. Fluid grids and flexible images are the cornerstone to a satisfying user experience. Other benefits include interactive calls to action such as one-tap to dial a phone number within your site, one-tap to email or interact with your site.

Just imagine… all you Non-Profit organizations out there, this could mean the difference between an immediate digital donation or a delayed action that is never acted upon.
The opportunity for your clients to take immediate action is in the palm of their hands.
I could go on however, I would rather invite you to join in a conversation.

The Mechanism’s first of this seasons in-house conversations on best practices for your digital brand experience will kick off on Friday, June 13th, at 8:30 am at our place.
We will be featuring an intimate chat with our Founder and Executive Director Dave Fletcher about True Responsive Design and your brand experience.

We have limited seating and coffee. If you would like to join us please register by clicking here!

Can’t attend? Just contact me directly to chat - 212-221-3444 x-102

Best,
Michael

 

massimo

A designer has just left us with an amazing legacy of creativity and clarity. The great Massimo Vignelli (January 10, 1931 – May 27, 2014) has died at the age of 83.

The life of a designer is a life of fight. Fight against the ugliness. Just like a doctor fights against disease. For us, the visual disease is what we have around, and what we try to do is cure it somehow with design. – Massimo Vignelli

A massively influential designer and one of the last true great creative thinkers, I had the good fortune to have a brief correspondence with Mr. Vignelli back in 2002. I was putting together a presentation entitled “Good Examples of Bad Design”, to be delivered at the HOW Design Conference in Orlando. He reached out to me, presumably out of curiosity and delight in the subject matter. He told me quite simply, that he was looking forward to my presentation. It meant the world to me and I’ve cherished this memory even as the archived bits of the conversation have faded from my hard drive.

Michael Bierut from Pentagram produced a short video about Massimo’s approach to book design. In a world that is quickly becoming digital, it’s worth watching to learn (and hear) a few insights from one of the masters. The creative world was a much better place with him in it.

Massimo Vignelli Makes Books from Pentagram on Vimeo.

Also, to catch up on the legacy of Mr. Vignelli – check out this link.