Communicate with certainty
and your Voice will be heard.

Category Archives: The Design Mechanism


Here are some thoughts on talks at the recent An Event Apart, in Boston.

Understanding Web Design – Jeffrey Zeldman

  • Web Design is held to the expectations of other media. Often ignoring the intrinsic strengths of web
  • Like typography, web design’s primary focus is communicating content
  • Technology is often a hangup for people, when the user and their needs should be the primary focus of designers. “Design for people, not browsers!”
  • Design is about detail
  • A great website will subtly guide the user to their desired destination

Designing Using Data – Sarah Parmenter

  • Design is no longer a differentiator. Making things look nice is common. The differentiator today is designing with purpose — answer the question ‘why?’
  • When the right metrics are studied, data offers objective and actionable feedback
  • Data should allow a team to unite behind an objective goal — such as: Increase clicks etc.
  • Customer facing advertising is most effective when honest and transparent
  • Iterative design allows you to be flexible and try new things

Responsive Design is Still Hard/Easy! Be Afraid/Don’t Worry! – Dan Mall

  • Frameworks rather than processes, mean you define a set of constraints within which a project exists, and within this you find out what you can do that’s unexpected
  • Be active within your framework and volunteer/get involved with stages of production outside of your discipline
  • Each member of a team will have divergent perspectives at the start of each project cycle, they should become convergent by the end. These are focal points
  • Rinse and repeat the cycle, getting smaller each time to increase team involvement
  • Extensive preparation should make the assembly part of the process the shortest

Screen Time – Luke Wroblewski

  • Mobile is the dominant web browser worldwide
  • Responsive design includes additional considerations than just screen size (multiple input types, variable ambient lighting etc)
  • Screen size is a poor proxy for many of these considerations (screen size does not reveal input type)
  • A user’s posture or distance from device will also affect it’s design, independent of screen size or number of pixels
  • Design for human proportions, not pixels.

Content/Communication – Kristina Halvorson

5 key points for working with a client:

  • Principles: these are internal motivators based on our better intentions. They can unify a team
  • Strategy: pinpoint your goals and provide helpful constraints with which to execute
  • Process: the process is not God, it should change and grow as needs change. Regular post mortems are encouraged
  • Roles: RACI key for each agent on the client end. Responsible. Accountable. Consulted. Informed
  • Perceptions: Translate to facilitate communication between different disciplines

UX Strategy Means Business – Jared Spool

  • Design is the rendering of intent. Both user and provider
  • Content delivery is as important as the content itself and vice versa. Great UX cannot exist without great content
  • Advertising is unhelpful for all parties involved
  • Strategic priorities in business can inform design considerations (increase revenue, reduce cost etc)
  • There are a variety of models for monetizing the web

The Long Web – Jeremy Keith

  • HTML allows for fantastic accessibility, deprecation and backward compatibility
  • New HTML specifications can be adopted early as they will be skipped over when unsupported
  • Progressive enhancement means you start with the lowest common denominator and then enhance as much as you like
  • Progressive enhancement protects the experience from unaccountable errors such as unrelated javascript errors
  • Text formats will last longer than binaries. Binaries are forever changing and becoming outdated

Responsive Design Performance Budget – Paul Irish

  • Mobile users expect their content to load faster than the desktop
  • Web growing is latency limited. The nature of requesting many small files means that a user’s experience is improved by reducing the number requests
  • UX can be greatly enhanced by prioritizing critical data and rendering early on
  • Separate the critical CSS from non-critical. Load non-critical at the end of the page. Aim for main content to load in 1 sec (< 14kb)
  • The number of higher latency users is increasing

The Chroma Zone: Engineering Color on the Web – Lea Verou

  • Colors in web browsers have many nuances and limitations
  • Hex and RGB are poor representations for human reading
  • HSL and HSLa are better although they are not perceptually uniform (we perceive 50% yellow as much lighter than 50% blue)
  • New color properties in CSS level 4 will make color coding more human readable (HWB = Hue Whiteness Blackness)
  • There is room for much more improvement in web colors

Mind the Gap: Designing in the Space Between Devices – Josh Clark

  • Designing for the space between screens. Not content but tasks. Verbs not nouns
  • The technology is available today, we just haven’t imagined the possibilities yet
  • Interfacing with machine is likely not going to change much (touch and mouse are great interfaces)
  • Physical things are beginning to have digital representations (avatars)
  • How about affecting how we interface with physical world and communicating that to our devices.
  • Software makes hardware scale, The endless possibilities

Web+: Can the Web Win the War Against Native Without Losing its Soul? – Bruce Lawson

  • Web technology has inherent strengths, despite the popularity of native apps
  • Web tech should not try to replicate — though it can learn from native. Build to the strengths of web
  • Progressive enhancement and interoperability make web accessible and global. Always accessible by everyone
  • Widgets failed as they were a poor imitation of native apps. They existed as a snapshot without the ability to update
  • W3C is built for accessibility and interoperability. This means that it is designed for low level functions. Can be complicated but powerful

How to Champion Ideas Back at Work – Scott Berkun

  • Great things are achieved in difficult circumstances
  • Success and acclaim only arrive once a project is complete
  • Charm and convincing people of your ideas is important!
  • A network increases your potential. Reach out and get advice to harness that potential
  • To enact change, start small with something you can excel at and expand from there

Meeting Milton art R2sAt the end 2013….. before this final season of Mad Men was in the can, I had the unexpected and most extraordinary opportunity to MEET Milton Glaser. Not only to meet the demiurge of 20th-century eclecticism in communications design, but to actually hang out in his studio space and chat with the man. This is that same comfortable and time-worn space in which Mr. Glaser has, for over 40 years, created some of the most memorable and thoughtful artwork, poster design, identity programs, campaigns and so much more.

His clients, those seeking meaning in their marketing efforts, comprise a diverse range of enterprise from film, music, theater and publishing, to cultural, civic and institutional entities. They came to Mister Glaser for something remarkable, some insight that would flick on a light switch for almost everyone who encountered his work.

Do I sound like a giddy schoolboy? That’s fine. I came for the same thing. Something remarkable. Some insight that would reaffirm why we designers love to create.

I graduated from my design program during the mid-1980′s when Milton already had attained mythological status. This was the era when post-modernism and deconstructionist sensibilities were part of a standard discourse. The notion of articulating expressions of the hand-drawn could instill value and meaning by adding a layer of subtext to anything from an annual report to a poster about AIDS awareness.

I have to wonder, as I work in a predominantly digital realm, are we still as invested in the subtext of meaning in crafting a deeper message? A deeper experience? Can we be digital and deep?

And so I had an audience with someone who in my book, may as well be the 5th Beatle. Or perhaps a better analogy would be….the Gautama Buddha of creative thinking and brand design.

As I walked across 32nd Street, my hands were clammy and my heart raced. I rehearsed one or two of what I thought where intelligent observations or questions about Mr. Glaser’s place in design history.  But how did I even get here? Who am I to have this opportunity? The afternoon was orchestrated by a former teaching colleague of mine. I had taught at the SUNY College at Buffalo NY for some ten years before I came to NYC To be a Mad Man once again. I sort of strong-armed my way into the event when I heard Milton Glaser had agreed to chat with a small group of students. And so here I was a crass commercial digital Mad Man, posing as an intellectual once again. Hoping no one will notice that I was torn, as most of us are, between both meaning and money.

Walking up to the building, I was delighted by the thoughtful phrase etched in the glass transom above the outside front door. “Art is work”. A simple true statement.  This was going to be good.

We waited for Milton in an area that felt like the small kitchen in an old grade school. The afternoon’s autumnal sunlight warming the yellow wood trim on the window sills. Artifacts of Milton’s tremendously productive career on the shelving all around the room.
There was a large wooden dinner table from the 1960′s with not enough seats around it for the nine of us, and so I chose to stand. While we waited some twenty minutes for Milton to join us, the other professors and the small group of college students chatted excitedly and rehearsed their questions with each other. I, the self-invited interloper, remained on the quiet side, rehearsing my little question in my head. Partly because I wanted to get it right, partly because I didn’t want to share my thoughts ahead of time. I preferred to sound cool and casual.

And so Milton joined us. He beams kindness and understanding as he sits at the head of this well-worn table. “What can I possibly do for you all today”?  The question was directed at me. I realized I was mistaken as the leader since I was the only one standing in the group. I had to explain that Professor Pete Bella had put this together and these were his students. I was simply too far away from the closest chair when the music stopped, and so here I stood.

The first thing one notices as he speaks, is that Milton is extremely articulate and thereby quite economic in his use of words. There is not one syllable wasted on trifle and I imagine each of us around the table was thinking “I wish I were more like that – thoughtful and direct”. I realized that he says so much with imagery and artistry in his daily life, that his understanding of those things around us and those things we are talking about, comes from a deeper reflection on life that is constant like a Zen Master. That his internal perspective is well considered, calm, and calming.

We were poised and ready.  Professor Bella asked Mr. Glaser to share with us what he thought the future held for young designers. I asked my well rehearsed “off the cuff” question, about his push against the cool aesthetics of Mid-Century Modernism by introducing a New Eclecticism that infused humor and ornamentation into the culture of corporate design.

What we got instead was a lovely story. 
Milton shared something that he saw on PBS the night before. (Suck-up that I am, I happened to have seen much of this show as well, and so I locked eyes with my buddy Milton and added my small comments of agreement- desperate to be liked by the man).

The story was about a blind horse and a goat. They had a most unlikely and loving relationship wherein the goat would take the Horse’s rope-tether in his mouth every morning and lead the horse to both food and water. They sat in the sun together. They communicated.  When the horse eventually died, he was buried under a tree on the hillside where the goat and horse spent much of their time. After the horses passing, that goat would walk alone everyday, all the way to the spot where the horse was buried and just sit there…. all day.
It is a beautiful story I have shortened here. Milton shared that with us….and as he finished he held his right hand over his heart. He paused, filled with the love and meaning of that relationship. He was overwhelmed. He smiled a slow smile and gave us time to share that feeling.

We all took in that moment. Whether you had seen the PBS show or not, everyone in that room was moved.  In that short opening Milton conveyed so much meaning and clarity without being didactic or obvious. That is his gift. Milton Glaser has an ability to design, create, and communicate, while maintaining the human in humanity.

We did eventually speak more directly about design process and its place in our culture. Milton was also very clear about his distaste for advertising and marketing as a pure form of propaganda. He was adamantly against using our powers to persuade the unsuspecting individual to purchase things they don’t need. To manufacture desire where there was none. He spoke of the political ramifications of the power of good design.  Advertising, whose job was to sell dreams and create desire can be used for good…or for profit….or possibly both.
I know it sounds obvious, but as we basked in that radiant intellect, we realized that we each have the power to speak to the human condition.

As I left that day, saying good-bye to my good friends, Professors Stan Friesen and Pete Bella, and my new friend Milton Glaser, I was still giddy. I carry that with me everyday. (that and a selfie of me n Milton) – And I thank Milton for the conscious appreciation and new energy.

I can say with confidence that everything is OK in the design world. 
Horses and Goats not only get along, but live and love in harmony.
And YES it is OK to feel deeply and design digitally.

I Heart NY

September 25th, 2013  |   The Design Mechanism

By now, the story is well known. A man sits in the backseat of a cab, sketching on a notepad as night falls over a crumbling city. He scribbles the letter I. He draws a heart. And then an N, and then a Y. Right away he knows he’s got something. This is it, he thinks. This is the campaign.

The man was a designer named Milton Glaser. The city was New York. The year was 1977. A time and place commemorated by an entire genre of movies dedicated to making it look like a horrifying place to live.

via 99% Invisible.

The fantastic podcast 99% Invisible takes an in-depth look at the iconic design.

How can we apply the idea of method acting to our business lives? This is the question that lifehacker and bestselling author AJ Jacobs tackles in this insightful (and highly entertaining) talk on the benefits of faking it until you make it. Through a series of examples from his own life, Jacobs shows just how much our behavior shapes our thoughts and our perceptions. Thus, if we want to change our attitude about something, the best way is to “act as if.”

I want to throw out a big question and see how people react to it. Since the iOS 7 announcement, I’ve had an idea rattling around my head that I can’t seem to shake. With regards to Apple’s new approach for Human Interface (as laid out in the iOS Dev Center), I’ve been wondering how future smart devices will manifest and whether iOS 7 can be justified as a useful step in the evolution.

Particularly, I’m interested in pursuing the specificity of the mobile, multi-touch device. Specificity of a medium refers to the features which make that medium different from others or the unique things it can achieve. An example is the corresponding development of abstract painting with the invention of photography, which rendered the prevailing realism redundant. Painters had to find new forms of expression to keep the medium relevant.

Now there is no technology that will make smart devices redundant (not yet), and still the market is pushing innovation. With processing power hitting a physical limit and Moore’s Law finally showing signs of slowing, the shift has been toward making chips smaller and ubiquitous. The pursuit has changed from making the biggest, baddest computer to discovering new interactions; new uses for a mature technology.

And yet the mobile platform is still in relative infancy. Just as people feared the horseless carriage, or wondered whether their first telephone was listening to everything they said, the hurdle for the technology industry is nurturing consumer acceptance of their product. (Sure it’s great to have a machine that can do your walking and take half the time but nobody wanted a segway.) This is why user experience has become such a popular area of development. There are more computers available than ideas to harness them. Startups are a dime a dozen and, for many, promise to make a difference rather than the giant multinational platform-building conglomerates such as Apple and Google.

A platform is, after all, what iOS 7 should be viewed as. As wonderful as iOS has been and how revolutionary the device the iPhone was when launched 6 years ago, it was the introduction of the app store that really affected how people use their devices. This fostered an adoption which has us carrying our email, calendar, fact-finding, geo-locating device with us everywhere because it has become indispensable. The benefits far outweigh the potential invasion of privacy or even personal space, when we carry/wear our devices everywhere. And thanks to the millions of apps available, there is something for everyone.

So, with iOS 7, we have an interface that has been evolving for 6 years. There haven’t been massive changes to the OS before. The buttons and menus were redesigned but ultimately functioned the same and new features were incorporated. And after fine tuning this system, Apple has rewritten the script and gone back to basics; a large overhaul which many were demanding but many more were just getting used to.

In this dramatic new direction, Apple is certainly testing the limits, demonstrated by the ongoing discourse. What is Apple seeking? Will the re-imagining of an interface lead to discoveries in interaction, perhaps something more specific to the medium or will their development guidelines alienate the average user?

 

This post originally appeared on the author’s website, gbrassey.com

This session will provide an in-depth look at human perception and cognition, and its implications for interactive and visual design. The human brain is purely treated as an information processing machine, and we will teach the audience its attributes, its advantages, its limitations, and generally how to hack it. While the content will provide a deep review of recent cognitive science research, everything presented will also be grounded in example design work taken from a range of Google applications and platforms. Specific topics will include: edge detection, gestalt laws of grouping, peripheral vision, geons and object recognition, facial recognition, color deficiencies, change blindness, flow, attention, cognitive load balancing, and the perception of time.

via Cognitive Science and Design — Google I/O 2013.

From this year’s Google I/O conference. Well worth the 35 minutes.