Morale is key in design

Morale is key in design. I’m surprised people don’t talk more about it. One of my first drawing teachers told me: if you’re bored when you’re drawing something, the drawing will look boring. For example, suppose you have to draw a building, and you decide to draw each brick individually. You can do this if you want, but if you get bored halfway through and start making the bricks mechanically instead of observing each one, the drawing will look worse than if you had merely suggested the bricks.

Building something by gradually refining a prototype is good for morale because it keeps you engaged.

From Design and Research by Paul Graham.


Babymetal sound like the future

Or maybe the past if you liked California-era Mr. Bungle. Regardless, it’s been a while since I’ve heard something so now. It’s ridiculous and it shouldn’t be any good at all. It’s Babymetal, I guess. Anyway, this whole thing makes me feel like I really am living in the future. (We are.) Enjoy.


Kurt Russell Interview


Ain’t It Cool News interviewer Quint says it well, “To be a kid in my generation meant you grew up worshipping Snake Plissken, RJ MacReady and Jack Burton.” There’s a great, super-casual interview there with genre film legend Kurt Russell. Lots of interesting conversation on his career and his collaboration with director John Carpenter. Kurt compares them to Bernie Taupin and Elton John.


Principles of Good Design

Is beauty objectively true? Are there principles you can use to guide you to it in your work? Can designers from both the sciences and the arts look at each others work and find beauty? These are important questions for designers of all types.

For those of us who design things … we need to be able to recognize it. We need good taste to make good things. Instead of treating beauty as an airy abstraction, to be either blathered about or avoided depending on how one feels about airy abstractions, let’s try considering it as a practical question: how do you make good stuff?

That’s programmer Paul Graham from his article Taste for Makers. Here’s my edited version of his principles for good design. What you need to make good stuff. I’m posting them here for my own benefit, as a note-taking exercise, and maybe yours if you don’t want to read the original. But you should.

  • Good design is simple. For architects and designers it means that beauty should depend on a few carefully chosen structural elements rather than a profusion of superficial ornament. When you’re forced to be simple, you’re forced to face the real problem. When you can’t deliver ornament, you have to deliver substance.
  • Good design is timeless. If something is ugly, it can’t be the best solution. There must be a better one, and eventually someone will discover it. If you can imagine someone surpassing you, you should do it yourself.
  • Good design solves the right problem. The typical stove has four burners arranged in a square, and a dial to control each. How do you arrange the dials? The simplest answer is to put them in a row. But this is a simple answer to the wrong question. The dials are for humans to use, and if you put them in a row, the unlucky human will have to stop and think each time about which dial matches which burner. Better to arrange the dials in a square like the burners.
  • Good design is suggestive. In architecture and design, this principle means that a building or object should let you use it how you want: a good building, for example, will serve as a backdrop for whatever life people want to lead in it, instead of making them live as if they were executing a program written by the architect.
  • Good design is often slightly funny. This one may not always be true. Good design may not have to be funny, but it’s hard to imagine something that could be called humorless also being good design.
  • Good design is hard. In art, the highest place has traditionally been given to paintings of people. There is something to this. If you draw a tree and you change the angle of a branch five degrees, no one will know. When you change the angle of someone’s eye five degrees, people notice.
  • Good design looks easy. Like great athletes, great designers make it look easy. Mostly this is an illusion. The easy, conversational tone of good writing comes only on the eighth rewrite.
  • Good design uses symmetry. I think symmetry may just be one way to achieve simplicity, but it’s important enough to be mentioned on its own. Nature uses it a lot, which is a good sign.
  • Good design resembles nature. It’s not so much that resembling nature is intrinsically good as that nature has had a long time to work on the problem. It’s a good sign when your answer resembles nature’s.
  • Good design is redesign. It’s rare to get things right the first time. Experts expect to throw away some early work. They plan for plans to change. You should cultivate dissatisfaction.
  • Good design can copy. I think the greatest masters go on to achieve a kind of selflessness. They just want to get the right answer, and if part of the right answer has already been discovered by someone else, that’s no reason not to use it.
  • Good design is often strange. At an art school where I once studied, the students wanted most of all to develop a personal style. But if you just try to make good things, you’ll inevitably do it in a distinctive way, just as each person walks in a distinctive way. Michelangelo was not trying to paint like Michelangelo. He was just trying to paint well; he couldn’t help painting like Michelangelo.
  • Good design happens in chunks. At any given time there are a few hot topics and a few groups doing great work on them, and it’s nearly impossible to do good work yourself if you’re too far removed from one of these centers. You can push or pull these trends to some extent, but you can’t break away from them.
  • Good design is often daring. Today’s experimental error is tomorrow’s new theory. If you want to discover great new things, then instead of turning a blind eye to the places where conventional wisdom and truth don’t quite meet, you should pay particular attention to them.

The biggest takeaway? “You should cultivate dissatisfaction.” There’s no answer to the sad problem of the designer who struggles to finish a project before he hates it. In fact, it’s a blessing. If you’re not dissatisfied with your work in some way you’re not progressing. Graham closes his article with similar words. “The recipe for great work is: very exacting taste, plus the ability to gratify it.” It’s true.


StoryBots Astronomy

I’m not quite sure what the StoryBots are but my almost four-year-old daughter loves them. Their Astronomy videos? I love them. My whole family loves them. Catchy hip hop songs with cute animation. If you have kids or have no shame about enjoying videos made for kids check them out. I’ve ordered them by relationship to the sun and catchiness. The moon hook (“It’s my time to shine”) has been in my head all week. Enjoy.

Bonus: The StoryBots Baboon video is hilarious.