Computers are essential to new means and methods in design as everywhere else in the world today. This goes without question and I believe we need no further argument to justify their place. But we can argue about where, when and how much. As a design educator, I am very concerned by what I see in the classroom/studio. Basic sensitivities to form, material, scale and ergonomics are in decline. Students are easily and heavily seduced by the computer’s capacity to deliver images that gleam and glisten on screen, regardless of how they might one day feel and work in the hand. This phenomenon is ironically worsened by the one-two punch of CAD programs coupled with robot printers that generate 3D models. The work of the robots makes it all too easy to create something that looks shelf and market ready, with little thought, little testing, and almost none of the essential hand to mind feedback that made our species uniquely capable of dreaming and building such a complex environment for ourselves. I use the computer and I use 3D printers. But I use them in careful conjunction with traditional studio skills that I am proud to have studied and mastered and I would never give a user a designed tool that I gave to a robot for production before deeply vetting its form and function with my own two hands. I am sincerely concerned about a future wherein we find ourselves manually bankrupt and beholden to technologies that undermine the very ingenuity and self-reliance that make us human. This article in the WSJ speaks to that with interesting data.
This is huge. Watch the video. As a musician I’m intimately familiar with the process of having sound choked and severely limited as it travels out of the studio and into a digital format. Pono’s ability to reproduce the capacity of the studio and the artist’s intention will be revolutionary. Leave it to Neil Young. I love that man.
But the larger trend that I hope we’re seeing is the ability of the universe of digital tools to more seamlessly replicate the intentions of our very analog, human expressions. I am hoping that we can look at our place in technological time and say that for two decades we have been in the infancy of digital technology, a dark ages of gear headed, internal reflection, and that now we are moving away from a fixation on the tools themselves and how to use them and back to the creation of content that intimately suits our needs. The trend across devices is toward simple gestures, worn devices and integrated circuitry. Devices increasingly communicate with each other to anticipate human needs. And interfaces become increasingly minimal, reducing the complexity of user manuals and increasing reliance on user intuition. The trend is toward reducing the extent to which our person to person relationships are mitigated by our person to device relationships. It’s difficult but very important to remember that the point of design, and of art and music, is to improve human relationships. When people and design behaviors become too focused on the technology, the tool, the device, then design is failing.
The transition to digital has been clumsy and I have lamented the loss of many small experiences from the age of analog not long ago. Tape hiss. Vinyl noise. Static noise. Knobs and buttons with mechanical connections to solid state functionality. For millennials and many others, the accessibility of Arduino programming is– forgive the expression– a digital analog to these direct old interfaces and user experiences. Ultimately, the experience of creating analog artifacts from analog interfaces is not replicable via digital. But our increasing ability to replicate analog artifacts with digital technology increases the transparency of creative media and the joy of artistic expression.
It’s moving to watch the testimonials of so many revered artists after they step out of Neil Young’s Cadillac having heard Pono for the first time. It’s like getting a little of your life back.
Can’t wait to get mine. Read more about Pono here.
Love. Probably skipped a lot though. via google search for “portable turntable”
Code.org has a pretty clear agenda. I’d like to learn to code too. But is Steve right? Should all students learn to code? Is that more important than learning basic electrical wiring or how to tune an engine or chop down a tree or kill for food? Or play a musical instrument? Or are all these skills forever outdated and irrelevant? What is the baseline for essential learning and assembling the fundamental tools that lead to innovative thinking? What are the new tools for survival? Surely it’s increasingly important to understand basic coding to compete even for blue collar manufacturing jobs. But I am always concerned that we mistake our tools for our content. The medium is not necessarily the message when it comes to education. Teaching children to code is not teaching them to think. Coding is a skill. I don’t think the success of the people in this video comes from their ability to code; I think it comes from their ability to think, and to deploy their knowledge of code to execute and follow through on their ideas. Not the other way around. This is not to say that I disbelieve that learning to code can have formative benefits to learning. I think any constructive process that engages abstract thought to solve problems is critical to developing keen minds. But again, I am concerned that our educational system confuses– much as our species generally confuses– tools for content. And the tool of coding should not be mistaken as the main path toward a rewarding and innovative future for our civilization.
This film is Saul Bass‘s 1969 pitch for updating and unifying the brand of the Bell telephone system. Bass’s proposal was accepted almost in its entirety making it the largest rebranding project ever at the time. The breadth of the proposal, tackling everything from the ubiquitous logo to the representational and behavioral needs of the workers and their clothing is mind blowing. Take a half hour and watch this. You can watch the film a little larger on the AT&T site here.
Virginia Postrel has an opinion piece in Bloomberg exploring how 3D mapping and rapid prototyping are bringing difficult to see pieces of art into the classroom. Surprisingly or not, institutions like the Met and Getty are engaged with Makerbot to create libraries of accessible 3D digital files that can output scale reproductions of 3D works of art. Intellectual property and authenticity issues surrounding reproduction are sure to arise as they have since the birth of industrialization (see Walter Benjamin’s 1936 essay Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction) but I’m heartened by the generosity with which art institutions seem to be willing to open their doors via any means available. Even Makerbots.
In a move echoing its rejection of the floppy drive in the 90s, Apple has dropped the DVD drive from its new line of Macbook Pros, reported the nytimes today. Coupled with the replacement of the hard drive by flask memory, the immediate justification for the elimination of the dvd drive is the ability to streamline the weight and profile of the machines, which they claim to have achieved by 25%. But to me this signals a more aggressive move to force Apple consumers to upload and view content via its proprietary services like iCloud and iTunes. Personally I’m bummed. I regularly use my dvd drive to watch movies and listen to music and the thought of having to depend on the web or a separately purchased auxiliary drive is a downer. But I can’t complain about a book that’s 25% lighter. I’ll take two!