Blogless: Blog of Design Less Better.

Posts tagged Criticism.

Four Design Links: September 17, 2009

It's wouldn't be Thursday without Four Design Links. Get 'em while they're piping hot!

1. How do you build for evil?

Evil architecture studio'

This fall, Kazys Varnelis? is teaching a graduate architecture studio on the topic of evil.

If one simply does not care about playing by the rules of the game, but only about seizing power to further one’s own ends, it becomes possible to shed layers of complexity and thereby continue society.

The human cost, of course, is quite high, as Mussolini’s quest to get the trains to run on time in Italy demonstrates. Still, with the recent economic success of authoritarian regimes—and the open advocacy of such regimes as clients by notable architects such as OMA—evil is on the table again as an option for architects to pursue.

This studio looks at how one might design for an evil client... How do you build for evil?

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NickSep 17, 2009

The Role of Justification in Design

If we're going to attempt a theory of design ethics, we'd better be clear about how, exactly, we know whether a design choice is a good one or a bad one.

It seems appropriate to start again where most of us learned to how to think about design: the undergraduate critique.

A design critique is a pedagogical tool, an activity meant to teach students something. Critique is a way to give young designers some new knowledge or insight into design practice. As many of you will remember (some of you no doubt from quite recent experience) this works in something like the following way.

A student presents some piece of work to other students and professors. Those peers and teachers try to explain to the presenter what about the object at hand is good and what is bad. By hearing these things, the designer learns and -- hopefully -- goes on to use that acquired knowledge to refine her practice, that is, to design better things.

Today, I am interested in asking where exactly the critique participants acquire the knowledge that they use to criticize a designed object. In other words, what gives them the right to make claims about the goodness or badness of a design?

The answer is of course their own knowledge about design, which -- I think you will find, uniformly -- is itself acquired in turn by more interpersonal justification by means of rational criticism, either in the form of previous critiques, or in books, lectures and so on. The claim I am making is that all claims about good and bad design derive from what is ostensibly a global-historical process of design critique.

The apparent circularity of the fact that rational criticism about design is enabled by more rational criticism about design might trouble some. Their worries, I imagine, might be something along the lines of "what makes any of the criticism meaningful if all that's backing it up is more criticism?" Or, more pointedly, "what justifies our knowledge about good and bad design? What makes us right?"

Coming to Grips by Amy Bennett
Coming to Grips, by Amy Bennett
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PaulAug 12, 2009

Four Design Links: July 28, 2009

Surprise! Four Links hits on Tuesday this week. Come and get them.

1. New Media Artworks: Prequels to Everyday Life

In a story related to Paul's piece last week, Golan Levin writes:

some of today’s most commonplace and widely-appreciated technologies were initially conceived and prototyped, years ago, by new-media artists.

Golan Levin -- Comparison of Aspen Movie Map and Google Street View
Comparison of Aspen Movie Map (1978-1980) and Google Street View (2007).
Image arranged by Golan Levin

2. Lessons from a failed meeting with a Social Media Guru

Matt Daniels chronicles how not to pitch a client your expertise.

3. Making Money with Flash Games

Lost Garden has an extensive article about revenue streams for independent game publishers. Even if you're not into selling Flash games, there are some good thoughts to consider.

Ads are a good secondary source of revenue, but surely there are richer sources …? There is an obvious one, used for decades by all other game industries...why not ask the players for money?

4. The New Yorker Critiques the Kindle

Those used to reading blogs don't often see design criticism of this magnitude: Nicholson Baker of the New Yorker has 6,300 words on the Amazon Kindle.

I forced myself to read the book on the Kindle 2. It was like going from a Mini Cooper to a white 1982 Impala with blown shocks. But never mind: at that point, I was locked into the plot and it didn’t matter. Poof, the Kindle disappeared, just as Jeff Bezos had promised it would.

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NickJul 28, 2009

Criticising criticism (again)

Returning to the subject of Tuesday's post, the graphic design accompanying this article in the Boston Globe could use its own extreme makeover.

While I was bothered by the content of the article, the layout is what first got my attention. Can you spot any problems?

Boston Globe graphic
The design in question
  1. Black and white images. Isn't color particularly important when you're comparing designs? It seems an awful shame to leave it out here, if it can be avoided.

    I understand that an interior article isn't going to have color. But why not reproduce the color originals on the web, where color is free? It's clear this was just pasted from the newspaper source directly into the site template. Not cool.

  2. The criss-crossing arrows. There doesn't seem to be a particular order (nor does there need to be) for the copy, so why arrange it in such a way that arrows have to cross over each other and even stretch all the way across the layout? It's just sloppy.

    Untangle that mess. Copy should be as close as possible to its subject. It's easier to navigate and it doesn't obscure the graphics.

  3. Lastly, the compression is really bothersome. It's too low and/or not tuned very well. Look at the artifacts on this text:
    Boston Globe graphic
    See the crumbs around the letters?

    In fact, why is this graphic just a scan of the page? For the website, couldn't they have used the actual text and added labels to the graphic? It would have been much easier to read and searchable to boot.

Its troubling to see design criticism that's in need of design criticism.

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NickFeb 12, 2009 is a good design, but not because Obama is President

Politics and poor presentation mar what could have been an worthwhile discussion of the advancing state of web design.

In a recent Boston Globe article, Matthew Battles invited several designers to compare the Bush-era with Obama's. They were asking: "Why does the site look better than Bush's?" and "What does the new page say about Obama's approach to governance?"

I'm not sure I completely buy their answers to either of those questions

The format of the article is to take some page element —the use of color on the page, for example— and compare the new with the old. But it feels like the comparisons aren't objective for the most part. ca. 2009
What are you supposed to be looking at here? The colors.

For example:

"The Obama site now has bold graduations [of color], texturing; Like, it calls for reaction and collaboration" The Bush site, by contast, was muted and chaste, a pastel blue limited to the margins..."a set of dinner plates that only come out for visiting foreign dignitaries."

Really? Does that sound like an objective assessment or are we projecting with the metaphors here?

Instead of saying "the use of bold color focuses attention on headlines and interface elements" we get some partisan statement about how Obama is Steve Jobs and Bush is a stuffy old guy.

The article is seven paragraphs about form and one about function. If you compare the two sites, the content of the new page is not substantially different from the old one. In fact, it may be less genuine than Bush's. Obama's "blog" is a rebranded feed of press releases— there's no two-way communication. Besides a coat of paint and rearranged furniture, what's really that different about the new site?

The article is asking us to read too much into the new design. I like Obama and I like his websites, but I think there's some cognitive bias at work here.

Congratulations, its 2009 and you have a new website

Websites go in and out of fashion rapidly. With rare exception, there are few websites from even four or five years ago that would look or function as good as they did when they were first launched. To compare Bush's site with Obama's as though they were somehow contemporary is akin to comparing a Pinto to a Prius.

If the Bush launched today, I'd bet you it would look very similar to the current

Obama's design looks better because it's up to date. Large slideshow images, subtle texture, bold use of color, serif fonts, active voice in navigation elements, whitespace, center orientation — you've pretty much run down the list of the top web design trends of 2009.

You could argue that a Bush website that launched today wouldn't be as good because he's behind the times, but I disagree. I don't think any web designer today (working for the President, no less) would put together something like the old White House site. It's just not done that way anymore.

Let's address the elephant in the room: maybe we like the website better because we like Obama better.

The Presidential reality-distortion field

Obama has a good brand— a very good one. So good, in fact, that it has spilled over into what people think about his website. Perhaps that's the real story here?

I applaud the effort to get newspaper readers to think more about the design they encounter online, but I hate to see personal politics get in the way of what could have been a more objective discussion about better page design.

Thursday, I'll speak a bit on another reason this article misses the mark: poor graphic design.

See you then!

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NickFeb 10, 2009