After having encountered 151 BCD cranks, I started poking around and found this good writeup on the history of the aluminum bicycle crank.
I’m going through my old blog posts and trying to dispense with the many posts I started but never finished. This is one of those..
Based on this amazing “Oral history of Street Fighter II” published by video game website, polygon, I had intended to dig deep into some thoughts on how business influences design positively. This is pretty relevant to me, as most of the time it seems like the constraints that business puts on design cause things to be terrible for everyone involved. (don’t get me started on the computer hardware and software industries’ ploy to keep us buying new releases and new crap to run it on, year after year)
Anyhow, I started this post In February of 2014. I’ve slept many times since then, and therefore can’t remember what my contribution to this discussion was to be, but I still think the text below is worth sharing. Yoshiki was the head of arcade development at Capcom Japan. If you’re unfamiliar with the game Street Fighter II, it was a pretty relevant title at the time just before video arcades were overtaken by home consoles. It’s big contribution to the video game world was the two player, head to head setup. I think games like Gauntlet (’85) were already multiplayer, but not in a head to head way, which really increased both the social aspect (I remember the lines to play SFII at Aladdin’s Castle in Castleton Mall, Indianapolis) but also often shortened the play time per quarter, in a “fair” way.
Anyway, a fun story. Check the full tale at polygon – http://www.polygon.com/a/street-fighter-2-oral-history
Back in the day, people at arcades weren’t happy. Space Invaders was popular and cost 100 yen ($1) to play. And we were thinking, if you’re playing a shooter and there’s a lot of bullets coming at you, that’s a lot of fun. But if it doesn’t last very long, then developers are happy and arcade operators are happy, but players aren’t happy. So we were thinking really hard about what would make everybody happy.
We thought about putting big machines in arcades, so you would need to spend 500 yen per game — developers would be happy because they would make more money, players would be happy because they would get a better experience, but arcade operators wouldn’t be happy because it would cost a lot to swap these big machines in and out.
So we thought about it more and came to the conclusion that if two people played at once … operators would get twice the money. Players would essentially split the cost so they could both play for longer. We kind of did that with Final Fight since players help each other out, but we realized some players still felt cheated because the game was too difficult … If we dictated the difficulty, players could always get frustrated. But if players were competing against each other, whether they won or lost would be up to them. So we were thinking that could take out the frustration.
As I’m trying to establish myself here in San Diego, I’ve found that I’m gravitating towards music again. I’m just a few blocks from a great concert venue that a lot of locals and larger names play, and I think that finding myself in that fray reminds me how much accumulated knowledge, and maybe even skill I have in the area.
While I’ve been thinking more deeply philosophically about music, expression and identity, I bumped into a couple of interesting articles. The first, The Assault on Intellect: How Popular Music’s Lyrics Perpetuate American Idiocy cites work by Andrew Powell-Morris on the topic of “Lyrical Intelligence” wherein the author uses some rubric to determine the reading level of lyrics on the billboard charts over the past 10 years and graphs it all out. The takeaway is that lyrically, pop music is getting dumber.
I don’t necessarily agree with the metric – I think I’d like to somehow measure the depth of the themes of the songs as well as the instrumental maturity.. but nevertheless, it’s a pretty interesting idea, and one that has crossed my mind in the past. Notably, I remember a paraphrase from a friend back in Lafayette on the topic of local bands – “I don’t like local bands; They all try to make their music difficult”. The last half of that certainly has some salience to me. I remember playing in one of my longer running bands, Summerfield, and trying so hard to create something original and challenging. I’ve come to understand this as something of an appeal to ego, but doesn’t make me value it any less. I think the flip side is a band that can go play a three chord song that people enjoy dancing to. Both are valid in their own ways.. Why I’m attracted more to the former, I don’t know. Leaving a lasting mark? Advancing an artform? Self fulfillment from conquering a challenge?
Back to the literature review though.. I saw another article around the same time that referenced a GZA interview on the topic of the absence of lyricism in modern hip-hop. I’ve heard a little of this material before in other interviews with the rapper, but this was a broader collection of ideas. GZA’s criteria of quality aren’t that well organized, but I’ll attempt to capture them in bullet point format here:
- discussing the art of MCing
- good analogies
- good wordplay
- good sentence structure
- good visuals
- not about negative things (?)
- having a message
- telling a great story
- grabbing you / pulling you in
- understanding life
- smart rhymes
- clever rhymes
I see three main themes in these items.. The first is embracing a kind of “meta” culture – describing your rapping skills, and maybe even bragging about them. This is definitely a prominent element in most music styles, but I’m not sure if is really a strong thread in what makes lyrics “good”, at least not for me, from a critical viewpoint.
Storytelling is another theme mentioned by GZA. This one definitely resonates with me and I’ve often cited a good story as the main driver for my preference of hip hop songs. In an era of popular artists bragging about material possessions and success at dubious endeavors, hearing a good story can make a difference.
The last, and largest theme in GZA’s list of preferred qualities seems to be a general intellectual depth and thoughtfulness. Both in terms of being a person with a broad knowledge to draw from but also displaying an aptitude for abstract thinking. This, I think, most relates to the example I cited above about local bands. GZA’s motivations to be creative, innovative and intellectual may be ego driven, but they do also push the envelope of what other artists are doing.
Looping back to the Lyrical intelligence rating, I suspect the criteria used there would probably call GZA’s works less intelligent since the main metric is application of grammar rules – something that is less important to the artist than the wit and craftiness he imbues.
I guess I wrote this all out to start a conversation with myself about how to make smarter music. I’m going to forego the question of whether challenging music is better or worse than simple music. What is “good” to me? and how would one integrate the conversational tradition of most music lyrics with something more heady?
The idea of “big data” is very popular in big business, but it’s trickling down into a lot of other things we use. This should be good; more is better, of course. Well, it is when it doesn’t add to complexity of use. I wanted to share an example of a less than great implementation of big data in a consumer use case…
This is the route builder in popular bicycle ride tracking app, Strava. It has a “heat maps” feature that is the big data implementation. It does some mathematical aggregation of all ride traffic to give an idea of how often individual roads are used. The idea, at least I think, is to help you choose “better” bike routes based on the logic that the most people would use the best route. (whatever “best” is a measure of) This is kind of handy in some areas.. Rural places. Small Towns, like Lafayette, where I moved from. But in highly populated areas, like San Diego, where I am now, it’s not as useful. There is a lot of tourist traffic, making some paths, like beachside walkways with high foot traffic, appear to be the right place to ride. My choice of “best” comes from wanting to get to work fast or wanting a hard training ride, so dealing with foot traffic is far from ideal.. but there’s no way to separate it out.
Strava has already started to divide groups by population in other features. “Segments” of routes show a listing by time duration of every user that’s ridden them. This feature has long had a gender segregation, but more recently for paid members offers filtering by age and by weight. Why is this useful? Well, it helps competitive cyclists know how they are doing against other people they might be racing.
I’d really like to see them add to this – it would be great if there was a way to break down the heat map by some categorization. Maybe it’s just max speed on that particular ride. This could weed out the beach cruiser people, or, depending on what you were trying to get out of it, could weed out the folks who are competitive/training.
Regardless, I think this is a decent illustration of lots of data needing more advanced tools to be useful. I think we’re going to be seeing more and more of this as time goes on. It’s a rife place for Interaction Designers to develop new standards.
This past weekend I had the chance to attend the IDSA (Industrial Design Society of America) Western district conference. I’ve been to several IDSA events in the past, but skipped last years. It was good to get back and hang out with the Industrial Design “tribe”. (The idea of tribes were one of the themes of this years event) I met a lot of nice people, learned a lot of new things, and had the opportunity to participate in a collaborative “design swarm”.
On the flip side, as a UX designer, I was one of a minority. It’s not a huge difference – much of the methodology of the two disciplines is the same, and many Industrial Designers are taking work in UX as of late. Still, I felt like a bit of a representative of the UX side of things, and people were asking me questions.
Two of the most common questions I heard were: “How do I get a job in UX?” and “What goes in a UX portfolio?” These are both particularly salient areas of thought since UX as a field is still relatively new. Trying to come up with answers on the spot got my mind working, and I put together a short list of things that I think should go into a UX portfolio. I think these things are really representative of the work that happens in industry (at least as far as I’ve seen) and also the stuff that really provides value – whether that’s to clients, or development teams or project managers.
Situational Awareness / Presentation skills
This is not as much a portfolio piece as it is a factor in how the portfolio is presented. And this is a tough one to demonstrate. There are two main factors here:
- UX folks should be dealing with people who use, or will use whatever it is that’s being designed. We could pawn that off onto a researcher, but throwing this kind of stuff over the wall is a waste of opportunity. That said, a designer has to be sensitive to those being interviewed/observed and understand their needs; even if it’s just in the context of the interview.
- You have to present your work to someone at the end of the project. If you’re just presenting it to your design director, maybe it doesn’t matter as much how you approach the presentation, but there is real value in being able to talk to a dev team, a PM or even the C suite. You have to know what drives them, and address it as you talk about your work.
I’ve seen a lot of really nice student projects with absolutely no basis in research. (or reality) Make sure you’re showing that you can do the science to prove to your audience that you made the right design decisions.
Sometimes just having research isn’t enough. It has to be structured. What was your plan going into the research? Did you have key questions that you asked all respondents? How did you choose them? What did the results statistically tell you?
Insights are kind of easy. Most designers have these throughout. But as in the above, can you tie the insights to real data and real users?
Industrial design has really provided us a lot of structure in terms of documentation. Any ID process book is a good starting point. It’s important to talk about all of the design activities you did, but maybe more importantly, you should tell why you did them.
Wireframes / Prototyping
This is a gimmie. Everyone should know how to do basic wireframes. But go further – make sure they’re annotated and explain the functionality and the reasons that design decisions were made.
It’s the next step after wireframes. Know how to specify visual style in a “pixel perfect” way, and be able to show and explain design patterns.
As we move further into a “big data” world, it’s important to be able to use visuals to help users make sense of statistical data. It’s one thing to come up with a flashy, novel idea, but another to make something that is easy for a user to get use out of.
Strategy is emerging as an important part of the UX package as more businesses are using UX to drive sales. The idea is to understand the business goals, design for them, and explain why your design helps the company achieve them. You could say that this is designing with an eye to the business, but it should be more holistic – How does this impact the dev team? How can the marketing team make use of your work?
There are surely many other things I could put in here, but these are the things that guide my work. I think it’s easy to get wrapped up in flashy presentation, which is great in it’s own right, but the real value is giving your clients a good return on their investment, and I think the above list does that.
This is surely something from the boring side of design, but I figured it was worth throwing up here.
As a part of my thesis work I’ve come to a point where it seems prudent to develop a style guide. I’ve done one of these once before for a student data management web app, but it was a pretty low impact affair. The one I’m doing now is a little more robust, and kind of spans the two different types of style guides that I’m aware of – Brand and Layout.
Both of these have some bleed into each other, but I think each is important for it’s own reason. For my project I’m doing a slight re-branding, something that the company hasn’t really thought about for 40 years. This is particularly important because the company doesn’t have a mission statement, and their existing brand is a little watered down by a non-specific name and failure to adapt the brand when the core product/service changed.
Among some of the other resources I used to try and figure out what should go in here was this article which provides links to several corporate brand guides that I thought were pretty useful.
20 Inspiring Brand Guides
From this, the key elements that I’m including in the brand guide are:
a new logo and usage guide
colorway and usage guide
Layout is another very important part of my thesis, as I will be designing a website, interactive touch screen displays and in-store signage. In fact, these needs are really the impetus for taking on a style guide, as it should make it quicker to churn these out with consistency. This is also a little bit of a headache, as I’d originally hoped that I would be playing the role of designer in a strict way for these parts – with output being hi fidelity photoshop/illustrator mockups. This would have freed up _a lot_ of my time, but my committee, probably rightly so, requested that I actually build out functional stuff. What this means for a layout oriented style guide is that it’s going to be more of a CSS pattern library. Here’s an article I found that was a pretty good example. Creating Style Guides. I would love to find something that’s a little more verbose as far as a bullet list of elements I need, but this is highly dependent on the project I suppose so it might be a tall order.
So far here are the sections I’m working with:
web site (incl component CSS patterns)
Anyway, I had better get back to it. Just wanted to post those links because I thought they were useful.
So I just saw this quick little interview with a woman who is car living with her family because they can’t afford a house/apartment. I think it’s interesting to look at the smaller living trend from this perspective.
One issue herein that I’ve already encountered in a discussion with a friend is how children fit into the tiny living philosophy. I don’t think this lifestyle is expressly for people subscribing to a child-free lifestyle. Jay Shafer has approached the issue by building a separate tiny house for his wife and child, while his original one remains his office/workspace.. but does that defeat the purpose? What is the right size tiny house for a child?
Also, I feel like maybe the element of community is the biggest issue for car-dwellars in cases like this. The family is having to adapt to this new lifestyle, but they are also trying to keep it secret out of shame. If there were places where people living this lifestyle (by choice or not) could gather together, it might not be so bad.
I experienced a state park camp ground for the first time in probably 20 years recently. It was eye opening, I didn’t think people still recreationally camped, but the large campground was sold out! It was much as I’d imagine a car-dweller community would be – places to park, bath houses, and lots of people hanging out outside, often in groups. Children were a lot more free roaming and unattended, and everyone just seemed friendly. If something like this were put in the proximity of a city, or if a shuttle ran from the campground to the city, it seems like it would be pretty functional.
There are ongoing themes in my listening habits; at the most fundamental, bands that I tend to revisit occasionally. Sometimes it’s more about the body of work of a specific musican or group of musicians. In this case, I wanted to post about a couple of bands that I keep coming back to, and the common denominator is guitarist Dave Pino.
I think my introduction to Pino was the band Damone, and specifically their album “From the Attic” which saw major label release on RCA in ’03. (a version of it had previously been self released as “This Summer” under the band name “Noelle”) I really wish I could remember how I found this album, but I’m totally drawing a blank. It was around the time that I was the operating station manager for the short lived Purdue Student Radio station which would be the sensible discovery avenue, but I’m pretty sure it wasn’t. I do know that the single “Frustrated Unnoticed” was the first song I heard, and it felt like a different production style than the rest of the record, but regardless, “From the Attic” was, and continues to be a very captivating album for me. The lyrics were all penned by Pino, supposedly as a means to get back a girl who had dumped him. A band was formed around these songs when Pino encountered Noelle LeBlanc, then still in high school. On this album in particular, Noelle’s inexperienced yet honest vocal delivery is the perfect match for the adolescent-ish tales of lost love. This feature is something that I’ve struggled to explain to people who are used to well polished and professional singers. There’s just something real and personal about it.
Here’s a very early public access in-studio of the band complete with the oddball-ness of Pino rocking a doubleneck SG; apparently the norm for him while in this band:
It must have been around 2006 when I found out about the band, because I remember their second album surfacing. I had been telling people how cool Damone was, and they would go listen to the couple of early release tracks on myspace (sic) and tell me I was stupid because the band was terrible. The band had very much changed. Instead of the 80’s influenced pop-rocking featured on “From the Attic”, the new record, “Out Here All Night” was showing a lot more thrash metal influence, while keeping the power-pop choruses in place. Noelle’s performance was a lot more confident, no doubt built up from years of playing shows. It lost some of the charm though, I think. Another really obvious thing was the absence of Pino from the videos. He’s still credited for the album, but I question what level he was involved.. As I encountered more of his body of work, it seems like this material wasn’t as much “him”. The band released a third album in ’09, but to be honest, I haven’t even listened. I think I’m only in it for the first one. Apparently the band has folded, but Noelle continues with solo work as well as a band called The Organ Beats.
At some point I realized that Pino was really the mastermind behind the Damone record that I enjoyed so much, and I started digging to see what he was up to after leaving Damone. There were a few bits and pieces out there. Notably, this youtube video of his process in learning to throw a guitar around his body, a showmanship bit that had some popularity at the time. (I must admit I suffered some injuries attempting the same myself)
There were also a handful of really cool guitar lesson videos he had done, breaking down some of the more difficult parts of Damone songs. Here’s the only one I can find that’s still on youtube:
Perhaps the most relevant thing I found though was Pino’s previous band Waltham, (to those of us not from the east coast, it’s pronounced “Walth Am”) and this great little bio pic that someone made of them:
The whole angle is great. it’s kind of a slightly modernized take on 80’s stuff like Rick Springfield. It’s kind of gimmicky, but still good enough to enjoy. In my excitement about the band, I started telling friends, and oddly, a couple of people I knew were aware of these guys. My buddy John had been living out in Boston and recognized some of the guys in the band from their day jobs at Guitar Center. My friend Karen who had lived in Sommerville told me about the Pizza place that Dave’s father owned.
Showing a bit of a pattern, the band continued but Dave was gone. The 2003 release “Permission to Build” had all the same charming Pino features that Damone’s “From the Attic” did, but the follow up EPs were lack luster. Still the band made a major label run in ’05 with some touring through Germany. After a long hiatus, they put out another collection of songs through band camp in 2013 as “Wicked Waltham” but it seems like they only play new years eve events and the occasional charity show at this point. Still, they left behind some good music and some entertaining, albeit slightly hokey videos like this one:
Pino now seems to be a bit of a hired gun, playing with the band Powerman 5000 and Andrew W. K.
Media coverage of developments in tiny homes usually focuses on how pretty you can make your little house, with lots of exterior shots of fancy colored homes. I think this trend has a tendency to keep us from looking at some of the bigger issues regarding small living that are getting glossed over.
If you’ve seen any of the interviews with Jay Shafer, then you know that one of his big issues is the legality of small living. Most folks that go this route put their house on wheels because it then qualifies as an RV, and escapes a lot of the scrutiny that a permanently placed home might. In the following video, the issue of zoning is raised. It’s definitely an interesting topic, and I think that maybe in the long run, it would do us more good to focus on these legalities more than the pretty designs that will continue to be presented to us.
After I started thinking about the topic, I really feel that _some_ regulation is a good thing. If the tiny house trend continues it’s popularity, we could have a large number of these showing up in surprising places, which could lead to problems. The video has one zoning official stating that she’s worried about “squatter camps” showing up, which I think is unlikely.. the reality though is that the definition of a squatter may vary from one person to another. I’m more worried about safety issues like fire hazards or black/grey water dumping.
The current popular thought on this issue seems to be circumventing zoning issues altogether by going with a “trailer park” model of property management, wherein a company owns a lot of private space and allows people to put their houses there for a fee. It’s not a bad idea, but I imagine it too could use a regulatory refresh before this style of living grows.
As an aside, I had no idea that Houston was so zoning free. It’s an interesting model and seems to have met reasonable success. Too bad it’s in Texas. ha!
I’m going to try and start adding more frequent but shorter posts. Many are going to be videos I find, and such is the case with this one.
Here’s a video documenting an interesting tiny home in New Zealand designed by someone with ship building experience. I think the ship connection is interesting because boats with living area have similar or more rigid constraints as tiny houses. This particular house didn’t have much that was ground breaking, but there are a couple of notable differences from what I’ve seen in other small houses.
The first is that he skipped the gabled roof that has become popular if not requisite in tiny homes, which are probably the result of the popularity of Jay Shafer’s works. In this example, he ends up with a really tall house overall, which seems like it might be a pain to haul around, but the sleeping space sure seems a lot nicer.
Second, he’s running 12V electricity through the home. This allows him to not need a central power inverter, and also keeps him from having to deal with high voltage wiring. Interesting short cut, but I think I’d rather have 120V outlets, just the same.
On his 12V system, he’s also got a water pump for his plumbing. In all of the tiny house projects I’ve looked at, I’ve not noticed this before. Seems like most people use a gravity feed system, often based on a cistern. The pump makes sense when you consider that he has a 300l water storage inside the house. He used a “flexitank”, something from the boat world, and stashed it under the sofa. Pretty interesting, and I think it would provide some peace of mind if you’re living off grid for a while.
Finally, I thought his approach to the composting toilet was interesting. Since it’s just a bucket in a box, he didn’t build it into the house. Instead, it’s mobile, and can be slid under a cabinet or taken outside when not in use.