There are few things so satisfying as crossing out something obnoxious on your to-do list. Leaning hard on the pen, forcing more ink onto the page than would normally go, putting a deep dent into the paper. Scratching the ballpoint back and forth.
A few weeks ago, I took part in Liz’s thesis workshop. One of our exercises was to ask a classmate to define something about your thesis for you. Jojo and I worked together, and I had her define what my pitch statement could be. She came up with a few ideas.
Cursive is disappearing from classrooms and is becoming more of a ghost due to our devices. How can we retain that somehow?
For children who have not been exposed to formal handwriting techniques, a curriculum that emphasizes the customization of self through the written form.
The action of physically writing enhances our fine motor skills as well as our brain functionality, connecting thoughts and revealing them through externalizing them through words.
For teenagers to continue the practice of cursive handwriting in its elementary form, launch a diary keeping initiative for writing in a journal every day for a year and collecting the sealed artifacts for display.
Signatures have a whimsical quality to them which are inherently attached to a person and a name. Down to the fact that we call a signature a John Hancock. So how can you play more with the theme of the identity behind the signature?
For adults who would like to experiment with the notion and history of signatures, a mobile application that allows you to take famous signatures and overlay them over your own.
What is today’s form of a signature? Our generation has turned to tattoos as a way to customize their bodies. People sometimes draw their own tattoos in order to personalize them in some way.
For adults to explore the customization of their bodies, a platform that gives you the power to virtually draw on your body to test out possible future tattoo endeavors before you go down the permanent path.
Second, there are also “carfree by choice” households that chose not to make Investments in cars, and thus are “captive riders” from a practical point of view. We are able-bodied, of sound mind, with driver’s licenses, and could theoretically afford to buy and maintain a car, but we choose instead to go on European vacations, or pay off our debts, or do any number of other things with the money. We are everywhere, but we tend to be concentrated in walkable cities with good transit.
You can look back and see how sloppy your handwriting was in first grade. You can’t do that with computers ’cause all the letters are the same. Besides, if you learn to write on paper, you can still write if water spills on the computer or the power goes out.
Finn Heilig, 10, whose father works at Google, says he liked learning with pen and paper — rather than on a computer — because he could monitor his progress over the years.
Thanks to Benjamin and Sera, who sent me this article independent of each other.
Turns out, I was wrong about the genesis of the QWERTY keyboard. I, like so many others, fell for the urban legend that the QWERTY was developed to slow down input into the first computers, which couldn’t keep up with fast typists.
The story is kind of true. Sort of. The reality is that the QWERTY was developed to prevent jams on typewriters that resulted from rapidly typing letters that were close to each other in the layout. The resulting layout did indeed slow down typists, but that wasn’t the intent. Also, it was built for typewriters, not computers. As an aside, it’s one of the first and best example of Open Source Standards.
First and foremost, I know that if I’d written this first on paper and not on Tumblr, I would have had a successful blog post last week.
I believe handwriting is one of the keys to creativity. What’s drilled into every student’s head during their foundation level design classes? Sketch. Sketch. Sketch more. Ignore the computer, it’s just a tool—tools don’t design. You design, your brain designs. The easiest, quickest, most accurate way of getting that design out of your brain and into the world from a pen or a pencil (or whatever) to paper. More accurately: Bran > nerves > wrist, hand, fingers > pen > paper.
I was never much of a sketcher, but I wrote a lot. Lists, run-on sentences, labels. I believe mastery of analog tools is imperative if one is to impart a new piece of knowledge on the world. Picasso drew realistically before he started incorporating symbolist influences. I drew type before moving to Illustrator while studying design at AU.
I believe handwriting is the ultimate learning aid. Kinetic learners know that to write something down is to remember—not just to memorize—but to literally etch a neural passageway between ephemeral knowledge and memory on a piece of paper.
I believe writing and sketching helps us solve problems. Even the act of tracing or rewriting, over and over, helps us work through ideas in our minds.
I believe it’s one of the keys to problem solving, like a long bike ride, a good night’s sleep, or a hot shower. There’s something mesmerizing about it. It pushes you out of your left brain, and into your right brain, where things flow and you’re in the zone.
I believe writing in your own hand allows you to forget about everything else and let ideas pour out of you. The pen almost becomes a part of you when you write.
Data entry is for keyboards. Original thought is for pen and paper. Things start to make sense when you write them down.
The other thing I believe about handwriting is that it doesn’t kick your brain into a different mode. For example, if writing in the margins of a book, ou can handwrite and still be in reading mode, pick up easily where you left off.
Spilling onto paper lets us see everything in one place and can help us form new thoughts or connections between things that might not be related before that moment.
It helps us look at things in a new way, because you can cut things out and reorder and reorganize. It helps us know ourselves better, because handwriting is yours, in your own voice. Your handwriting can be just as recognizable as your face or your thumbprint. While some teenage girls have uncannily similar scrawls, there’s usually at least one individual tell…
I also believe that whatever function it will come to serve, handwriting isn’t going anywhere. After all, it’s a primary method for teaching children the first motor control they will need throughout their lives. It’s a measure of maturity in that sense.
I believe handwriting is here to stay because I believe it’s part of our innate human nature to want to leave evidence of ourselves behind. The cave paintings prove this, from prehistoric times up to now.
And, ironically, handwriting on paper could be the most permanent of all marks: all our computer data is vulnerable to power surges, power outages, hard drive crashes, and water spills (and Tumbeasts). Watered down paper will always dry out.
Which isn’t to say it can’t be forever destroyed—which is sometimes a good and cathartic thing. Have you ever ripped up or crumpled up paper before? Better question: who hasn’t?
That’s not to say paper is here to stay, forever and ever, amen. Oh, for some people, it may be a constant, but it may not be necessary for everyone. Maybe it’s headed for emergency back up kits, like the old wired telephones you keep in the basement for when the power goes out.
Right now though, the electronic note taking and sketching apps available on the iPad aren’t up to snuff. They don’t feel right, and the algorithms don’t correctly interpret intention, don’t properly mimic pen and paper. It’s the uncanny valley. Everything is too clumsy, including the writing apparatus we have available. Fingers aren’t good—they feel so childish, and your hand blocks your view of the page. Capacitive stylii aren’t right, either. The tips are bulky, and maybe this is a software problem, but the apps don’t respond to pressure put on the pen (that is, don’t respond properly when more of the stylus’ tip is depressed on the glass). That means that the emotion of writing an angry letter would never come across, and the legibility of something written quickly might always be decipherable. Yet it would barely be readable in pen and paper.
I believe sending a love letter written in one’s own hand is one of the most romantic gestures one could make.
And finally, I believe we’re more willing to admit things in writing than we are when we speak them. This carries to typed words too—but it’s no less important an observation. For example, I came out in my journal long before I spoke the words, and IMed with a friends about it for months before we talked about it in person.
Have many letters have you written that you never sent?
Do you wish you could share online what you write by hand?
On having darlings you don’t want to kill [or, why I’m not doing biking for my thesis]
A couple people have mentioned to me that they think I should pretty obviously be doing a project on biking for my thesis. Biking, because I love it so much; biking, because I already know so much about it; biking, because I bring such great passion to the subject; biking, because it would make such a difference.
I’ve thought long and hard about it. It’s true: I love biking. I know a lot about it. I know a lot about doing it in New York City. I believe it’s the future of transportation in cities and in suburbs, if only people could be convinced to get off their asses, out of their cars, and into the saddles. I love feeling like I’m flying. I love going fast. I love being in that moment. I love how simple it all seems when I’m on my bike.
And that’s exactly why I don’t want to make biking the center of my thesis.
I’m keeping this one for me.1
1. That is, unless my Public Interfaces project with Michael gets picked up by TransAlt or the DOT. Which is far-fetched, but possible.
The first challenge is seeing through the empty promise of opulence. But the second, tougher challenge is refuting it. To do that, we’re going to have start living heretically. We’re going to have not just disbelieve the conventional wisdom — we’re going to have to defy it.
This was among many gems in this article. Read it. It speaks to the difference between labor and work that Frank spoke about at the beginning of thesis. Doing something good, that makes sense for you, that doesn’t harm others.
“Shorter distances mean that you’re more likely to walk or bike; they also make the neighborhood feel smaller. For many decades, suburbia was designed on the idea that Americans want to feel as though they’re far away from each other, but the fact is that we need community and linkages just as much as we need a space of our own.”—Counting intersections | Felix Salmon (via judsondunn)
In our Strategy class last year with John Zapolski, we learned that we’re currently experiencing the 3rd wave of coffee (the rise of excellent, boutique coffee in the wake of Giants like Starbucks), which is what this article is about. Bonus: blending rock climbing (Ivan Greene / Pudge Knuckles) with coffee.
I initially wrote this back on October 11, the night I met with Sara. Not sure how it didn’t make it up onto the blog…
Just met with Sara Dierck, Dave Bellona’s cousin. Dave put us in contact because Sara did her thesis on customization of objects while she was at Pratt, and she grappled with some of the same issues that I’m beginning to deal with now (in a world filled to the brim with objects, do we need more? How do we forge more meaningful connections to our things?), and she delved into some other that I hadn’t considered, namely collaborative or participatory design.
When we were talking, Sara mentioned how she hates on of the most common words in our vocabulary as interaction designers: user. The user does this, the user does that. She feels the word is cold, lacks meaning, and is ripe with negative connotations: a user is a person who is operating something, a person who takes illegal drugs, a person who manipulates others for their own gain (thanks, Apple Dictionary).
Sara’s preferred term is “participant,” as it suggests that someone has a say or influence in whatever is going on. I really like that, and it’s essential for any kind of customization. So, I’m going to borrow that.
Her process for thesis was also interesting, and I can clearly see its influence on Dave’s work right now. For each project she did, she had a strict method for creation/participation/customization. Her work wasn’t ad-hoc, it was planned, even though she didn’t know what the results would be.
For example, for work on Vessels, which you can find here, she started by giving a group of four the same exact vessel (which was a slip cast of a peanut butter jar). She let the participants use the objects for a few weeks, then came back and asked how the vessels were used, what it was like to interact with the objects throughout the day, etc. They sketched together with different kinds of tools, and then Sara went away and made a new object, gave it to them, and repeated the process again to arrive at the final objects.
I find that process to be pretty inspiring, especially as I start to zero in on the thing I am going to make. It’s iterative and somewhat loose, but there’s a rigidity in it as well, constraints that I’d have to work inside. I like that kind of structure—like I could break the rules while still following them. I’ll be borrowing that, too.
Another Sara project was Collaborative Constructions, a line of collaboratively designed button-up shirts. Customizing with the wearers for specific, personal uses, Sara then planned to mass marketing those shirts, trying to find the place where custom uses overlap with general desire. Her project has an overlap with an idea that’s followed me around forever: it’s hard to find clothes that fit well, that also say what you want them to say about you. I’ve gone as far as getting a sewing machine in my efforts to learn how to make clothes for myself, that would say what I wanted them to say about me. But alas, I never followed through…
Sara also had some excellent ideas for the what I’m thinking about with handwriting being the key to customization. Those will be shared later…
Anyways, it was a great meet up, and I hope to continue getting her input as things go forward. Thanks, Sara!
I went down two very different tracks this week. I am feeling a bit more adrift than I was last week, feeling like I don’t know exactly where I am or where I need to go. Over the next few days, I’m going to be doing some more delving into that whole area, but for now, here’s the weekly update.
First, I conducted a little experiment with Legos, the goal of which was to determine if people want tasks and/or things that are open-ended, or if they want projects that have definite rules to follow. I’m having a few more people do this experiment, so I’ll post more on that when I have worthwhile results.
Second, I did quite a lot of reading this week. One of the articles talked about how truly successful sites these days are self-expresson engines (Facebook, Twitter, Svpply, Pinterest, Instagram). I found that interesting. The sites are successful in two very different ways. First, they’re successful because people use them. A lot. And they’re used because they are giving people a way to show themselves, define themselves to the world. And second, they’re successful because at their very core, they’re platforms that do market research for the companies. Everything you need to know about a Facebook user that makes them valuable is already a part of the user profile: Name, gender, age, likes, groups, etc. All of that information can immediately be sold, with no analytics necessary. That’s interesting.
Getting to the Heart of It
Since I’m still unsure of my directions, Erin suggested that I make a list of things that I love or have fun doing. I came up with:
Designing, by which I mean creative problem solving
Amy was also on that list, but I can’t really do a thesis on love. (Could I?)
After I came up with those things, Erin told me to figure out what it was about each of these things that makes me enjoy them as I do. I think it comes down to this: Climbing and biking both require absolute presence in the moment, and one-ness with everything being touched: your tools (the bike or the gear), the environment, the air, and the wind. Everything else falls away in those moments and its just you and this thing. I think design gets me to that place as well. The key to all this isn’t much physical ability, mental ability. The ability to let go and be there… and the knowledge that all your previous training will make you successful. Trusting your gear and your experience. And trusting yourself to make the right moves. So basically, all these activities get me into a flow. Maybe this is also about mastery in someway.
Some other interesting thoughts came about in talking with Cooper as well. We were speaking about his thesis (which might be about opening sports fandom up to newbs), and in the course of the conversation, I said something like, “It’s giving someone a part of themselves that was already there.” And when the conversation switched to my thesis, he said off-handedly that he thinks mine might be a platform to teach everyone how to code. Interesting thoughts…
Since last week, I’ve almost entirely ruled out making a physical object (or objects) for my thesis project. I’m not an industrial designer, and I think my energies would be best spent elsewhere. I’m also leery of putting MORE stuff into the world when part of the purpose of my thesis is to create a world with more connections to less stuff.
So, it’s most likely going to be a platform for self-expression.
Also, a hypothesis: Handwriting is all you need to personalize something.
That Other Project
In our Public Interfaces class, I’m working with Michael Yap on a project that’s attempting to remake the Williamsburg Bridge into an inviting public space. The genesis of this idea came from my ideas about customization and connection, and Michael’s thoughts on the Readymades (yup, somehow we got from that to making a park). That project is still in its infancy, but I could see it ballooning to a much larger, thesis-worthy project.
All the mental energy that you use to elaborate your misery would be far better used trying to find the one, seemingly impossible way out of your current mess. It’s best to spend zero time on what you could have done and all of your time on what you might do.
Wired is reporting that DHS is trying to find a way to determine criminal intent by analyzing body metrics. Seems quite sci-fi, 1984, doesn’t it?
I’m not particularly worried though. If there’s anything I’ve learned in my program, it’s that determining mood or intent simply through body metrics (even more sophisticated ones like the rapid eye movements referenced in the article) is pretty much impossible. The physical manifestations of fear (raised heart rate, increased perspiration, heavier than normal breathing) are the same physical manifestations for lying and physical/sexual arousal. Without actually being able to read someone’s mind, or at least being able to sit face to face and ask them questions, determining someone’s intent isn’t possible. More troubling is the use of ethnicity as a marker for criminal intent. Haven’t we already determined that racial profiling does more harm than good?
However, it is amusing to note that:
“The FAST program is only in the preliminary stages of research and there are no plans for acquiring or deploying this type of technology at this time.”
“In most people’s vocabularies, design means veneer. It’s interior decorating. It’s the fabric of the curtains and the sofa. But to me, nothing could be further from the meaning of design. Design is the fundamental soul of a man-made creation that ends up expressing itself in successive outer layers of the product or service. The iMac is not just the color or translucence or the shape of the shell. The essence of the iMac is to be the finest possible consumer computer in which each element plays together. … That is the furthest thing from veneer. It was at the core of the product the day we started. This is what customers pay us for — to sweat all these details so it’s easy and pleasant for them to use our computers. We’re supposed to be really good at this. That doesn’t mean we don’t listen to customers, but it’s hard for them to tell you what they want when they’ve never seen anything remotely like it.”—
I never met him. But I saw him, once. My good friend works for Apple, and we went to 1 Infinite Loop. I just wanted to visit the Mecca. You’re not allowed to go basically anywhere on campus, but we could go to Cafe Macs. We got our Apple-subsized food (I remember thinking, I kinda helped pay for this already), and as we went walked to the outdoor portion to find a table, Mike sidled up beside me and whispered really low, “There he is.”
I was startled, and I didn’t want to stare, or look like I was looking, so I just kept my head down as we walked by and sat down.
Over lunch, I let myself have a few glimpses, here and there: Steve Jobs (really, wearing jeans, white tennis shoes, and a black mock) eating lunch (or was he just drinking something from a mug?) with his friend, Jonny Ive. They were chatting. Smiling, and a laugh here and there. It was so normal, and human.
Steve’s vision and genius are legendary, and the creative process he exerted over Apple has turned out more quality technological advancements more consistently and more frequently than any other entity in history. Steve gets almost all the credit. But one thing that most people don’t talk about is the value of collaborators, of friends to share your ideas with, friends who will make your ideas (and you) better.