Welcome to the bloggy home of Noah Brier. I'm the co-founder of Percolate and general internet tinkerer. This site is about media, culture, technology, and randomness. It's been around since 2004 (I'm pretty sure). Feel free to get in touch. Get in touch.

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Some Things to Think About

I think I’m going to make the new motto of this page “so much good stuff to write about, so little time to write it.” In that spirit here’s some links, quotes, doodads and heehaws.

Something Disturbing

Consumers spend a collective $100 billion every year on bottled water in the belief–often mistaken, as it happens–that this is better for us than what flows from our taps, according to environmental think tank the Earth Policy Institute (EPI).

For a fraction of that sum, everyone on the planet could have safe drinking water and proper sanitation, the Washington, D.C.-based organization said this week.

That comes from an article titled, Bottled Water: Nectar of the Frauds”. Now, for my idea: Someone needs to start a charity where they sell empty bottles (or preferably something more environmentally friendly) and donate all the money to a charity to help clean the world’s water. Each bottle could carry the story of how if everyone just gave up buying water the money could clean the world’s water.

Something Thought-Provoking

So my question remains, as well as these layers of experience, how can we pull that sense of interesting evolution – of traces of other people and what they did – to the surface layer [of digital design]? What visual patterns could we develop to indicate that? These could lead towards a more sophisticated, meaningful judgement beyond that mere 1/20th second sense of ‘polish’, beyond that “finished, glossy, one-reading-only surface”, based on enabling questions like “Do I want to do that too? Are they like me? Do I know them or these things?” and so on – the things which could truly begin to engender trust.

That quote comes from a cityofsound article titled “How can the design of digital surfaces help engender trust?” It’s a really interesting question. His point is that in “real” design people can gain understanding and meaning by seeing the way other people have used something. The first example that pops to mind in the “real world” are “desire lines” (a name I learned Peter Merholz). Those are the unpaved paths that people wear down over time. Just from looking at them you can tell that many other people have taken that route and they can take a way all the social stigma of leaving the so-called beaten path. Merholz suggests, “A smart landscape designer will let wanderers create paths through use, and then pave the emerging walkways, ensuring optimal utility.”

Something Inspiring

In the end, “Bid D” design success is not really centered on or around any one dimension, but rather needs to be distributed equally throughout all the interconnected dimensions of a product or system. One part cannot succeed at the expense of another. And it’s a misnomer that one dimension should lead or drive all the others. The real key to success is balance and integrity throughout. It has to be aesthetically pleasing (even stunningly so, if appropriate), easy to learn and use, efficient and utilitarian, cheap to produce, problem-free, popular and sought-after, beloved by its customers, designed to allow growth and evolution, and continue making boatloads of money as a return on investment.

Tall order? Certainly. Impossible? Not whatsoever! However, in order to accomplish broad, deep, and long-term success an organization requires one or more generalist integrators (which is what I think is really meant by successful “visionary”). This can be a leader (either at the top in the form of a visionary corporate office, or an empowered individual within an organization), or it can come from a small, empowered leadership group, Tiger Team, or Skunkworks. It can come in the form of a spontaneous initiative, or it can come in response to a stated corporate mission or goal. During my twenty-two year design career I’ve seen successful and unsuccessful examples of all of these.

That’s a quote from Jim Leftwich in part 2 of Functioning Form’s design vision series. He pretty much summed up what I want to do in that quote. Speaking of design vision, I highly recommend the New York Times profile of Robert Greenberg, owner of R/GA.

That’s it for now, hopefully there’s plenty to chew on in those links.

February 15, 2006