10 things - April 2017

  1. Mastodon "Emperor of Sand" - Exquisite newish release by the behemoths. Another concept album moving from the best parts of old Baroness, nods to sludge and prog-rock all the while chugging along with amazingly melodic, foot-tapping tunes.
  2. The Mars Volta
  3. “Black Sails” (TV series) - As a kid I was thoroughly fascinated with pirates on a number of levels, from their views on race and society to just being punk as you can be during the birth of capitalism via mercantilism. They were not nice people in general, but that aside, the series itself does a lot to examine issues of the day, especially in terms of colonialism, slavery, race, sexuality and commerce. Replace the dragons in GoT with cannons and sails.
  4. Mesh networking - Something I used to be really fascinated with and perhaps an antidote to the corporate playground the internet has become?
  5. The Dolmus - The mini-bus tax/bus thing that gets you around Istanbul. Positively gorgeous emergent un-design. Best of all, no apps (I hope), just hop in/out strong localism.
  6. All or nothing drinking - Something I’ve been toying with which is either a minimum of a bunch of drinks or none.
  7. Post-nationalism
  8. Proto-Enlightenment - the late 1600’s in Europe were where our world today was born. Its fascinating to read about credit default swaps in the Netherlands in 1685.
  9. Kurdish Democratic-Confederalism - A people without a nation trying to fight three wars simultaneously, fighting genocide and trying to implement the most interesting anti-capitalist systems around - all at the same time.
  10. The death of the eight hour work day

Real life is quite scary, so let's design for that

Getting a mortgage is easily one of the terrifying things I've ever had to go through. It might be just me, but I’m incredibly averse to the idea of debt. Our Western lives have indulged and even revolved around it for probably 400 years at this point, but I still can’t come to grips with it. I would rather just wish the whole damn thing away, as would most people.

To think of how painful and unfriendly the process is for signing away a bigger debt than there is a good chance of me ever paying off in full is insane. Somehow this is what you do, and this is what our society expects out of us. We're led through a pricker bush of things we don’t understand or can compute with absolute confidence and then spit out the other side being two missed payments away from homelessness and crippling debt. The mortgage, and thus home ownership, is the cornerstone of the UK and US economies, and the whole damn, sordid thing has to be the least considered experience ever. The fact that I've been a lot more reassured about buying a pair or shoes online than the most expensive thing in my life is something to think about - and yet no one does.

I’ve been spending quite some time designing around a border. Well, actually The Border. By border, I don’t mean some conceptual design border or business constraint, but an actual, physical, geographical and most importantly, national border. This is very real. When you’re talking about people trafficking, “modern” slavery and of course the “stuffing” versus “swallowing” of things you’re not supposed to be bringing into the country, it is scary. This finally is being treated with the same care that buying a pair of shoes online is, and the mortgage isn’t.

When there are difficult things in life, we should be throwing everything behind making these better-designed experiences. But we are a weak species. Our palaeolithic minds are easily frightened and usually go for the easy, less scary route. We spend hundreds if not thousands of working hours on making buying those shoes online as easy as tieing them once you get them. What we should be doing is letting the shoe thing be difficult instead, because after all, they never end up fitting as good as if you just went into the damn shop.

The design of things is a business in selling optimism.

If you’ve read through this hallowed blog, you will come across much maligning of the discussions of the future. This is, of course, ironic because I am a designer and a designer’s business is the future. We think of things that don’t yet exist, and then, in theory, someone pays us to make them happen. More often than not, it is being paid to make it look like it might happen.

In general, this means we have to think of the best case scenario. We have to. This is how we usually make our money. We dress things up. In stark contrast to designers dressing things up, either physically or metaphorically are consultants, they dress things down. They tell you you’re doomed; you might try a couple of things and then hand you a bill thank you very much. Designers trade on optimism, not necessarily reality, and this is why we have so much utter shit in this world that is otherwise “designed.”

Everywhere they predicted flying cars. There were likely decades of slides and beautifully rendered illustrations of them. But no PowerPoint deck ever predicted AIDS or just about any massive, orange tinted geopolitical shift that's happened since last June. Or that a large swath of people was going to be actively and fanatically trying to return to the middle ages. Or that vinyl would make a comeback.

It is not only that The Future is just not evenly distributed, but its also not linear. It's all over the place, and this is partly the designer’s fault. You’ll have to take my word for it. Designers create visions of the future that always go in nice straight lines going up, up and away towards the day where they have to hand the client a bill. To get to that point where they can even imagine they’re going to get paid, designers know that they have to sell, and reality doesn’t sell very well, so designers don’t think about it much.

We are willing victims to the pitch, and the pitch can never be depressing or realistic. A realistic pitch, as in one where you say something like “Well you know Bob, we probably won’t get very far with this little gadget here, in fact, it is doomed if you ask me. So here we are, and I’m slapping this makeup on this pig right here. That’s right, that squealing thing under this really nice oak table. That.” This obviously never happens, well at least outside of films involving Seth Rogen.

We need to be more honest with ourselves and our clients. We need to as designers, and tech sorts of people say that this fancy flying car might look cool and yeah, so does this graph that shows the numbers going up and to the right, but that maybe we should look at the traffic on the ground and try to solve that first. Or maybe we need to find a different way of making a living.