68 Bits of Unsolicited Advice
People only really learn when they’re surprised. If they’re not surprised, then what you told them just fits in with what they already know. No minds were changed. No new perspective. Just more information.
No matter where I’ve worked, it has always been obvious that if everyone agreed to use language in the way that it is normally used, which is to communicate, the workday would be two hours shorter.
Much of my job, there and everywhere else I have worked, has amounted to wading every day into the internet’s sprawling garbage lagoons in search of eye-catching chunks of floating trash that I might show to other people on the off chance that it might amuse or disgust them; I did not always enjoy the smell, but I’d worked enough other jobs to know that there were worse places to spend your day.
The problem is that, as every individual task becomes easier, we demand much more of both ourselves and others. Instead of fewer difficult tasks (writing several long letters) we are left with a larger volume of small tasks (writing hundreds of e-mails). We have become plagued by a tyranny of tiny tasks, individually simple but collectively oppressive. And, when every task in life is easy, there remains just one profession left: multitasking.
I spend a lot of time making time, and then protecting that time. And through it all I fill my days with work based around return on investment. I don’t mean that coldly or even financially. I mean that in the context of — and I recognize this sounds a little crazy — respect for life itself. We are alive. We have consciousness. We are capable of a great understanding and empathy via creative and intellectual output.
So I ask myself regularly: Am I maximizing this so-called respect for my being alive or not?7 Does my work pay dividends in making me more empathetic, more curious, kinder, smarter? And the best way I’ve found to say ‘yes’ to this somewhat ridiculous question is to ask if the work, my day to day, moves my heart. And I’ve found the most reliable way to get there is by putting what’s in my head into words. Codifying an experience in a way to multiply the impact of that experience.
whether we intended to or not, making the Edition moved us into product spaces we hadn’t been in because the watch was worn, not carried. So it became an expression of what preoccupies you, your taste.
A fascinating dissection of Spotify's potentially toxic influence on the music industry.
Spotify loves “chill” playlists: they’re the purest distillation of its ambition to turn all music into emotional wallpaper. They’re also tied to what its algorithm manipulates best: mood and affect. Note how the generically designed, nearly stock photo images attached to these playlists rely on the selfsame clickbait-y tactics of content farms, which are famous for attacking a reader’s basest human moods and instincts. Only here the goal is to fit music snugly into an emotional regulation capsule optimized for maximum clicks
Whether you’re a photographer, a plumber, or a software-maker, when you set your price, you choose your customers. This makes some customers unhappy, because they feel the choice being taken from them. But there’s nothing devious going on here.
magazines might eventually gain a cult following akin to the interest around other obsolete media, like vinyl records.
“Eventually, they’ll become like sailboats,” he said. “They don’t need to exist anymore. But people will still love them, and make them and buy them.”
An excellent deep dive into the social effects of addictive software design and modern technology in general. Well worth the read.
An interesting experiment, and a helpful peek behind the curtain of influencer accounts.
Earlier this year, on the marketing website Digiday, an anonymous social media executive ranted that marketers were essentially throwing money away on influencers, whom the ranter characterized as talentless. That made me curious, and I started asking around to understand just how hard this job really is.
Best Buy feels simple, Apple Stores feels over engineered, too sophisticated. I get why, but why doesn’t matter to the customer experience. It’s either great or it’s not — the why behind the scenes doesn’t matter. Who’s been teaching me that for decades? Apple.
In his recent book, Play Anything, author and game designer Ian Bogost equates the best play with an everyday attentiveness few adults manage to muster but that’s second nature to children. “We think fun means enjoyment, and that we want the enjoyment above all else,” he writes. “But we’re wrong. Fun is the aftermath of deliberately manipulating a familiar situation a new way… This is the pleasure of limits, the fun of play. Not doing what we want, but doing what we can with what is given.”
Anecdotally, I’m repeatedly impressed at how highly people seem to hold the iPhone’s camera quality. Several times this past summer, whenever we would be at a party and want photos, the group would, without fail, call out for the “person with the newest iPhone” to take the shot. This happened with different groups of all ages and all smartphones. When a photo was needed, you wanted the person with the iPhone to take it.
Tear it all down. Throw away the rule book, and come at the whole thing from the other end. iPad software, to me, looks like software for people who are so tired of software’s crap. So fed up with design-by-geek, and function keys, and installers, and anti-virus, and… I don’t know; printer drivers? Are they still a thing? Probably.
I think that what really gets me about the iPad, besides the damned physical humanity of it, is that it legitimises the eminently sane position that computers have long since become punitive, entrapping garbage. Yes, even my cute MacBook. They’re a world of pain. And as it turns out, a lot of it is completely unnecessary.
The iPad — and iOS, indivisibly — sits there, enduring nonsensical headlines like Can an iPad be used for productivity?, and it says, oh god, you people are the problem here. Can you be productive? You can be productive on notepaper and a pencil in a pinch. What are you smoking, and what exactly is the name for what’s wrong with you?
If you've ever wondered how video compression works, this is a very accessible primer.
Fantastic discussion of the game industry's blind spot, and how to stop it from continuing the trend of increasingly boring games.
It's not enough to remove the things that my friends don't like and think they will like video games. The experience must be based in things that they care about, in problems they have in life. It must help them understand their lives more. Life is really difficult.
So asking my friends what they don't like about video games is half the question.
Asking my friends what they don't like about life, and how a video game could help them with that, is the second and more important half.
What follows is a series of observations so obvious that they can only read as condescending. It reads like a high school essay on teamwork: "Communication is hard, yet it is the most fundamental thing we do as human beings," Slack writes. (As I read this I imagined Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella, who has two master's degrees, furiously nodding and scribbling down notes. "Cortana, remind me to send Slack a thank-you note," I imagine him barking into his Surface Studio. "They have done us all a great service this day.")
That's a great way to put it. I've only been able to use Assistant via Allo, but I'm eager to try the Pixel.
Still, Assistant is the best voice assistant yet—though not as far ahead as advertised. Its lead is the difference between being surprised when Siri works and being surprised when Assistant doesn’t.
I'm glad someone's saying it.
They don’t need anyone to cheer their lead. In fact, the opposite is true. Now that they’re the 600 billion gorilla, they need scrutiny and competition, not blind admiration.
But that doesn’t mean you can’t be impressed.
The distinct business advantage that Apple has achieved thanks to its hardware is the sheer volume of iPhone sales, which justifies the big spending on the specialized chips that make that hardware so powerful. The new image processor is a perfect example. It can spread the cost of that investment in chips over hundreds of millions of iPhones. In comparison, the falling sales of stand-alone cameras have hampered the ability of camera companies to innovate and spend on core technologies.
Terrible clients...explained with pirates!
Ad blockers aren’t going to go away until you stop making people want to use them.
Everything else in the music industry is quantifiable: social media presence, online sales, merch sales, streaming revenues, syncs deals, gas mileage, set length, contract terms, etc. But these aren’t what make music magical. Merchandise isn’t what bounces around in your mind all day, furnishing you with an aesthetically satisfying soundtrack to enliven your experiences. Do we really want the marvel and wonder of songwriting, of being in a band, to be reduced to a formulaic grind?
A fair warning.
The thing to take away, though, is this: the more broken promises we have to endure, the more the videogames industry becomes like modern politics – a massive theatre that every contestant understands is composed of untruths and half-truths, and in which the best silver-tongue will always triumph.
A lot of very valid criticism in here, especially about publisher approaches to DRM, pricing, and marketing.
Very candid take on the remarkably robust internal AI work happening at Apple, and the questions it raises about their unconventional approach to it.
“It’s a source of a lot of internal debate,” says Federighi. “We are used to delivering a very well-thought-out, curated experience where we control all the dimensions of how the system is going to interact with the user. When you start training a system based on large data sets of human behavior, [the results that emerge] aren’t necessarily what an Apple designer specified. They are what emerged from the data.”
Marcin writes about typography with a gleeful enthusiasm that just makes me happy. And I always learn stuff, so it's a win-win!
Such good advice for product designers of all kinds. Don't hide shit behind clever interfaces for the sake of aesthetics.
If you want something to be seen and used, don’t make people look for it. Put it where they’re already looking.
Wonderful discussion of BandCamp's role in the game audio ecosystem—which is significant.
Maybe that’s why something comparably arcane, like an indie game soundtrack on vinyl, still holds so much allure. The games themselves are strings of code, but their physical soundtracks are tangible evidence that we were there when this art form was unfolding in startling new ways.
A very literary review, with a refreshingly optimistic take on the game.
I'm still playing, still enjoying, but I don't find it as easy to gloss over the legitimate issues in gameplay and interface design.
Still, the game is new and has a lot of growing to do. I look forward to following along.
There is much to be said for wandering, for getting lost, for ignoring efficiency and purpose to spend a little time experiencing these glorious worlds and their inhabitants. Perhaps we might accuse Hello Games of not teaching its players to follow this path, or failing to incentivize such behavior, but to do so is missing the point. Wandering cannot, by its very nature, be a profitable act. And for those who can see beyond the material rewards of more units and resources, the reward of these vistas, revealed again and again at each hill and rise, is reward enough.
Fantastic profile of one of my favourite YouTubers.
“It’s gone from people not even considering videos as a medium that they wanted to get involved with to now considering videos as the only medium they want to get involved with,”
A lot of my concerns about education boil down to this bizarre and deeply anti-intellectual trend of turning institutions of higher learning into even more cloistered and detached-from-reality environments than they already are.
Students should walk out equipped with the critical thinking and rational discussion skills necessary to safely navigate disagreements, hostility, and emotional violence in the working world.
Universities themselves should try to raise consciousness about the need to balance freedom of speech with the need to make all students feel welcome. Talking openly about such conflicting but important values is just the sort of challenging exercise that any diverse but tolerant community must learn to do. Restrictive speech codes should be abandoned.
This entire article really hits home. Sad to admit that much of it is an uncomfortably accurate depiction of life with my tech reviewer hat on.
Years later the technology product will come up in conversation and the technology enthusiast will say “Yeah, I had one of those,” and shrug and consider and understand that revolutions are not about a before and after that belong to history, but are instead about the continuous struggle in the here and now that belongs to the people, and that all progress comes at a price.
Content on the web is not king. Half the time it’s barely the jester. Unless created by an individual or one of the dwindling sources of legitimate journalism, it’s rarely produced for noble intentions like education or entertainment. It’s a tool with an agenda manufactured to drive business interests.
Images are just software - they can be anything. Just as the telephony app is just one app on your smartphone, the camera app is just one app for your image sensor, and not necessarily the most important.
Superb review. Nails a lot of the low-hanging fruit of poor design choices that I hope to see rectified...once they get the PC version smoothed out. Glad I'm playing on PS4, that's for sure.
This likely reads as an overwhelmingly negative review, and it’s deserved – No Man’s Sky is massively flawed, and systematically poorly designed. But it’s also a massive playground of potential and opportunity, and its sheer ambition, for all its massive stumbles, is rewarded in play.
I've noticed this in my own travels. Can't decide if it bothers me or not, especially since I tend to like certain aspects of this aesthetic. Great read either way.
If we can be equally at home everywhere, as Roam and Airbnb suggest, doesn’t that mean we are also at home nowhere? The next question is, do we mind?
The reason you might bother with all this procedural machinery, rather than just design these moments directly, as most other game developers do, is that now the moments are as much the players’ creations as they are yours.