Friday, January 3, 2014

The Incredible Versatility Of Photographer John Dominis

Photographer John Dominis died Monday at age 92 and left behind one of those archives that are hard to comprehend. Over the course of a few decades at Life magazine, Dominis not only worked in just about every photographic genre but also seemed to have mastered them.

The underpinning to his wildly variegated archive (fashion, war, architecture, poverty) is a sensibility: a way of reconciling the gravity of life with its in a single frame; an intuitive understanding of light and shadow; an enviable way of adapting to any situation.

Here is a very limited look at those moments, both iconic and quotidian, that Dominis witnessed and preserved:

Sports (But Lyrically)
Yankee Mickey Mantle flinging his batting helmet away in disgust during bad day at bat, 1965
Yankee Mickey Mantle flinging his batting helmet away in disgust during bad day at bat, 1965
John Dominis/Time & Life Pictures/Getty Image

Animals (As A Taxonomist Might See Them)
A "portrait" of Santa Gertrudis bull at King Ranch, 1952
A "portrait" of Santa Gertrudis bull at King Ranch, 1952
John Dominis/Time & Life Pictures/Getty Image

Things Organized Neatly (Before It Was )
An array of pots and pans used for cooking, 1968
An array of pots and pans used for cooking, 1968
John Dominis/Time & Life Pictures/Getty Image

Portraits (In Really Creative Ways)
Butterfly breeder Carl Anderson with monarch butterflies on his face, 1954
Butterfly breeder Carl Anderson with monarch butterflies on his face, 1954
John Dominis/Time & Life Pictures/Getty Image

Food (, Anyone?)
Argentinian matambre, a slice of beef rolled with vegetables and chilies, 1966
Argentinian matambre, a slice of beef rolled with vegetables and chilies, 1966
John Dominis/Getty Images/Time & Life Picture

Helicopter ambulance taking off on a flight to Seoul, Korean War, March 1951
Helicopter ambulance taking off on a flight to Seoul, Korean War, March 1951
John Dominis/Time & Life Pictures/Getty Image

Technology And Innovation (And Interesting Light)
Farmer Bob Chickering at dusk driving lamp-studded lettuce harvester he invented, 1955
Farmer Bob Chickering at dusk driving lamp-studded lettuce harvester he invented, 1955
John Dominis/Time & Life Pictures/Getty Image

Politics (From Eisenhower To Nixon)
President Richard Nixon and Chinese Premier Chou En Lai watching a pingpong match during Nixon's visit to China, 1972
President Richard Nixon and Chinese Premier Chou En Lai watching a pingpong match during Nixon's visit to China, 1972
John Dominis/Time Life Pictures/Getty Images

Wildlife (As In, Life And Death)
Leopard about to kill a terrified baboon, South Africa, 1965
Leopard about to kill a terrified baboon, South Africa, 1965
John Dominis/Time Life Pictures/Getty Images

Celebrities (And Good Times)
Frank Sinatra singing during a performance in Las Vegas, Nev., April 1965
Frank Sinatra singing during a performance in Las Vegas, Nev., April 1965
John Dominis/Time Life & Getty Images

Not Celebrities (And Hard Times)
Girl with cala lilies, Mexico, 1951
Girl with cala lilies, Mexico, 1951
John Dominis/Time & Life Pictures/Getty Image

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Should Tech Designers Go With Their Guts — Or the Data?

Photo: Ariel Zambelich / WIRED
For many tech companies, design is no longer subjective. Instead, it’s all about the data. Analytics click and hum behind the scenes, measuring the effectiveness of even the tiniest design decisions. This constant data-stream plays an increasing role in determining what new products we will use and what forms they might take.
When it comes to the future of design and technology, the uncomfortable question we bump into is: do human design instincts even matter anymore?
In the design world, there’s always been a dichotomy between data and instinct. Design departments — think Mad Men – were once driven by the belief that some people are gifted with an innate design sense. They glorified gut “instinct” because it was extremely difficult to measure the effectiveness of designs in progress; designers had to wait until a product shipped to learn if their ideas were any good. But today’s digital products — think Facebook and Google — glorify “data” instead; it’s now possible to measure each design element among hundreds of variations until the perfect outcome is selected.
For designers, this influx of data can be frustrating.
Designers who thought they were hired for their good taste will quickly get discouraged in a culture where tech companies meticulously test 41 shades of blue. Imagine convincing a team to trust your gut instincts when cold hard data says you’re wrong. How do you simplify a crowded homepage when the data scientists agree it’s ugly, but tell you it signs up customers faster?
From my perspective working with over 80 product teams, data is important … but there’s no replacement for design instincts built on a foundation of experiences that include failures. As engineering and design become ever closer collaborators, the biggest challenge is to make decisions through a careful balance between data and instinct.
Design Instincts Matter…
One of my first projects at Google was to design the “Google Checkout” button, which would soon go on to help people quickly purchase goods and services around the web. Designing a button is usually easy, but this one had a unique requirement: Customers could choose between several checkout methods, so our button needed to attract attention on a busy page.
With each wave of design feedback, however, I was asked to make the button bolder, larger, more eye catching, and even “clicky” (whatever that means). The proposed design slowly became more garish and eventually, downright ugly.

To make a point, a colleague of mine stepped in with an unexpected move: He designed the most attention-grabbing button he could possibly muster: flames shooting out the side, a massive chiseled 3-D bevel, an all-caps label (“FREE iPOD”) with a minuscule “Checkout for a chance to win”.
This move reset the entire conversation. It became clear to the team in that moment that we cared about more than just clicks. We had other goals for this design: It needed to set expectations about what happens next, it needed to communicate quality, and we wanted it to build familiarity and trust in our brand.
We could have easily measured how many customers clicked one button versus another, and used that data to pick an optimal button. But that approach would have ignored the big picture and other important goals.
While it’s tempting to make design decisions based on the data we have at hand, the best teams recognize that some goals are hard to measure. Data is incredibly useful for incremental, tactical improvement, but it must be tempered by another factor: our instincts.
…And Instincts Are Made, Not Born
Following one’s instincts is sometimes a bad idea. A quick look at Apple’s infamous round USB mouseor Segway’s first weeks should be enough to warn designers and business leaders alike that having too much confidence in one’s “design instincts” can be dangerous.
No designer is born knowing exactly what their customers will want, or how people will behave when faced with a novel design. Instincts are learned. And they’re best learned by paying attention to the world around us. Luckily, the human brain is an incredible pattern-matching machine that develops and hones our instincts every time we’re exposed to a new design and the data about whether it worked.
Designers constantly pay attention to the world around them and notice when experiences fall short. We notice when door handles signal you should push, but require you to pull. We notice when the font on road signs change. We notice that little button on our phones that’s just a bit too hard to find while driving.
Trust me: paying this much attention to the details can get annoying. Not just for designers but for those around them, too.
But there’s a benefit to being so aware. Whenever designers notice something is difficult, we mentally dissect why that’s happening, what design was involved, and how a different design might solve the problem. Each time we do this, we’re slowly building our design muscles — what people commonly refer to as “instinct.”
Still, this introspection only gets us so far, because the audience for our designs are often different than ourselves: older, younger, bringing other cultural contexts or expectations, different in other ways.
Even when designers think they’re exactly like their users, there’s one sure difference: Designers are experts in using their own product, while new users are seeing and experiencing the product for the first time. Since there’s no way to unlearn what one already knows, it’s essential to do research to see the world through users’ eyes.
Watching customers use a product through user research is the absolute best way to develop design instincts and avoid mistakes. And user research is really just another stream of data — one that’s qualitative and messy, but still extremely valuable. Strong product teams develop habits that strengthen everyone’s design instincts. One of the best habits to build is a cadence of user research every few weeks.
The Goldilocks of Instinct-Driven and Data-Driven Design
When the whole team watches customers struggle with their designs, it’s possible for everyone — from engineer to CEO — to possess brilliant design instincts. Just don’t let these instincts run the show. The trick is to recognize situations when teams should dig for data, and when they should let instincts shine.
Curious about customer behavior? Use data. When it comes to digital products, web and mobile analytics tell us exactly what customers do. Even if customers say they would never, ever, ever buy rainbow suspenders for their avatar, we just never know what people will do when we’re not watching. Better to trust the data and see what people actually do rather than trust what they say they’ll do.
Making decisions about product quality? Use instinct. To build quality into a product, you have to pay attention to hundreds of details like crafting clear help content or moving that button 3 pixels to the left. None of these small changes individually would prove worthwhile with data. But taken together, they create an overall impression of quality — a halo effect that improves a product in many ways. So when wondering how much time to spend on the details, designers should trust their instincts.
Deciding between a small set of options? Use data. There’s nothing like an A/B test for making an incremental, tactical improvement. When trying to pick the just-right words for a homepage header, there’s little to be gained in arguing over the right copy. It’s better to test a few versions and pick the right one based on data. The key is to measure the metrics that really matter to the business longer term (such as signups, purchases, or user retention) instead of just measuring clicks.
Concerned with long-term impact? Use instinct. A good reputation takes years to build, but just one bad experience can destroy it. So when balancing between tactical easily measurable goals like more clicks, and long term goals like trustworthiness, it’s essential to listen carefully to one’s instincts. And if those instincts need a little boost, get curious: go out in the world, talk to people, and gather data.
It’s common to think of data and instincts as being opposing forces in design decisions. In reality, there’s a blurry line between the two. After all, instincts are built by observing the world around us, and those observations are just another stream of data. Statistics help us summarize and understand the hard data we collect, and instincts do the same for all the messy real-world experiences we observe. And that’s why the best products — the ones that people want to use, love to use — are built with a bit of both.

Thursday, September 19, 2013

Exploring Visual Trends In Contemporary Graphic Design

  Trend List may look like a rather plain-looking website at first sight, however, it turns out to be a real treasure for any designer — Web folks included. It contains a collection of posters, books, catalogs, magazines and album covers. What makes it even more comprehensive is that Trend List also tries to spot when and where a trend has arisen and how it has developed over time. With new additions being made almost every day, the site is definitely worth bookmarking to check back every now and then.

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

Make Your Side Projects Wildly Successful: Treat Them Like Experiments

I used to let fear of a failed side project keep me from trying new things outside of my normal workload. Or worse, I constantly had ideas for side projects but never actually started any. My day-job was comfortable, so I didn’t want to fail at something new. But, the truth is, I wasn’t pushing myself and I certainly wasn’t growing. My skills stagnated.
Meanwhile, I noticed exampled of other creatives tackling side projects and wildly succeeding at them (and sometimes the “side” projects would take over their day jobs). Tina Roth Eisenberg’s (Swiss Miss) side projects (TattlyCreative Mornings and Studiomates) helped her put client work on hold indefinitely. Jessica Hische’s side project of drawing drop caps and posting them online led to several jobs/clients (including The New York Times, Penguin Books and Google). Seeing others succeed on the side, I wondered if I had the chops to do the same.
Side projects can be scary. There’s more of us in them so they hit closer to home. This can make them difficult to start or follow through on. But it’s also important to be our own client sometimes, and have side projects that push new skills, flex our creative muscles, and give us testing grounds for new and innovative ideas. I knew I needed to start doing them as well, if I wanted to really see what was possible.
Side projects can be scary. There’s more of us in them.
To get over my own fear of failure with them, I started picturing these ideas as simply being experiments. Experiments don’t “fail”—they simply prove or disprove a hypothesis. For example, despite my day job as a designer I had the hypothesis that I could also write an e-book. I then simply started writing. I didn’t focus on the outcome, how the book would be received or what others would think of it. I figured, “let’s give this a try”.
Framing my side project as an experiment didn’t sound as bad. Experimenting is the only way to prove something, to get that nagging idea out of your head.
Here are few tips I use to frame all of my ideas for side projects as experiments:

  • Focus on the task at hand, not the end result. Focus on the process to allow serendipity and personal exploration to take over. Otherwise you might inadvertently alter things with a subjective idea of how you want it to turn out, rather than what would be best for your long-term learnings.
  • Don’t create your experiment and judge it at the same time. Creation and judgment are very different thought processes and can interfere with each other, and must be done separately. Experiment with exploring every idea completely first (writing it down, drawing it out, actually trying to do it). Only then move into editing, curating, and judging to get to best version of the idea.
  • Break the experiment down into the smallest tasks possible. Then, focus completely on each small task. Only at the end do you tie all those tasks together. This helps you avoid the fear of things being too big or overwhelming to accomplish and lets you slip in your side project around your weekly primary responsibilities.
  • Remember: these are experiments. Not full-time business ideas.First figure out how to run the experiment using the least resources as possible. What is the core or essence of your idea that you can prototype quickly? Get that prototype in front of as many people as possible before pursuing it more. Fail fast.
  • Don’t repeat yourself. The same experiment can’t have a different result unless you change the variables. If you experiment with an idea and it doesn’t work, you need to change things up or move onto a new idea. There’s no point doing the same experiment over and over, hoping for something different to happen. If you want a different outcome, you have to change your experiment up a little—refocus for a new audience, try a different medium, or try experimenting with a new idea completely.
Some of my own experiments have led to great results, like selling thousands of copies of a book I’ve written (writing, for me, started as an experiment in creative expression). Some only proved that there wasn’t a market or opportunity for an idea, and several apps I made didn’t sell a single copy. But I keep experimenting with new ideas, always keeping one simple rule in mind:
Nothing is a mistake. There’s no win and no fail. There’s only make.
— Rule 6, Immaculate Heart College Art Department Rules
By framing the side projects I’ve done as experiments, I’ve had both the confidence to pursue them and the ability to judge them less harshly when they didn’t work.

How about you?

What’s your side project? How has it helped you develop new skills?

Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Hel­vetica is not always the answer

Fifty years after the Yves Saint Lau­rent and his part­ner Pierre BergĂ© founded one of the most pres­ti­gious fash­ion houses on the left bank of Paris, and four years after the pass­ing of its founder and name­sake, its ready to wear line is being rebranded. This line will no longer bear the name of its founder, but will bear an updated, mod­ern look, to go with its new, Amer­i­can design stu­dio and its new cre­ative direc­tor, Hedi Silmane.

The his­tory of YSL is an inte­gral part of its brand — its inno­va­tions have helped shape ele­gance and style in ways no other fash­ion house has. YSL was the first fash­ion house to use black mod­els, pop­u­lar­ized sil­hou­ettes inspired by the 20s, 30s, and 40s, and helped glam­or­ize women’s cloth­ing items taken from menswear like pants suits, tuxe­dos, safari style, and leather jack­ets. The French painter Adolph Mouron Cas­san­dre cre­ated the inter­lock­ing “YSL” and word­mark, and it has been the logo for the com­pany since its incep­tion. The cus­tom let­ter­ing is sim­ple, strong, and dis­tinc­tive, veer­ing nei­ther to the fem­i­nine nor mas­cu­line, with an ele­gance that fit its place in fashion’s history.

Hedi Sil­mane has made quite a few waves as the company’s cre­ative direc­tor. For one, he has moved the com­pany away from Paris and to Los Ange­les, a move that shocked the indus­try. The brand’s French roots are part of its her­itage and appeal, so it’s not dif­fi­cult to under­stand why the move elicited such a reac­tion. The new rebrand­ing fur­ther divorces the brand from its French foun­da­tion and story, mov­ing away from both “Yves Saint Lau­rent” and “Saint Lau­rent Rive Gauche” with its new name. The two-​​word, stark, white-​​on-​​black, mod­i­fied Hel­vetica word­mark resem­bles the logos of very Amer­i­can brands such as Alexan­der Wang, Marc Jacobs, or Proenza Schouler. No longer does it evoke the pres­tige of its ground-​​breaking founder, nor does it carry the heft of its sto­ried successes.

Per­haps leav­ing that weighty rep­u­ta­tion behind will allow Sil­mane to cre­ate firsts of his own for the brand, but I’m not sure that this rebrand­ing will be able to reach the same iconic level as the inter­lock­ing YSL. With its easy-​​to-​​read for­mat, inof­fen­sive lines, its busi­nesslike air, its function-​​over-​​form, Hel­vetica was just not the right font for the inno­va­tions and cutting-​​edge fash­ion we hope to see from Sil­mane. It’s also too omnipresent in this time and place, draw­ing more on acces­si­bil­ity (which its fel­low users of Hel­vetica such as Tar­get, Amer­i­can Apparel, and JCPenny have made a part of their brand) than the aspi­ra­tional qual­ity we’ve come to asso­ciate with fash­ion houses like YSL, Dior, Chanel. The full details of the rebrand­ing will be revealed this fall, but I will con­sider it a mis­take if Sil­mane makes so much of this brand­ing new that it loses its ties to YSL’s history.

What do you think of the new logo? In what direc­tion do you think YSL is headed?

Friday, July 26, 2013

Wonderland. A short documentary on creative commerce.

“In Spring 2013 we set out for a month to make a short educational piece providing a glimpse of what it is like to work in the creative industry. The idea was born out of our own questions and struggles on how to deal with things that may seem out of your control.”
An insightful look into the minds of creative professionals.

Thursday, July 25, 2013

Is This The Future of The Airline Website?

I always wanted to recreate the online travel experience. FI did just that with exceptional results. check it out. Exciting stuff!

Read more here