Stranger Things Season 2 Trailer

They're finally showing us some substantial material from the new season and it's got my jimmies all rustled. The whole 80s halloween aesthetic is one of my favorites. Can't wait to watch the whole new season in one night.

Sigur Rós with the L.A. Philharmonic Orchestra

This concert with the LA Philharmonic is the epic pairing that Sigur Rós deserves. I've already watched the whole video a couple of times, and it's an absolutely transcendent experience. There are talented bands, and then there are bands that seem to be in a category all their own, and Sigur Rós continues to be the definition of that category for me.

The set featured special arrangements from several composers, including Anna Meredith (“Fljótavík”), Daníel Bjarnason (“Á”), and Dan Deacon (“Festival”). 

HEX coffee

IMG_0169.JPG

Finally got around to picking up a box of these new beans from the boys over at HEX coffee. It's got a really nice flavor, and I like the idea of supporting a super local group of folks doing great work, and my favorite part is their emphasis on good design. It's not just an afterthought, it's at the forefront of their brand, designed by local designer Eric Hurtgen. I've been following these boys since they were doing pop-up shops around the queen city, and I'm really glad to see their business taking off now that they've got a permanent space in Good Bottle Co. (which is worth visiting if you also enjoy the brewing of hops)
HEX is all about good coffee and good design, my favorite combo. I highly recommend that you order their roasts online, but if you're in the area, it's worth stopping by the shop in person.

IMG_0116.JPG

City and Colour EP

Really happy to have snatched up an autographed copy of Dallas' new EP after seeing City and Colour the other night. It's a couple of really beautiful tracks too:

IMG_0154.JPG

Monument Valley II

The long awaited sequel to my favorite game, Monument Valley, is out now. This game is just as nice to look at as it is to play, and I'm so glad there's a sequel.

The Uncanny Prototype Valley

In aesthetics, the uncanny valley is the hypothesis that human replicas which appear almost, but not exactly, like real human beings elicit feelings of eeriness and revulsion among some observers.

Over the course of my career so far, I've made lots of prototypes. They're helpful tools to demonstrate interaction patterns so clients can visualize how something will look and how it will work. They're not perfect, but that's kind of the point. They're supposed to be a proof of concept so that you can quickly show how something will work, get approval from clients, and start building.

But I've noticed something happens almost every single time I show a prototype to a client or stakeholder. They like the concept, they approve the direction, but rather than start building the real thing, they want to improve the prototype so that they can show it to people higher up the totem pole.
I understand why this happens, you're about to show your boss, so you want things to look as professional and polished as possible, but that's sort of missing the whole point of a prototype. It's supposed to be unpolished. It's supposed to just be a sketch.

So inevitably, the team will stop building and iterating on the actual thing so that they can spend time making the prototype look more polished. This can be a mobile app, a desktop-based website, whatever it is; inevitably stakeholders will want to make sure everything in the prototype is pixel-perfect, colors, design, layout... even down to making sure the placeholder names and emails and VIN's make sense. (purely hypothetical, obviously.)

Inevitably we spend a lot of time just fixing up this prototype that will get thrown away the minute after the big meeting with the executives, time that we could be spending advancing the design and making it better. 

This has been so confusing to me that I had to understand the phenomenon, and I think I've found a near perfect parallel that has benefited from more documentation in recent years.

It's this concept in the world of artificial intelligence called the uncanny valley. Japanese roboticist Masahiro Mori first coined the term in 1970 and basically the idea is, if you make a robot, and you give it the face of some kind of appliance, you know — square head, sine-wave mouth, standard robot look — people will expect less of it, and it may actually over deliver on what humans expect. However, as the appearance of human likeness increases and becomes more uncanny, there is a portion of the graph that ceases to go up and to the right, but instead dips down into a horrifying valley, referred to as the uncanny valley.

My favorite example of the uncanny valley concept. A face only a nightmare could love.

My favorite example of the uncanny valley concept. A face only a nightmare could love.

Scientists realized that the more human an artificial entity looked, the more unsettling it was to their human counterparts... in layman's terms, the more real it looks, the more creepy it seems.

Scientists and roboticists still can't explain the phenomenon, but I've got a theory based on my experience with prototypes.

When a robot seems less realistic, you're able to suspend your disbelief, and you enter into a kind of non-verbal agreement where your expectations are low, and whatever the robot can do is impressive. Say it's a refrigerator, and you can keep your drinks cold, but it also tells you the weather. That's great. That sounds like an upgrade. You're not wondering why the refrigerator can't drive a car or walk up stairs.

But when the robot looks almost exactly like a human, you notice every tiny imperfection, because you're looking for it. When the designer of the robot made the robot with human features, they're entering into a non-verbal contract with you in which they say "don't bother suspending your disbelief, view this machine as a human," so maybe an eyelash is out of place, ears aren't quite level, accents aren't quite right... they all seem like glaring issues, because you're now thinking of this thing as "real" and can no longer see past the things that make it seem not so real.

This is a perfect illustration of what I've found prototyping the past few years.

When the prototype just looks like a sketch or a wireframe, clients and stakeholders are able to suspend their belief because the lack of design is a visual cue that this thing isn't finished. It's just a prototype, so no one expects it to work completely right in every scenario. Maybe a name is misspelled, maybe a button isn't the right color, but no one cares, because it looks unfinished. It gets the point across, which is the whole point. People can look past the lack of precision and see the idea, because that's clearly the only thing that's there. The function without the form.

But now they want to show the prototype around to executives to get funding, so they say "can we add color, and maybe tighten up the layout a little, and we just need to be able to click the submit button and see a confirmation." All well and good, but now we're starting to move along the x-axis up and to the right, dangerously close to the uncanny valley.

The next time the client sees it, it looks a little more finished, a little more designed, and yet a little more imperfect, even though it's actually more polished. This is the uncanny valley taking effect.

Now, that misspelled name, that jumpy transition, that mismatched VIN are all glaring problems that need immediate resolution before we can show this to the board. Oh, and by the way, I noticed that when I put in a real credit score, it doesn't adjust the monthly payment to reflect the correct APR, can we fix that too? (again, totally hypothetical)

When things start to look more polished, people start looking for imperfections, because they haven't been visually cued to suspend their disbelief. The very fact that there are details means they've been encouraged to look at the details. And what this means is that the creative team spends a lot of time doing throwaway work on a disposable proof of concept instead of iterating on the design.

Maybe one day, we'll live in a world where we figure out how to escape the uncanny valley... but for now, we'll smile and nod at the executives and say "Oh wow, I didn't see that, thanks for pointing that out. We'll get that fixed right away."

If you believe it

"...and one day, while watching the popular television show Seinfeld, Mr. Trump realized he had found a loophole that would alter the entire course of his life..."

Interstellar

This track from the Interstellar soundtrack is seriously genius.
The tempo changes over the course of the song, 48 bpm for the first minute, 50 bpm for 2nd minute, and then it ends up at exactly 60 bpm to coincide with the sound of the ticking second hand of a watch, which is a major part of the movie. Zimmer is always building intricacies like this into soundtracks for Nolan's movies, like little easter eggs for those with an eye for detail.

This track starts playing when the crew lands on Miller's water planet, where time dilation takes effect because of the proximity to a singularity, and time runs slower for those on the planet than those on earth.

For every 60 seconds of the track there are 48 ticks of the second hand sound. So, each 'tick' interval is 1.25 seconds.

According to the movie, every hour on the water planet equals about 7 years on Earth. There are 3600 seconds in an hour, and (86400 x 365.25 x 7) or roughly 221,000,000 seconds in 7 years, giving us a conversion factor of 221,000,000/3600 ≈ 61400 seconds which pass on Earth for every second spent on the water planet.

Multiply this by the interval between each 'tick', and you get 77000 Earth-seconds, about 21 hours.

So, each 'tick' you hear is a whole day passing on Earth.

It's a beautiful score, but it also highlights Zimmer's brilliance.

Invisible Creature @ AIGA Charlotte

It was super inspiring to hear Don Clark of Invisible Creature talk about his prolific career doing work for almost all the bands you've ever heard of, NASA, Cinerama, Target, and tons of other folks. I've been following his work for a while, but I had no idea that he was actually the brain behind lots of my favorite designs.

I especially liked hearing about the process of designing album cover for the Foo Fighters record Echoes, Silence, Patience & Grace. It's such an iconic cover with an elegant but powerful design, and it was cool to hear Don talk about listening to the album in the studio with Dave Grohl, and then go home and have the classic freak out moment when he was trying to figure out what the art was going to be.

Don was super humble and interesting to listen to. I can't even scratch the surface of all the things he's worked on, so go check out his site.

IMG_0012.JPG

If you have to live in a city and work among machines and ride in the subways and eat in a place where the radio makes you deaf with spurious news and where the food destroys your life and the sentiments of those around you poison your heart with boredom, do not be impatient, but accept it as the love of God and as a seed of solitude planted in your soul.

If you are appalled by those things, you will keep your appetite for the healing silence of recollection. Meanwhile, keep your sense of compassion for the men who have forgotten the very concept of solitude. You, at least, know that it exists, and that it is the source of peace and joy. You can still hope for such joy. They do not even hope for it anymore.
— Thomas Merton