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Culture – DesignNotes by Michael Surtees http://designnotes.info Testing & Sprinting Wed, 29 Jun 2016 01:11:07 +0000 en-US hourly 1 https://wordpress.org/?v=4.7.6 Stuff that I liked in 2010 (the Product Edition) http://designnotes.info/?p=4006 http://designnotes.info/?p=4006#comments Tue, 23 Nov 2010 14:06:48 +0000 http://designnotes.info/?p=4006 The years is almost up so I figured I’d take a look at some of the things that I actually bought and list them. I decided to list it alphabetically […]]]>

The years is almost up so I figured I’d take a look at some of the things that I actually bought and list them. I decided to list it alphabetically because trying to make it a top ten would be hard to do. For example I don’t think anything can really compete with an iPad on my list. Most of the stuff isn’t that out of reach for the average person—typically when I started thinking about it most of the things I bought were somewhat affordable. What I decided to leave off the list were clothes, food and travel. Those should be saved under the category of experiences. I also didn’t include review books just for the simple fact that I didn’t buy them. I just felt if I was coming up with a Design Notes approved buying guide I didn’t want to include JPGS of things that I never saw in person or wasn’t willing to buy myself. The interesting pattern that I noticed after writing most of the reasons why something made my list was that I could carry it around with me easily, I could make something with it, it inspired me and it was affordable.

Beyond the Street: The 100 Leading Figures in Urban Art
by Patrick Nguyen & Stuart Mackenzie

Beyond the street

Beyond the Street

For anyone that is a fan of street art, there’s two books that should be added to their library. This one one of the two. Aside from hearing first person accounts of some artists a lot of the info that I’ve come across has been from the interwebs. What’s great about this book (aside from the beautiful production) are all the interviews that make up the bulk of the work. The time and effort was well appreciated by me.

iA Writer

iA Writer for the iPad

I’m a huge fan of the keyboard from this app. It’s a smart way of making writing easier on the iPad. Plus the fact that I have a guesstimate of how long it will take someone to read what I’ve written is nice.

Apple iPad MC496LL/A Tablet (32GB, Wifi + 3G)


This is an obvious choice for me. I pretty much use it everyday and find new ways to do tasks every couple weeks that make life easier for me.

Panasonic Lumix DMC-GF1 12.1MP Micro Four-Thirds Interchangeable Lens Digital Camera with LUMIX G 20mm f/1.7 Aspherical Lens

Panasonic Lumix DMC-GF1 12.1MP Micro Four-Thirds Interchangeable Lens Digital Camera with LUMIX G 20mm f/1.7 Aspherical Lens

I had been using the Leica D Lux 3 for a couple years, it did a great job but was really slow in terms of being able to take more than one image at a time. I also wanted something more versatile in terms of lens. The GF1 was the perfect camera to graduate to. It’s small enough to carry with me all the time, the image quality is much better and I love using it. I haven’t bought any other lenses yet, but the fact that I can is a great option. Another great feature is the auto bracketing. I could go on and on about that camera…

MUJI Recycled Paper Note – Double Ring – Dark Gray B5 – Plain 80

MUJI Notebook

I would be lost without this thing. I carry it with me as much if not more than my iPad. The book is inexpensive enough that I don’t feel guilty for writing notes in it. It’s also not over designed which is the biggest issue that I find with a lot of branded notebooks out there. The inside of this black MUJI notebook is plain white paper.

MUJI Gel-Ink Ballpoint Pen 0.5mm


I buy these five at time, there’s always one in my pocket and the stream of ink makes it easy to write on almost any surface. If someone’s lost a pen I always give them one of my MUJI gel ink pens if there’s any extras in my bag.

River of News

River of News iPad App

I use a number of iPad apps to stay updated (Pulse, Flipboard, Reeder etc), however when I weant to read from my RSS feeds stored in Google Reader I start with River of News. The UI is pretty straight forward, it has the share functionality that I want and there’s some small visual design details that no one else has been able to match. I just wish they’d change their app icon—it’s brutal.

Trespass: A History Of Uncommissioned Urban Art
by Carlo McCormick, Marc Schiller & Sara Schiller

Trespass: A History Of Uncommissioned Urban Art

Trespass: A History Of Uncommissioned Urban Art

For anyone that is a fan of street art, there’s two books that should be added to their library. This one one of the two. What I like about this book is that it puts a lot of what I’ve seen into a context that I hadn’t really considered before. When ever I go through this book it inspires me—not so much to make my own art, but come up with really cool design ideas. It’s hard to explain except that I find that it’s a lot easier for me to think about designing something after I’ve seen some great art on paper.

U.N.K.L.E.: Where Did the Night Fall

U.N.K.L.E.: Where Did the Night Fall

This is probably my top album of the year. I’ve listened to it a million times and never tire of it. I’m actually listening to it as I write this post.

Zero History
by William Gibson

Zero History

While this isn’t my favourite book of the year (not sure if I have one), I’ve really enjoyed the fact that I can read this book anywhere with both my iPhone and iPad while not worrying about what page I’ve left on.

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Bending Music Borders Through Simple Technologies like Gift Cards & Air Balloons http://designnotes.info/?p=3567 http://designnotes.info/?p=3567#comments Tue, 26 Oct 2010 11:48:49 +0000 http://designnotes.info/?p=3567 Spotify Worldwide SWITCHED: Weather Balloon Servers Could Take Pirate Party to the Air A couple unrelated posts if combined showed an interesting pattern of circumventing the traditional ways of listening […]]]>

Spotify Worldwide

SWITCHED: Weather Balloon Servers Could Take Pirate Party to the Air

A couple unrelated posts if combined showed an interesting pattern of circumventing the traditional ways of listening and buying music. There’s tons of ways to do this already but with the scheme to be able to listen to Spotify through buying gift cards and a ballon playing music in the air shows that people are testing gray areas of what it means to be a border. It’s amazing that while the music industry complains and contracts people are thinking about new ways to distribute and listen to music which brings me to the video below that describes what’s out there in terms of technology that an artist might want to consider for promotion.

After watching the above YouTube video I couldn’t help but think there’s a bit of a music tech bubble going on. His last point while predictable is at least poignant.

FUTURE PERFECT: iPad/cash register the Square dongle for processing credit cards.

While it’s a bit hard to see the Square Dongle attached to the top left headphone jack of the iPad—it’s yet one more thing that the iPad is disrupting. This time the idea of commerce. With that simple tool a person can turn their iPad into a cash register. How much more fun and relaxation can a person have by setting up a simple unit like that. It’s only a matter of time when the idea of a simple lemonade stand takes off with tools like this. A person can start as small as they want, not need much initial capital and try businesses because the risk is minimal.

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The Campaign for Wool’s Nice Mark http://designnotes.info/?p=3443 http://designnotes.info/?p=3443#respond Tue, 19 Oct 2010 21:55:05 +0000 http://designnotes.info/?p=3443 While I was reading up Next Noize’s post about Lyle & Scott Sheep Parade for The Campaign For Wool I couldn’t help but notice the great mark for the actual […]]]>

While I was reading up Next Noize’s post about Lyle & Scott Sheep Parade for The Campaign For Wool I couldn’t help but notice the great mark for the actual campaign. Campaign for Wool has everything I’d want to design for: aesthetics, imagination, movement, elevation of form, balance, rhythm and something I’d want to put on to a shirt, or maybe a sweater…

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Walking Around Union Square Taking in Sukkah City http://designnotes.info/?p=2836 http://designnotes.info/?p=2836#respond Tue, 21 Sep 2010 12:58:05 +0000 http://designnotes.info/?p=2836 Shim Sukkah by tinder, tinker of Sagle, Idaho Star Cocoon by Volkan Alkanoglu Star Cocoon by Volkan Alkanoglu Gathering by Dale Suttle, So Sugita, and Ginna Nguyen of New York […]]]>

Sukkah City
Shim Sukkah by tinder, tinker of Sagle, Idaho

Sukkah City
Star Cocoon by Volkan Alkanoglu

Sukkah City
Star Cocoon by Volkan Alkanoglu

Sukkah City
Gathering by Dale Suttle, So Sugita, and Ginna Nguyen of New York City

Sukkah City
Gathering by Dale Suttle, So Sugita, and Ginna Nguyen of New York City

Sukkah City
LOG by Kyle May and Scott Abrahams

Sukkah City
LOG by Kyle May and Scott Abrahams

Sukkah City
Single Thread by Matter Practice

Sukkah City
Repetition meets Difference | Stability meets Volatileness by Matthias Karch

Sukkah City
Sukkah of the Signs by Ronald Rael, Virginia San Fratello

Sukkah City
Sukkah of the Signs by Ronald Rael, Virginia San Fratello

Sukkah City
180 of Union Square

Sukkah City
Fractured Bubble by Henry Grosman and Babak Bryan of Long Island City

Sukkah City
Fractured Bubble by Henry Grosman and Babak Bryan of Long Island City

Sukkah City
Time/Timeless by Peter Sagar

Architecture is one of those constants that is always around—a person can’t really escape an urban area that hasn’t been considered by a person. But there’s also the part of architecture that is viewed on screen that rarely makes it outside into air. When I first came across the idea of Sukkah City (Biblical in origin, the sukkah is an ephemeral, elemental shelter, erected for one week each fall, in which it is customary to share meals, entertain, sleep, and rejoice.) from various sites I was intrigued. The structures looked cool but I wondered how they would relate once built and people were interacting with them.

I got my chance to compare what I thought looked best on screen to what worked best on the sidewalk of Union Square. On the screen my fav was Gathering by Dale Suttle, So Sugita, and Ginna Nguyen—it was unlike anything I had seen before. Seeing it in person I still liked it a lot. It seemed pretty solid and maintained my interest. However there were a couple others that I missed on paper that when built really came together. In the use of materials and form I really liked Shim Sukkah by tinder, tinker of Sagle and Star Cocoon by Volkan Alkanoglu. They both bent materials in ways to create structures that I’d like to spend time in. While the Star Cocoon felt more of a personal space, the contrast of the Shim Sukkah would be an interesting environment to gather with friends.

If there was one consistent, it was that each unique design felt at home at Union Square projecting very different personalities. Contrasting the scale of the Log with the messages of Sukkah of the Signs was amazing. Coming from very two different directions each made an impact which is all I could ask for on a Sunday afternoon.


Sukkah City

NEW YORK MAGAZINE: Sukkah vs. Sukkah

BLDGBLOG: Sukkah City Approaches

CORE77: Sukkah City Arrives in Union Square

NYT: A Harvest of Temporary Shelters

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Looking at the Redesign of The Paris Review http://designnotes.info/?p=2848 http://designnotes.info/?p=2848#respond Tue, 21 Sep 2010 02:33:01 +0000 http://designnotes.info/?p=2848 I was originally going to include a note in my next Link Drop about the redesign of The Paris Review. After reading the press release that was passed on to […]]]>

I was originally going to include a note in my next Link Drop about the redesign of The Paris Review. After reading the press release that was passed on to me by Web Editor Thessaly La Force I thought it would be worth taking a closer look. This was the line that got my attention.

“We wanted to reflect the look and feel of the print magazine,” said Stein of the new site. “It’s comfortable. The page is elegant and clean, there are no distractions. But it is also state of the art.” Once a static reflection of the magazine’s quarterly contents, the Web site now features new and original content from the magazine and its blog, The Paris Review Daily, which was launched last June.

Usually when I read about trying to turn one medium into another I just want to shake my head, but in the context of this redesign I think it works because of their underlying structure. The aesthetics and type enhance the content as much as a site can, but there’s also some tools that keep the content alive more than paper can possibly do. They’re pretty basic elements like RSS, a blog and a Tumblr site—though it is kind of amazing how many publication sites based in print miss the mark. The fact that The Paris Review publishes quarterly makes the site that much more important. I really like the balance of being able to publish anytime on their site and maintain a high level on the print side.

While I go back and forth in my own mind about the idea of a website becoming irrelevant when there’s Facebook Fan Pages, Twitter, apps and RSS feedreaders that take the traditional web site out of the picture in terms of direct urls, having a strategy to feed content on a daily, weekly, monthly and quarterly time period makes a lot of sense.

In terms of content, they’ve taken one of their most popular features—the interviews and created an entire section just devoted on that. I noticed a lot of people talking about that on Twitter today as the redesign was mentioned. It’s a great lesson for other print publishers to take note of. For me I’ve already bookmarked the site on my iPad and will probably take a closer look next time I come across a printed issue in that I’ll probably pick it up.

UPDATE: 09.22.2010
There’s a good interview with Jennifer Over who was the primary web designer on the redesign titled Jennifer Over and Our New Web Site.

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Looking at Stranded Magazine & the Le Cool Travel Series http://designnotes.info/?p=2642 http://designnotes.info/?p=2642#respond Mon, 13 Sep 2010 12:25:49 +0000 http://designnotes.info/?p=2642 I had the pleasure of talking with Andrew Losowsky, the person behind Stranded: Stories from underneath the Icelandic Ashcloud, Stack America (something I’ve talked about in the past on the […]]]>

I had the pleasure of talking with Andrew Losowsky, the person behind Stranded: Stories from underneath the Icelandic Ashcloud, Stack America (something I’ve talked about in the past on the blog), and a great travel series of books among many other publications. Part of me wishes I had recorded the conversation as we went all over the place in terms of publishing, story telling, analytics & algorithms, artist in residencies, the iPad, urban signs and typefaces.

The main thing that I wanted to mention in the post was the publication of Stranded. Over the summer there was an incredibly unique situation in that people all over the world were stranded do to the volcano in Iceland. Andrew commisoned people all over to submit there stories, images of where they stayed and other contextual elements that would help share the story. I remember reading about the magazine but actually didn’t realize it was from Andrew until he mentioned it last night. Above are a couple images from the first printed copy taken in the dark lobby of Ace Hotel. The magazine is now available at Magcloud. An interesting fact to note is that most of the submissions came from New York, London and Tokyo. The situation was incredibly unique and the stories attached to the publication and a layer that news coverage really couldn’t get to.

The other set of images I uploaded here come from the beautifully designed series of travel books from Le Cool. Cities designed for include Amsterdam, Barcelona, Lisbon, London, Madrid. Part of it reminds me of an updated version of Colors magazine and a lot of great information design with maps and stories. It was the first that I had come across the series and thought to myself even if I wasn’t going to any of those cities I’d still find the stories interesting.

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Why I Checked Out of #Foursquare http://designnotes.info/?p=2436 http://designnotes.info/?p=2436#comments Thu, 19 Aug 2010 12:43:40 +0000 http://designnotes.info/?p=2436 Last night I watched a live announcement from Facebook about what Foursquare had already done. Once the keynote presentation ended I watched Gowalla go up as the first partner and […]]]>


Last night I watched a live announcement from Facebook about what Foursquare had already done. Once the keynote presentation ended I watched Gowalla go up as the first partner and was sort of relieved. I had never used them because again I thought they were a blatent rip off of Foursquare. (For the record I think the design of Gowalla is gaudy and smudgy.) I felt Gowalla would sell me out data wise if the opportunity presented their company to advance up the social geo chain. But next up was Foursquare and while I didn’t feel the gut reaction, I realized that I would never use the service the same way again.

As a designer I feel that it is really important to understand how communication works these days. I think it would be irresponsible to give a client advice not knowing what is available and what advantages there are to using particular streams. So I try a lot of different services to figure out what advantages they hold. Last night watching the Facebook announcement on Ustream allowed me to consider a couple things. If I wasn’t going to check in the same way again, how could I learn from it? At first I thought why not just check in though what Foursquare considers as shouts. Instead of mentioning where I was I’d just type in the zip code of where I was. I could still use that info for my own reasons and Facebook would never be able to figure out my trending data. So I tried that this morning and realized that was a pretty dumb idea. It was pretty pointless and a waste of my energy. So I decided to just delete my account.

There were a couple other reasons, Facebook Places was the last 20%. 1. I don’t think Foursquare should have an open API. I’m pretty sure anyone that has checked in has not considered what http://www.assistedserendipity.com/ can do with that info. 2. I also think that there has been plenty of time to make Foursquare links valuable. There is zero value in clicking on a link of someone I know that has checked in to somewhere and has mentioned it on Twitter. 3. I felt creepy looking at people’s Twitter accounts from people that checked into places I was at. 4. For all the people I was connected to on Foursquare, I think I only asked a couple people to connect to me—everyone else asked me to join. I really didn’t like putting people in the position of saying yes or no to me. 5. I felt if there was a time to quit, this was it. I design products and I wanted to know what the experience would be to quit something. What would hold me back, if anything. I also realize that I could start up again tomorrow if I wanted. Most of the people outside of NYC that I know probably wouldn’t know to follow me again but if someone really wanted to know what I was up to, they would follow me again.

There’s a couple people at Foursquare that I really respect and think very highly of. But with that said my data is open to anyone that can play with the API. On top of that I suspect the closed API from Facebook is just to watch how people use the info before they revise their own service. Maybe I’ll sign up again, and if I don’t maybe I’ll rethink how the data I used to check in could be valuable to myself.

A couple more thoughts 08.20.2010

This tweet sort of sums things up for me “fortheartofit RT @damongarrett: Facebook assumes we want the same networks of people across each of the social media products we use. Um, not quite.

I’m also thinking about how a signed up for one service and now potentially all that data could have been sucked into Facebook. Sure Foursquare already has an open API that anyone can do strange stuff to my data—but with Facebook it becomes sketchier. And like I said in my prior mentions, I might sign up again at some point. I just felt I had a right to do what I wanted with my data before Facebook got their hands on it.

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How do you write a post? http://designnotes.info/?p=2048 http://designnotes.info/?p=2048#comments Mon, 08 Mar 2010 14:15:57 +0000 http://designnotes.info/?p=2048 OmmWriter

Typically when I start writing a blog post I’ll open up Word Press to get things started. I’ll just use their editing window pushing my ideas out. I thought that was how most people published until I talked recently to another writer who mentioned that she uses text edit. She also mentioned that there’s other blogging tools like MarsEdit. Apparently it plugs into WordPress though I couldn’t get it to work with my old version of version. In any case I’ve been using OmmWriter for a couple projects which has an elegant canvas to write with. So as I continue evolving how Design Notes is used, I’ll try to pull away from just using the WP UI and observe how my writing changes (hopefully for the better).

For those that publish online, what sort of process do you go through? Is it simply opening up the blog and writing, or do you use a different format and copy + paste the text in afterwards?

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Getting to the Pay Wall http://designnotes.info/?p=2012 http://designnotes.info/?p=2012#respond Tue, 26 Jan 2010 11:16:18 +0000 http://designnotes.info/?p=2012 Getting to the Paywall

There’s a lot of speculation about how some news sites will start charging for their online content, typically via a subscription service or metered content intake. It’s hard to say what will or what won’t work yet. While I’m only speaking for myself when I throw the question of how people will get the wall, I think it’s worth asking. How are people going to trust what content to pay for? Is a reader likely to open their wallet to something that they don’t know is any good? Brand trust isn’t the same online as it once was in the golden age of big brother brands. However if a person’s trusted sources passes on a link or suggests that the article is indeed worth reading a person is more likely to be attentive to reading it. And if a pay service for online content actually does work, the person likely to pay to read it. The thing is, shouldn’t the person that just forwarded on the “sale” of the article get some sort of commision? Chances are that if the source had never said anything, the article may not have been read, clicked and paid for.

It’s totally inverting the pay wall but it does makes sense. Amazon has a service for recommending books, why shouldn’t pay wall news services not do the same? Obviously people will argue that people should have the right to link, others believe that news is a fundamental right while others ask how does quality reporting happen without anyone getting paid? While I doubt that a pay wall will actually do anything more than create a barrier that isn’t going to help the financial issues of most news sites and the morals of a commision to pass on links is sketchy. But if three equal news sites offer different incentives for people to link to sites, which one is going to do better? The free site, the pay wall site or the site that has a metered service that rewards other people that link to them with financial incentives?

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Content is the New UI v1. http://designnotes.info/?p=2008 http://designnotes.info/?p=2008#respond Wed, 20 Jan 2010 14:53:12 +0000 http://designnotes.info/?p=2008 content is the new ui

If we were to look at some of atomic bits of a typical piece of information that a person consumes these days online, there might be a headline with text, at least a couple supporting sentences of text, maybe an image that could either be a photo, illustration (maybe a fancy animated gif), and a different media type like audio or video clip. This doesn’t take into account dynamic data forms like analytics of course. But for the typical person to person experience the above data points make up a majority of the interaction. Now considering how a person might actually intake some of that info to make sense of it, there’s no one standard outlet. In terms of news it used to be a newspaper or corporate tv, now it’s just about anything that might have a screen on it. Laptops, mobile devices, tv’s, those monitors in elevators, instant messaging, email, txt’ing, game devices and probably a thousand more.

That simple story with a headline, text, image and media type combined now have to be able to play nicely with all those devices mentioned above, and not only that have to be able to interconnect with the devices. For instance maybe I want to read my email on my laptop, mobile device and forward it on to my tv at some point. They’re all pieces that are being defined by content and how it flows together. That atomic piece of content changes depending on how it’s viewed within different contexts and it’s impossible to know what they all could be. The challenge is to make those bits have enough hooks that they can latch on to anything, show other potential items of value and let it grow organically. That also means letting others take that content and merge it with other medias that are out of the hand of the original creator. It’s a scary proposition but just like water content has to be treated as a building block and not seen as something that only one person controls.

The other question is motivation—why would I even bother passing along that important piece of content, or take the time to create something new out of it? Sure people like being creative but there also needs to be financial incentive. While pay walls are being floated out there, I can’t really recall the last time someone passed me on an article from FT. If anything, those that pass on and create new content from the building blocks should see some sort of financial incentive, a concept that probably would drive most people that create the content in the first place insane. But if there was a manageable way that both those that start something and those that make it valuable can work hand in hand the digital content stream that is the new UI could be a win win for everyone involved.

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Back to the Bowery for a Moment http://designnotes.info/?p=2004 http://designnotes.info/?p=2004#respond Sat, 16 Jan 2010 12:47:39 +0000 http://designnotes.info/?p=2004 Bowery

Bowery 2

Bowery 3

Bowery 4

Walking to have some coffee yesterday I ended up having a bit more time on my hands than I expected. Usually I like being on time for things but for some reason I was okay with having the chance to continue walking down the Bowery. While the street is a bit of a cliche I really enjoy seeing how everything evolves continuously. Buildings go down, they go up. There’s also visuals that seem alive. A poster on a wall one day will probably not look the same the next—by the time someone has put something up someone else will have tried ripping it down or built on top of it. So in a radius of only a couple feet I came across one construction wall that had to be noted. Who knows how things will change with it today?

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A Simple Post About Txting Donations to Haiti http://designnotes.info/?p=2002 http://designnotes.info/?p=2002#respond Thu, 14 Jan 2010 14:26:46 +0000 http://designnotes.info/?p=2002 haiti - News, photos, topics, and quotes_1263475707859

 You have donated nearly $3 ..._1263475794994

I’m almost back to a normal blog posting schedule after being in Canada for the past couple of days. While I wasn’t on a digital cleanse it did feel that way at some times. In Canada I did have my laptop but wasn’t always able to use it because I didn’t know the wifi passwords of where I was. It’s a pretty common issue whether a person is in a different country or city, it’s not always easy to get password information. Because of that I used my iPhone a lot more to get my news and information. And that was fine until my network on my iPhone stopped working—but because I was traveling the day my network stopped working I thought wasn’t going to be a big deal because I was flying. Unfortunately I had no idea what was going on in Haiti until I was walking through LGA very late the night the earthquake hit.

The images coming from Haiti are devastating, the photos above are from a screen shot of Daylife’s photo feed. What else is there to say? The news coming out is that there’s wide spread damage and it’s a miserable place to be. What people can do (which I find fascinating) is make a simple and easy donation of ten dollars via txt message to 90999 with the word “Haiti” to the Red Cross. I realize that txt messaging donations aren’t new, but the fact that over $3 million dollars has been raised so quickly that might not otherwise have been given is really phenomenal. It’s a feature that all non profits should consider when they are looking for donations.

If you’re interested in understanding other ways that people are trying to pass along info, there’s a good collection of ideas with this post for Ideas Using Tech to Improve Haiti Relief Efforts on Ground Report.

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J.Crew vs. Colette Online http://designnotes.info/?p=1996 http://designnotes.info/?p=1996#comments Wed, 30 Dec 2009 14:57:54 +0000 http://designnotes.info/?p=1996 colette - 213 rue Saint-Honoré 75001 Paris_1262178362357

J.Crew - Cashmere, Sweaters, Women's Clothing & Dresses, Men's Clothing, Children's Clothing & Kids Clothes_1262178018179


Last night I was bouncing from blog to blog when I came across the french e–store Colette. Not having any prior history to the brand or their reputation my initial reaction to their online store was it makes me believe that there is an even more interesting bricks n’mortar shop there. Within a couple minutes of mentioning that a friend asked what do you like about that e-shop? I didn’t love it particularly. One of my faves is J.Crew for navigation, browsing etc…. Since I’m always interested in unexpected mashup’s to create a new meaning I thought comparing J.Crew to Colette would be an interesting exercise.

At first glance it might be fair to say each site is designed particularly well for their intended audience. J.Crew is slightly more affluent on the professional side while Colette is more aspirational on the younger side. Keeping that in mind is important because it allows me to get the user segmentation out of the way of who’s better—neither, they’re just different. But as I was clicking around Colette there were some observations worth noting that I didn’t see with J.Crew that I think are worth thinking about.

For the longest time real stores didn’t have much of an online presence. Some would still claim those flash microsites haven’t really helped do much to enhance brands either. On the other side was Amazon which wasn’t pretty but you could buy almost anything online very quickly, but they didn’t have any physical assets like a storefront. Today stores like J.Crew get the fact that an easy online presence is going to help their online sales front immensly. But it’s so clean that I have to question why I would bother ever going to their physical store again? It’s a strange rational but when I compare it to Colette I’m wondering if their online site is kind of exploratory in a non frustrating way, I’d be really curious to see what their physical store is like. It’s an inverse of the offline and online retailer. The physical places are going to try to squeeze into the digital while the digital want something physical.

There’s a couple other distinctions that I noticed. J.Crew is essential an online catalogue while Colette is emphasizing a lifestyle. Most sites should avoid music but with them it drew me in. I’m actually listening to their site as I do this post. Their music choice goes a long way as part of their curation of what they like. Their curation is magnified with the choice products while J.Crew is stuck showing all their stuff together. Maybe it’s just me but a person should rarely dress head to foot in the same brand. But that’s all J.Crew can push.

So if I take a bunch of elements like exploration + music + lifestyle + curation & I want to visit their store, and compare that to an online catalogue, who has the better experience?

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Talking About Reading One Book a Week for a Year, the Interview http://designnotes.info/?p=1991 http://designnotes.info/?p=1991#comments Tue, 22 Dec 2009 13:11:28 +0000 http://designnotes.info/?p=1991 I’ve been friends with Inaki Escudero for almost a year now. He’s a creative’s creative in that he’s extremely genuine, curious and open to new ideas. While a lot of […]]]>

I’ve been friends with Inaki Escudero for almost a year now. He’s a creative’s creative in that he’s extremely genuine, curious and open to new ideas. While a lot of people are living in an outdated model to pursue ideas, Inaki is embracing everything and anything which I highly respect. Many months ago he told me about how he was going to read one book a week for an entire year. The year is now up and he has indeed read 52 books. Inspired to perhaps try such a thing myself in the new year I had to find out more about how he accomplished the readings and why. Below is our email conversation.

Michael Surtees: How did the idea of reading one book a week happen? What were you hoping to gain from doing it?

Inaki Escudero: The idea came from the combination of two different events. In October my wife @hazeliz gave me for my birthday all the books that I had in my cart at Amazon.com. There were about 25 books that I had been “saving” to read for years.

Also, last December, I saw an article n the New York Times by one of the press correspondents on board of Air Force One. He talked about the personal relationships that the press develops with the president and how the president and the reporter had gotten engaged in a private reading battle, to see who read the most books in a year (Bush 28, the reporter 36).

I remember thinking: Wow, if the president can read 28 books… being so busy… why not me?

52 books in 52 weeks is really a consequence of chance. My wife bought the books, the president gave me the challenge. At the beginning I just wanted to read as many books as possible from the pile I had at home, but I also wanted to remember what I found interesting in each book, that’s why I created the blog at http://52on52.blogspot.com/. I have a horrible memory and I wanted to be able to go back and remind myself of what I had learned from each book.

MS: How did you actually read one book a week. What sort of process did you have, did you read a certain number of pages a day, or read at different speeds?

IE: Each book was so different that my early attempts to having a method or process disappeared quickly. Some books I couldn’t put down, and I would read 60-100 pages a day. Other books were slower to read because of the subject or the style and I would read 20-50 pages per day.

I read mostly during my commute; 30-40 minutes each way, Q line: 7th ave -23 st. Train delays and unexpected stops became friendly “events”.

Whenever the day gave me “down time” I had to be ready to open my book and read. Having the Kindle for the iphone (free app) also helped me a lot. First I thought that it would be impossible to read an entire book in such a small format but I ended up reading 9 books on the kindle. They are cheaper (sometimes even $15 cheaper) and more convenient than the printed form, but I still prefer the real thing.

MS: What were your top five books and why.

IE: I have been asking myself that question too. Which ones were the best?

The honest truth is that I learned valuable lessons from the 52 books. They all revealed something to me that made me think differently about the world. The books with the most impact are the ones that cause that effect more often.

These 6 books helped me have a wider and richer perspective about our country and Lincoln’s leadership, the incredible intellectual depth of a comic, the new world of communications, humans (good) nature and understanding innovation.

Lincoln by David Herbert Donald

Understanding Comics: The Invisible Art by Scott Mccloud

Convergence Culture: Where Old and New Media Collide by Henry Jenkins

Here Comes Everybody: The Power of Organizing Without Organizations by Clay Shirky

Moral Clarity: A Guide for Grown-Up Idealists by Susan Neiman

Weird Ideas That Work: How to Build a Creative Company by Robert I. Sutton

MS: Would you recommend other people doing it? How did you stay disciplined?

IE: I highly recommend it. Its a fascinating challenge. Selecting the books, reading them, knowing that there is another one coming right after… the sense of dedication, commitment, discipline… I loved it.

What I’ve learned during this year is that if you like doing it, you can do it everyday with passion. I love reading, I’m curious and I love learning, so reading so much wasn’t necessarily a question of discipline like say, training for a marathon in the winter.

MS: How did you choose your books?

IE: I didn’t want to overwhelm myself with rules, so I decided to have just two… don’t start a book until I finished the previous one, and don’t select the next book until I finished the previous one.

I guess I did this to stay focused on the one book I was reading, trying not to get ahead of myself… but it really worked well for me.
Looking back, I have collected lots and lots of intelligent quotes, everyday wisdom and insightful observations, but one comes to mind that relates to this: if you don’t use your ability to read, then it’s as if you couldn’t read.

I know we don’t see it as a privilege anymore, but if I’m able to read, why not put it to practice?

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REVIEW COPY: Look Both Ways by Debbie Millman http://designnotes.info/?p=1967 http://designnotes.info/?p=1967#comments Mon, 23 Nov 2009 13:54:01 +0000 http://designnotes.info/?p=1967 Looking Both Ways by Debbie Millman 01

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Before I pass on my review for the really engaging book Looking Both Ways by Debbie Millman, I feel as though I should let people know that I know Debbie quite well. Many years ago Debbie was a contributor to the site Speak Up. While I didn’t know her at the time I found the comments and reactions that she would get from people was interesting. I knew that she was quite successful as the President of Sterling Brands so I invited her to speak in Edmonton. This was still before she started her interview series Design Matters. It was during that time of organizing the event in Edmonton that I began to know Debbie. By the time she had spoke in Edmonton, Design Matters was getting well known as was herself. We kept in touch and when I was visiting NYC from Edmonton she always made time for me and we became friends. Once I moved to the best city in the world we’d bump into each other from time to time. The next stage of me knowing Debbie was from her teaching at SVA, and me meeting her students before they completed her class. After that there’s Debbie the President of the AIGA. Now it’s as authour—I can also make the claim to have listened to every single Design Matters interview at least once, many a couple times. So when I read Looking Both Ways it was really hard not to hear her voice. It was like I’ve heard every syllable pronounced at some point. Having that background only made the book more enjoyable to read.

Some of the stories seemed familiar while others were entirely new to me. Flipping through the pages every story is designed in a unique and compelling manner by Rodrigo Corral. The pace and tone set before and after each story should be commended. For example there’s a story near the beginning title Yellow that is displayed entirely from boards painted black with white type. The following story My First Love changes gears entirely with an italicized typeface sans images, yet fits perfectly after Yellow. Every story snaps into place like a puzzle piece.

I found myself wanting to read most of this book in the evening before I went to bed. I’m not much for reading in bed but I found that taking on a couple essays was an earned gift for the day I had just completed. I also noted that all those visuals affected my sleep state. I was dreaming a lot more. I’m sure this sounds a bit weird but I do think it’s important to note in this review. If you get the chance to read this book, try reading it before you fall asleep, it will change things entirely.

Before starting to read this book I wondered who exactly is this book written for? Debbie is an accomplished branding expert, and for her Design Matter’s intros she would start the program with a monologue of observations and stories. Translating that experience to paper and image, how would it work? And while I think New York Magazine got it right to place the book at the top of High Brow and Brilliant in it’s approval matrix, the description of it being about illustrated essays on design is a bit off. I’d say it’s more about a designer using their observations skills sharing personal reflections that are worth reading. Just like the We Feel Fine book that I reviewed last week, there’s a lot of people that I could easily give this book as a gift to, designer or not.

Thinking about a favourite story, there’s three that come to mind. Economy Foam because I remember hearing a version of this story while back in Edmonton. There’s something about hearing a description about NYC before ever setting foot here. On top of that, I haven’t read that many personal stories about a visual relationship with a brand like that from a design person. It certainly changed my perception of my visual landscape a bit. So reading about it again brought back all those memories. The second story was about Debbie’s experience in Japan getting lost. Fantastic story. And the third is about that momentous decision most designer’s have to make during their career titled Fail Safe. Once you read it you’ll know what I mean.

Title: Look Both Ways
Authour: Debbie Millman
Publisher: How Books

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Story vs. Systems, or as things will be for the time being http://designnotes.info/?p=1945 http://designnotes.info/?p=1945#respond Wed, 28 Oct 2009 13:12:09 +0000 http://designnotes.info/?p=1945 connecting the dots

for the time being

define stories

This post started from a simple search and by the time I was finished I was connecting dots from all sorts of concepts that I’ve come across recently. I was wanted to get the meaning of something so I’ll often type in the word define: into google with a term I’m looking to get more info from. As I started typing the word define I was being auto promoted by what are the ten most popular terms to be defined on google. That list of ten got me thinking about other data inputs out there and a story I saw from the NYT titled The Robots Are Coming! Oh, They’re Here.. In the post they talk about Intelligent Information Laboratory @ Northwestern University – Projects – Stats Monkey who are attempting to take public info like box scores and play by play action into stories. Thinking a bit further about all the stuff, it reminded me of a round table discussion I was a part of at the AIGA Conference that Nick Law talked about systems and stories and how traditional agency people are stuck in an old model. Adding to that point I found a post from Peter Merholz talking about a Framework for Building Customer Experiences. The base level being systems while building to experiences. Considering all that information and what I’m thinking about day in and day out there just seemed to be a lot of dots to connect.

For the time being there seems to be a battle of people wanting to be “the source” as opposed to understanding that they’ll at best be “a source”. It’s hard to grapple. It’s story vs system a lot of the time. One minute the story is the thing, the next it’s just info being transformed into data to be reformatted, mashed up and turned into new info that’s going to be a different story. In the not so distant future it could be interesting to type in a word that adds a couple unique facets that than create a one of a kind story from everyone’s experiences that have been shared.

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Last night at PSFK’s Good Ideas With Jan Chipchase http://designnotes.info/?p=1914 http://designnotes.info/?p=1914#respond Fri, 02 Oct 2009 13:05:08 +0000 http://designnotes.info/?p=1914 Jan Chipchase


Last night I visited JWT to hear PSKF’s latest Good Ideas Salon with Nokia researcher Jan Chipchase. Recently I’ve slowed down on the advertising and marketing talks because the speakers tend to be a bit flaky and more about their own ego. I’m happy to report that Jan’s talk wasn’t like that at all, and if I was a Design Chair for a University trying to encourage design undergrads to continue with school—they should bring in Jan to talk about his experiences. The presentation itself was an overview of a number of his adventures out in the field away from Nokia. While the images and stories he shared were interesting, to keep the audience engaged he was quite active in asking people questions about what they thought he was documenting.

While I wasn’t skeptical of his talk before it started I did hold some biases about being forward thinking research as a general concept. I live in a very closed world of the iPhone. While I don’t know what the worldwide penetration of the iPhone vs. Nokia as a whole is, I did wonder how mobile phones didn’t really evolve much until the iPhone came to market. Again that’s my bias and I’m guessing that fans of Nokia would say that they were ahead of the curve on a lot of the features, but if that’s the case why did the iPhone get all the press and shake things up? I know it’s a pretty weak argument on my part but it was something I was thinking about.

But as the talk progressed, the ideas were less about technology and features, and much more about observing behaviour. Typically he and a team will be out in the field for two weeks. He described how they often collect over 10,000 images and have procedures in place to sort and organize them. He stayed away from talking about methods and geared the conversation to what I think the audience was more interested in. Stuff like symbols that have multiple meanings. In China a woman sitting on a curb with a baby might suggest that she’s selling porn. That kind of stuff for an evening talk is probably more appropriate than methodologies of field work. Or maybe not…

One example that really stood out for me was when he showed a hacked sim card that could switch from one network to a different one. Something that closed loop systems kind of frown upon for obvious reasons. The card represented a way to undermine a business model. That got me to think about business strategies. If someone has taken the time and resources to create a system that busts a business model, why not study it, replicate it and turn that thinking into an advantage. Perhaps that what Nokia is doing and we just haven’t experienced it yet.

Another topic that was briefly touched upon was the digital divide between people who have the ability to track their personal data over a lifetime and those that do not. While I don’t think he had a definitive answer, he seemed optimistic that it wasn’t a bad thing for people to collect their own data. (Once the video of the talk goes live I’ll re-watch what he said to make sure I’m quoting things correctly.) Other things that got my attention was the idea of wearing in, not out—making stuff from nothing new, making stuff that’s interesting and relevant, and even the business culture of needing to be in the office after short periods of time away. Apparently being away for more than two weeks can cause you to be out of the loop.

If you’re curious to read more about Jan, there’s an article at the NYT titled Can the Cellphone Help End Global Poverty? that should be checked out and he has a number of presentations on Slideshare.

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The state of design in 2009 http://designnotes.info/?p=1903 http://designnotes.info/?p=1903#comments Wed, 23 Sep 2009 12:50:39 +0000 http://designnotes.info/?p=1903 Design in 2009

It would be too easy to bash istock photo for treating logos as a cheap commodity. They’ve just announced they’re going to sell them for five bucks. You can read all about it at http://www.istockphoto.com/forum_messages.php?threadid=119471. If people are stupid enough to belittle their work that much, and people are believing they’re going to get something valuable for the price of a large coffee, who am I to suggest they’re going to get exactly what they deserve? And by the sounds of it, lots of people at TechCrunch seem to think it’s a great idea. If you’re a designer that holds any value in what you do—read the comments. If you’re in a meeting with someone that shows any of those characteristics—be careful.

From five dollar logos to fake ads in contests: after DDB Brazil and WWF blow up of their one run newspaper ad that won a merit award from the One Show, the One Show now has now spelled out their rules in a press release at http://www.oneclub.org/oc/press/?id=112. Funny thing about that press release that I don’t know if anyone has questioned is that within those rules DDB Brazil’s WWF ad would not have been disqualified.

On a better note, there’s friend to me Debbie Millman’s recently given speech at the 2009 AIGA Design Legends Gala titled Why celebrate design during a recession? It’s a timely talk considering the bs going on these days.

On one side there’s design that’s being devalued to the price of coffee, people making fake ads for free, others celebrating achievements in design, and than there’s the PHD level design educated people. The spectrum is quite long. Where in the spectrum does the designer that’s passionate about what they do fall? While the recession can be blamed for the state of design, I think it’s more of a reflection on technology and the way people communicate. Just ask yourself how you get info that’s valuable to you, and compare that from three years ago. Even if the housing market hadn’t tanked and banks hadn’t busted, design would be in the exact same spot today. I don’t have any answers for this, I’m just stating what I’m seeing in front of me. I guess we should design our way out of this issue…

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Why are there offices anymore? http://designnotes.info/?p=1899 http://designnotes.info/?p=1899#comments Fri, 18 Sep 2009 16:11:42 +0000 http://designnotes.info/?p=1899

I saw the above video where an individual worker that’s digitally inclined looks through his iPhone to find a place to work for what I assume is a couple hours. The augmented reality map is cool in that it shows some of the finer amenities that such a person would want such as coffe, noise, wifi etc. While it’s debatable if a service like this would help find a new place to work, or just throw out a simple question to friends about a new place to work, the more interesting behaviour is the fact that office space isn’t what it used to be. Consultants of one are roaming around at street level while above office areas that used to be full stay empty of the bust that’s happened.

I wonder how long it will be before a lot of street level space that lays dormant will start opening their doors to entrepreneurs that start converting the area to cosy places that serve coffee, wifi, and a nice atmosphere to work. I’ve seen stuff beginning like this, but it’s for collective groups as opposed to single individuals.

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Aha with live streaming http://designnotes.info/?p=1885 http://designnotes.info/?p=1885#comments Thu, 10 Sep 2009 10:49:35 +0000 http://designnotes.info/?p=1885 Picture 67

Picture 66

There’s very few days when traditional media isn’t under attack. Whether it’s news papers or magazines, radio, the entire music industry, film, tv, they’re all finding it difficult to evolve from their dna of yesteryear. It’s fascinating me to go through those aha moments when I realize how things were aren’t coming back. For getting my news it was seeing the headlines a night early before the paper went to press, than later on it was getting my headlines from Twitter with people I trust as opposed to an editor I didn’t know. For music it was trying to get multiple cd’s onto a player—so I bought a mini disc player, then it was about compressing multiple discs which is when the iPod came around and solved the file size issue. The drive for owning my own music was because I had little control over what the radio played considering how repetitive it was. Along came the iPhone and all the apps which has quickly evolved most of the medias I just mentioned. Last night it was live video streaming. The easier technology makes it for people to use something, the more likely a person is going to try it out and probably continue with something new. For me personally it was easier to go the US Open Tennis website and watch the match than to turn on my tv. That was a major moment for me, not because I watch a ton of tv but for seeing how dead my very large tv seemed. All my tv offered was a one way stream. Seeing the tennis match on my laptop I could click on some minor data points. I could see some player stats and read what others were up to. Nothing really new for online interaction, but putting that together with great quality video was enough to make the tv seem really dead.

While all that was going on I learned via twitter that the Communications Director for the White House was answering questions live on video stream, with the questions coming from people logged into Facebook. Whether you agreed on what was being said is up for debate, however the fact that there’s the apparent ability to talk back and forth is quite amazing. I only caught a couple minutes of that talk but we should all take a moment to pause and realize that it wasn’t that difficult to watch both the US Open, the live moderated discussion and get tweets from a different application talking about those same events.

The only catch with all this live content is how it’s archived, if at all. It is pretty damn tough to find old tweets of people you know and sort of remember mentioning, and if you can’t remember a key phrase for a search term it’s near impossible to find anything. And even if a site had the best ways to find archived video, the size constraints don’t exactly make it easy to store for years. That’s something I think might be missing from this type of discussion at the moment. Funny how print didn’t have that problem as much.

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