King of the Signs

November 3, 2011
Tower of London

"Castle. That way."

Found … outside the Tower of London (England). Pointing to … the Tower of London (England).

It’s elegant. It’s helpful. It’s honest. It’s the greatest sign ever made.

Yup.

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A Mildly Magnificent Modern Map

October 19, 2011

Not shown: Iceland. Chicago. Canada.

Since our humble days as hunter-gatherers, humans have created and shared maps to make sense of the world around us. To serve as models. To simplify. To point to food. And to navigate environments too big to otherwise comprehend.

Like many of us discovered in our youth*,  there’s something inherently fulfilling about maps. A good one will serve as a powerful link between our brains and the real world. By giving us a sense of context and scale while leaving out every detail, a great map will teach us as much as it will tempt us — tapping into our intrinsic nature to explore and chart new paths.

Here’s a nice map of our sprawling digital landscape and the growing influences of the ‘Internet Economy’. Far from the elaborate parchment creations of early cartographers, this map represents an emerging pattern of charting the intangible online spaces we increasingly inhabit. And different from other data-driven visualizations, it injects a subjective element while playing with relationships and space. It’s the little touches that make it work. The quirky plays on words (The Ocean of Spam, Blogger Isles. pfft.). The multiple layers. The ability to scroll side to side endlessly, like spinning a globe.

Kind of makes you want to go sailing, doesn’t it.

*My 4th-grade Orientation unit was glorious… a stretch of structured learning rivaled only by the Star Trek unit the following spring. What a year.


How to Butcher a Simple Message, example 3,912

October 1, 2011

Sent from Sarah in upstate New York …

She never made it to the lagoon, if you're wondering.

This gem of a sign was found in a hotel bathroom next to stacks and stacks of towels, I’m told. A bad sign. A confusing sign. Lord knows how many towels are used improperly.


An American Icon on Succinct & Simple Design

September 16, 2011

His words rocked.

If I’d had the time, I’d have written a shorter letter.”

Mark Twain  (1835-1910)

When a good quote starts appearing again and again in your life, you got to honor it. Got to. We’ll leave it at that.


Where am I going?

September 6, 2011

At least there's an insightful news ticker down there.

A nice find on Failblog.org, reposted here in honor of that last great milestone of summer — Labor Day. How much do we love these airport Departure/Arrival screens? Designed to fulfill such a simple need, most of them suffer from such a simple yet stifling usability gaffe. They cycle through the flights, gates, and city info waaay too fast. They mean well. They do. But it doesn’t matter how big the screens or the font size is, most of us still need time to sort out our ABCs.  “N is after L in the alphabet, okay.  Okay..  ah-ha! New York.”  But no sooner you find your flight it’s gone isn’t it, refreshed in a column over, or two, or three TV panels away.

Slooow down, Airport Flight Departure Information screens. We’re in a hurry but we ain’t going that fast. We’re not machines like you. Not yet.

And get that anti-virus updated. It’s a sick world out there.


Ring ring, the Phone Call is Ill

August 27, 2011

“Are you sitting down? Okay good.”

Remember the days before phones were so damn portable? Remember the phone call? The real ones, the long ones. All those hours spent sitting, receiver to the face, talking away our demons into the curved plastic, twirling the chord with the left hand. We now live in a world where we’re attached to those little boxes called cells, where every incoming text, email, vibration, or chirp of a ring further muddles the memories of our unplugged past.

Check out this thoughtful and succinct take on The Death of the Phone Call from Wired’s Clive Thompson. He pays respect to the fading behavior while making a good case for a redesign of the phone call itself. He asserts the ‘constant lightweight contact’ we’re all engulfed by is contributing to the Phone Call’s death, which are emotionally more high-bandwidth. You may have noticed.

But does the phone call really deserve to die, as Mr. Thompson claims? It may be ill. Very ill. But there’s still time for it to be turned around. There’s part of me — part of most of us I’m sure — that still loves the call. That moment of excitement upon hearing the ring — not knowing who or what the other end will bring. The Phone Call still has its moments, given the right time, the right place, the right voice on the other line. But if it does go, R.I.P. phone call. You’ve had a glorious run.

(Note: The Wired article is over a year old. But sometimes magazines fall behind the couch. Sometimes they are discovered and read some 15 months later. And sometimes, even in the rapidly-changing world of consumer technology, articles age well. It happens.)


The Great Summer Shake Up

August 21, 2011

In fortunate parts of the world, summer often goes hand in hand with rest, travel, introspection, and micheladas. For some, summer brings a dizzying array of new experiences, connections, and insights. For others, it is a big reset. A step back towards our natural beginnings in those hot, muggy environments we all came from (whether that be the womb or the tropical climates where we evolved as a species). For many, summer is all about change.

Big change. Small change. Change.

However you slice it, the time has come for the Infinite User to change. Maybe it wasn’t the season alone. Maybe it that was that fateful weekend I watched all three installments of The Matrix (which are far better on DVR with the power of the rewind, by the way). Or that fine summer read, a good story can shake things up. Or shark week. Blame shark week.

Sign in London, England

Now *thats* a Construction sign -- banged up good.

A new era is upon us. And this weblog. One of opening in the gates and letting in the sun. Sharing faster. More insights, less delay. Posting, rampant posting. There is a time for the insightful thought piece. And these will come. But we have been catapulted into the era of the short attention span. It’s a glorious world out there, and it must be broken down. With more lessons and fewer words.

So with that, in the spirit of construction, change, progress, and summer — I’ll kick it off with a sign spotted in the bustling heart of London, England. A Construction sign. You’ll notice it actually has no words. But it does have a silhouette with a shovel. And wear and tear. A lot of it. It’s a gritty sign. A seasoned sign. One with character. One that tells a story and fulfills its purpose without using a single word. One that sends a message arguably better than its fresh-off-the-press counter-parts. There’s a lesson in there, go find it. And go to Europe too. Good food, cool buildings.

Stay tuned for more. (Much more.)