"Easy" and "intuitive" are words you hear an awful lot if you make websites, apps, or any kind of interface. Over the last 20 to 30 years, they’ve become watchwords of user interface (UI) design; our metric for a design’s success is often based on how self-evident it seems to unfamiliar users. Can anyone, anywhere, pick it up and start using it without needing outside help? Does it "just work" for most people?
User experience (UX) designers often describe their approach as a process of reducing "friction." We spend a lot of time trying to figure out what our users’ goals are, and then do our very best to to eliminate any "friction points" that slow them down. Along the way, a certain minimalism (and sometimes even asceticism) has overtaken UI design, as we strip away anything that feels even potentially complicated or unpredictable.
I stumbled across this review of early 20th century Swedish painter Hilda af Klint and I'm pretty blown away by it. For one, her work was staggeringly innovative: her experiments with abstraction and spiritualist-inspired painting predate Kandinsky, Miro, and Klee by decades. But I also think her stuff is simply beautiful. Despite the stylistic and thematic similarities with her male contemporaries, there's a precision and care in her compositions that strikes me as unique. They feel kind of graphic in a way, inviting enough to be equally at home on a poster or a gallery wall. But it was, of course, the gallery walls that were forbidden to her.
The fact that her work – and that of countless other women artists of her time and long before – was alternately ignored and dismissed for (literally) 100 years is yet another reminder of Modernism's unintended legacy. The idea was to create a more accessible, more democratic, more universal way of seeing and creating and living. But the founders' definition of "universal" extended only to people who looked and thought like themselves. That is to say: rich white dudes. This blindness often reduced modernism to an enabler of prejudice, and, in af Klint's case, robbed the world of at least one of the geniuses of the 20th century.
These playgrounds by Danish architecture firm Monstrum for the Lego House rooftop look amazing. I especially like that these spaces don't just look like fun, but they also suggest stories. A great place to play but also to pretend.
I love this photo series documenting Shanghai’s late-night food stalls from Florian Mueller. Although I can imagine these streets are busy and full of noise – horns, bikes, passing trucks, talking – there's a wonderful sense of peace to these images. Each stall is framed by darkness, the owner quietly attending in the shadows; each feels almost like a side chapel in a shadowy (skyscraper-filled) cathedral.
This is a really interesting story about Nike’s sponsorship deal with Colin Kaepernick and the winding road that led to their new campaign.
It’s a striking example of how much ads still matter, as a cultural influencer and as a design medium. They’re still a lightening rod for the conflicting motivations of politics, money, principles, and ideas. When those forces converge in the right ways, advertising is still a powerful platform.
To be honest, this story kind of sums up everything I love and hate about the industry. Props to Wieden & Kennedy and Nike for having the spine to stand behind Colin Kaepernick in the end1 – although, as with all things advertising, it’s hard to tell what their real motivations were. Because it was the right thing to do? Or because it might be profitable? Or (most likely) both? A funny thing about the industry is that, much of the time, it seems impossible to tell the difference between integrity and opportunism. But it’s often this naked opportunism that keeps the advertising industry oddly "honest"; it keeps us off the high horses. And when there’s a chance to say something true, it shines all the more brightly.
Or should I say kneel behind him? ↩