Designing reality’s interfaces – Between the Tube map & Facebook

The People Mover by Trey Ratcliff (CC)

The People Mover by Trey Ratcliff (CC)

(The following article was originally published on Marketing Magazine’s blog. Since the original publishing coincided with The London Underground’s 150 anniversary, the broader theoretical aspect was cut out to turn this into a post about the Tube map alone. I’m publishing an uncut version here for your interest)
In 1931, a part-time engineer draftsman sat in the offices of the London Underground. Like designers of all periods, he was working after hours on a pet project. That project turned out to be with one of the most revolutionary information design concepts in history.
 
As most of you have guessed – the design in question is the London Underground map. The engineer turned design-legend was Harry Beck. An amusing/alarming fact is that it took about a year for “The Suits” to agree and trial Beck’s radical, uncomissioned, concept. It was another year before it was published on a mass scale. The rest is history. Beck’s map became the blueprint for public transportation maps worldwide and Beck himself spent the next 30 years tweaking his map to near-perfection. He was paid 5 guineas for his map – the equivalent of about £144 in today’s money.
Some things never change, indeed.
 
Train maps were a popular giveaway with newspapers at the beginning of the twentieth century, and looking at some historical maps will quickly reveal the scale of Beck’s conceptual breakthrough. Navigating the increasingly intricate London Underground network was a design problem. It was waiting for the right solution for decades. Like many major design problems, it was born at the intersection of social change, technological advancements and rapid expansions in commerce. 
 
It seems 1930s spam was much better than what we get nowadays. Tube maps lived side by side with poster campaigns exalting the many benefits of travelling by underground, many displaying levels of craft rarely seen in today’s graphic design. Maps were often given away for free with the evening papers to encourage the public to ride by train. They were a marketing application, a touchpoint – part of a campaign. “Swift and sure” exclaimed a logo tag-line on a 1908 version. Like most key touchpoints, maps weren’t single sided propaganda that shouted at the audience; they were useful brand utilities. These maps were a tool to help guide the audience in a modern world of ever more complex urban living. A part of a more complex meaning system.

The Apocalypse is bad for business

coming soon, by Digital Trash on Flickr

Coming Soon, by Digital Trash on Flickr

(The following post was originally published on Marketing Magazine’s Marketing Blogged blog. It has also been posted on Linguabrand’s Science and Learning section, among a highly flattering group. This is a delayed cross-posting.)

Expanding the definition and remit of sustainable marketing
When initially introduced to c-suites and boards, the allure of sustainability was that it made a certain brutal business common sense. Performance driven business leaders don’t have to love trees to understand that ignoring environmental impact will eventually kill their business: Materials and fuels will get more expensive, regulations will bear down on them and other forms of public scrutiny will become increasingly unforgiving.

Over the years, the remit of business sustainability has expanded from environmental responsibility to include other economic, social and almost any other aspect of responsible long-term resource management and social stewardship.

However, sustainable marketing has so far remained focused on the environmental aspect. It largely stands for paper sources, non-toxic inks, recycling, etc.

This is an oversight as it’s clear a large part of marketing’s impact on our society is not physical. I would like to challenge this narrow view of sustainable marketing by suggesting that just like businesses increasingly look beyond the environmental impact of resource management, marketing should do the same.

The two new elements I would like to introduce into the definition of sustainable marketing are the cognitive and the cultural aspects. Continue reading

The Disappearance of Childhood: Postman’s blind spot

Grown ups are obsolete

Just finished Neil Postman’s The Disappearance of Childhood.

Postman is a wonderful writer, and the first part, about the historical invention of childhood is truly breath-taking. Just chock-full of amazing insights about the relationship of culture and technology.
I particularly found interesting how the same "dangers" are re-purposed again and again for each technology.

(Narcissism is, apparently, particularly popular, possibly because of the built-in hubris of any technological revolution. I’m sure the discovery of fire and the wheel promoted narcissism too. What with firelight being so complimenting and making us see human faces 24 hours a day and the wheel making us strong and taking us places… But I still need to think this bit through…)
 
However, as he moves to describing the disappearance of childhood he largely misses the mark.

Not because of his somewhat luddite view of technology or conservative views of society (you expect that from Postman) but because although the phenomena he describes to support his arguments are largely true, he completely overlooks the emergence of teenage culture as a transient stage between childhood and adulthood (quite odd for someone who was merely in his thirties in the 60’s). As well as the increasing importance of this stage. And while this stage is "blurred at both ends" to our day ("tweens, anyone?"), and especially into adulthood, you can still see marked distinctions between the culture of prepubescent children (e.g. "toddlers"), pubescent and post-pubescent teenagers.
And any cross-overs don’t change the fact prepubescence is protected on many levels and teens are often overprotected, regulated/policed by adults, and frequently demonised by the media.

Ah well, thankfully today we have people like Danah Boyd who approach youth with insight and empathy.

(Make no mistake, this book is still worth your time. All his books, with all their flaws…)

The 10 habits of highly creative people, applied to creative companies

You and What Army
A couple of months back, I was once again falling down the rabbit hole that is the theory of creativity. While revisiting the useful and inspiring concept of “Mental Flow” I discovered a later book by the psychologist who coined the term, Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi.

The book Creativity : Flow and the Psychology of Discovery and Invention (previously titled: Creativity: The Work and Lives of 91 Eminent People) contains an exploration of the common personality traits of creative people. The traits are articulated as a series of ten paradoxes. Before listing them, he writes:

Of all human activities, creativity comes closest to providing the fulfillment we all hope to get in our lives. Call it full-blast living.
Creativity is a central source of meaning in our lives. Most of the things that are interesting, important, and human are the result of creativity.
What makes us different from apes–our language, values, artistic expression, scientific understanding, and technology–is the result of individual ingenuity that was recognised, rewarded, and transmitted through learning.

You’ve got to love the man, I’m sure he’d be against speculative work and 6-way creative pitches.

The list itself is delightful on its own, and will feel intuitively familiar to anyone who has an appreciation for creativity and creative people. An interesting thing, is that while going through the list you discover that the principles apply not just to creative individuals, but also to innovation and to creative companies and organisations.

So here are Csikszentmihalyi’s Ten paradoxical traits of the creative personality, translated to the the traits of creative companies.

1. Creative people have a great deal of physical energy, but they’re also often quiet and at rest. Continue reading

“What has your cult done for you lately?”

I’m reading Tina Fey’s book “Bossypants”, it’s quite light, but also funny, smart and human as expected, and contains many gems.

Some examples:

“In most cases, being a good boss means hiring talented people and then getting out of their way.”

I agree. This way has proved itself for me when working with design teams as well as, a long time ago, when I was hiring my team at IOL (Many have done exceptionally well in their careers, such joy…)

“Almost everyone [women] first realized they were becoming a grown woman when some dude did something nasty to them.”

Sadly accurate. So far the book is full of feminist observations that while not ground-breaking, are well articulated, heartfelt, opinionated and a joy to read from someone so bang in the heart of mainstream.

Last one, on the cult-like experience of studying and practicing improv comedy:

“Studying improvisation literally changed my life. It set me on a career path towards Saturday Night Live. It changed the way I look at the world, and it’s where I met my husband. What has your cult done for you lately?

Poetry for these Facebooked times

(the Hebrew version after the fold)

I lost my identity card /Yehuda Amichai

I lost my identity card.
I have to write out my curriculum vitae
all over again for many offices, one copy to God
and one to the devil. I remember
the photo taken thirty-three years ago
at a wind-scorched junction in the Negev.
My eyes were prophets then, but my body had no idea
what was happening to it or where it belonged.

You often say, This is the place,
This happened right here, but it’s not the place,
you just think so and live in error,
an error whose eternity is greater
than the eternity of truth.

As the years go by, my life keeps filling up with names
like abandoned cemeteries
or like an absurd history class
or a telephone book in a foreign city.

And death is when someone keeps calling you
and calling you
and you no longer turn around to see
who it is

Continue reading

A moment of ambient intimacy

A Skype chat log from 2007.

Me: Hey, listen – do you think any of the net-savvy literary theorists that you’re connected to has ever mentioned the connection between Bakhtin’s phatic function of language and things like twitter and other instances of ambient intimacy? [link, now broken]
She:
could be, but I’m on the phone and then have to run. I’ll get back to you.  Hi, by the way!
Me:
Exactly!