Dark Matter: 2 August 2017

A reader called me out this week for my ‘men-only recommendations policy’ — and it cut. And while it’s hardly been an intended policy, it’s a completely fair critique: over the last three months, 84% of the links I’ve referenced (I’ve gone back and counted) have been written been by men, almost all of them white. Like me.

The truth is that I don’t read enough blogs and journals written by people who aren’t like me. I don’t follow enough women — and not nearly enough women of color — on Twitter. Dark Matter is a little less than it could be because of that, which is a disservice to those of you who take the time to read it.

I can do better, and I will.

This week in aggressively-smoothed multimodals:

From Eliza Brooke’s fantastic piece for Racked on the tyranny of startup cultures’ sans-serif, whitespace-fueled aesthetic (8min):

Simple branding also reinforces many startups’ pitches, which go something like this: They’re making great-quality products and selling them straight to you at a low price, because they’ve cut out the retail markup. They offer at-home try-ons and free return shipping, with the label pre-printed and included in your delivery. Not only does pared-down branding mimic the straightforwardness of the customer experience, but, as Critton points out, it holds the brand responsible for the quality of its service. There are no trimmings to disguise a shoddy product or user experience — unless, of course, startup minimalism has become that very trimming.

It’s not an unreasonable indictment — one that parallels the oft-cited argument that an over-reliance on a handful of UX-ey conventions has sapped the fun from the Interweb.

Personally, I think the same thing is happening to Pitchfork-endorsed neo-soul — but that’s a different topic for a different newsletter.

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Look really smart at work this week, and use Andrew Allen’s illustration of the learning gap in design in your next internal presentation. Bookmark and use liberally — with permission, natch.

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When I finish my current reading list, I’m going to buy a 30 day copy of Lucy Kimball & Jocelyn Bailey’s paywalled-AF article for CoDesign on prototyping in public policy making. From the abstract, this:

This conceptual paper discusses the use of Co-Design approaches in the public realm by examining the emergence of a design practice, prototyping, in public policy-making. We argue that changes in approaches to management and organisation over recent decades have led towards greater flexibility, provisionality and anticipation in responding to public issues. These developments have co-emerged with growing interest in prototyping.

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Sound researcher/designer Wesley Goatley marked up Apple’s product page for HomePod to reflect the gap between the ways we talk/write about products and technologies, and the ways in which they actually work. Language is important, and we’re dangerously casual with it at the moment.

This week in it’s no better to be safe than sorry:

Patricia McDonald wins the week with this, from a Campaign piece on brand building in an age of invisible technology (5min):

Thinking not just about tone of voice or look and feel, but about the body language of a brand in the digital space. How do our brands feel, swipe and gesture? What are the ergonomics of our brand?

I’ve never been a fan of applying human traits to brand behaviors, but what are the ergonomics of our brand? is a wonderful framework that combines aesthetics, usability, and tactile experience into an elegant heuristic.

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Joanne McNeil on augmented reality’s role as an advertising medium, rather than a creative one (3min):

Why isn’t VR as good as music videos were in the 80s? This week people went wild over an AR recreation of A-ha’s “Take on Me.” It’s a technical achievement but not a creative one. A creative achievement would be to this moment what “Take on Me” was in 1984. Something doesn’t need to be technically advanced to capture people’s imaginations as that video did, but I don’t see any entry points in the industry or attempts to nurture that kind of talent.

This week in vesting periods for OODA loops:

I loved Justine Lai’s open letter to herself, exploring her last nine months (6min) at August — particularly her acknowledgement of the attendant challenges of self-management:

What doesn’t feel great is that for all the processes, systems and governance structures that we construct, humans are still humans. They are flawed and bring their previous experiences and biases with them. As your coworker Sasha has said much more eloquently, until we really do the work to understand and address our own biases, blind spots, and privilege, the same power and hierarchy dynamics that affect every other work place do affect August, and hinder the legitimacy of our self-organizing system.

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I just came across Rod Jacka’s piece on evidence-based (vs. data-driven) processes (4min) on the Panalysis blog, and thought this made for a wonderfully-succinct description:

An evidence based approach:

  • Gathers data (in its broadest sense) and weighs this according to its credibility
  • Analyses and interprets this data
  • Creates hypotheses that can be tested
  • Designs experiments that are used to test these hypotheses
  • Accounts for our many cognitive biases
  • Runs these experiments and assesses the results
  • Documents what is learnt and then plans the next steps.
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If you read nothing else in this week’s missive, spend six minutes with Leisa Reichelt’s three notes from a brief career in the public service . I’ve got a rather well-documented love affair with various governmental digital service types, and Leisa’s points are a wonderful distillation of lessons learned elsewhere, namely:

  1. Your organisation will benefit more from you being user centred than the users ever will.
  2. Orient everything you can in your organisation around real user journeys
  3. Seek the truth, even if it’s ugly

This week in Supreme x visvim flash sales:

Brad Feld has realized that money is just an illusory conensual agreement to honor an arbitrary social pact (2min) — and he has the historical citations to prove it.

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For those of you with a stash of CERN images stored in a folder on your desktop, quietly browsed while dreaming of the job in materials science you could have had, if only: Google’s expertise in machine learning is being applied, at scale, to the advancement of plasma fusion study (6min).

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Wait, wha?

Retailers like Kmart have been known to buy up liquidation stock when companies go under, selling the cut-price bulk orders for a tidy profit. Supreme has never revealed where it gets its blank T-shirts from, but many have long pegged American Apparel as a key supplier. When American Apparel went bust, instead of the tees going to Supreme, they’ve instead been sent to Kmart. ​

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An occasionally-difficult, completely rewarding read: a paper on a new ‘attack algorithm’ : an approach to understanding the ways in which road signs can be altered/vandalized/’perturbed’, this rendering them unrecognizable/misrecognized to machine learning systems like Google StreetView. It’s a fascinating paper, worth scanning to the end even if you find yourself lost in the mathematics of it all.