Bookmark Beat: EP 9

What can we imagine?

Hey y'all! Looks like this is becoming more of a fortnightly newsletter 😅 So, with two weeks of bookmarks to look through, there's plenty to share and ponder this week… so strap in!

October is set to be a super busy month, with lots of travel and concerts, so if the rhythm of this beat is a bit inconsistent, don't be surprised… I still hope you're delighted when this newsletter hits your inbox (if not, hit me up!)

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An intro: That humming in the background

My buddy, ex-bandmate and all around great human, Iain, mentioned Glenn Gould on Twitter the other day… and I couldn't help but track down the video in the tweet! Before this, the only Gould recording I had ever heard was an album of Chopin and Mendelssohn. And, every once in a while (like at around 1:00 in this track), I could hear a little hum or wavering breath - never quite knowing if it was a problem with the recording or just my ears being weird.

After tracking down the video from the tweet, it turns out this is a pretty common phenomenon. It seems that just about every other person in the comments of the YouTube version of Glenn Gould - Off the Record had a similar experience. That humming is the sound of Glenn Gould enjoying himself while playing! Knowing this now brings a smile to my face.

Another highlight of the video comes at around 19:37, when the interviewer (Franz Kraemer) asks Gould why his own compositions don't push more boundaries in the form:

In my own music I write in a style that could have conceivably been handled by any composer of 70 years ago - or certainly 50 years ago. And it’s not a question of just doing it courageously unashamedly, I do it because I can feel for myself no other way that I want to write

I don’t feel particularly happy about this… but I can’t see any particular reason why someone shouldn’t.

This feeling, which I would describe as a dissatisfaction with yet commitment to one's current ability, is familiar to me. I think I'm at a similar point in my journey with many of my talents… and I find it comforting to know that someone so skilled can feel the same way.


Anyway…

Computing can be creative too

With the latest round of AI rearing its ugly head in a new context (e.g. Dall-E 2, Midjourney, and the newcomer Stable Diffusion), I've been reflecting on how creatives have been leveraging advancement in technology to engage their audiences.

This Guardian article on the creator of The Hobbit text adventure game, Veronika Megler, describes how the development of a parser completely changed the way players viewed interactivity in the genre:

In an era where most text adventures could be boiled down to a game of “guess the correct verb”, The Hobbit allowed for adverbs and using items, [and] allowed for the passage of time: if you dawdled for too long in the wrong place, Bilbo soon became a juicy snack for a troll.

This sort of gameplay set the stage for a whole new era of games - from point-and-click adventures like Monkey Island (which we get to return to this month) to more advanced conversation-simulators like Galatea (thanks to my partner, Libby, for sharing this one with me).

It was the creator of Galatea (Emily Short)‘s blog, actually, that led me to yet another Guardian article about a popular multi-user dungeon (MUD) based on Terry Pratchett's Discworld. It's amazing to read about how a community of writers, programmers and storytellers could care for a home-grown world of words.

Both these articles remind me that, no matter how advanced tools become, it's how we create with them that really makes something creative. No computer is “creative” on its own, no matter how many scraped-without-permission images it was trained on.

If everything is a product, then what are we?

Another thing we, as humans, create is our sense of self. In America (and I'm sure many other WEIRD countries), a lot of ourselves is based on our work. At parties, it's usually the first question I'm asked, “what do you do?” and I try my best to explain how the pictures I draw - and the users I talk to - end up on the screens we use. It's usually in these same moments that I take split second to realize how made up the concept of a “career” is…

In Tami Reiss's Everything is a Product, Even You, the leadership coach uses a product model framework to assist in this sort of self-reflection. On a related note, Ben Huggins’ post on taking a break between jobs highlights how important it is to take a step back and ask what we want in a career…

But, in leadership roles, it's much more common to be shoved into our highest level of respective incompetence (i.e. the Peter principle) where we'll have to relearn everything that's required of us in a totally new context! Some skills are transferrable (as I discussed in a previous bookmark beat, Ep. 3), others not so much. A 2018 article on Demystifying Design Leadership Levels gives a good lay-of-the-land on which skills are which for people managers. For everyone else, there's this spreadsheet that I stumbled upon the other day.

But, no matter you're career path, industry or skills, I think it's important to look outside the destination (the next rung on the career ladder, the next salary raise, the next project, etc.) and, instead, toward the journey. We're humans. It takes time to develop our brains, learn new skills and just… like enjoy the ride. This dream job tool, shared with me by the folks at HmntyCntrd, is a great way to chart that ride - get excited about the ride - and carve out a path to the right job, company or industry.

So, after taking that step back, I think it's important to take one more step… just a bit further back. To ask, “what's the point of defining ourselves this way?”

As a designer, I enjoy constraints. They help me be creative and prevent me from getting overwhelmed. But something about constraining my answer to the question, “what do you do?” with “I design things” feels… wrong.

I do a lot. I make music, bike, rock climb, hike, play with my dogs, read fantasy, sci-fi and weird math books… and I just baked this really delicious pull apart bread that they made on the Junior British Bake Off last season!

Anne Helen Petersen's the diminishing returns of productivity culture, from last year, is an excellent mirror to hold up to this feeling:

This is the dystopian reality of productivity culture. Its mandate is never “You figured out how to do my tasks more efficiently, so you get to spend less time working.” It is always: “You figured out how to do your tasks more efficiency, so you must now do more tasks.”

So, I'm ending this section to implore myself and you, dear reader, to question your investments. For every ounce of energy being spent on a career, job or task, what are you getting in return? If the return in salary alone is enough, great! Let that satisfy you and invest in something else. If not, why not? Are you a product? Or a person?

Coda: Graphic Design Corner

Alright. That heavy stuff is over. I've got some fun design stuff that I found this week:

  • Tyrus is a free digital toolkit from Airbnb Design that helps freelance illustrators optimize their business, so they have more time to focus on what they love.
  • Color and Contrast is a comprehensive guide for exploring and learning about the theory, science, and perception of color and contrast.
  • figtree is a new, friendly sans serif variable font - available on Google Fonts for free
  • HEX Franklin Tyght is a proof-of-concept variable font that minimizes the need for manual kerning on the user’s end when employing extra-tight phototype-style display spacing (article)
  • Atkinson Hyperlegible Font is a new typeface from the Braille Institute that provides greater legibility and readability for low vision readers

Now onto the…

Tweet Thread 🧵 of the week

Here’s a thread I’ve been meaning to do for a long time about eye tracing and spatial orientation in Mad Max: Fury Road.

It’s really about one very specific moment — just a few seconds, in fact — but a good opportunity to talk about stuff like axial cuts and visual landmarks.

~ @SadHillWill


As promised last week, this newsletter was a bit more personal. I hope to do more of this - sharing how these bookmarks I've been saving reflect some underlying beliefs of mine.

So, if you found this interesting, or are thinking of someone who might enjoy reading, please subscribe or share this newsletter!

See ya next beat 🥁😎🥁