Technology that fades away

[Some fun insights in this writeup]( of the production design for [_Her_](

> “We kept asking ourselves, ‘What is his new desktop going to look like when he puts the new (Samantha) software in? Finally, Spike came to this brilliant realization, saying, ‘There’s a reason we haven’t figured this out, because it shouldn’t be anything.'”

> “We had this concept: what if we could only see advertising that was all in gorgeous slow motion and there were these beautiful abstract images? Then it becomes kind of a viral game where everybody’s trying to decipher the notion of what these different ads were.”

> Barrett’s most radical re-invention for future Los Angeles: There’s not a car in sight. Steering clear of freeway traffic jams, inhabitants ride bullet trains, take subways and walk. “One of the first things I said in designing Her was, ‘I don’t want to show any cars.'” says Barrett. “It’s another gesture of going away from technology. When you look at any film from any time period and see a car, you can place it right to the year.”

> “The device wasn’t designed to stand out like a gleaming new phone, but to be something you’d lay on the night stand, like your wallet or your address book. We wanted to go right past the surface of the device and into Samantha’s voice.”

My favorite movie design moments

Documentary or drama, I’m a sucker for watching people be creative. Here are a few of my favorites:



  • Making The Incredibles (some clips; the DVD has the best stuff) – My all-time favorite. About 90 minutes of in-depth stories and explanation about the process of making the film, with a ton of similarities to great product design. I watch this at least once a year. My notes.
  • The Mystery of Picasso – Picasso painting on an illuminated sheet of glass, so you see the strokes build and change into something completely different than he started with. The paintings at 1:00:00 and 1:04:30 are mind-blowing.
  • Comedian – Jerry Seinfeld tries to follow up his outlandishly-successful sitcom career by getting back on small comedy stages and writing a new standup act. Inspiring to see the courage and introspection that goes into it. My notes.
  • Sketches of Frank Gehry – Gehry’s experimental way of developing buildings combines art and science in a unique way. My notes.
  • A Day in the Life of John Lassetter – Lassetter seems like a wonderful leader (2017 update: not always) and his optimism is infectious. My notes.
  • Art and Copy – I find advertising has a lot of parallels to concept design, and this film collects the thoughts and processes of several different advertising luminaries. My notes.
  • The Pixar Story – The way they build collaboration among roles in a team is unparalleled. My notes.
  • Tough Room – Ok, this is just audio (from NPR) but The Onion’s headline pitch session is amazing. I love how they judge stories by the headlines alone.
  • Six Days to Air – How each South Park episode is made in a week. The forced constraints have created a lot of innovation in process and technologies.
  • Get Back – The extended version of The Beatles’ Let it Be sessions is worth watching in its 9-hour entirety to see how the famous band actually operated. I love how they mostly sound like a bad Beatles cover band, forgetting words and hitting the wrong notes, until you realize they’re coming up with the iconic songs on the fly. My highlight is watching Paul noodle his way to the composition of Get Back over 4 amazing minutes.

Designing the Mad Men opening titles

A very cool interview over at Art of the Title shows [how the Mad Men opening titles came to be](

Design, too

[Prints here](

Notes from Art and Copy

Some interesting quotes from the Art and Copy film:

A lot of times people think of risk in terms of challenging convention. And that’s one form of risk. I don’t think it’s the most important; I think it’s kind of an easy shot.  I think the real risk comes in being willing to try to be authentic. – Dan Wieden

I think we have higher aspirations for our clients, and are more passionate about what our clients can be, should be, should try to be than they are. We’re trying to tell them…”Hey, you can be more than just a pet food company. You can aspire to loving dogs rather than just feeding dogs”. – Lee Clow

When Americans buy into one of Hal [Riney]’s campaigns, I think many times what they’re buying is what they wish their lives would be. – Jeff Goodby

People don’t mind being sold to if they understand why it’s happening and they enjoy the process. – Jeff Goodby

There are a lot of people in this business, but damn few really good ones. and damn few people get the chance to do good work. – Hal Riney

The frightening and most difficult thing about being what somebody calls a creative person is that you have absolutely no idea where any of your thoughts come from, really, and especially that you don’t have any idea about where they’re going to come from tomorrow. – Hal Riney

I grew up surfing…I was in the army with guys who grew up in New York…they missed the opportunity when you’re young to just revel in your physicality…I’ll be glad until the day I die that I grew up on the beach in California” – Lee Clow

Creative people, rise up! They can’t do shit unless we make ads for them! We should be in charge! – Lee Clow

Advertising should be statements about what the hell you think your life should be about. – George Lois

The most interesting thing about this documentary was the way it shifted my idea of advertising from a way of manipulating emotions and beliefs (a la Century of the Self) to a way of helping both people and companies find something they can identify with and aspire to. Sure, most advertising doesn’t reach, or even try for, those heights–but it can.

Never let people define you by their terms

Some powerful words by [John Jay, a real-life Don Draper](

How does a consultant help a company?

> Understand the truth of who they are, understand their soul, and then make that soul relevant to a greater number of people.

How do you stay fresh?

> One of the great challenges for all of us…is to put yourself into unusual cultures, where you don’t belong…out of your comfort zone…

> The longer you work, the more people want to put you in a silo…so they can define you by their terms. Our job is to never let people define you by their terms.

Important for individuals and companies.

Marketing and pre-experience design

[I’ve been interested for a while]( in how marketing materials can reveal–and influence–the core experience of a product. Russell Davies explores this well, [calling it “pre-experience design”](

So I found it very interesting [what images are shown by reviewers for the iPad, the Xoom, and the Blackberry Playbook](

The iPad shows big beautiful pictures of people’s faces. The Playbook shows lots of windows in a multi-tasking layout. And the Xoom shows…an analog clock.

Ok, so I’ve always been prejudiced against that clock. But it clearly sets expectations about what the experience of this device will be like–you will touch widgets on a flat screen.

Also, check out the official homepages for each product–including the URL strings—and see how they influence your expectations of the experience:

* [HP Touchpad](
* [Motorola XOOM](
* [Apple iPad](
* [Blackberry Playbook](

Right from the start, we get the chance to set expectations for our experiences. How might we do that better?

Advertising as experience design

The announcement about Andy Spade’s talk at Stanford, though I couldn’t make it, reminded me of an idea I’ve been kicking around for a while:

Is advertising actually an advanced form of experience design?

After all, while the viewer doesn’t actually engage in the advertised experience, a good ad can realistically depict it. In 30 seconds, or a single image, or a short text snippet, it aims to:

  • Target and attract the desired user
  • Communicate the key information about the product
  • Show the value of a product or service in solving a problem or providing a positive experience (think: beer commercials)
  • Provide actionable followup (for direct response advertising)
  • Leave behind a pleasant memory (for brand advertising)

This seems especially similar to early-stage design work, where you’re mostly trying to compare the value of various design approaches. What if we started with the commercial for our product and worked backward?

A few relevant links: