Design

The territory to be mapped

It’s more like the job of a science fiction writer is not to map the territory, but to point out that there’s territory to be mapped.

Science fiction is about pointing out that there are things that are out of the frame [in real life] that don’t properly belong out of the frame, whose ruling out is arbitrary—or customary, which is another way of saying the same thing.

The road to wisdom

The road to wisdom?
— Well, it’s plain
and simple to express:
Err
and err
and err again
but less
and less
and less.

The beauty of the struggle

When we play games, we can pursue a goal, not for its own value, but for the value of the struggle. Thus, playing games involves a motivational inversion from normal life. We adopt an interest in winning temporarily, so we can experience the beauty of the struggle.

Games offer us a temporary experience of life under utterly clear values, in a world engineered to fit to our abilities and goals.

C Thi Nguyen

Product design quotes

I recently pulled together my favorite product design quotes from this blog over the years. Here they are in one place:

  • Don’t find customers for your products, find products for your customers. – Seth Godin

  • People don’t buy what you do, they buy why you do it. – Simon Sinek

  • Focus means saying no to the hundred other good ideas – Steve Jobs

  • Technology serves humans; Design is not art; The experience belongs to the user; Great design is invisible; Simplicity is the ultimate sophistication – Joshua Porter

  • A new product should be 90% familiar and 10% wildly innovative – Tony Fadell

  • Don’t try to be original; just try to be good – Paul Rand

  • Design is just decision-making with visual aids – me

  • Send out all your dogs and one might return with prey – Werner Herzog

  • Design is about solving problems that humans have, not problems that products have. – Mills Baker

  • The important thing is the people. – Ed Catmull

  • To achieve great things, two things are needed; a plan and not quite enough time. – Leonard Bernstein

  • Always the beautiful answer who asks a more beautiful question. – e.e. cummings

  • We shall not cease from exploration; And the end of all our exploring; Will be to arrive where we started; And know the place for the first time. – T.S. Eliot

  • Doubt is not a pleasant condition, but certainty is absurd. – Voltaire

A good science fiction story should be able to predict not the automobile but the traffic jam. – Frederik Pohl

Art knows better

To experience the truth in art reminds us that there is such a thing as truth. Truth lives. It can be found…

All the world’s power over us lies in its ability to persuade us that we are powerless to understand each other, to feel and see and love each other, and that therefore it is pointless for us to try. Art knows better, which is why the world tries so hard to make art impossible, to immiserate artists, to ban their work, silence their voices, and why it’s so important for all of us to, quite simply, make art possible.

  • Michael Chabon, in his last letter as chair of the MacDowell artists colony

Dystopia and its discontents

Kim Stanley Robinson breaks down the various flavors of utopia and dystopia and comes out in favor of writing about, and pursuing, utopias, despite their limitations.

He concisely explains why dystopias are unable to spur real change:

These days I tend to think of dystopias as being fashionable, perhaps lazy, maybe even complacent, because one pleasure of reading them is cozying into the feeling that however bad our present moment is, it’s nowhere near as bad as the ones these poor characters are suffering through…If this is right, dystopia is part of our all-encompassing hopelessness.

And why utopias meet such strong opposition:

It is important to oppose political attacks on the idea of utopia, as these are usually reactionary statements on the behalf of the currently powerful, those who enjoy a poorly-hidden utopia-for-the-few alongside a dystopia-for-the-many.

It’s interesting to read his comments in the context of reactions to politically progressive efforts like the Green New Deal and universal healthcare. Some of the loudest opposition has come from those who already enjoy the desired benefits.

Immediately many people will object that this is too hard, too implausible, contradictory to human nature, politically impossible, uneconomical, and so on. Yeah yeah. Here we see the shift from cruel optimism to stupid pessimism, or call it fashionable pessimism, or simply cynicism. It’s very easy to object to the utopian turn by invoking some poorly-defined but seemingly omnipresent reality principle. Well-off people do this all the time.

Crafting a compelling utopia–or as I sometimes put it, designing a better way to live together–is the defining project of our generation. We have the resources and capability; what we still lack is the right design and pathway.

The Ethical OS

Great toolkit and checklist for designing software that doesn’t “accidentally” turn into a tool for addiction, oppression, inequality, and hate: The Ethical OS

If the technology you’re building right now will some day be used in unexpected ways, how can you hope to be prepared? What new categories of risk should you pay special attention to now? And which design, team or business model choices can actively safeguard users, communities, society, and your company from future risk?

Mapping people

Map

A fascinating map where country size is scaled by the number of residents.

What defines a country’s importance? Its GDP; its military, its resources? More than anything, the most important attribute of a country is its people–who are they, where are they, and how many of them are there? Population density will define not only opportunity, but also our impact on the earth in the next 100 years.

Population can also be a blessing or a curse for a country. I recall (but can’t attribute) one quote about China’s rise…”When the West sees a billion workers threatening their jobs, Chinese leaders see a billion mouths to feed.” Meanwhile their neighbors to the east in Japan increasingly live alone, and find themselves needing to train robots for companionship.

Should you head toward areas of high density, or away from them? Will technology make it easier to spread out, or harder? Answering these questions will be critical to success in the future.

Five principles to design by, by Joshua Porter:

  1. Technology serves humans
  2. Design is not art
  3. The experience belongs to the user
  4. Great design is invisible
  5. Simplicity is the ultimate sophistication

I’ve learned most of these the hard way…take the shortcut by following the list!