With all the political smokescreens in the news, it was almost refreshing to witness an actual smokescreen. I mean—not really, but—well, you know what I mean.
This is a no-filter photo I took from my front yard with my phone, my aging iPhone 8. The Air Quality Index was a mind-boggling 224, which translates to “Very Unhealthy.” Regardless of your politics or poor opinion of your intellect, it’s becoming really hard to deny climate change at this point. Here’s another opportunity to do something for the greater good:
If you can’t or don’t want to vote in person due to bad weather messing up your hair, hands too small to pull the lever, deadly global pandemics, race riots, or just feeling lazy, it’s your right as a citizen of the United States of America to request an absentee ballot. Just make sure you do it lickety-split.
Apparently, there was a backup speech prepared for Nixon in case the Apollo 11 mission failed. A team from M.I.T. used this speech and available deep learning technology to synthesize an entirely fake news narrative around this, until-now, unused speech.
The fake film is both fascinating and horrifying. On the positive side, it reminded me of the magic of discovering what Photoshop* could do with an image 25 years ago. It’s also easy to imagine a lot of nefarious ways to weaponize deepfake videos. One of the lasting bits that made an impression on me was a comment Boston University Law Professor, Danielle Citron, made regarding the stance one takes on deepfakes. How do we deal with them, do we ban them? She illustrates with a metaphor—a kitchen knife—we can use it to carve a chicken at home in the kitchen…or stab someone with it. Yikes!
I really wish this team had taken the logical next step to point people in the direction of how to become more media savvy, for lack of a better term. Though all communication demands a degree of critical thinking, video and film are arguably the most effective in conveying a message. Maybe because it hits two of our senses, sight and sound, or possibly due to the passive manner in which we consume it—it’s definitely the laziest media to consume. Sure, there's a policy angle too, but corporations and governments have thus far been inconsistent (or negligent) in addressing the matter. In many cases, they are the actual perpetrators. I’d put more stock into empowering people with the tools to understand what’s going on in front of their eyeballs.
To bring it back to a happy place, the project was exhibited in a few cities, including Amsterdam. The press kit features an image of a re-created late-1960s living room which is dyn-o-mite!
About fifteen years ago, when I moved back to New York after a few years in Brazil, I did a fair amount of couch-surfing. To offset my presence, I spent most of my free time not looking for freelance gigs or apartments in book shops. The Union Square Strand was my all-time favorite, but a little out of the way. Westsider Books on Broadway between 80th & 81st on the Upper West Side was small and tight, reminiscent of some of the many small shops in my college town in North Carolina. But most of my time was spent in the Barnes and Noble a few blocks up from Westsider, on Broadway and 82nd. I want to say there were three levels in that particular store: magazines and lattés and on the upper level.
On one particularly uneventful afternoon or evening, I came across Martin Venezky’s It Is Beautiful…Then Gone book. I had never heard of this guy, but the size and thickness of the book stood out to me. The smaller-than-usual size was unusual for a design book, but it felt good in my hands. Honestly, I couldn’t even tell it was a design book. By the cover, I thought it might be a travel book someone left in the Design & Architecture section. The antique lion illustration, butterfly specimens, and the stuffed monkey holding a bust of Mao Zedong—I was intrigued! After opening the cover and sifting through the pages, I still couldn’t figure out what kind of book this was. The body text was rendered so tiny I almost got the impression it wasn’t supposed to be read. And to be honest, I never really did read it. But what I loved about this book was how meticulous, diverse, and playful it was.
After thumbing through the pages, I remember imagining this poor guy must have been kidnapped, locked in an attic with a pair of scissors, a glue stick, and a trunk full of old National Geographics, Sears & Roebuck catalogs, and a pile of old newspapers. After screaming for help for a week, a calmness set over him, and he began slicing up pages and reassembling them to his liking.
I also recall trying to connect his work to David Carson, which I was never able to do. Carson’s work always came across to me as accidental and slightly pretentious. While Venezky’s work quite the opposite; it appeared to be a laborious and deliberate act, taking a lot of care, patience, and time—everything in its place.
“Disorder creates invention.”
The other day, The Letterform Archive hosted Mr. Venezky for Salon Series, № 21. Zoom time! It was the first time I ever heard his voice or saw his face. Reminded me of the time I finally did an image search for NPR anchors—wow, they look like that, huh.
I thoroughly enjoyed the stories he shared about his studio, his methodology—all of it. He was quite a delightful man! I encourage everyone to tinker around the links below to get to know his work a little better.
Whether you believe it or not, the United States of America was built on the backs of black people. And we, as Americans, continue to rely on immigrants to further our culture and economy. We inherited a democratic system of principles and laws created by men—imperfect men. We, as a strong and compassionate nation, need to recognize the obvious flaws in our current justice system to afford ALL AMERICANS the promise of Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness. We are all unique; each of us plays a part in the world we design.
Don’t Make Me Think by Steve Krug isn’t present in the photo above. I gave it away to another designer a few years ago. It’s arguably the ugliest book in the lot, but it’s definitely at the top of my list in terms of most influential design books. While transitioning from an agency designer primarily focused on inventing interfaces with each client, to an experience designer fine-tuning a product to satisfy a much broader demographic, this book provided me with crucial lessons in simplicity and empathy.
The Visual History of Type is a newer acquisition and a glorious book-lover’s book. A typeface for every year, starting with Gutenberg’s Bastarda in 1454. The Hi-Fi photography enables the reader to really examine the characteristics of each letterform. The author also created a clever framework to include detailed metadata for each typeface.
I love Eva Hesse’s painting and sculptural work, but I am partial to her drawings. I always thought there was a common thread between some of her drawings and some of my interaction sketches—both being unrefined, methodical, hints of a framework. Eva Hesse Drawing is another book-lover’s book, excellent typography, a great size and weight, and beautiful photographs of her drawings.
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Obvious Art Edmond de Belamy, from La Famille de Belamy 2018
Three French students tweaked a GAN (generative adversarial network) algorithm derived from open source to produce an array of images. Then inkjet-printed to canvas and auctioned off one for $432,500 to an anonymous buyer. I mean—talk about turning water to wine—Jesus. The story behind this piece is all over the place.
“It was nine seventeen in the morning, and the house was heavy…”
—Ross Goodwin’s robot
Four sensors packed in a Caddy on a roadtrip from NYC to NOLA, sending signals to his neural network of existing literature, of which I’m pretty sure at least one is On The Road. I love how this recipe outputs in real time on a spool printer, very nice touch.
“The time was one minute past midnight. But he was the only one who had to sit on his way back. The time was one minute after midnight and the wind was still standing on the counter and the little patch of straw was still still and the street was open.”