Anything and Everything

I found this song from Bo Burnham a while ago, but I keep returning to it again and again.

When I was a kid, the internet was my way to get out and have fun. Today, the internet feels claustrophobic and stifling—a place I want to run from.

I’m still learning how to live with all this. I’ve ditched Google and am slowly abandoning all services that use auto-generated feeds. I’m returning to simple technologies — pictures stored in a folder on my computer, RSS readers, notes in text files, and my paper notebooks.

But I’m not there yet. And while I’m learning, the best thing I can do for my mental health is to laugh it all off.

Product Design Is Lost

In Product Design Is Lost, Rune Madsen writes:

Design workflows at most tech companies follow an incredible number of structured tasks: for each project, designers must create user personas, user stories, journey maps, wireframes, user interviews, and much more. However, driven by a desire from businesses to turn design into a process-heavy, measurable function, we’re filling our time with checklists instead of focusing on the very thing that makes designers relevant.

… and he’s right. People don’t think anymore. They mindlessly follow rituals, hoping to create something useful. This is how universities and bootcamps teach “design”. Check any university website, and you’ll see that it’s all about creating personas, user flow diagrams, low and high fidelity prototypes. While being useful at certain cases, they don’t gurantee “qualitly”.

If you look at design methodologies, most of them are created by either professors or consultants. None of these people practice product design. But they do get bonus points and money by reinventing the wheel. Design Thinking? What were people doing before Design Thinking?

He then makes another good point on the gap between designers and engineers:

For years, I’ve argued the design profession – fueled by how we educate designers – operates on outdated ideas about the separation of labor. Designers are expected to come up with the ideas, while engineers are merely there to execute them. Design stays in a corner away from technology.

The idea “I’m a designier, I don’t code” is so artificial. If you want to create good solutions, you cannot delegate understanding of technologies to other people.

In the past, designers were engineers who loved and respected computers. Today, it’s rare to find a designer who genuinely enjoy creating software.

Similar Typefaces

In Who Buys Fonts Gwern writes:

[…] they decided to spend millions of dollars churning the font used or read by billions of people to a new one which looks eerily like a squarer Calibri and which is indistinguishable from MS’s previous Segoe, Google Roboto, Apple San Francisco, or Helvetica.

He supports his argument by an image of the letters of Aptos, Roboto, San Francisco, and Helvetica.

Whether Microsoft should have changed its default font is a separate discussion. I’d like to focus on typefaces matter even when they look similarly.

For the experiment sake, let’s consider Helvetica and Univers. They are both based on Akzidenz-Grotesque (also called Standard). They were released in the same year. They don’t have any serifs, and their letter shapes look almost the same. There are some minor differences in letter forms — especially a, k, K, G, R, and Q, and some differences in weight — but is it enough to justify using one over another?

Now let’s compare texts that are set in these fonts. The difference becomes obvious. Helvetica has a more familiar feel as you have seen many times, it is also pretty hard to read in such small sizes, and it appears somewhat “mushy” as if letters were thrown together. In contrast, Univers conveys a sense of orderness and mathematical precision; it’s also easier to read.

Many people consider typography a designer’s whim. Very often it is true, designers select typefaces without having any taste in typography. The existence of typeface matching websites only confirms this theory. But there are cases when good typography elevates text or interface. When used delibertely and with skill, typography is closer to cooking where adding a small pinch of spices can transform a dish’s flavor.

Drawing My First Font

I’ve started drawing my first font. It’s the perfect pastime activity — you massage letters until they start looking good. It’s soothing.

What the process looks like

There’s no end goal besides drawing something that I could use for my website. This means I don’t need to think about covering all the glyphs — the basic Latin alphabet would be enough. I’m not even using italics here.

It feels weird not to know the scale, for example, what cap height or x-height to choose. Most of the time, it feels like “I don’t know what I’m doing”. But this is a good feeling because I haven’t felt “stupid” for a while. When you design something for the web, you at least keep your knowledge from using HTML and CSS, so you know the scale. Here’s the medium is new.

For now, I want to push as far as I can without thinking about the font metrics and edit the letters later. It means that I will need to do double work, but it allows me to focus on mastering the tool first.

There’s more work to make these glyphs look good

Not Newer, but Better

In Vitsoe: A Purpose-Driven Company, Mark Adams says:

Focus on better, not on newer. Why are we obsessed with the new? We should be obsessed with better. That is what drives us at Vitsœ. After all, it is the way that the natural world operates: constantly improving, not launching new species.

Every company, every movie director, everyone tries to create something new. Very few people try to make something better. Many forgot that creating new is not the goal, it’s a byproduct of creating something good.

Maybe it has always been like this. People create new things, it’s our nature. Still, it feels today time between fashion trends is narrower.

Creating new things for the sake of being new not only brings shallowness, it also deteriorates the quality of what we already have. We destroy what has been done before and instead fill our world with novel inferiority.

Quality work requires patience, contemplation and deep thought. In the race to “innovate”, there’s little time left to pause and reflect.