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You did something interesting recently.


I wanted to share a few links to things that are related to Screenshots of Despair, as well as to the general idea behind this blog.

-This Nevolution post, titled “Mood-board of Unknown Tumblrs” says some interesting things about emotion and the New Aesthetic, name-checking Webcamtears (a project whose editor also runs La Gazette du Mauvais Gout), Rich Kids of Instagram and Rob Walker’s Pergoogle. (Close readers will recall that Mr. Walker gave this site a huge boost when he wrote about it for Design Observer.)

About SoD, Nevolution says: “It’s the most interesting of the bunch, but it’s the one I feel least comfortable writing about. It’s the smartest of the bunch but also the one I feel least able to articulate.” This is pretty much what I’ve been striving for in every aspect of my life (yay, total inscrutability!), so it’s wonderful to read.

-Screenshots connoisseur Hayley Pearce sent in this article about skeuomorphic design, and the interaction and tension between the physical world and the digital one. Mr. Walker (cited above!) has also tackled this topic, and very well.

-Screenshots also got a little mention on Lost at E Minor.

-Panacea: A Screenshots reader submitted this site. It has a MAKE EVERYTHING OK button. Maybe it will make you feel better?

As always, PLEASE submit stuff via the Submit button on this blog or by e-mailing me at All submissions are appreciated!

Don’t ask me, I just share here..

I love social media, this is true. I could bore you to tears for paragraphs on the good it performs in modern society, but I am increasingly becoming frustrated and concerned by one particular aspect of it that the last  few week’s of news has intensified.

Let’s call it the ‘instant opinion’ problem.

Much has been said about the ‘quick fix’ aspect of the web but it cuts increasingly both ways. Speed is of the essence and when something significant happens we all feel we must Have Something To Say about it and preferably before anyone else.

This leads to several issues:

  1. The constant pressure to form an opinion on something within minutes of it happening (no matter how politically complex, personally distressing or just plain baffling) and project that opinion boldly to the world.
  2. The pressure, having done that, to stick to this opinion (even in light of new discoveries or change of heart) in case you seem a hypocrite.
  3. The fear that if you don’t offer an Instant Opinion you will appear shallow or foolish as you merrily tweet about your lunch or the new Ke$ha single instead.

What this leads to is everyone making a whole lot of noise about things they often don’t really understand. People have always had similar interactions – over dinner, across the water cooler – but in the past we had at least a little breathing space to gather ourselves. It concerns me that we are not only losing the desire (and ability) to consider, analize and chew over subjects but that doing so is in fact becoming almost stigmatised as a sign of a poor mind rather than an educated one.

I don’t have the answers to everything, so I plan not to pretend I do anymore!

Designing the books of the future

The simple page

Designing a book is largely an exercise in balance: Balance of letterforms and surrounding space in relation to the physicality of a book. In Hochui and Kinross’ Designing Books, they discuss the uniqueness of book symmetry:

The axis of symmetry of the spine is always there; one can certainly work over it, but not deny it. In this respect book typography is essentially different from the typography of single sheets, as in business printing, posters, and so on.

The spine gives book reading a kinetic motion not found in unbound sheets of paper. Forward and backward movement within a book happens because of the spine. And so designers erect scaffolding—text blocks and running heads and other literary accoutrements—around this keystone axis. It is the natural balance point of a spread. The implicitness of this means publishers have largely achieved functional book design right from the beginning: the forty-two line columns of thick type in the Gutenberg bible, even today, are quite a marvel of typographic balance.

If the axis of symmetry for a book is the spine, where is it on an iPad? On one hand, designers can approach tablets as if they were a single sheet of “paper,” letting the physicality of the object define the central axis of symmetry—straight down the middle.

On the other hand, the physicality of these devices doesn’t represent the full potential of content space. The screen becomes a small portal to an infinite content plane, or “infinite canvas,” as so well illustrated by Scott McCloud.

The infinite canvas

Fig 1. The infinite canvas

Regarding iPad book design, designers are left with a fundamental question they must answer before approaching this device: Do we embrace the physicality of the device—a spineless page with a central axis of symmetry? Or do we embrace the device’s virtual physicality—an invisible spine defined by every edge of the device, signaling the potential of additional content just a swipe away?

Every which way is up

Fig 2. Every which way is up

Presently there’s a clear rift in iPad editorial design. There are those applications—iBooks, Kindle, New York Times, Wired, The New Yorker—that attempt to transpose a type of print design built around physical cues to a screen lacking those same cues. They treat the boundaries of the iPad screen like the edges of a printed sheet of paper—sometimes awkwardly forcing content into columns which aren’t optimized for the canvas.

These applications are often characterized by an imposition of arbitrary, non-semantic breaks in content in the name of pagination. Oliver Reichentsien, in his essay iPad: Scroll or Card breaks down use cases for the two models. He provides metrics for determining when to scroll or paginate, and also how the very experience of reading changes between them.

Inconsistent metaphors

The New York Times app: Swipe to the left to continue reading this article.

Fig 3. The New York Times app: swipe to the left to continue reading this article

The New Yorker app: Swipe up to continue reading this article.

Fig 4. The New Yorker app: swipe up to continue reading this article

The inconsistency in which the physical page is mimicked on a tablet leaves readers disoriented, unaware of their position in the context of the greater whole, and unable to easily scan back.

On the other side we have reading applications like Instapaper and Mobile Safari (Mobile Safari being the most fundamental of reading applications on our iDevices) that embrace the boundless nature of the iPad screen. The physical edges don’t bind the text blocks.

Very rarely does one find an application that masterfully merges these two schools. Inkling, however, is one such example of a reading application that straddles the new and old—chunking content in an intuitively predictable and consistent manner within and across chapters, thereby grounding the user via thoughtful navigation. And doing so beautifully, with a confident awareness of the container.

What’s so exciting about all of this is that even now—at the start of 2011!—we’re still refining and iterating on optimal reading solutions to these issues of digital editorial design.

As designers, we need to ask ourselves: Where does our axis of symmetry most rationally lie for the content at hand? From where is the kinetic element of this content born? What’s the rationale behind specific layout and navigation choices for this content and will they be thoughtlessly intuitive to the reader?

We can start with these questions. Then, we can take our content, and—piece by piece—place it back onto this new canvas with considered awareness. These are the first steps to treating the iPad as more than a simple page.

A List Apart: Articles: A Simpler Page

This is just a small excerpt from an absolutely FANTASTIC piece by Craig Mod. I am so excited to see how we can use these new platforms to expand and enhance our reading expierences rather than just stubbornly cramming print layouts into them.

You’re In A Bubble*

Eli Pariser has an intriguing idea – that the increasingly “personalisation” of the internet is trapping us all in echo chambers, hearing only opinions we already agree with, and narrowing our interests.

Pariser, the board president of citizens’ organisation MoveOn.Org, points to Google’s switch to personalised search in 2009 as the moment when “the Filter Bubble” became an urgent topic of discussion. There is no longer an “objective” Google – you receive search results based on your previous searches and other information – and the company reportedly measures 57 “metrics” about you every time you search.

What is a “filter bubble” and why we should be worried about it?

It used to be the case that you’d Google something and I’d Google something and we’d get the same results. Now that’s no longer true. Many sites, including Google, predict we want to see based on personal data that we’ve given them. The filter bubble is the personal unique universe of information that results when we have these algorithms following us around and sifting through data for us and showing us what they think we want to see.

It’s a problem because it’s happening invisibly; you don’t know how your view of the world is being edited – you can get a distorted picture and not even really know it.

Is the filter bubble made worse because of the dominance of a few companies over the net – Google, Apple, Microsoft, Facebook?

Absolutely. Google and Facebook are especially prominent, and Microsoft is a close runner up. These companies have an incredible power to edit and filter what we see and what we don’t. But they don’t think of themselves that way, they don’t seem to be taking much responsibility for that power that they’ve accumulated.

So the problem is that you can’t see what you’re missing?

Yes. You don’t know what the editorial sensibility is: whereas when you pick up the Guardian you know what the editing role is. But you don’t know who Google or Facebook think you are, and you don’t know in what way they are editing information, so you really don’t know what’s being edited out.

Do you think, for example, Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg has a distinct political worldview?

I don’t think that they’re doing this to shape politics, I think the contrary it’s sort of a wilful ignorance of the critical implications of this stuff.
These guys are engineers, and they tend be very wary of the messy, social, consensus-orientated culture of politics.

None of these guys would have ever run for office. But here they are running these huge companies that are making decisions that apparently aren’t political. But for the fabric of society they do have really important repercussions.

I’m sure journalists would agree that not all of the results of search-engine optimisation [writing headlines that use popular search terms] are positive.

If the way that you get to a large audience is having a headline that people will click ‘like’ on a lot on Facebook, that changes the kind of headline you write – because you literally don’t want it to be a downer.

I think the “like” button has a really significant effect on both what is produced and what is distributed. it’s not a neutral word. And so, you know, a story about someone overcoming the odds and surviving their fight with cancer gets lots of “likes” – but the war in Libya? That’s harder to click “like” on.

Is there a filter bubble on Twitter – because you only follow people similar to you?

Twitter, until recently, has been bucking this trend somewhat in that it doesn’t make a lot of personalised decisions for you. One of my jumping-off points with the book was the fact that on Facebook I was being shown updates only from my Facebook friends whose political views I agreed with – the others were being edited out, essentially. That doesn’t happen on Twitter – I see the conservatives as well as the liberals. I get to choose.

Do you think that we will outgrow this obsession with personalisation and instant gratification?

I feel hopeful that people are shocked when they hear that this is happening. The more it’s bought to people’s attention, the more [companies] will be pressured to develop products that give people much more fulfilling media.

Personally, where do you get your news from these days?

I find Twitter very helpful because it does allow me to get a taste of a lot of different information in the world. I also rely a lot on standard newspapers, the New York Times and The Washington Post I think still do a very good job. I use Google News and I use Facebook, so I don’t want to just go backwards.

So it’s not a case of “ban Facebook and we’ll be fine”?

No, the question is how do you make the new 21st century media as good as the best of the earlier centuries’ media.

Presumably the only way to do that is legislation.

Some of this change can be produced by consumers. When people get to know this is happening, they do want a change. It’s one of the frustrating conversations I get into with engineers at these companies where they say: “Nobody’s demanding better tools on this ”. You have to know [about them] first.

There is a legislative component as well, which is about the updating the laws around personal information to reflect this new world in which you click in one place and that ripples out. It starts with giving people better control over their own personal information. If the basis of the web is going to be that we hand over all this personal data – which is valuable – in exchange for services then we need to understand the value of the data.

What change would you like to come out of publishing the book?

The best scenario would be that people understand how their information is filtered in a more serious way so that they can make better choices.

The Filter Bubble is out now (Penguin, £12.99). For more information, visit

This is a fascinating subject because it’s not as simple as being dominated by some cartoon omni-present villain. (Although there is certainly a conversation to be had about that – what should be regulated, should we regulate and who on earth is impartial and knowledgable enough of the technology to do it?) People make a fair amount of noise about targeted advertising because they don’t like the idea of being advertised to in general – but when it comes to personalised searches or the ability to self-select the information dissemenated to them the water becomes muddier.

People have always done this to an extent of course – you read the the paper that shares your political or world view, you watch tv channels that show the programs you like – but increasingly the internet is allowing us to live our lives almost completely free of debate, challenge or dissenting voices.

While there are many implications in how this could be controled for political or monitary gain I’m almost more interested in how we are already abusing it ourselves. It’s as though we are already starting to live in many simultanious, parallel, virtual worlds rather than one shared one. I’m certainly not preaching from on high about this – I’m as guilty as the next girl when it comes to filling my online networks with things that aleady interest me – but I’m curious, if not nervous to see where it might lead..

*and yes, that is a Geri Halliwell reference.

The Truth About Cutting the Cable TV Cord

The Truth About Cutting the Cable TV Cord