During the holidays, I am re-working my home office a little bit to fit a bit better for the way I work and to have the kind of look that excites my imagination. One of the things I realized flipping through various catalogs is that, yes, the current fashion for natural materials does speak to me. Then again, I have always like the look of wood, stone, and glass. It’s what makes Frank Lloyd Wright’s houses so appealing, his respect for those materials and where a synthetic material is called for, it’s glass so that again the natural world can shine through.

I am lucky that my small office already offers so much of one of those materials, glass. Though only eight feet in length and width, one of those walls disappears thanks to a six foot square sliding door. Another wall has a three foot square window. The wall opposite the sliding door does not exist but is simply an archway giving onto a small hallway leading from the garage to the kitchen. On the opposite side of the hallway is a six foot square window giving onto the dining room. Above my head the roof slopes up to a four foot square skylight.

Right now, the walls are covered in a light tan that Sherwin Williams calls “Ecru” and which is almost ubiquitous in the house, a neutral tone we introduced to cover the bright white walls when we first moved in and which was meant to buy us time to think about more significant uses of color. The floor of my study is made up of white marble tiles with patches of gray and pink in it. I would never have chosen anything like it, but it is marble and it is already there. Why not live with it until winning the lottery makes money no object?

Until then, we are trying out some smaller changes, to see what effects they produce. And so with some Flor tiles en route, I just requested a tile sample from the American Cork Products Company: Iris Mocha.


Logbook Revision

No doubt some readers have noticed that the design of the Logbook has changed periodically over the past year. Up until the release of WordPress 3 and its new post format functionality, I had been fairly content with the previous design for several years. Since switching to WP3 in winter of last year, I have struggled to find a design that suited my own sense of how I wanted the Logbook to function. I have finally decided that there is nothing for it but to come up with my own design, which I will be developing over the coming month, as a side project over the holidays. For now, I am using a modified version of the new default theme. It works. It has more code in it than I would like, in part to allow for customizability, but that customization comes in the form of child themes, which, to my mind, only means more code, and more CPU cycles unnecessarily consumed. *We live in an age of abundance*, some might say. My reply is that that abundance is better served finding cures for diseases, creating new kinds of wealth which can be more widely shared, and finding a way for us to get off this rock. If that sounds like a whole lot of idealism stuffed into a rather trivial project, well, that, I think, is my new attitude. Or, rather, it is the idealism of my youth which started me on this project, on this career, on this path, and which I set aside for fear of whatever it is that we fear as adults and that binds us so tightly that we become the walking dead.

Now that I have soared to such a rhetorical height I must also confess that my current plan for the design of this site is to make it look like something out of the forties or fifties, when paper, leather, wood, and steel were the stuff of offices. I have always been fond of mechanical typewriters, fountain pens — especially those made of cellulose, leather folios, wooden office furniture, and a life of thoughtful reading and writing. (Not of constant updates on Facebook or Twitter or whatever.) What I want to create is a space in which both the speed of electronic devices and the slowness of paper and wood can find a way to work together to produce a space, both imagined and real, within which I can do the kind of work that I want to do.

Towards the re-design, I am making note of two websites which walk you through the task of creating a WordPress [theme][1] from [scratch][2].


The NEST Thermostat

The Nest thermostat has been getting a lot of attention in the blogosphere over the past week or so. I don’t know where it first started, but the best place to get a really nice overview of what is being called a “learning thermostat”, as opposed to a programmed or manual thermostat, is the TechCrunch video interview with its CEO Tony Fadell.

Fadell, it turns out, is a former Apple employee and Dan Frommer argues that the Nest thermostat is the first of many products that will be “Apple-ified” from conception. That is, following in the wake of the iMac and with every Apple product since, there have been a host of knockoffs, copycats, and design clones. The Nest thermostat is different in that it actually has as part of its design DNA the same set of ideals and perspectives that inform Apple design, which is arguably simply good industrial design in the first place. (I have always thought that what Apple did was simply pursue the European modernist aesthetic in a way that Americans could follow, but I will leave that discussion for another time.)

Frommer’s visual is fantastic. I am reproducing it here in order to encourage folks to visit Frommer’s site. He’s smart.

Shipping Containers for Everything

Shipping containers, also known as intermodal transportation — because they move from ship to train to truck so readily — are emerging as a de facto standard for a lot of things. (So much so that when attempts are made to innovate in the area of shipping, you pretty have a pretty tall hurdle to jump to convince shippers to break from the standard shipping container.) Will they one day be a standard way to build a house? There’s a lot of videos on Youtube that seems to think so. Here’s one that shows a European office being built out of a container.

Designing a Book

I like knowing the outcome of things in which I am deeply involved. And so I am trying my hand at designing the basic layout for _Genius Loci_. What amazes me is how much I have forgotten: I paid off my graduate school debt working with Pagemaker, which is InDesign’s antecedent — Adobe having bought the application from Aldus, or acquired Aldus (like they would later acquire Macromedia).

Here are some useful links:

* [A Site about Nothing]( has a nice page which gives the basics of getting type to sit on a baseline and capturing it with paragraph styles.

Slide Templates

I am looking for a Keynote Theme or PowerPoint template on which I can build an entire semester of presentations to my Louisiana folklore class and that will good used as a basis for viewable lecturecasts or as printable PDFs. I think I want something that feels like old-time letterpress printing. That’s just my impulse for now.

Here are some possible candidates:

[Canto][1] by KeynotePro is 24.95 for the standard definition version.

Inline1 12  dragged

[Transinfinite][2] by Keynote Theme Park is okay. It’s 19.95 and would require some re-working.

Trans 01

Decent PowerPoint templates are harder to find: there’s a myriad out there, but finding something, well, not ugly is difficult. Here are some ideas that I like from [Powered Templates][3]:

Wavy Branches

B 1

B 4

Yellow Tree is available [here][4]. $12 for three slides. $24 for 17.


The Size of Things

On the heels of my experiments in hacking computer speakers, I found myself with an old fourth generation iPod, the 20GB model, in my hand, and I was struck by how good it feels. It has the same roundrect shape of Apple’s iOS icons — but in three dimensions. It also feels like the length to width ratio is better than, say, the iPhone.

And that got me to wondering about the dimensions of the two objects and the aspect ratios involved. That meant getting a ruler out and measuring them. I included another much loved object for the sake of comparison:

Three Objects Side by Side

Object Length Width Depth L/W Ratio
iPhone 11.5cm 5.8cm .9cm 1.98
iPod 10.3cm 6.2cm 1.4cm 1.66
Moleskine 14cm 9cm 1.2cm 1.55

What’s interesting about the length-to-width ratios of the iPod and the Moleskine is how close they are to the golden ration of 1.618.

I tried to think of a way to throw the thickness of the objects into some relationship, but I couldn’t. I’m open to suggestions.

Three Objects Stacked

Own a Shape

Interuserface has a nice post pointing out that the simple things matter: the use of a consistent shape is an important part of design, and in the case of companies design can be a part of a stable user experience and thus part of your “branding.” I offer the Clay Miller’s illustration as a tease, because the short post, with great links, is worth a read if you are at all interested in visual design:

Own a shape

Google’s “Website Optimization for HDTV”

At long last it seems that the much promised and/or anticipated and/or hyped wave of internet television, in its many varieties, is finally set to crash upon our shores in some organized fashion, thanks to the practically simultaneous release by Apple and Google of their version of it. Unlike previous incarnations, which seemed largely to be focused on either getting television into your web browser or getting the web onto your television, Apple and Google’s versions are built upon their handheld device platforms: iOS for Apple and Android for Google. Both platforms depend upon a well populated universe of apps and web apps.

I’m not invested in either platform — though obviously I am invested in the larger Apple platform of Mac/iPhone, iPad/MobileMe for the time being — but I am following it a bit. I don’t have the time to follow it too closely, but because the iOS and Android devices have become so popular and would seem to indicate where a lot of consumer computing is headed — though please note that I am not arguing that these platforms are only for consumption — it seems to me that they may represent an inevitable transformation of the web as it becomes consumed more through these devices and less through the kind of general purpose computers that most of us use today.

While most computer monitors, especially those built into laptops, have transitioned to HD aspect ratios, it remains the case that most monitor usage is not dedicated to HD viewing of content.[^1] That is, when I observe colleagues and friends working on their computers with HD monitors, they typically have multiple windows open and use the width of these screens as a way to layer content across the screen so it can be easily brought forward and into focus. That means most applications and most websites worry less about optimizing content for the HD aspect ratio and allow the user to determine their preferences. In iOS and Android devices, all apps, by design, must fill the screen. (I am less clear on what this means for web apps, but I have to assume that they will move that way in order to achieve parity with native apps at least in terms of look.)

This means that app interface design will change. In order to guide developers, Google has started a website with guidelines and a FAQ. Check it out and then let me know what you think it means for design and development of content.

[^1]: I remain unconvinced myself of the necessity of HD and think it is largely a product of a fad to drive sales and will be replaced by another aspect ration fad in five to ten years that is the next “true” thing.

Google’s Gift of Fonts

Google has just made the web a bit more interesting, at least from the point of view of making design more interesting by offering a suite of fonts that any website can use. As most everyone who has ever tried to design a website is aware, almost all browsers are dependent upon a user’s local portfolio of type faces, or fonts, for constructing the text of a web page, unless that font is provided by the website, which gets into hairy software distribution and use issues, or everything is rendered as a graphic, which puts a strain on even generous download speeds — never mind your own server resources.

What that has meant is that you had to design a website targeting the most common type faces installed on almost every computer or else risking the user’s browser showing something else into its place with perhaps unappealing results. (Meaning an ugly or incomprehensible layout.) And thus the rise of Times and Verdana as well as the conquest of Helvetica by Arial.

Microsoft has been something of philanthropist here, by widely distributing a number of faces such that almost every computer has Georgia and Tahoma. Unless, of course, you are using Linux, in which case you are just out of luck.

But Google has changed all that by setting up a central font server and making it incredibly easy to use 18 different type faces — the link will take you to a page that shows them off quite nicely. All anyone designing a website needs to do is to plug the following code into your header:

<link href='' rel='stylesheet' type='text/css'>

And then place the following in your style sheet:

h1 { font-family: 'Molengo', arial, serif; }

Note: for purposes of illustration I am using the Molengo face in this example, but it’s also the new case for the body of posts here at The Human Experience.

Try Molengo for yourself.