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Passed over.

This is one of the overpasses Robert Moses built on the Long Island Parkway. Moses specified that the height of these overpasses must be low, some with clearances as low as 7’7”. That’s about the height I can reach if I raise my hand above my head, if that gives you an idea of how low that is.

Why so low? Moses wanted to ensure that buses would never be able to pass beneath these overpasses. In other words, you could access the beautiful parks of Long Island if you owned a car—which, in the middle of the twentieth century, meant that you were fairly affluent, and almost certainly white.

Moses’ design of these overpasses meant that if you relied on mass transit—in other words, if you were Black, or poor, or both—you would be prevented from accessing the parkways, and the lovely parks they led to.

Throughout history, there are many, many instances of design being used much as Robert Moses did—as a means to encode racist and classist biases, as a vehicle through which vulnerable communities are harmed.

Ethan Marcotte on the power of design.

The rest of the post is about how these sorts of issues manifest in the tech industry, which has been historically terrible at even acknowledging them, let alone addressing them.1

  1. I mean say what you want about Robert Moses, but at least he was actively racist in his city planning, not just racist because he’d never bothered to think about the implications of his actions… []
2019-12-03T10:43:00+11:0016th March, 2020|Tags: culture, design, tech|

Woodblock.

Really interesting font made by studying the English lettering in 19th century Japanese woodblock prints.

Modern English letters are, of course, based on the forms Romans developed to carve into marble, with what we now call lowercase creeping in during the merging of that script with Old English’s former, brief use of Anglo-Saxon fuþorc (a.k.a. runes) during the period when Christian missionaries started handwriting a lot. And it’s always interesting to me how the use of physical tools and materials—stone carving, quills, brushes, woodblock carving, metal movable type, and now biros and digital type—influence the shape and aesthetics of written language over time…

2019-10-23T08:30:45+11:002nd February, 2020|Tags: design, fonts, typography|

Dark mod sucks, actually.

Tl;dr there’s no evidence “dark mode” is better for your eyesight or your productivity, and in fact studies indicate the exact opposite.

I admit I go through periods of trying out OS-level dark mode, and hate it every time. For a while I was okay at convincing myself to just “give it a shot” until I “got used to it”… and then I read this article and stopped freakin’ bothering.

2019-07-10T11:04:00+10:0016th November, 2019|Tags: design, tech|

McDonaldization.

So this article is specifically about the increasing standardization of UX design jobs, though it’s by no means limited to that particularly sector.

Incidentally, while the term “McDonaldization” was coined in the 90s, the concept is much older; Marx, for example, talks extensively about it in Capital while describing the ways previously artisanal traditional crafts—everything from making furniture to bread to lace—were changed to accommodate factory production. What we’re seeing now, and what the linked article is a symptom of, is that those same processes are now starting to creep into the formerly white collar professions, particularly in IT.

IT has historically been a bit insulated from McDonaldization because it’s a young industry, meaning a lot of its forms and processes and, importantly, integrations with existing capitalist structures (i.e. businesses) so on weren’t standardized. Inventing the hamburger menu in 1982 made you a world leader in UX. Implementing one today means mindlessly copying forty years of prior art…

2019-07-08T12:09:38+10:005th November, 2019|Tags: design, tech, webdesign|