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I recently watched Moleman 2, a free movie about Demoscene. Demoscene is a form of competitive extreme programming which tries to fit complex animations and music–visual demos–into incredibly small amounts of space, typically 4-64kb (up to 256kb).

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Demoscene is actually the source of a few notable elements of pop culture today. Major game developers DICE (of Battlefield fame) and Remedy (creators of Max Payne and Alan Wake) were born of Demoscene. Demoscene is also widely debated as the creator and source of what is now known as dubstep (which can be said to have emerged from downtempo but not refined until  demoscene).

At it’s core, demoscene is an insular group with purely competitive intentions. It’s not about the money (which is nonexistent), but rather about thrill of the hunt, and the pursuit of fame and glory in a small cultural subgroup. I would say that it also embodies a sense of the aesthetic. Our early reading of Eaton would likely classify it as such through the four forms of theory. The scene is deemed as aesthetic creation by its artists, the demo writers. Viewers can appreciate the output as visually pleasing in some sense, even if it appears chaotic and confusing. The object, the demos themselves, are the focus and the output of the demoscene group, which can only be fully grasped by members of that group. Finally, the context brings it meaning. The same videos would not be impressive were they created with 3D modelling tools, it’s the fact that they are forms of extreme limitation. Like Eaton claims, the art isn’t the thing, it’s the perception of the thing.

Sometime last month, I ran across a tumblr in my research on something called “The New Aesthetic.” I didn’t think too much about the concept itself until this long essay came out yesterday in Wired. The term was coined by James Bridle last year, but it refers to a very interesting sort of quickly growing phenomenon, “‘an eruption of the digital into the physical (Sterling)”. It’s obviously something that’s been going on for a while, but it’s only recently in the past year (maybe two) that it’s seemed to be commonplace enough to feel almost normal.

It’s a concept that I personally find very relevant to this class and our field in general. I think I’m going to take the same approach of understanding as my earlier topic, focusing on the meaning-making aspects of this phenomenon (which I’ve find fascinating for some time). I haven’t quite worked out my argument yet, but I’ve got a few ideas floating around that I’ll try to articulate in the comments later. I wanted to get some feedback on this idea of “The New Aesthetic” as it relates to interaction design, and just get some general feedback from everyone on the concept itself.

For my final paper, I’m hoping to address the topic of meaning-making in minimum viable products.

This post from Greg Laugero on Johnny Holland was a big inspiration after I stumbled across it in my search for paper ideas. What I found interesting about this particular article was not just the focus on the business side of analysis, but rather its similarity to finding the “core” of a design that we’ve been taught (a connection I hadn’t really drawn before that). I believe that we as interaction designers here at IU have seen this process first-hand and have rather explicit feedback to seek out the “core” of the design first. We kind of “get” it already. But looking at this from a business angle, this whole idea of MVPs (minimum viable products) is an aspirational pipe-dream in many corporate settings.

What I’m currently hoping to do is to look at minimum viable products through the lens of  (our pretty basic introduction to) semiotic analysis, specifically addressee/addresser/sender/receiver of signs and meaning, similar to my original topic. I’m hoping to look at Path (though I’m struggling to find screenshots of v1) as an example to study. The problem I’m foreseeing is that this might just end up producing an analysis of “yep, this extreme simplicity makes it easier for meaning-making to occur through A B and C.”

Because of that, I’m thinking of trying to make the opposite argument in saying that the pursuit of the minimum viable can actually reduce meaning-making because of the same aspects. I’m thinking that this approach could help make an actual argument as to why MVPs are typically first picked up by tech adopters and not necessarily by the general public. As part of my argument I’ve also been toying with the talking about how this meaning-making is affected when existing products are reconstructed as MVPs (for example, people getting up in arms over redesigned applications in Windows 8).

I’d really appreciate any feedback or thoughts you all would like to share!

Bret Victor is a brilliant designer who was working at Apple for a while (he was instrumental in designing the iPad interface) who has done a crazy amount of awesome writing, designing, and analysis on his site. I don’t want to go into an analysis of these articles, since I think they’re already in-depth enough that they stand on their own. But, I think this particular article on graphics and communicating ideas through graphical interfaces ties together aspects of all the things we’ve discussed so far in this class (creator/user/artifact/critique/writing style). It’s not a short read by an stretch of the imagination, but all his articles are worth reading.

http://worrydream.com/#!/MagicInk

So here’s an interesting thought I had today.. Is the proliferation of reality TV shows, especially the competitive shows, actually making us a more critical culture? By placing celebrities (of varying status) in a role of providing critique in these shows based on their experience, is the critique they offer actually influencing society’s need to offer critique? Due to the popularity of these shows in the general public, as well as much of the public acknowledging the celebrity status of the critics they must have some influence on the people watching these shows. How much of that influence as well as the quick-fix ability to critique anything and everything on the internet is bleeding over into our physical reality?

For that matter, is the TV example really making people better critics or just making them think they should try to critique more stuff? I tend to think the latter, but in some sense the demand for more and better design in products and services would suggest that people are looking at their purchases with a more critical eye (maybe because there are simply more choices available, and in part because of the influences of major players like Apple).

Tying this loosely back to our role as designers, I wonder if this might make our lives easier coming from a critical culture as we try to offer critical analysis in our work. I realize this TV connection might be a a stretch, but it’s something interesting I’ve never considered before. Thoughts?

iPhone home screen

The iPhone home screen offers some interesting insights into the ideas we’ve been studying in the past week.

In this example, we are looking at the idea of the home screen itself, not necessarily its individual components. Here the sign is at first the home screen area itself. Yet this screen is also comprised of a number of other connected signs that are integral to the understanding of the home screen itself. These discrete signs include the home button, to access the screen, the navigational cues near the bottom of the home screen, the icons present within the home screen, the dock located at the bottom of the screen, and even to some extent the gestural interaction needed to access Notification Center. Each contributes collectively to the concept of the home screen.

The signifier can be said to be the home screen after navigation to it, but also the idea of the home screen contained within the phone itself. The signified in this case is the idea presented by the home screen that it is a launching point for any and all interactions the phone provides, as dictated by installed apps and software functionality. Even the term, “home,” infers a number of ideas about the screen itself. The idea presupposes a familiar place in which we collect all the useful things we use in our daily lives. This concept, along with the dock as a launching point for the most common applications in use, begin to look at the ideas of the indexical signification offered within the home screen.

Included in the indexical understanding would be the the idea that, after holding your finger down on an icon, the icons on the screen begin to shake and buttons appear at the top-left corner of each icon, suggesting an action is needed. As your finger swipes across the screen, the screen responds with “tension” when you attempt to swipe out of the boundaries of the home screen. The screen suggests an iconic representation of a drawer sliding open, a Lazy Susan, or a conveyor belt, serving up your apps.

We’ll explore a bit more of the concepts suggested by the phone in the comments.

Read these two posts first..

http://www.underconsideration.com/brandnew/archives/dc_may_be_its_own_villain.php

http://www.underconsideration.com/brandnew/archives/follow-up_dc_comics.php

Though I don’t read comics, I found this interesting. With the leak of DC Comics’ new logo work in January came plenty of early critique (read: internet furor).  Just check out some comments. People had no context to work with, and without context imagined a boring, mediocre logo with some late-90s gradient work. Obviously, not how it ended up turning out. Much of what we design has fairly well-defined contexts to work within, whether a static website or a museum exhibit. But, when something only exists–or only exists properly–in context, that makes me believe it to be much less likely an output of artistic expression. When defamiliarization or reinterpretation of context are difficult or near impossible, does that mean something can no longer be a form of artistic expression?

I wanted to preface by saying that I really enjoyed this essay. Not only did it raise more than a few questions I don’t have a personal answer to, but it also strung me along answering the questions I was raising as I continued. I’ll share a few thoughts I was interested in getting responses to.

First, can artistic intention really be analyzed when the intent of the piece has been determined to be purely aesthetic in nature? Structuralist and formalist analysis aside (243-245), when the artist claims that the piece is meant to be purely artistic critics will still ascribe whatever beliefs they feel onto that piece, no matter how objectively they may view the work. Devereaux argues for this. I believe that Triumph of the Will is really a rare–but poignant–example of when underlying motives can clearly and faithfully be derived from analysis of an artistic work. From there, outside factual historical perspective, critique falls into speculation. In this example, history has revealed the intent of the film. The true vision of the film, moving the audience to support fascism and National Socialism (248) was likely not as widely realized in 1935, especially to the primary audience. Hindsight is one thing, but how many pieces of art that would otherwise be considered masterpieces never came to be viewed as such because their original intent followed a different path in history that was never fully realized? Would the film still be considered beautiful and evil upon its release in 1935?

All works are contextually situated, and I would agree with Devereaux’s take that (sophisticated) formalism cannot be used for a pure evaluation of any art. I don’t agree, as she hints at, that critique of the work can be applied under only a single lens of evaluation. Triumph of the Will is evil in the context of history that we understand. But it is also a work of art. It is one of the finest examples of media propaganda in history. It is also viewed as a significant part of a historically important cultural movement. Maybe I’m just overdetermining things, but I agree with Eldridge’s view that critique must be overdeterministic (148). And yes, I may have just made that word up. Devereaux’s historical perspective is still just one perspective, even if it shows that the work is, in fact, evil. I couldn’t help but feel that Devereaux was subtly offering an argument here that formalist understanding is evil or amoral, not an actual critique of Triumph of the Will.

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