A Holiday Wish

We are all designers. You may call yourself a front-end developer, but if you spend hours shaving half-seconds off an interaction, that’s user experience and you, my friend, are a designer. If the client asks, “Can you migrate all my old content to the new CMS?” and you answer, “Of course we can, but should we?”, you are a designer. Even our users are designers. Think about it.

ON THE TITLES that divide, and the spirit that unites us: My Holiday Wish for all people who make websites—in today’s 24ways.

Poverty is a System Design Failure

Platts Global Energy Awards. My friend Peyo at right.

“POVERTY is a system-design failure.” So says my friend Pär (“Peyo”) Almqvist in a World Economic Forum article he wrote last year when his company, OMC Power—which brings sustainable, renewable, off-the-grid energy to the poorest people in rural India—was selected as a World Economic Forum Technology Pioneer.

Peyo’s article explains better than I could how renewable-energy companies, locked out of first-world competition by entrenched fossil fuel interests, are bringing the future to poor rural and urban areas—and ushering in a new era of decentralized power. (Much like the web is doing for content, commerce, and applications.)

The Economist has also covered OMC’s work.

Last night in New York, OMC Power won a fresh honor when they were named a rising star at the 2014 Platts Global Energy Awards (“the Academy Awards of the energy industry”).

I first met Peyo in 1999 in Stockholm, when we both spoke at a design conference organized by the K10k guys, Toke and Mike. Peyo was just 19 at the time. By age 25, he had become a digital media director and music producer (his music is still popular in the Swedish iTunes EDM and hip hop charts), not to mention a contributing author to A List Apart.

I am so happy for my friend, and even happier to see him putting his brilliance to use addressing one of the greatest economic, ecological, and social challenges of our time. Not everyone who is smart and talented is making smartphone camera apps (not that there’s anything wrong with it).

Congratulations, Peyo!

Big Web Show № 123: Why Clients Spend More on Toilets Than Design

Andy Budd

DESIGNER Andy Budd and I discuss why clients spend more on toilet cleaning than design; honest pitching; the ins and outs of agile pricing; modular code libraries; selling web services instead of deliverables; the maturation of our industry since the mid-1990s; the value of reputation; design as a collaborative process; how and why agencies get invited to pitch; passion as studio marketing; our field’s evolution from layout-making to strategic design thinking; and much more.

Enjoy Big Web Show № 123: Leading a Design Agency with Clearleft’s Andy Budd.

What’s Wrong With This Picture? Flickr is about to sell off your Creative Commons photos

SHORTSIGHTED and sucky.

From Dazed comes news that Flickr is about to sell off our Creative Commons photos. This means photos we’ve taken with the idea of giving them away freely will now be sold, whether we like it or not. And who gets the dough for these photos we took? Only Yahoo.

As a photographer, I now have to choose whether to prevent people from using my photos, or prevent Yahoo from selling them. I can’t have both.

I want people to use my photos. That’s why I take them. I want that usage to be unencumbered. That’s why I chose a Creative Commons license. Some of the publications and businesses that use my photos make no money at all. Others make a little something. I don’t care either way. That’s why I chose a Commercial Attribution license. The license makes my work available to all publications and products, whether commercial or non-commercial. Fine with me.

But Yahoo selling the stuff? Cheesy, desperate, and not at all fine with me. I pay for a Flickr Pro account, and am happy to do so. That’s how Yahoo is supposed to make money from my hobby.

I know the site’s founders (who left years ago). Other friends of mine still work there as designers & developers. They are great people. Talented, user-focused, righteous. None of them is for this.

I’ve had a Flickr Pro account for about ten years. I love Flickr. Sometimes, for years, it has been like loving a friend who is in a coma. Now it’s like helplessly watching a cocaine-addicted friend snort up their kid’s college fund.

Come on, Yahoo.

Updates

  1. Read Jen Simmons’s I Don’t Want “Creative Commons By” To Mean You Can Rip Me Off, which addresses weaknesses in the current CC licensing that permit Yahoo to do what it’s doing; clearer and more subtle licensing would prevent it.
  2. Whether or not CC licenses would benefit from what Jen proposes, Yahoo, if it understood the spirit of the community it bought in Flickr—or even if it simply wanted to pretend to understand—could prevent a lot of bad feeling by writing to members whose work is covered by CC Attribution licenses; asking for feedback on its plan; making the plan opt-in; and offering some kind of revenue sharing for those members who don’t mind having Yahoo sell prints of their work. That Yahoo doesn’t think of this—and that some usually thoughtful people are defending Yahoo on the grounds that the CC license allows what they’re doing—I find profoundly depressing. We were a community. What happened?

Hat tip: @Rasmusuu

Diversity and Web Standards

ON THIS year’s Blue Beanie Day, as we celebrate web standards, we also celebrate our community’s remarkable diversity—and pledge to keep things moving in a positive, humanist direction.

Racism, sexism, misogyny and other forms of foolish, wrongful pre-judging have no place in our beautiful community. As hard as we work to make sure our websites work for everyone, let’s work twice as hard to be certain we are just as open-hearted and welcoming to our peers as our designs are to our users.

No Ken Do (Musketeer Barbie Saves the Prince)

I WATCHED dozens of Barbie videos hundreds of times when my daughter was three and four years old. I can’t praise their animation, dialog, or other cinematic and literary qualities, but this I can say in their favor: every Barbie video we watched was feminist and empowering in its messaging.

This was not the Barbie my girl cousin grew up with, wondering which outfit she should wear to please Ken. This Barbie kicked ass.

In one video, set in 18th Century France, Barbie and her roommates overcame sexism to become Musketeers. They exposed a conspiracy, beat male villains at swordplay, and more than once saved the life of the kingdom’s rather ineffectual prince. (The downside of the Barbie videos’ crude but seemingly heartfelt feminism was that they tended to portray men as wimps or scumbags. Women are strong in the Barbie videos; good men are not.)

In another video, Barbie was an actor who became a film director when the director of the picture in which she was starring tried to patronize her. In Fairytopia, the first and worst animated of the videos, Barbie went on a Lord-of-the-Rings-style quest and saved an entire kingdom from ruin. In A Fashion Fairytale, she saved her aunt’s business from bankruptcy by an evil (woman) competitor, and then helped that competitor turn from the dark side to the light. In other words, she kicked ass but also nurtured and forgave. Assertive and supportive. A fighter and a hugger.

I watched these videos over and over, because children aged three to four thrive on repetition. I got familiar enough that I could quote the dialog as easily as I quote from Rushmore or North By Northwest. I was relieved when my daughter outgrew Barbie, because my mind craved something a little more grown-up in the film narrative department. But I never once worried that the videos were telling my daughter she could be anything but awesome. I never watched a single Barbie video that told girls life was about finding and pleasing anyone besides yourself.

This was also the time in my daughter’s development when we bought Barbie reading books and Barbie dolls. When I was three, Barbie had a thousand ways to look beautiful. When my daughter was three, Barbie had a thousand ways to earn a living.

You can find fault with Barbie. For one thing, she still promotes a vision of the world in which caucasian features set the beauty standard—a world in which, even if there are variously ethnic friends in the mix, the main character is always white. Then there are her unrealistic physical dimensions, which have been tied to self-loathing and eating disorders in girls and women. (Not that Barbie’s is the only unrealistic physique girls contend with—they’re bombarded with the stuff from birth.) The Barbie stories never question the established social order. They inspire girls to achieve, but obviously they don’t address male/female pay discrepancy or other serious social issues.

Musketeer Barbie saves the prince; she doesn’t ask why do we need a prince? Shouldn’t we invent representative democracy? And how about letting a woman run things?

Barbie won’t save us. But she’s not as bad as all that.

For young girls who have just begun seeing the world through the filter of gender, today’s Barbie does some good. Barbie videos were some of the only stories we watched back then that didn’t require me to immediately explain, apologize for, and caution against believing, one or more horrifying biases. Viewed a classic Disney film lately?

The internet feeds on outrage and cat gifs. And the recent outing of a Barbie story that appears to conform to 1950s-Barbie-thinking made perfect fodder. But it might simply be a book that teaches children how different professionals work together to create the digital games they enjoy playing. A designer is part of the mix; so are developers and other professionals, whose complementary skills support each other. That’s how it works when I design stuff. In my work, almost every day, there are things that go wrong that oblige me to call someone else to fix them. I notice a problem on a server; I reach out to a sysadmin. It isn’t because I’m a boy and boys are dumb. It’s because designers aren’t sysadmins.

All right. Fair enough. It was a terrible error for the illustrator to make all the technical people male. That sends an awful message—one lots of us have been working to fight. It’s disturbing that nobody at the publishing house realized the inferences that could be drawn from this mistake. And if this were my only exposure to Barbie in the past ten years, I’d be drawing those inferences and storming the barricades (i.e. retweeting) with the rest of my peeps.

But honestly? I spent two long years with the Barbie franchise. I think the women running it today are serious about girl power. Maybe the unfortunately timed illustration error reveals a deep sexist conspiracy. Or maybe it’s just one of those things nobody thought about while rushing a cheap book to print.

Love, Devotion, Surrender

5:00 AM at San Francisco Airport, Gate 41. A young mother, whose orange capped son sleeps profoundly across her lap, is not faring well with her mobile phone call. Her voice cuts like a razor through the somnolent silence. Mommy, mommy, mommy, mommy, mommy, mommy, mommy, mommy, she cries. I don’t speak Spanish so it is the only word of her conversation I understand. The rest of the half-asleep passengers pretend not to listen.

Her nails are elaborately pretty. There is a catch in her voice. The phone call ends and she hums to her child. She is so young.

Tested

WE ARE at a test prep program in Flatiron, where Ava is grudgingly taking an entrance exam. Lance, the program director, is good. He guarantees he can get Ava into a good middle school if she works. She is very resistant but between us we are making some progress.

The place is about as fun-oriented as it could be. Lance is a game designer and animator. He is honest and doesn’t talk down to kids.

But Ava is angry. She does not want to be here. Like many artistic people, she hates doing anything that doesn’t interest her. Also she sees the prep school as evidence that her mom and I think she is “retarded” and needs special help. (Ava’s dyslexia and ADHD make school a painful challenge and constantly undermine her confidence and self esteem.)

I’ve explained that plenty of kids get tutored because of NYC’s tough middle school competitiveness. And her mom and I want her to have the same advantage other kids competing for middle school space will have.

So far she isn’t buying it.

She had a tough week while I was away on business. Followed by a euphoric Halloween night with her best friend. And now, this.

Doing the right thing for a kid can be tough. Especially when her anxiety interprets new challenges as painful proof that she is unloved. If she could only see herself through my eyes.

Ava is answering multiple choice math questions but I am the one being tested.