032018: Design Won’t Save the World

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As we’re jumping into the moving van, Felix asks me to hold a bag of medical supplies he brought from the hospital. Tubes, syringes, needles, disinfectant spray, all packaged separately in thin plastic bags. What’s that for, I ask. Felix’ friend—a doctor, too—was going to start his first job next week, and Felix promised to help him practice injections and blood sampling.

The way he handed me the bag with supplies was very casual, but I felt weird and—all of a sudden—very useless. When I help my friends and colleagues with work stuff, it’s usually about color choices, or whether the copywriting of an input field is clear enough. It doesn’t have any relevance at all. Whereas Felix, he f-ing helps friends take blood cells out of a body to put them into a laboratory to check them for diseases, and to actually cure them.

The whole tale that “Design can change the world!” has already been demystified a while ago. Another poster won’t save the world, nor will another app, or another chair, or typeface. Design does have the ability to make things better, but looking at our world full of over-designed products and services, it hardly ever is executed in a way that it does so. Design is often used to make bad things look better, and through that, it multiplies its negative impact. To be honest, that sometimes make we want to quit design altogether.

On the other hand, I am very lucky to work with people who are striving to use design for the better. Maybe that’s also because I waved goodbye to the startup world quite some time ago, and I try to work only with people and companies who I find relevant and/or pleasant as human beings (not only as colleagues). No bad vibes are worth the money, especially when you decided to make your passion your job.

Other stuff:

1 — Words: I’ve read a couple of good essays recently. In The Good Room, Frank Chimero explores the missing soul of our digital environment. A while ago, James Bridle wrote about the disturbing loopholes YouTube’s algorithm creates. And I love Jean Hannah Edelsteins newsletter “Thread”. Pre-order her book if you enjoy her writing, too.

2 — Pictures: I created a meme-inspired “starterpack” about my personality. Check it out here and make your own—I’d be curious!

3 — Life Hack: I unfollowed everyone who calls theirself “influencer” on social media and posts tons of ads. It just makes the web a shitty place. Please stop it.

4 — Lesson learned: Negative people are not worth your energy. It’s okay to stay away from them.

So, I helped Felix move last month. I also helped two friends paint their walls, and I re-arranged my furniture (it looks shit, so I’ll have to move it back again tomorrow). I will continue to design stuff, even if it’s worthless compared to the benefit a doctor brings into the world. I simply can’t do anything else; so I might just use it well. Have a great start into spring (Yes! We made it through the winter! Isn’t that something!).

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12. März 2018

Ich träumte,

dass jemand mit dem Nudelholz so fest über die Holzarbeitsplatte meiner Küche rollte, dass eine tiefe Delle entstand – das Holz war nun wellenartig geformt und es war unmöglich, etwas darauf abzustellen. Ein Albtraum!

27. Februar 2018

122017: You Think You Might Not Get Through It But You Do

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On the other side of the train wagon, a man is sitting alone in a four-seat arrangement, his computer on his lap. He smiles while he types furiously; he seems completely sunken into his task. I imagine him writing a draft for his novel, or a sweet message to a loved one, but maybe also he is just calculating his tax payments, and had a successful year?

While the train rattles through Berlin Grunewald, I see the day turn into night: The blue hour passed by and let the darkness come through. I don’t like darkness, but sitting in a cozy train after a long day, being carried through it safely, feels okay.

Looking back on 2017, my year hasn’t been that great. Lots of uncertainties and bad feelings. The most dominant one was probably fear—fear of all kinds of things. I managed to get rid of some of those fears (I am not scared of terrorism that much anymore, or of the movies “Panic Room” and “Seven”, as I watched them and they were not as horrible as I imagined when I was a child). But new fears developed, without control, and it takes time and hard work to get through them. I’m still on it.

However: As you are probably reading this in 2018 already, I don’t want to write about the past. There are a lot of learnings from 2017 that will carry me through the upcoming year. The most important one is this: Emotions are not rational. Explaining a fear or a feeling doesn’t always work, and it’s still okay to feel it. The only way to cope with it is to be okay with it.

Also: It’s so soothing to make things that make you happy. I struggled a lot with a seminar paper I had to write for university, but I really wanted to succeed. So I made a project out of it; I wanted it to feel like a creative project rather than a task I was forced to do. So I made a website for the paper; made something out of it that’s sharable and that fits my style—as a designer, but also as a person. It reflects me and the stuff I am thinking about, that it feels good to have that represented by some sort of artifact. If you want to know what that is: Read the paper I wrote about Invisible Computers here.

Some other things that might sound really lame but made me surprisingly happy: Living in a tidy apartment. Taking care of houseplants, watching them grow. Looking outside the window, listening to the neighbors singing. Give some money to people who ask kindly on the train. Invite people for coffee instead of going out somewhere.

For the upcoming year, I want to spend less time with people I am not really interested in. I want to say No to things I don’t like. I want more moments that allow me to smile about something I write, draw, make, say, see—the guy on the train, with his laptop, during that blue hour, was a good inspiration.

Have a great start into the new year. As last year: Make it count—but this time: don’t stress. We all should stress much less.

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31. Dezember 2017

Zwischen den Jahren

Einer der besten Momente zwischen den Jahren war der, in dem mein Vater und ich die hohen Gräser im Garten winterfest gemacht haben. Mit einer Schnur haben wir die kindsgroßen Büsche festgezurrt, damit sie dem Wind stand halten können. Dabei habe ich die Pflanze umarmt und zusammengehalten, während mein Vater mit seiner speziellen Knot- und Wickeltechnik den Garn drumrum geschnürt hat. Nun stehen im Garten meiner Eltern witzige, puschelige Palmen, die den Winter hoffentlich überstehen.

30. Dezember 2017

The 00s called and want their mobile phones back!

cellphone collage

My first mobile phone was a Philips Savy Vogue. It had a one-line display and its most special feature was the horoscope program that would calculate your daily scores regarding love, friendship, energy and so on.

I think that mobile phones, even before Apple’s product designs from the early 2000s, got me into design. I was such a nerd I would rebuilt iconic phones with FIMO modeling clay; studying folding mechanisms in flip phones and exploring keyboard layouts. It’s a really odd thing to do as an 10-year-old child, and my parents must have thought that I was crazy.

Here are the six phones I found most fascinating as a kid:

Sony Ericsson T610

Sony Ericsson T610

Released in 2003, the T610 impressed me because of its simplicity. While all other phones from that decade either looked like toys or like fax machines, the T610 was elegant, with a glossy black top and polished aluminium bottom. The joystick was horrible, obviously. It does have some form factor familiarities the first iPhone, released in 2007.

Nokia 3650

Nokia 3650

When it comes to ugliness, this is my absolute favorite! I never owned one of these, but their design was mesmerizing, even from afar. Who would want to use a circular keyboard?! In general, Nokia was the king of odd phone designs in the 00s—here is a neat collection of them.

Sony Ericcson Z200

Sony Ericsson Z200

I was always fascinated by flip phones, as their product design included another layer of privacy, sound design (that noise when furiously closing the device after an emotionally stirring phone call!) and general mysticism. Back then, everything was allowed—so why not combine an analog watch into a smooth clamshell design, and add a little handle on top?! So classy.

Nokia Ngage

Nokia NGage

My class-mate had one of those, and they were the oddest piece of technology. Almost as if someone designed a device that wanted to prevent you from calling someone, you had to hold it sideways to your ear to hear anything. With its ridiculous price, it wasn’t able to compete with mobile game consoles back then. But with the horizontal keyboard, it paved the way for mobile computing that later became popular with the Hiptop/Sidekick.

Sony Ericsson T300

Sony Ericsson T300

One of the phones I admired and actually could afford. It wasn’t a technical revolution; it even didn’t have an integrated camera but only a clip-on device (so awkward!). But I loved the design; the glossy, flat front layer and the soft, matte off-white back. There were no annoying edges, bumps, notches. It felt as if it was made from one piece.

Nokia N90

Nokia N90

The N90 looked like a camcorder, but more fragile and less powerful. YouTube was only founded two months before the phone was released (February 2005), so there was not really a place to share all those videos. It’s funny how the camera only had two megapixels, but they still decided for a full-fledged camcorder design.

From all the regular cell phones I owned, I can hardly remember any interfaces (except the one from the Nokia 3310). UI design was nothing spectacular back then—the hardware was the most exciting part. That changed completely: Smartphones are, by now, only a slim layer of glas or plastic, and the UI defines the experience. I wouldn’t mind today’s devices to become a bit more visible again—if it isn’t possible to make them fully invisible.

20. November 2017

Shape-Changing Computers

Image of a text illustration, reading Invisible Machines

Within the past semester, we had a seminar at University about the establishment of the personal computer (briefly mentioned in one of my newsletters). From a historical and media-theoretical point of view, we read and discussed essays and papers from engineers, philosophers and researchers from the 1960s to the late 1990s.

I loved the seminar, because I finally found the time to read stuff by really important people who paved to way to modern-day computer interaction—people like Ada Lovelace, Alan Kay, Adele Goldberg, and (my favorite!) Howard Rheingold. His very well-written book “Tools for Thought” is available online, and guides perfectly through the history of computers as tools.

During our semester break, I wrote an essay about one thing I found particularly interesting: The computer’s form and shape—and how it was always designed to disappear. With current technology trends like voice input and wearable tech, its starting to actually do so. You can read the text ( a slightly simplified version) in English or German. I’d love your feedback, too!

Read the essay in English

Lieber auf Deutsch lesen

17. November 2017