012024: The long hard stupid way

Image of piled-up cobble stones

Coordinates: I am typing this—again!—on a train, as this seems to be the only place for me to unplug from the world and jot down some words. As night falls, one very orange strip of light just disappeared behind the horizon, somewhere between Germany and Austria. Here we are.

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Recently I’ve been thinking about the value in my work, and the current times I work in. In my day job I make websites; tons of buttons and rounded corners and modules and typographic pairings and responsive grid layouts. A significant other part of my job is writing proposals and documentation for these websites, and communicating with the people they are made for—clients, and luckily also the viewers and users of these sites.

What is it that adds value to these websites? Why are they worth making, viewing, using? I recently came back to a lecture from Frank Chimero from 2012, where he talked about doing things “the long hard, stupid way”. Ultimately, the talk was about making an effort, and about gift-giving.

So, what makes a good gift? It is personal. Its value is subjective; maybe it sparks joy, or adds ease to the recipient’s daily life. It is made with care and thought, and the less care and thought go into it, the less personal it becomes. I liked Frank’s idea of seeing the digital tools we make as gifts for others. Inefficiency—or doing things the long hard stupid way—can become an advantage, even a feature, if you think of it as a gift. A thing someone—you or I—cared for makes the world (the internet!) a more precious place. And isn’t that what we all need right now?

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The year has moved into April already, and I hope this email finds you well. Here are some work updates:

Village One + Freelance

In July, Village One—our small design + tech cooperative—celebrates its 2nd birthday. It’s been a great and wild ride so far! From April on, however, I split my time between juggling projects for Village One and doing more freelance work for myself again. I want to write and draw more, and longed for a less repetitive day-to-day-life. Let‘s see how that goes!

The Village One team standing in front of a building, everyone staring at their phones

Writing = Design Workshop

Just like in recent years, Sonja and I will host another Writing = Design workshop at University of the Arts this summer. From July 22—26, we will explore writing as a design tool. You can learn more and sign up here; would love to see you there!

Team photo of a previous Writing class; people holding their manuscripts in front of their faces

Illustrations for Krautreporter

My friend Gabriel Yoran writes a great column for Krautreporter about the “enshittification” of the world: Why do products get worse and worse, whilst everything was promised to get better?! I am illustrating the series, have a look here (German).

Illustrations for Krautreporter

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As the train approaches my destination, it emptied out almost completely. I love these quiet evenings on a softly rumbling train carriage, so peaceful and focussed. I hope you had a good start into the year so far. Daylight has been saved, spring is here, we made it!

By the way: You can subscribe to these (irregular) english posts via my email newsletter here.

My first Mac

The Mac turns 40! And as Marcel and other people on Mastodon are sharing their first Macs, I’m going to do that too. It really was a turning point for me.

I remember lurking around the iPod at Hertie (a big shopping center in Munich). Back in 2004, it wasn’t common in Germany to find Apple products in regular stores. I was thirteen years old, and started to get interested in design and tech, and as Marcel writes, there seemed no way around Apple products.

I got an iPod, but a Mac was still too expensive. Eventually, I got the chance to buy a second-hand PowerMac G3 from a family friend. It was my first Mac! It ran MacOS 8 and had all Adobe products installed.

Old snapshot of a blue PowerMac G3

But I wasn’t interested in Mac OS 8. I wanted Mac OS X! Panther! So I bought and installed it; it was slow and not really usable, but I loved it. Just like I loved the machine—the blue translucent plastic, the handles, the hatch to access the motherboard. Despite its slowness, it was so much fun to use iPhoto and iMovie and the likes on it.

My “real” first Mac was the first white Intel MacBook. It ran MacOS X Tiger, and I had so much trouble with it. It was broken constantly, I needed to have the motherboard replaced twice, and there were still hardly any Mac sellers in my area back then. It didn’t bother me. It made school so much more fun; using Keynote and iLife and making little websites on it. I was such a weirdo running around with this alienating piece of tech.

Old snapshot of my MacBook from 2006

I also still really love the plastic cases of the mid-2000s Macs; they feel less precious and were nice to touch and use. I wish my current MacBook Air was built like that.

Anyway. Every once in a while, I get to use a Windows PC and I am still fascinated how different it is, how much wonkier it feels, and how odd the interfaces are. Mac OS Aqua really was the key reason to get a Mac for me—I was drawn to the glossy, whimsical interfaces and the product’s form factor. I still am.

As I got older and Macs just turned into a tool I needed for my work (and life, I guess), I started buying old Apple stuff on eBay, just to fulfill some teenage dreams. I don’t hoard Apple hardware excessively, but I keep some things around that I just love and cannot get rid of. One example is the 2003 Apple Cinema display with its acrylic case. The product design, inspired by a painter’s easel, just keeps delighting me. It’s not usable anymore with my M1 MacBook Air, but I loved writing my Master’s thesis on it in 2018.

Old snapshot of my acrylic Apple Cinema Display from 2003

My current setup, besides the MacBook Air, is a 2019 iMac with a huge 27″ inch retina screen. It’s great to use, but as it stands on my desk, taking up all that space, it lacks joy, at times.

32023: You Are Here

Photo of a person wearing a red hat which says “You are here”

Sitting on my couch, I’ve been staring into a wall of code for a couple of hours already. I’m trying to reorganize my website and digital outlets, updating my body of work; drawings and web design projects and writing. Learning new tools is hard, and I am not a programmer, and I have no patience. But I have a plan!

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While re-shuffling all those digital things, I was also trying to bring some clarity into my writing and newsletters and digital profile. Usually, I do not believe in separating professional and private things online: I am who I am, and I don’t post personal stuff that doesn’t belong on the internet anyway. But I found it tricky; my blog and social media posts often are written in German, which excludes all non-German-speaking audiences—specifically, the design and tech community.

So, regarding this publication’s future: I want to circle this newsletter back to its design writing roots. The earliest issues (2016!) were explorations on fake marblefilter bubbles and PIBA-DIBA. I will not be the 500st design newsletter in your inbox; this letter will stay personal and diary-like; it will include life and work updates as well as musings, but it will be my professional writing outlet.

If you’re German-speaking and interested in my monthly lists (no work stuff, just play!), you can sign-up for my monthly newsletter Fakten und Mirakel (“Facts and miracles”) here.

As my newsletter service TinyLetter finally, after years of neglect, is being shut down, I will move to Buttondown, a more independent, light-weight service. I found Mailchimp and other marketing tools to not be suitable (this is not a marketing email!), and Substack is, besides its ugly design, also questionable in many other ways. The more aware I become regarding my software usage (just like consuming food and buying clothes), the more difficult it gets. On a positive note, I am enjoying my consciousness, and making well-elaborated decisions. Most of the time, at least.

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Looking back at 2023: I worked a lot! With our coop studio Village One, we did some fantastic projects: we designed and built the new website for DemocracyNext, an action institute exploring democratic citizen assemblies. We rebranded and built a website for the Sovereign Tech Fund, who invests in digital infrastructure. And we are building and designing all digital outlets for Publix, a new house for journalism in Berlin.

Being involved in projects I care about really makes me happy. What was missing this year was time and space for my own projects; drawing and writing and maybe teaching. I will make room for this in 2024. So if you have a project or teaching gig or workshop in mind: Let me know!

Carving out time for personal work is especially difficult if your personal aspirations are so similar to your work setup: Mostly spent at a desk, mostly alone, thinking and trying out things. I find it hard to justify all this alone-time. But in the end: My time is mine, and that’s how it should be, no?

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For a couple of months, there’s been a little post-it sitting on my iMac’s screen frame. It says “If you want to be a writer: write”. I haven’t written much since, but it keeps me alert. And it counts for many things: If you want to be an artist: make art. If you want make progress: act. If you want to rest: switch off your phone. If you want to be a writer: write.

I hope you can leave the year at peace with yourself and others, and are eager for a new one—2024 is just around the corner. Another year, another round, make it count. Yours truly, 💌 Christoph

(If you enjoy content like this: I send it out as an irregular newsletterSign up for it here.)

022023: Manifestations of Romance

Me standing in a colorful room, taking my photo in the mirror, camera in front of my face

Berlin, 6:25 pm, new note: I am typing this in iA Writer’s “focus mode”, a tool that highlights only the very current section that is being edited. I never use it because focus, what even is that?! Haven’t heard from her in years. And you, dear reader, haven’t heard from me and this letter in months, either, so: Welcome back.

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Some smaller towns in Italy have so-called “Necrologi.” Big analog boards in the center of the town, or at relevant pedestrian crossings, that originally announced the passing of a parishioner. When walking through the cities around Amalfi coast this summer, I saw them. Posters informed passers-by about recent deaths, yes, but also about upcoming celebrations, concerts and the town’s goings-on. They were not advertisement billboards; they were very local, specific platforms for communities to share events of interest.

The famous Parisian bookshop Shakespeare and Company has been cultivating a wall of analog notifications for ages. On little paper notes, people share messages, stories, call-outs for other visitors to dig through and find each other. True love may or may not be found in those layers and layers of paper, but the board itself is a manifestation of romance that visitors long for. Paper as a real connection to a stranger.

And also: Do you remember BVG Augenblicke? Berlins public transport system, BVG, used to have a digital platform where people who shared a moment on the train—a smile, a gaze, a brief conversation with a stranger—could find each other again. Oftentimes, secondary romance is to be avoided (as it turns out less exciting as expected), but having the tools—both digital and analog—to give it a chance; it was magic. Technology was magic!

As a true millennial, I stopped believing in digital tools as true connectors for a while now. But I don’t mind it too much. I’m just over it, really. Like Jason Parham writes in his essay on wired.com: “It’s not that I consider myself too old for social media, or the pace and attention it requires. I’m just less interested in being everywhere these days.” Same, really. I still enjoy posting to my Instagram story from time to time or write a blog post when I have something to share or need to feel productive. It’s ok to realize that the magic has vanished. Maybe it’s to be found offline, on public notice boards and in book shops and on train rides and through the people I already know. Or within a little community of readers and friends like you—thanks for sticking around!

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The last issue of this newsletter was sent in May. Summer passed, the world still spins, sometimes and recently so furiously that it has been hard to manage. I hope you do, somehow.

One of my coping strategies: I keep writing my monthly lists. They keep up the feeling of being creative, or at least productive; it’s some output that comes around every month. If you’re interested in what’s happened during my summer, find some notes from June, or September, or simply scroll through this blog. I’m planning on sending them out as a separate newsletter in the future because who visits weblogs these days, really. I’ll keep this letter as an English format, though.

How was your summer? Where are you right now? I’d love to hear from you: What’s been keeping you spinning? I hope you’re well!

(If you enjoy content like this: I send it out as an irregular newsletter called Christel’s CornerSign up for it here.)


UFO-like house; a white capsule with round windows, with small people in front of it

Futuro by Matti Suuronen
in front of Pinakothek der Moderne / Munich.

Dog Person

Animiertes Gifs einer Zeichnung eines kleinen Pudels

I never really knew how to talk to dogs. They never seemed to get me, either. And they often felt a bit gross and dirty to me. I was a cat person. Cats are gentle and soft and calm, they don’t smell and they move quietly; always cautious, always in control.

But a while ago, a dog came into my life. She was young and nervous and constantly moving and breathing and freaking me out. She made me nervous, too. There was no calming purring sound, and I missed the soft fur of the cats I was used to. 

Over the last months though, we got used to each other. We shared the nervousness, and I know how to talk to her now. I know that she doesn’t really care for my gentle words—she wants to run and play and she wants to chew on rough toys. 

As I met a friend’s cat the other day, I noticed a difference. I lost my gentleness, I touched the cat too aggressively, I was—quite frankly—shocked about my interaction with her. It took me a while to slow down again. To be calm, to listen, to await the cat’s next move. But then I heard the soft purring, felt the soft fur against my hands, and it put me at ease again. 

I’m teaching that to the dog now. If she wants us to get along, she needs to deal with quietness from time to time. And I need to deal with action from time to time. We’re both getting better at it. 

012023: Dogs, Beans, and Red Badges

Me sitting in a big golden picture frame outside, in the back of the picture: a lake and tree

I’m currently on a train back to Berlin. My sparse data plan is already used up, and as the train’s wifi is not working, I am treating myself to five hours of flight mode. Over the past months or maybe even years, I became extremely sloppy with answering text messages. The little red badges on my phone’s apps kept multiplying exorbitantly—until I finally deactivated them. I used to be on top of my game and very active on social media, eager to connect to people and keep digital conversations going. I found it exciting, and I gained energy from the digital exchange. But looking at those 15 unread WhatsApp messages, 10 long Instagram direct messages awaiting a reply, and an email app very far away from “inbox zero”, I have to admit that I am not that person on top of their game anymore. I can’t keep up.

But I also have to say: I don’t want any of it. I want to be at the bottom of things. Endless conversation streams are almost as exhausting as endless meetings, endless classical concerts, and endless scrollable feeds. I prefer things to have a beginning and an end. A narrative, so to speak.

Just as I struggle with keeping a tidy inbox, I feel exhausted keeping up with current debates on technology. After Elon Musk bought Twitter and sent it down its hell ride, I basically left the platform. I do not miss it; those timelines and “digital products” in general have lost their joy and meaning for me. Therefore, I missed most of the early and heated debate on ChatGPT. I do find its rise interesting, to some extent. But I do not care about computer-generated vocals, or artificial radio hosts, or machine-written movies. There’s no joy in that; we’ll get bored by it quickly. I am more curious about how people and states will learn to live with these inflammatory tools, and I want to see them bring an actual positive impact to the world. Haven’t read much about that yet. Until then, I’ll mute the buzzwords. We still are in control of who and what we pay attention to—at least for now we are.

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On dogs. When spending time with the dog, I remembered the On Being podcast episode with artist and illustrator Maira Kalman. She describes dogs in the most beautiful way: “They’re heroic, and they’re comic at the same time, which I guess is my favourite way of looking at things.” In her book Beloved Dog, she writes: “They are constant reminders that life reveals the best of itself when we live fully in the moment and extend our unconditional love.”

On beans. I’ve been enjoying Kerry Cunningham’s newsletter Circle Back so much recently! She’s so funny! I loved this issue about Anish Kapoor’s new and sad Bean sculpture in New York from a while ago. Subscribe here.

On the blog: I keep writing my monthly lists. They’re a good processor of life’s events. Read all lists, or specifically January 23, February 23, March 23, April 23.

Briefly noted: My friend/colleague/accomplice Sonja and I will host our annual Writing = Design workshop at University of the Arts in Berlin this summer. It’s one week (August 7 – 11) of writing and exploring text, and if this sounds like it could be something for you: It is! English language, everyone is welcome, find all the details here.

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I hope you had a great start into the year and are enjoying some of the much needed spring sun that has been appearing every once in a while recently. Watch out for big red notification badges, turn them off, even, and go for a little walk. Greetings from within flight mode.

(If you enjoy content like this: I send it out as an irregular newsletter called Christel’s CornerSign up for it here.)