Posts in english

20. November 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.

17. 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

2. Oktober 2017

032017: Stay Golden

image

As the sun is making an appearance after a couple of weeks of rain and cold weather here in Berlin, I am sitting on the back seat of the M41 bus line (the only bus line that has its own song). Next to me, a woman—probably in her early sixties—explains to her friend: “For a long time, I was only able to take selfies with this phone, because I didn’t know how to switch the camera around! Yesterday, my daughter explained it to me. Look!” She clumsily points at the camera interface to take a photo of the sun breaking through the dirty windows. It’s autumn, friends! Welcome back to this newsletter.

So many things happened within the last months, and at the same time, nothing exciting happened at all. Life just passed by; I passed through it. The woman’s situation on the bus reminded me of all the bad technology that we’re surrounded with. Like the visit to my parent’s house earlier this month, where my dad has a technology setup I just don’t understand anymore (and therefore hardly can help with tech problems). He switched to an Apple ecosystem a while ago, but the Windows DOS mindset is buried very deeply within his brain and pedantry. Everything could be so easy, but people don’t want things to be easy. (Except that one time, when Microsoft announced a couple of months ago that their infamous MS Paint software would be discontinued—no worries though, it will be around somehow). Sometimes, it’s the dumb and simple things that have a strong cultural and emotional impact.

Speaking of dumb: I watched “The Circle” the other night. To clarify: I haven’t read the book, so I can’t compare the differences there, but even though the movie was fine as a simple piece of entertainment, it had so many flaws within the storyline and the topic in general! I just didn’t believe a word Emma Watson said as her character Mae, and I got tired by the very thin dialogues. Half of the story and all possible twists were left open-ended. There was simply nothing either desirable or dystopian—it was just silly most of the time. The semi-futuristic interfaces looked like they were designed in 2002 (check out this great film on how to depict the internet and messaging in film!). Even to logo of “The Circle” was horribly executed! The one Jessica Hische drew for the book in 2013 was much nicer. To sum it up: I was very glad that in my reality, we already overcame platforms like Facebook and 24/7 oversharing of boring nonsense. The movie’s topic almost became obsolete for me.

Most of the time, at least. I’ve been consuming Instagram excessively during the last months, and experimented with their Story feature a couple of times. What bothers me there: People don’t take the time to actually tell stories. They just use it as a dumpster for candids. If you have recommendations for great Instagram story tellers, ping me! My current favorites are Jürgen Siebert’s “Fontstories”, Kübra’s diary posts and Sophie Passmann’s jabbering.

Some more personal and project-related news: At ZEIT ONLINE, we launched a new digital magazine called “Arbeit”. It’s a platform about our relationship to work and work-life-balance, about changes and chances, and failures, too. I designed the thing (and am still totally in love with Milieu Grotesque’s Patron font family).

I was also working on a book which will go to print later this month—my first assignment as a copywriter, which was exciting and fun. Also, I am still working on a seminar paper, which I’ll publish in a couple of weeks, too. Follow me on Twitter and Instagram to never ever miss out again about my exciting life (spent on my couch for 80 percent of the day).

Ok. So far. Have a great start into autumn, and let’s hope that the sun makes a couple of more appearances before it finally gets grey and cold outside for good. Also: remember to switch your phone’s front camera to the back from time to time, to capture some of the rays and golden leaves. Happy October!

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31. Juli 2017

A Summer Wasting

Seven weeks of reading papers
Seven weeks of river walkways
Seven weeks of feeling guilty
Seven weeks of staying up all night

12. Juli 2017

The Toothbrush

It happened. I don’t know how it was possible, but it happened. Friends, my work has been stolen and copied and I became a victim of copyright infringement (take a moment to enjoy to the tension of the muscles when saying this term aloud)!

It all started with my friend Kiwi, who recently sent me a link to this Kickstarter campaign. He has a talent for digging up weird shit on Crowdfunding platforms, but this made me gasp: Someone invented a self-brushing toothbrush!

image
Image: © Amabrush

(Immediate throwback to the days when we all had lose braces and were forced to wear them over night.)

This toothbrush is called Amabrush, and I am still not sure whether it’s a hoax or a real product. The device looks like choppers, and claims to brush your teeth within ten seconds. It connects via Bluetooth to your phone (obviously), were you can select a variety of vibration modes and timers. IN-SANE!

But if this wasn’t enough craziness built into one single device, the real deal is that they stole this idea. From me.

In 2010, I started a new sketchbook and had a creative phase—I was inventing a lot of useful everyday devices and made drawings and descriptions for them.

Non of them ever went into production, obviously, but they were sketched out thoroughly. One of these sketches now must have leaked to the people behind Amabrush—it was this one:

image

Isn’t that crazy! I drew this! Years ago!

These self self-proclaimed Kickstarter “inventors” must have given themselves access to my apartment, looked through my sketchbooks and photographed my invention—while I wasn’t at home! And now they are trying to make big money out of something I THOUGHT OF FIRST! Not okay.

But I assume I can’t do much about it right now. I can just recommend to always lock away your sketchbooks cautiously, or get your ideas patented as soon as they’re on paper. But on the other hand—who needs an automatic toothbrush?! It doesn’t really matter if you spent 10 or 120 seconds brushing your teeth. As long as you do it. So you better enjoy the artisanal experience of brushing your teeth by hand as long as you still can!

26. Juni 2017

Interview with Dominic Wilcox about the “reinvention of normal”

The everyday in itself is quite dull. But creative people tend to give the everyday a lift, a surprise or a smile. They add something new to it. I like that. It is like a white sheet of paper for an artist. I use the everyday as a challenge for me to give it something more interesting. The everyday world is my canvas. I think it is very difficult to be creative when you’re in a really crazy environment. It is a bit like me if I go to a party: when there are lots of loud people, I go quiet. Because I don’t want to compete. And it’s the same thing with design. The context I work in starts quiet.

For this year’s TYPO conference, David Reitenbach and me sat down with speaker Dominic Wilcox to discuss some thoughts from his talk and some more general questions regarding the life as an inventor.

Read the interview here.

I’ve been a fan of his work since a friend gave me his book “Variations on Normal”, with the comment that “this guy is just as odd as you are”. Don’t forget to check out Dominic’s portfolio full of crazy, funny and light-hearted inventions.

6. Mai 2017

022017: One With The Freaks

Dear friends, it’s been a while. Please apologize my absence – I’m not quite sure what happened. Maybe it was a mixture of rainy day mood swings, busy University days and long, demotivating train rides between Potsdam (where my University is) and Neukölln (where my home is) that kept me from jotting down this humble monthly sheet of words. But I am back. Here are the news.

1 — I watched the 2017 version of Ghost In The Shell a couple of weeks ago. Knowing that I am late to the game by now, I still want to share some thoughts. The first time I stumbled upon the anime was in 1999, when one-hit wonder Wamdue Project used the famous “Making of a Cyborg” scenes in their music video for “King Of My Castle” (YouTube link). While I didn’t fully understand the philosophical depth behind the original story, I always noted the cultural significance Mamoru Oshii’s anime kept until today.

The story takes place in 2029, which is only 12 years away from today. I found it particularly interesting to compare the futurescapes which the 1995 and the 2017 movie versions paint. While the anime version creates a dystopian urban jungle with a very grey, olive, dusty color palette, Scarlet Johansson runs through a neon-blue and light-polluted LED-city besieged by advertising holograms. I recommend scrolling through the set of moodboards and thoughts by designer Monika Bielskyte, who was involved in creating the movie’s visual direction in the beginning. The moodboards stick to the overall cyberpunk topic, but some of them are much less dystopian and cold than the end result.

2 — So much for the sci-fi nerd talk. Admittedly, I am not even that much into all this stuff, but with Ghost In The Shell, it was different; and comparing the past to the present (with a little bit of future) is always interesting. In this semester, I am participating in a research project about the early stages of the home computer. We are time-traveling through the 1970s, ’80s, and early ’90s, when the internet was very far away from being at our fingertips, and companies were trying hard to make up reasons why a regular household would need a personal computer.

I cannot even remember a point in time where our home computer did not have an internet connection. Sure, it was not part of our everyday life, and as a kid, I mainly used the computer for games and creating crappy PowerPoint animations. I would say that being born in the early 90s, my generation is not only digital native, but also internet native. It’s nice to dig through research, advertisements and general perceptions of life where this crucial tool called Internet just wasn’t even existent.

3 — Speaking of computer nostalgia: This Guardian article reminds us about “the forgotten world of 90s movie websites”.

The Washington Post compares the apartments of New York’s famous TV shows (like GIRLS and Friends) to reality. This would be very interesting for Berlin, too.

People with odd attitudes are usually quite inspiring. Like Karl Lagerfeld, who explains his daily routines in the Harper’s BAZAAR series.

I played around with Anchor.fm briefly. The concept is simple: Like an audio version of Snapchat, users can create radio stations that disappear after 24 hours. It’s a very well-made and fun app, and from time to time, I mumble German mumblings into my phone’s mic. If you want, you can download the app and follow my station.

4 — Upcoming: Later this month, I’ll be writing for Berlin’s TYPO conference. We catch the conference behind the scenes and front row, and there are lots of great speakers, as every year. Follow us on Twitter, Instagram and Facebook.

Have a great month, and I’ll talk to you soon (on Anchor, or through in your mailbox. Sign up for the newsletter here).