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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

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

032017: Stay Golden

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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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2. Oktober 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).

6. Mai 2017

012017: If We Can Land On The Moon, Surely I Can Win Your Heart

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It took this text a while to make it through the foggy streets of Berlin. It was hard to move forward. Just like January: I struggled getting out of bed, as—except for a few sunny days—the city was buried underneath a thick, stifling blanket of winter.

Even though I am not very active on the platform, the first people in my Snapchat stream started using Snap’s Spectacles—a pair of glasses with an integrated camera that records short clips and posts them to the user’s story. When Snap released the product last year, I was skeptical (as Google Glass failed and video-recording glasses just seem like a suspicious thing in general). However, when I saw the videos filmed with the device, I was surprised: The way you can take someone else’s point of view, as well as the user experience of the round video, was just fantastic.

During the last term at Uni, I thought more about wearables in general, and how they need to be designed to actually work for their users. Fashion plays a big role, obviously, and I liked this conversation about Apple’s trial and error to create fashionable gadgets. While I find the AirPods technically very interesting, I think their product design fails on a lot of levels (can you run with these things? Shake your head in disagreement? Wear a hat?!). Just like the whacky idea that thinner phones are better to hold, sometimes more (e.g. a cord) is more.

In general, I feel that the more advanced the technology around us becomes, the more useless it appears to me. My Facebook stream was completely destroyed by algorithms, and so I ditched it. A computer with a touchbar instead of keys, that completely dumps my muscle memory?! I also can’t think of any use for voice-controlled home assistants, other than them telling me facts about eggs (side note: I enjoyed Johna Paolino’s essay about the different style of making conversation with Alexa vs. Google Home).

A lot of products and algorithms are not only useless, but also fuel our fear of missing out so badly and shamelessly. Who wants that?! Just think of Instagram’s push notification when someone starts a live video: “XYZ started a live video. WATCH IT BEFORE IT ENDS!” How can one not become totally stressed out and anxious about the digitized world? In Manoush Zomorodi’s podcast Note To Self, Anil Dash explains the great concept of JOMO instead of FOMO.

Lets focus on that and joyfully miss out on some things in February. Valentine’s Day, for example. Ugh! I’ll stay inside for another month, and listen to the La La Land Soundtrack. I also loved listening to Beulah (a band I missed out for long enough), and Benji Hughes. Happy February.

5. Februar 2017

December: Easiness, Celebrities, and Another Round

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This is it. I really can’t wrap my head around why new years eve is such a thing, but it always is: so much weight on one night that throws us into raw panic; you better make this evening the greatest of the year, it’s your last chance!

It’s not going to work anyway. So I decided to skip it. Also, I am not going to make this my end-of-year review, because I know that we will wake up tomorrow, and there will be just another day, another month, another year waiting for us. It’s only names that change.

Over Christmas, I met friends from school, and we shared our best moments of the past year. It was hard to think of something—not because my year was shit; there were ups and downs, and 12 months are long. I tried to explain this one recent evening, where we luckily got cheap tickets for the Vienna Burg theatre, and afterwards we stumbled out into the Austrian night, and it was so clear, and we decided to walk home, because you can just walk everywhere in Vienna, and on our way, we ate a cheese-filled sausage (don’t ask), and it was all very easy.

Easy was what I needed. We spent so much time in coffee houses again, and that was easy too: “More Royals or more Celebrities?”, asks my friend and holds up a bunch of tabloid magazines. Hours passed, and we let them, we just read and said nothing. I find talking really hard sometimes, which is probably a bourgeois problem. I enjoy being silent.

This year ends with a lot of things it started with. Sholem published his first book with his Berlin Diary drawings. I keep re-reading Elisabeths weekly summaries, because they are soft and gentle everyday life observations. I still watch Roger Willemsen on YouTube, and I wish he could have said or written something to hold onto after 2016.

For the next year, I plan to discover more music. I’ve been listening to only two albums recently: Solange’s True (2012), and Pure Bathing Culture’s Pray For Rain (2015). I saved some tracks on Spotify, but I can’t remember titles or artists, which is sad.

Two days ago, a thin but cold layer of frost covered the city I am currently in. Winter came back. Twelve months ago, I couldn’t wait for it to leave, I almost couldn’t bear Berlin anymore. But Summer saved me, yet again. And I am impatient for it to arrive. Four more months. And then another year. Another round. Let’s make it count.

31. Dezember 2016

November: The Library, Digression, and Items from the Future

Photo of lights at Berliner Philharmonie

It’s 9.30 am. I am carrying my transparent plastic bag filled with a laptop, some pens and a book through the library. This place is quite ugly from the outside, but inside, it somehow works. A light-filled atrium connects the sounds of the entry hall with the desk areas and bookshelves. The noise level in here is perfect—not too quiet; you still allow yourself to breathe, and not loud; enabling the perfect concentration mode. I put my coat, my bag and my phone (necessary!) into the locker, stuff a coffee and a doughnut in my face, and find myself a desk.

It’s basically a time machine back into 2013, when I spent most of January in this building to finish my bachelor thesis. The audience is a wild mix of art and engineering students, and they all appear to be very focussed and smart. I like to make myself comfortable on the fourth floor, between the sheet music and the multi-media library. From here, I can watch November’s rain, finish some books and finally try to focus on studying. I really do try, at least.

However, I also allow myself to drift off from time to time, from link to link, book to book. In October, I briefly mentioned Design Fiction. In class, we talked about this amazing project by the Extrapolation Factory, called 99¢ Futures. It was a pop-up store which, for one day, sold various items from the future, like a Mars Survival Kit, void refills, or an “instant full university degree while you sleep”. I might want that one. Even more design fiction can be found in Mark Dudliks essay “Speculations From Tomorrow”, where he explores the narrative of the Netflix series Black Mirror, for example, or Spike Jonze’s movie Her (remember Scarlet’s alluring Samantha voice?).

Less fictional, more scary: Adobe recently presented a tool dubbed “Photoshop for Audio”. From a 20-minute voice sample, it lets you manipulate existing and create totally new audio snippets—allowing people to put basically any word into any persons mouth. While it does sound like a disaster, regarding the current mistrust in media and algorithms, it really is what we have already gotten terribly used to with image manipulation.

Further digression: My friend Caitlin is an awesome person and writer. Need proof? Read her article about womanhood (is that a word?). Anyway, it’s relevant.

I am not very up to date when it comes to trending topics and memes, but some fragments of the #mannequinchallenge slipped through to my phone. This one won.

This last day of November is my 25th birthday. And of course, I found myself thinking: “25 is basically 30, and 30 is close to 40, and 40 means full grown-up-status, and what else is supposed to come after that?” What a stupid chain of thought. However, it reminded me of Miranda July’s movie “The Future”, where a couple wants to adopt a cat, and suddenly has very similar thoughts. They turn off the internet, start volunteering, loose each other, and everything falls apart.

I don’t think thats going to happen to me though. I’ll hide here in the library, with some doughnuts and coffee, and if I stare at this open Pages document for long enough, it might start filling itself. Fingers crossed. Enjoy December.

30. November 2016