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October: Golden Clouds, Learning, and Minority Report

Image of palm tree with partly golden leaves

The train takes approximately 1.5 hours to get me to Potsdam. I will be studying there for the next one or two years. On my way, I pass through Grunewald, which is really one giant cloud of golden leaves right now, and lots of lakes. Berlin is very watery, and Potsdam is very tidy. However, the first two weeks of University left my mind in a very untidy state. So much input! Here are just two fragments of things I stumbled upon:

I read about the PIBA-DIBA proposal, for example: A guidance to blend the Digital with the Physical (paper here). It basically gives two lists to designers, based on: „Physical Is Better At“ vs. „Digital Is Better At“, with the intention to direct the designer’s focus to beneficial aspects of using digital vs. physical objects. Another interesting topic I stepped into was the design methodology of „Design Fiction“. In this essay, Julian Bleeker explains how science fiction is a powerful way of innovating and pushing ideas to a wider audience (you all remember the crazy interfaces in Minority Report, and how fragments of them slowly drip into our lives, and how their designer John Underkoffler actually made them reality).

My Dropbox is filled with PDFs, TED talks, and about 100 links to Google Scholar papers. What I find hard is to manage all this input. I have the feeling that I forgot how to learn. And I am not talking about this new kind of learning; interactive and revolutionized methods leading to epiphanies, adaptable to the “real world”. I am talking about learning in its purest, dullest format: sitting at a desk, my nose and eyes buried in books, folders and my laptop, with blue ink stains on my lips from chewing on my pen (gross). Obviously this is due to my broken attention span (on that note, I enjoyed Douglas Forsters thoughts on How to Rebuild an Attention Span), and my three-year-pause of being a student.

With the luxury of my planned studies, I got to think about my desk and learning setup a little more the past month. While I find it okay to read on my tablet on the train or sit in our University’s very nice and quiet library, I really cherish my own home office. Or maybe I’d like to call it “my study” from now on. It’s a place to really sit down and focus, surround myself with paper and technology, and get lost in this area for a little while. It just never feels unproductive.

With the setup of a proper working environment, I found myself curious and critical over the latest release of Apple’s new MacBook Pro and the Microsoft Surface Studio. Both being doubtlessly powerful machines, their hardware design is lacking character. I really have a thing for outdated technology, and every time I watch old TV series where someone self-importantly hacks into an iMac G3 “for homework”, I feel all fuzzy and nostalgic. The site Starring At The Computer provides a ridiculously large collection of computer appearances on TV and in movies.

Also in October:

A — Rixdorf, the historic town center of Neukölln, and I finally became reconciled. I used to hate Neukölln in the dark autumn and winter months, but the area around here got so much nicer. There is a real bakery, a book store, and I even visit the bar around the corner from time to time.

B — While I try to get used to academic writing (I took a crash course at University, and am reading much more academic papers), I also felt like not writing like a robot from time to time. A reminder in my phone pushes me for one diary entry per day. I don’t always do it, but I do it more often now, which is very soul-cleansing™.

C — Other than that: It just started raining, and I was so so so motivated to go out for some physical activity this evening. But ok. I might just stay at home, in my study, and watch the outside slowly turning into winter. Have a great start into November!

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31. Oktober 2016

September: Sketchbooks, Cobble Stones, and Solitude

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With the cobbled part of the street, I slow down a bit. I take notice of the old houses and small byroads, dipped in the blue hour of the evening, and I glance into a warmly lit restaurant window. It’s empty, there is only one person inside, close to the window. The man isn’t reading, he’s not looking outside, he’s not really looking anywhere at all. It was a very calm moment, and in the next one, I got shaken up by the cobble stones again. I cycled on, and asked myself: Was he lonely, maybe?

For its larger part, September was spent in Augsburg, my parent’s home town. I wanted to take a break from Berlin, get some work done, and use my newly gained freedom to read, learn to cook (haha, yeah, no) and fill my sketchbook. There are only a couple of friends left in the town where I grew up. But when I meet them, it’s doesn’t feel like we live 600 kilometers apart. My friend Viktoria asked me if I would still fill those black notebooks with snippets, poems and drawings, as I used to in school. I loved carrying the small Moleskine books with me, and really put effort into the “ideas”, as I used to call the filled pages.

Unfortunately, I had to disappoint Viktoria. Since I started studying design, my patience with notebooks got close to zero. My handwriting is poor, it feels like my drawing skills didn’t improve over the years, and I just don’t take the time to go through printed magazines and cut out the things I like or find funny anymore. Now that creativity is “work” for me, the simple art of Scrapbooking feels dilettante. And I don’t like that. Remixing, editing and sorting the things you stumble upon is an integral part of the creative mind. I can still remember a lot of pages from all the old black books I filled, just because it took time and effort, and was actually fun to do. It was more than just a notebook with sloppy handwriting and messy sketches for sketches.

However – I didn’t manage to draw a lot. I watched some video tutorials on water colors after I visited my grandfather, wo enjoys doing it, but I wasn’t very successful or determined. With my return to Berlin, I stumbled back into reality. Even though the city is so much bigger and wide-spread, it’s also so much stronger connected. Everything is wired up and constantly buzzing. Next week, I’ll have my introduction day at University, and I am excited! It’s probably just me who’s buzzing, to be honest.

Things that caught my attention:

Rebecca Solnit on being a writer: “Find your metaphors where no one is looking.” I should read some more classic literature.

On the other hand, I enjoy delving through Gregor Weichbrodt’s corpus of work. He explores conceptual digital literature, for example with his Dictionary of non-notable Artists, or BÆBEL, a mash-up of IKEA furniture-assembly instructions.

A thought: Instead of in the woods, we’re getting lost on the internet.

Take some time to go to the woods though; autumn is amazing these days. Go with a friend, or maybe take some time for yourself to do so. Solitude is not loneliness, and it can be quite relaxing. Enjoy October!

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30. September 2016

August: Lists, Memorials, and Relationship Luxury

Leaves

For the time after my last day at work (I quit my job mid-August), I had a list prepared. I wrote down stuff that needed to be done for a long time, such as fixing the shelf in the kitchen, getting a new passport, or cleaning the windows. It also featured fun things like museums I’ve always wanted to go to, people I haven’t seen in a while, movies I wanted to watch.

August is over now, and I’ve been out of the day job for about three weeks. No surprise: I haven’t crossed-off a single item on the aforementioned list. Instead, my days were spent with the following: Waiting for the letter of acceptance for the master’s program I applied for (which I got today, finally!). Taking pictures of people taking pictures (they usually pose in an equally majestic way as the statue they’re photographing). I walked through Prague, wondering if I would find all the old buildings more interesting if there were some new ones in between. And while watching Stranger Things, I really wished it was set in the 90s rather than the 80s, just for a stylistic change. I enjoyed the series, but the 80s-aesthetics-card has been played way too often already. I could handle some flared pants, lava lamps and leather coats by now. (Ok, maybe no flared pants.)

I visited Vienna, and fell in love with the city. We spent a lot of time in those typical coffeehouses; places you can hardly find in Germany anymore: Old wooden furniture, piano music; everything smells as if you could write great novels in here. Also, I don’t have a lot of friends who enjoy wasting time in coffeehouses as much as I do. We get used to positive habits about the people close to us; we take them as a luxury that we don’t want to miss in future relationships. That’s why finding the right friends is hard, sometimes.

Other notes noticed:

1) The current run on the mattress market by startups [sic!] is insane. Every month, there is a new company trying to revolutionize the way we buy mattresses (quick reminder that one should switch their mattress every 10 to 12 years). I appreciate it, because I appreciate sleep. In his Aeon essay “Falling For Sleep”, Rubin Naiman explores how our perception and appreciation of it changed.

2) Ever wondered why dumb people seem so confident? Ever felt really unsure, even though you’re usually a smart person? It’s called Dunning-Kruger effect, and describes the cognitive bias of illusory superiority.

3) Park benches are a better memorial than tombstones.

4) I wonder: Is there a sign that things are not quite right? Symbols from movies (a flickering light in the dark street, a black cat running across it) evoke so. So vice versa, what are the signs that everything is quite alright at the moment? It feels so, anyway. August brought summer back, I went swimming in a lake for the first time this year, and I’m ready for autumn now. September, make me tick some more things that are not on the list.

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1. September 2016

July: Pocket Monsters, mundane practices, and Microsoft Excel

Statue with chest tattoo

It’s a rainy Sunday evening, and this weekend is the second one in a row which I enjoy in solitude and stimulating aimlessness — eating food, going out for coffee, catching some Pokémon, meeting friends I don’t see enough. We probably won’t get a cloud-free, diaphoretic summer this year, but you know what? That’s fine.

I saw them standing in small groups on sidewalks and in parks this month: Young people catching Pokémon, everywhere. When I finally tried the app and walked around my neighborhood, I was approached by a young boy on his bike, opening with the common question “Ey! You play Pokémon Go, too?” I took the chance and asked him about all the rules, which I still don’t fully understand (Make use of the stardust! Walk two more kilometers to hatch this egg!), but it was a nice encounter—which I probably would never have had without the game.

I remember being obsessed with those Pocket Monsters in the early 2000s. I spent all my money on the playing cards. My main interest wasn’t the game itself, I also never owned a Game Boy; I was more into the character design (subconsciously, I assume, but still). The original 151 Pokémon were all drawn by Ken Sugimori, and I still can draw some of them from my muscle memory. Unfortunately, this whole Anime thing was quite big when I was child, and I am not able to fully erase it from my style of drawing.

Change of scene: In the beginning of August, I will have my last days as a full-time employee at Edenspiekermann. After three years, I am saying Goodbye to an awesome agency and crowd, where I learned and grew enormously. This place made me a better designer, team player and communicator. I am moving on to work more freely on design projects, and to go more into design and technology research. When I applied at the university for a masters program, I realized that I haven’t had the feeling that something really counts for me for a while. I always took work very seriously, but it was never so close to me personally. With my application, this was different.

Applying for a master’s program required a proposal for a research topic. When we—I together with 12 other applicants—presented our ideas, we all got the same feedback. “This is too abstract! You are designers, bring your thoughts into shape! Design [Gestaltung] is always a direct artifact!” I am not sure if I agree with this statement of the professor fully, but it sparked an interesting thought: Most sciences, most abstract research, most ludicrous studies are based on very basic, almost mundane practices. To be a surgeon, you must likely cut open a human. To be a sexual therapist, you most likely must have sex. To be a designer, you have to create something. This thought makes me calm and motivated for my next chapter.

One other thing I found out in July: While we spoke of childhood memories before—do you remember Nelly’s and Kelly Rowland’s musical fling “Dilemma” from 2002? I never realized that in the music video, Kelly tries to text Nelly on her Nokia 9210 – by using Microsoft Excel (YouTube link). I love this ragged and faulty use of technology on TV. It reminded me of the awesome Source Code in TV and Films tumblr, which analyzes the  code’s actual meaning.

On that note, I’ll leave you to a good start into August. It’s the last proper summer month, so make it count: Cycle the city, try stand-up paddling, eat cucumber ice-cream, visit the outdoor cinema, make your own lemonade, and—thank god this trend is back—wear shorts and socks in sandals.

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31. Juli 2016

June: Wrong Turns, Echo Chambers, and Appearances

We can’t blame June for the volatile weather conditions. Or, can we? Anyway, it wasn’t only the weather that was turbulent the past month.

When the UK voted for the Brexit, my social networks exploded. Through my colleagues, I mainly know young people in the UK – all between their early twenties and mid-thirties. They all were devastated and frustrated, deeply concerned when the referendum’s result was delivered. The newspapers I read also went head over heels about the vast negative consequences. To me, it seemed so obvious that the UK had voted for the wrong decision, and I couldn’t wrap my head around how this had happened.

During the first days and weeks, I haven’t stumbled upon one single positive aspect about the decision to leave. I read through the comments on the Leave Campaign’s Facebook page, just to get out of my echo chamber (a word I found in this German interview with Miriam Meckel, and I much prefer it to “filter bubble”). It is crazy how we are trapped in this shield of algorithms and precast opinions. It really takes some time and effort to dig through this chamber and grasp some different, unheard voices.

Well, anyway, I did that, but honestly, I did not come across a lot of smart things. A campaign driven by lies, politicians driven by wrong-tracked overzealousness, media driven by populism. Voters driven by the wrong assumptions and untold truths. Eventually, the whole thing reminded me of Platon’s “Allegory of the Cave” – there is so much wisdom and perspective out there, and once you found it, it’s the most shattering process to pass it on. The School of Life YouTube channel has some nice, brief memory brush-ups on philosophy, history and the like. I enjoy watching it while brushing my teeth in the morning, or while having dinner by myself at night.

Unrelated but relevant: This thought came to me while riding the bike down Sonnenallee (not a recommended cycling route), just like epiphanies mainly happen during showers, walks or moments where no pen and paper are available. Anyway, I realized: We, too, are just small — and sometimes not so small — parts of other people’s lives. We jump in, we stay for a while, and in most cases, we leave again. We just make an appearance. And after this, things are free to move on without us.

July marks an important, finalizing month in my current phase of life. The last couple of years were filled with work, so much work, and I truly loved it. But August will be spent traveling (a little bit at least, because I am a horrible traveler), seeing friends and family, buying a proper office chair. We’ll see. But for now: July, some more sun please, and let’s go.

5. Juli 2016

May: Designers, Friends, and Amateurs

Or: This month basically was as gloomy as a song by The National.

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There is one tag line by Frank Chimero, which I often use as a personal excuse for everything that goes wrong in my life. “Professional Designer, Amateur Human”. This works perfectly for the past month: May.

It’s the moment in which I am sitting on the concrete stairs in front of Berlin’s “Haus der Kulturen der Welt”, a beautiful location right inside the city’s biggest park. The annual TYPO design conference takes place there. And while the conference was a huge success — we as the editorial team wrote over 70 blog posts for all the talks — I am sitting there, on the stairs, under me the silver reflections of the shallow water, and for a brief moment I have the feeling that I am loosing control of my life. It slips away. The moment is short but crisp and clear, and after it, everything seemed different. So I call my friend Eva.

She visited later that month, and as I wrote about how important it is to acknowledge the awesomeness of people who surround us: Eva really is awesome. Talking to her for ten minutes makes me motivated for life, it makes me curious and courageous, and everything seems doable and acceptable. Even if the whole conversation spins around a problem where we both don’t know the solution for: It makes me feel less like an amateur. Thanks for that.

Three other great people are Roman, Sebastian and Beate, who’s documentary about young philosophers was screened for the first time in Berlin last month. I lived with Roman when they started editing the material back in 2014 (!), so I knew bits and pieces. But the final movie turned out really wonderful. It makes the process of thinking visible, and manages to not be boring for a single second. The audience at the screening were mostly philosophy and cultural science students, and I learned: philosophy students ask a lot of questions. One of them wanted to know about the initial motivation to make the movie. I loved Sebastian’s reply: “I asked myself: Which movie do I have to make, that everyone else would simply fuck up?”

This was a key moment for me. A moment about relevance in creative work. A key to making purposeful things. There is so much design in this world that is useless, and so many valuable ideas that are so badly designed. Maybe because of all the amateurs. Sorry, this newsletter was messy, but so was May. Hopefully June will be better.

12. Juni 2016

April: Palaces, a trip to Milan, and one decade

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This blog turned 10 years in April. What the?! It started out as a crappy Blogger blog called “Blogski Christowski”, then I moved it to WordPress, and eventually ended up on Tumblr, because I once thought mobile blogging would become a thing. It didn’t though. Micro-blogging became a thing, and all the blogs I used to enjoy as a teenager disappeared. The only things people really blog about these days are green smoothies, fashion and the death of blogging. Everything else is on Twitter, Pinterest, Instagram, you name it. But I like it here. I like the old school flair the word “blog” pours. And I am glad some of you are still around. Thanks for that.

April was packed: I went to Milan for the first time. It’s a nice city (even though my friends mentioned through-out the trip how different Milan was to other Italian cities). What I don’t really understand is Italy’s coffee culture: You enter a café, order at one counter and pay (even if you haven’t decided for your type of croissant yet), then walk to another counter and choose the croissant, and finally order again – at another counter – the coffee you initially ordered. You have to drink it while standing in everyone’s way though, because if you sit down, the coffee gets really expensive. I don’t know. If you’re used to Berlin’s artisanal coffee-brewing craftsmanship, Italian coffee simply is nothing special.

We went to the furniture fair, Salone di Mobile, but realized that 24 halls full of chairs and brass side tables are too much to handle. We mainly were fascinated by the first halls; the “Classics”. Everything there was a bit too much (understatement of the year): Gold, marble, heavy curtains, a champaign bar that electrically rises out of a palatial wooden table. There is so much luxury in the world that we can’t even imagine.

More Milan: 150 years after Da Vinci finished his gigantic and famous mural “The Last Supper”, someone cut a door into it, and Jesus’ feet were gone. Like, who would do that? In German museums, you are likely to be expelled by the museum attendant if you don’t keep a safety distance of two meters from an exhibit.

Three more thoughts that popped up last month:

Always leave with the mindset of leaving for good. If you are a nervous traveller, do not think about the fact that you have to go back again. That thought pollutes the whole trip. Travel and think, Ok, I’m going to stay here.

Concerts are poems, really. I went to see Akua Naru, without knowing her, and I was sure that her music wasn’t really my kind of music. But her show was brilliant: A mixture of rap, jazz, mellow and loud, connected by a well-crafted narrative. Which is really the most important thing for a concert (and the reason why I hardly go to any concerts anymore).

All palaces are temporary palaces.

April was not only busy, but also decision-heavy. I wondered: Can decisions really be wrong if you decide to always make the best out of it? May will show us. I’m off to catch some sun now.

7. Mai 2016