I just watched an inspiring video about what it means to be a designer today. It’s called “When We Build” by Wilson Miner.
It’s worth watching the video because the images, music, video, and his hypnotically powerful vocal pacing are outstanding. But if you don’t have time now or you need more convincing, here are my notes. Most of the quotes are word for word because he chose his words and ideas as carefully as he chose his media.
Wilson, thank you so much for this talk – I can’t even imagine how powerful it would be in person.
[1:00] Warning that it’s going to be a strange talk
I’ve been cynical about the potential of what we do – “It’s just a website, get over it”
This is a uniquely exciting time to be designing digital tools and products
[2:22] Examples of things he has been working on
The house I grew up in – like a museum, collections of antique furniture, books, instruments, computers, etc
When my father passed away, all of “his” things resurfaced in my life
The classic Mercedes that was handed down to him
We invest ourselves in things, but they’re just things, tools, they fulfill a need
They’re empty vessels that we fill up with our stories
They reflect our desires, hopes for the future, and our best images of ourselves
[4:50] “We shape our tools, and thereafter our tools shape us.” Marshall Macluhan
Academic celebrity in 60s/70s
Understanding Media: The Extensions of Man [LINK] – how electronic media (TV) impacts society and culture
Each thing we create creates a new environment
The medium is the message
When you introduce a new medium into society, it changes our outlook, attitudes, our feelings about the world
Light bulb is a medium that creates a new environment to lengthen the workday, change how and when people can interact and gather; it changes how we behave, and so it changes how we think
Car is very noticeable effect
Cars haven’t chaned much in 100 years, but we changed the world around it, our whole way of living
[7:15] Macluhan’s Ideas were way ahead of their time, but hard to convey secondhand
quotes from Macluhan, Steve Jobs “Bicycle for Our Minds”
[11:57] Computers are a Bicycle for Our Minds
Tools are empowering, like a bionic augmentation for our minds
[12:35] Computers have become invisible
Eniac was huge, physical, mechanical interaction
PDP-1 from IBM – has a display
Space War – 1st computer game
Real time, direct interaction was something that had to be invented
[15:00] Removing things
Remove the network, and create wires
Make the computer smaller and portable
In science fiction, screens are everywhere (e.g. 2001 Space Odyssey)
Even 10 years ago, this seemed futuristic
What’s your “time to screen” in the morning?
How much more of our downtime are we spending in front of a screen?
[17:10] The car shaped our environment in the 20th century, the screen will be as important in the 21st
What goes on those screens is pretty important
The things we choose the surround ourselves determines what we will become
We’re not just making pretty interfaces; we’re in the process of building an environment where we’ll spend most of our time, for the rest of our lives
We’re the deisgners, we’re the builders – what do we want that environment to feel like? What do we want to feel like?
[18:50] Simplicity is how designers see the world
Example: a friend who literally couldn’t boil water and got uncomfortable in kitchens
There’s no such thing as a simple recipe for someone who can’t operate a stove
“The only intuitive interface is the nipple. Everything after that is learned.”
We take a lot of information and understanding for granted because we’ve already learned it.
What we think is intuitive is based on complex sets of learned understanding
Graphic: How to use a magazine by Khoi Vin – shows how complex it is and how much we already know how to use it
[21:50] Designers are already assuming what people know
e.g. use a mouse, underlined text can be clicked on
Those assumptions are changing faster than we’re used to, e.g. radio adoption vs TV, Youtube, iPhone
We have less time to adjust to and learn new environments
It’s not enough to rely on what we expect other people to know
[23:36] We need to be always learning, and let go of what we already know
The don’t know mind is open to learning, discovery, truth about how the world really is, rather than how we expect it
“At times of change, the learners are the ones who will inherit the world, while the knowers will be beautifully prepared for a world which no longer exists.” Alistair Smith
If you want a clue to rapid technological change, look at artists
New environments and new media require human input, control
[25:15] Examples about Robert Irwin
Transform space so people experience something different; change what people perceive and be aware of your imperception
Get energy with color, spacing, lines, dots that fade away but still convey energy
Change the room – change the lights, stretch piano wire across the ugliest wall in the room, hang translucent fabric across the ceiling
Visitors had to walk by the museum and decide what was going on – no one noticed
No one cared about what he did, but it changed everything about his work
He didn’t create the room, but he responded to it
He integrated them to create decisive gestures, to change how the room felt
The smallest changes can be transformative, but they have to be the right changes.
Discovering what those are takes patience. You have to pay attention, you have to be available in response.
Responsiveness isn’t something we can just build into our product, it’s an attitude we can adopt.
We can learn to listen to the changing environment, and be available in response.
We can come in with our bag of tricks and solutions, and come up short.
But we can stay, keep trying until we find what fits.
Architecture: “When we build, let us think that we build forever. Let it not be for present delight, nor for present use alone. Let it be such work as our descendants will thank us for.” John Ruskin
Websites have a short shelf-life, especially compared to a house, a car, a chair.
We don’t design things that stand still – we design organisms, ecosystems.
The ones that survive are the ones that adapt to the environment; evolve, mutate, respond
Sometimes our imaginations don’t stretch far ahead, we don’t look behind us for inspiration.
When we design for the world of screens, we have a long time ahead of us, and a long history older than the web, or software, or computers.
We’re tool builders – we make things that change our lives, and that change the world.
We’re the product of the world, but we’re also its designer.
Design is the choices we make about the world we want to live in.
We choose where to live, what to surround ourselves with, and what to spend our time and energy on. We make our world what it is, and we become the kind of people that live in it.
When we’re gone, all that’s left of us is what we made. The things you and I make may not leave a visible footprint on the earth, but everything we make takes up space, makes noise, competes for attention.
What do we want to spend more time on? What shapes us? What nourishes us? What do we want to see grow?
We all have an idea, we all have somethign we want to make for no other reason than that we want it to exist. Something small but meaningful.
We get to make things that we hope will nudge the world in what he hope is the right direction.
This is a great job.