Brain Pickings

Designing Media: Lessons from Today’s Greatest Media Innovators


Design titan Bill Moggridge has formidable credentials — designer of the world’s first laptop, director of the Smithsonian’s Cooper-Hewitt National Design Museum, co-founder of design innovation powerhouse IDEO, and celebrated as a pioneer of interaction design.

His new book, Designing Media, is exactly the kind of ambitious, compelling volume you’d expect from his reputation.

The book explores the evolution of mainstream media, both mass and personal, looking closely at the points of friction between old and new media models and the social norms they have sprouted. From design to civic engagement to the real-time web, Moggridge offers a faceted and layered survey of how our media habits came to be, where they’re going, and what it all means for how we relate to the world and each other.

To be fair, Designing Media isn’t exactly — at least not only — a book: The tome features a DVD containing 37 fascinating interviews with some of today’s greatest media innovators, including This American Life‘s Ira Glass, Pandora founder Tim Westergren, prominent New York Times design critic Alice Rawsthorn, Twitter founder @Ev, statistical stuntsman Hans Rosling, and Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg.

The laws of narrative are the laws of narrative. What engages us is what engages us.” ~ Ira Glass

Designing Media is out via MIT Press this month and atop our must-read books list this season.

via @HelenWalters

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William Kentridge: Anything Is Possible


What charcoal has to do with democracy, equality and the cultural necessity for absurdity.

South African artist William Kentridge is known for his unique animation technique and the subtle yet powerful political undercurrents of his work. Most famous for using only charcoal and a hint of blue or red pastel to create mesmerizing near-expressionist animations, his artwork comments on the apartheid not through the tired visual metaphors for black oppression and white extravagance but, rather, through complex and philosophical reflections on the duality of man.

This month, PBS’s ART:21 premiered William Kentridge: Anything Is Possible — a fascinating documentary about the artist’s creative process, offering a rare glimpse of the genius behind the charcoal drawings, animations, video installations, shadow plays, video installations, mechanical puppets, sculptures, operas, tapestries and live performance pieces that have made him one of today’s most exciting and diverse contemporary artists.

The film is available in 10 parts on the PBS website and features exclusive interviews with Kentridge in his studio, discussing the techniques and philosophy behind his work, his personal history as a white South African of Jewish descent, and his experiments with machines that use the mechanism of vision as a metaphor for our agency to make sense of the world.

[Absurdity] is in fact an accurate and a productive way of understanding the world. Why should we be interested in a clearly impossible story? Because, as Gogol says, in fact the impossible is what happens all the time.” ~ William Kentridge

Watch the full episode. See more ART:21.

Also available is a fantastic free 32-page educators’ guide, discussing Kentridge’s work in a broader cultural and political context.

For more on William Kentridge and his astounding work, we highly recommend William Kentridge: Trace. Prints from The Museum of Modern Art, the gorgeous companion book to MoMA’s recent Five Themes exhibition on Kentridge.

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Dancing Under The Gallows: The Story of Alice, the World’s Oldest Holocaust Survivor


Dancing Under The Gallows is the moving story of Alice Herz-Sommer who, at 106, is the world’s oldest Holocaust survivor.

Alice, an accomplished pianist and an extraordinarily optimistic spirit, has been taking refuge in her music for the past seven decades.

I love people. I love everyone. I love people — I love to speak with them, I’m interested in the life of other people.” ~ Alice Herz-Sommer

In 1942, Alice was a prominent concert pianist living in Prague. Just as she turned 39, she was deported to a Nazi a special concentration camp designed as a purgatory for artists, where tortured prisoners were permitted — if not forced — to paint, perform and make music as part of the Nazi’s effort to deceive the rest of the world by showing how “well” Jewish people were being treated.

When Alice plays the masters of classical music, she brings to the piano a style the world has long forgotten, emanating a deep nostalgia for a culture long gone.

Beethoven. He is a…miracle! His music is not only melody. What is inside… what is inside, how it’s filled. It’s full, it’s intensive.” ~ Alice Herz-Sommer

To support the project, you can pre-order a copy of the DVD and show some love on Facebook.

Thanks, Michal!

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PICKED: Influencers


Influencers is a 13-minute documentary about the sociology of tastemaking and what it means to be an “influencer,” exploring how trends in music, fashion and entertainment propagate across culture.

Though a bit too heavily doused in the buzzword-speak you’d find in trend analysts’ and agency planners’ decks, the film is nonetheless a solid effort by creators Davis Johnson and Paul Rojanathara.

‘Influencers’ belongs to the new generation of short films, webdocs, which combine the documentary style and the online experience.”

Despite the clear marketing prism through which the point of view is bent, Influencers does serve up a fascinating anthology of perspectives on, to use another buzzword, the groundswell of trends and creativity.

If you can get past the truisms and borderline fluff, the film offers a good dose of inspiration through a handful of case studies, stitched together with meticulous art direction, beautiful cinematography and a wonderfully curated soundtrack.

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