Brain Pickings

Posts Tagged ‘design’

19 NOVEMBER, 2009

Nonsequential Narratives: Hypertextual Books


What your weapon of choice has to do with the evolution of storytelling.

Remember Choose Your Own Adventure gamebooks, the interactive fiction hit of the 80’s? Designer Christian Swinehart is dissecting the genre in CYOA — an incredibly ambitious atomic-level structural analysis of a dataset of 12 such books, visualizing all the possible reader paths within the narrative.

The color-coded visualizations divide the plot of each book into different structural elements and groups based on the number of choices offered and how positive or negative the story ending is. The twelve books are then laid out chronologically, each arranged into rows of ten pages to better reveal their structural patterns. You can even explore each of the narratives as an animated visualization.

This visual dissection of literature reminds us of Stefanie Posavec’s Writing Without Words, though Swinehart’s approach is much less abstract and far more technically elaborate.

While CYOA books may seem like a fad of the past, they’re actually an early example of much of the non-linear storytelling and interactive narratives that take place on the web today — jumping around book pages, constructing your own story, is a lot like exploring a blog through its tag cloud rather than reading the entries sequentially, or skimming your RSS reader with articles from different publishers showing up in a shared timeline, or just hopping around your countless browser tabs.

What makes Swinehart’s CYOA visualizations noteworthy is that they offer insight not only into the structural patterns of the genre, but also into its evolution, revealing a gradual decline in possible endings — the earlier books show a colorful mix of reds and oranges, the middle of the story outcome polarity spectrum, while in the later ones a single favorable ending, in yellow or blue, tends to emerge.

And we hope this isn’t a prophetic metaphor for where the evolution of modern storytelling is headed — but we have to agree with artist and explorer Jonathan Harris, who has spoken up against the sad homogenization of the web. In an era where anyone can be the co-creator of our collective story, it’s all the more important to preserve the authenticity of voices and the diversity of proverbial “reader paths.”

Explore CYOA and think about the endings you’re choosing for your own stories through the kinds of content and narratives you engage with daily, both online and off.

via Information Aesthetics

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16 NOVEMBER, 2009

Ed Emberley’s Make a World: The Film


What alligators from 1972 have to do with the visual culture of modern design.

In 1972, iconic illustrator Ed Emberley published Make a World — a seemingly simple yet tremendously influential 32-page book, filled with 400 priceless illustrations that taught children how to draw anything and everything, from alligators to zeppelins. It shaped the visual culture of an entire generation of artists, designers and casual art-dabblers, democratizing aesthetic perception and practice.

This year, a collective of dedicated enthusiasts is working on Make a World: The Film — an independent documentary about the life and magic of Ed Emberley.

One of the project’s goals is to crowdsource stories, drawings and sketches inspired by Emberley’s work — so if you have one, email it to the filmmakers.

And like any grassroots art and culture project, the film could use some help from like-minded Emberley evangelists — you can get involved by donating money or your professional services, support the film by buying one of these gorgeous t-shirts from their store, and follow the project on Twitter.

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13 NOVEMBER, 2009

A Metaphor for Creativity: 5 Shapes, 3520 Artworks


Why ideas are like pieces of leather and what sneakers have to do with your capacity for creativity.

We believe creativity is all about innovative ways of combining the existing ideas, skills and pieces of inspiration that live in your mental pool of resources. (And we make it our mission to continuously fill that mental pool of yours with fascinating bits of diverse and eclectic brilliance.)

Which is why we love the concept behind Hayworth Mid II, the latest line of limited-edition sneakers by Y-3, in collaboration with graffiti artist Momo.

The idea is brilliantly simple — Momo cut five double-sided shapes, combinable into 3520 artworks by changing up their layered order on a nail. (Well, technically, there are 3840 possible combinations, but 320 of them become redundant when the ring, the smallest shape, becomes obscured by one of the larger shapes.)

Y-3 only produced 350 pairs of sneakers, so each was technically unique, but this sort of semi-customization raises an interesting question: Can we really automatize customization while still maintaining its psychological and conceptual appeal?

In a way, ideas are like these shape combinations — except only a fraction of the combinations are truly great ideas. Which is why it’s so important to build a vast pool of mental “shapes” — thoughts and memories and pieces of inspiration — combinable in near-infinite ways into new ideas, thus maximizing the drops of brilliance within that sea of possibility. And there’s no better way to do that than by growing indiscriminate curiosity about the eclectic interestingness of culture.

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