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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


The 2020 Project: Visions of the Connected Future

What Scandinavian luminaries have to do with LEGO and the future of humanity.

There’s no question we live in an age where the cultural landscape is moving more rapidly than many of us can process towards something few of us can foresee. But an unlikely contender is aiming to construct a sober and visionary portrait of our collective future: Telecom giant Ericsson has launched the 2020 Project — a peek inside the minds of twenty of today’s sharpest thinkers for a glimpse of tomorrow.

Ericsson is asking these twenty visionaries to paint a picture of what the world will look like in 2010 in a series of video interviews that explore how connectivity and mobility are changing the world.

Though contributions so far come strictly from the (mostly Scandinavian) academia circuit — professors, authors, researchers — they are intelligenty curated in a way that offers randge and breadth of perspectives, covering everything from access to knowledge to female empowerment to sustainability to human rights.

Still, we hope to see some more diverse luminaries from less academic disciplines and the fringes of culture. It would be particularly fascinating to hear how artists, not ordinarily associated with technology, are being affected by the digital revoluion and how they see the future of communication.

The projet is part BigThink, part Sputnik Observatory, part new breed of realistic optimism for the future.

We can be the generation to end extreme poverty on the planet. No other generation before us could make that claim. No other generation before us had that power in our hands. What a thrill that we can be the ones to do it.” ~ Jeffrey Sachs

Our favorite, which we already raved about on Twitter last week: Blockbuster TED talk machine Hans Rosling, who explains the future of humanity in LEGO and a charming Swedish accent.

The weakest point today is the lack of global governance. Nation states are still very strong. We talk about globalization, but the fact is that nations are very strong. But we do not have a very strong united nation. We do not have a mechanism for governance. West America and Eastern Europe have to accept the world of equal nations. They have to accept that they have no given advantage over the rest of the world. And that’s good for them.” ~ Hans Rosling

Keep an eye on the 2020 Project as more interviews are being continuously revealed this month.

via Open Culture


Gift Guide Part 3: Free

DIY goodness, intellectual enrichment, and how to go cheap without being cheap.

This is the final installment in the curated 3-part Brain Pickings holiday gift guide. Today, we’re saluting thrift and last-minuteness with five priceless yet free gifts that show off your creative connoisseurship without making a dent in your wallet.


itunes.gifEveryone loves a good mixtape. But, let’s face it, it isn’t the most original — or, for that matter, the most intellectually enriching — of gifts. So why not put a personal growth spin on the cultural classic? iTunes is actually a fantastic resource for free podcasts and lectures from the world’s best universities, across a multitude of disciplines. Show off your eclectic yet refined taste by burning your giftee a mix of selected episodes from a few smart podcasts — think part sampler, part mixtape, part gift certificate to self-improvement.

Here are a few of our favorites to get you started:

Perfect for: Lifelong learners, personal growth fiends, the eclectically curious


We sung the praises of nothing a while ago, and it’s still one of the best gifts out there. It’s cheap, but you aren’t — it’s a clever and tongue-in-cheek choice that serves as a powerful antidote to our culture of excess. Your socially-conscious friends will appreciate it, and they won’t have to regift it along with that bizarre snow globe from grandma.

Perfect for: The environmentally concerned, those with a good conscience and good sense of humor


Here’s a wonderful DIY gift that’s both super cool and doable even with the craft skill level of a six-year-old — cork photo coasters.

All you need: Some photos, a pen, an X-acto knife, a few very, very basic art supplies and sheets of cork. Depending on your choice of photos, you can make the coasters artsy or personal, but either way, they’re bound to delight — not to mention save a coffeetable or two from those dreaded mug circles.

Perfect for: Everyone


Ah, the paper fortuneteller — what a fond childhood memory. But, if you’re like us, your adult self couldn’t make one to save your life. Thankfully, the good folks at eHow have put together a simple how-to video that revives this nostalgic gem.

Ramp up the cool factor by getting creative with the paper itself and/or slipping in a few clever, inside-jokey fortunes.

Perfect for: Retrostalgics, the kid at heart, those who value personal, non-generic gifts


Yes, we’re being shamelessly self-promotional — but that’s only because we fervently believe in our mission, and there’s no shame in that.

Brain Pickings aims to enrich people’s creative and intellectual scope by taking them on a curated journey into the great creative unknown — because we believe indiscriminate curiosity and exposure to cross-disciplinary interestingness fuels our inner capacity for creativity. So tickle a friend’s brain by introducing them to Brain Pickings — you can sign them up for our newsletter for a sampler, or just send them a simple note/email with our URL.

Inspired information is, after all, the greatest gift of all. So who cares if it doesn’t come in giftwrap and a red ribbon?

Perfect for: Everyone — especially the chronically curious, those immersed in creative culture


Interview with Dava Viz Star Pedro Monteiro

Why data viz must have a prominent seat at the newsroom table, or how the Internet is increasing the need for aesthetics.

Today, we’re picking the brains of Portuguese data viz maestro Pedro Monteiro, whose work on Whatype and Visualisation Magazine makes him one of the most exciting champions of today’s emerging data visualization culture.


Hey Pedro, good to have you. Tell us a bit about yourself, your background and your brand of curiosity.

Thanks for having me.

I’m a graphic designer from Portugal. I work on VISÃO, a weekly newsmagazine, as a designer and a “consultant” for visual information. I’m also a consultant for INNOVATION International Media Consulting Group. I’m self-taught in design, having studied mathematics in college. What fascinates me in design is the communication with people and the different storytelling techniques you can use to craft the best “tone.”


When and how did you first get into information visualization?

I was studying typographic grids to use in VISÃO and I discovered the work of [iconic Swiss designer] Karl Gerstner. It was amazing! I went on to understand the making of his Complex Grid (still the most popular post on Whatype) and bought his book, Designing Programmes.

I guess it was my math side, but the idea of approaching a design problem by making a list of all the complexities and then find solutions for each — all done in theory before starting the design — really appealed to me.

This kind of thinking made much sense to me and I started playing with it. Eventually, I applied this in a series I was working on for Whatype about the Kyoto Protocol.

I went on a web search and started finding a great deal of incredible work. Not only was it beautiful, but most importantly, it told stories, all by data and numbers. In a way, I could say that information visualization built the bridge between my education and my practice.


Sustainability seems to be a running undercurrent in a lot of your work. How do you see designers and visual artists becoming change agents in the issues they care about?

I believe that good design is good communication, finding the best way to communicate an idea or a concept. This allows designers to take a huge part in making change happen in the world.

Just see what IDEO is doing with their design thinking approach. The work that Stefanie Posavec did with Kerouac’s On The Road, it changes the world and the way people look at it. Look at Hans Rosling’s TED talks, they are changing much of what people used to believe and think.

That’s some of the appeal that data visualization has for me — being able to show something, to tell a story that is hidden in raw data.


How did the idea for Visualisation Magazine first come up? What is the project ultimately trying to achieve, besides offering a wonderful selection of visual candy?

The original idea is not mine. Chris Watson created the magazine for his site, Visual Think Map. When I joined his site, I offered my services to redesign the original magazine.

I wanted to make something that was “transparent” enough not to “cover” the incredible works that the magazine was presenting. In a way, this was a very Swiss approach. Chris was kind enough to let me on board and we’ve collaborated to produce the present product.

Truth be told, most of the hard work on Visualisation Magazine is upon Chris’s shoulders and he is doing a great job.

The project aims to introduce a broader audience to the world of visualization. And, hopefully, inspire and invite even more people to join this area of expertise. The magazine is also trying to create an archive of great work, cataloging it by visualization type. Each volume is about a specific technique or way of displaying information, making it a good reference book for designers.


We’re very big on the concept of curated content here — we’ve noticed that each issue of the magazine is curated by a different beacon of visualization. And in a way, every data viz artist is a curator when choosing which information to use, culling the relevant data from the noise. What role do you see curators playing in bringing data visualization to the masses and helping us make sense of the increasing amount of information out there?

I agree with the notion that a data viz artist is a curator when working on the data and choosing the best graphic way to reveal the story within. In that sense, this curatory role is of great importance.

Data visualization is going to play an incredibly important role in our lives — like you said, there is an amount of data surrounding us today that is incomprehensible without the proper techniques to “look” inside it.

There is so much to be learned and our world, our lives need this knowledge. Some great projects — like Tracing the Visitor’s Eye — have demonstrated this.

For me, working in journalism, there is also a lot that can be taken from data visualization. Journalists have always been curators, diving into the metaphorical sea to find the stories that would be important and of interest to the public. Today, with the Internet and the easy access to information by the public, journalists’ role must again be that of curators, but the “sea” has changed.

What we need today are richer explanations of the news — we need a 360º view of the major events that are happening. Having knowledge of data viz inside a newsroom can provide news with more profound information. There are great stories inside all the data available today.

For Visualisation Magazine, the curators are very important in offering a different view of data viz, different views from Chris’s or mine. A curator also gives the project a special quality stamp, achieving an openness to the community. It’s a magazine about the data viz community, by the community and to the community and beyond.


Thanks for letting us pick your brains, Pedro. Any last thoughts left unpicked?

I’d like to just say that with data visualization becoming more open to the general public comes a bigger challenge of getting the community to look at each other’s work, find the value in it and discuss its shortcommings in a constructive way.

I agree with Robert Kosara when he says that we need to built a sense of data viz criticism. We must be able to criticize the works made public, but without making the mistaken assumption that most of the data viz knowledge is already cemented and that there are no new ways of having different approaches.

Manuel Lima’s Information Visualization Manifesto — even if I don’t agree with every little part of it — is a great effort in achieving this.

My guess is that one must be as concerned about the data being shown as with the intention of telling its story. Sometimes, it takes a certain degree of aesthetics in order to draw the audience into your story. Other times, you need to keep away from aesthetic approaches for the best result.

We must be able to be open-minded about data viz techniques and experiences in order to keep this field growing quickly as it must, making it a field that welcomes newcomers with new and fresh voices and views.


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