every good boy deserves fudge

March 21st, 2013

my mother was more intent than most on my receiving education opportunities. neither of my parents grew up with a focus on education. for most of my school years, mom made a point of being friendly with my teachers, inviting them over for dinner and so on.

sometimes it was political. a few years in, it was clear i was developing interest and skill in art. my father couldn’t see any money in that. he encouraged law, medicine, accounting—these things he understood as successful. one night my teacher and mother teamed up and convinced him to allow me to follow my own path. i’m surprised it didn’t take four or five ladies, but whatever they said, there was a clear change in his attitude which i now appreciate.

other times, my mother would get a little tip. sometimes that makes all the difference. i remember only caring about reading as a competitive event. i would do things to annoy my classmate and arch enemy Malcolm Hawker, like draw four fingers on a hand because it fit better (the five on his, i’d insist, looked more like a daisy); or, pronouncing “the” like “thee” simply because it infuriated him. before summer vacation arrived, mom inquired about how to ensure a few months out of school wasn’t a waste. my teacher, with simple wisdom, told her to buy me comic books. the theory was that if i enjoyed them, i’d read them, and that it was a great way to improve my reading skills.

she was right, of course. i went through them voraciously. it turns out even lowly comic books were well-edited, so i absorbed spelling and punctuation. the dialog may have been simple, but the themes were sometimes mature. meanwhile, i was exposed to a wide variety of drawing, inking, coloring, type, and layout styles that served me well my whole life. also, i use exclamation points liberally!

when i started piano lessons, my parents applied a similar principle, granting me a comic for each page i’d complete in my music theory workbook. needless to say, i advanced faster than most at theory.

authenticity: truth is still the new gold standard

March 15th, 2012

fastcodesign.com just published an article proclaiming that “Fake Authenticity Is Now A-Okay.” has some great examples, summarizing the trends currently proving i was only close to bullseye in 1996 when i said “if information is the currency of this new age, then truth will be the new gold standard.”

at the time, i foretold a future where the signal to noise ratio was so weak there’d be high demand for anything that amplified the signal, or at least picked nuggets of it out of the mountain of information noise with some regularity. hence the rise of Google, for instance. i also believed that truth in that signal would be more valuable than any other era of history. that mountain of noise has turned out to be just as deceptive and distracting as i’d feared, mostly trivial, but also full of half truths and outright lies. we protect and prove our identities in ways unheard of in 1996. cell phone videos hold authorities accountable. if a politician changes his opinion, we now count on it having been recorded, transcribed, tagged and filed for the ages.

what i didn’t anticipate was that we’d be satiated by the appearance of authenticity, or “truthiness,” as Stephen Colbert coined it in 2005. Fast Company points out F.S.C. Barber shops and Hipstamatic camera apps as examples of fake as hell references to the authentic past. i don’t think it’s mere nostalgia. these days, if it feels right—-without regard for critical thinking or facts—-it’s good enough. in our rush to consume information and experiences at accelerating rates, we make do without evidence or process, trusting that it will work out for the most part. twenty one hours ago, the New York Times proclaimed that Encyclopaedia Britannica is going out of print after 244 years. time will tell whether there’s much of a market for fact-checked info in a world where wikipedia.com is cited as a news source.

trouble is, dogs won’t stop eating chocolate until it’s gone or they die, and psychologists have proven we’re not far removed. we’re wired to believe what we feel, then rationalize it vehemently in defense of ourselves. what feels right is often bad for you, especially in a world that makes more money off your overfed feelings than your underdeveloped logic.

Jonathan Ives, SVP of Industrial Design at Apple, believes their products are successful because of discipline, “a sincere, genuine appetite to do something that is better,” rather than just superficially new or different. i believe there’s truth in that, but he chooses words that load his messages with authenticity for marketing reasons too. is the new thicker, heavier iPad genuinely better? what happens when a company figures out how to make their products feel authentic, without having to invest in penetrating design?

what happens when all leaders, food, and factoids are entirely focused on feeling honest, helpful, hopeful, and healthy, instead of being those things?

work-life balance

May 15th, 2011

glassdoor.com has announced the top twenty-five companies for work-life balance (2011). who they are won’t be of much good to you if you’re a video game developer, since none of them are video game developers. those of you looking to escape the verdant fields of youthful passion slash late nights and “crunch” weeks should definitely take note, though.

what did i notice as standout similarities?

  • flexibility, usually of schedule. Chevron innovates here with a nine-day fortnight system.

  • commitment to work-life balance, top down. in my experience, crunch is always—always—the result of a management failure: targets, estimates, strategy, tactics, etc., so interested game execs could start there.

  • perks that make employees’ lives easier outside work, such as food (healthy is often mentioned, and not just lunch, but breakfast too), laundry, gym (memberships, on-site, or fitness sessions), car servicing, and so on.

  • vacation days. since these are not work, seems like an easy way to increase the life end of the ratio. closely related, Autodesk offers sabbatical every four years.