Published

Decentering Whiteness in Design History, an annotated bibliography in progress

Check out Decentering Whiteness in Design History, an annotated bibliography in progress.

One of the great FemOS ladies shared the above resource recently. She came across it via the Simply Secure Slack chat. It seems like a strong doc, I hope that the researchers and others continue to add to it.

If you’re looking for resources on a particular topic like typography or graphic design, it’s best to refer to their hashtag list currently on page 8 (search the doc for “Hashtag Authority List” if it moves). Then find a tag you’re interested in and search the doc for that tag.

Below is a list of a few resources that caught my eye and I’d like to follow up on. These are all freely available online in one form or another or could likely be loaned from a library.

  • “The Font that Never Was: Linotype and the “Phonetic Chinese Alphabet” of 1921”, an article by Thomas S. Mullaney. The article is behind a paywall, but he also presented it at ATypI 2016 (see video).
  • Saki Mafundikwa’s TED talk Ingenuity and elegance in ancient African alphabets
  • Chromophobia by David Batchelor published in 2001. The editorial description: “The central argument of Chromophobia is that a chromophobic impulse—a fear of corruption or contamination through colour—lurks within much Western cultural and intellectual thought. This is apparent in the many and varied attempts to purge colour, either by making it the property of some ‘foreign body’—the oriental, the feminine, the infantile, the vulgar, or the pathological—or by relegating it to the realm of the superficial, the supplementary, the inessential, or the cosmetic.” Purchase from the publisher, buy it secondhand, or look for it at local library.
  • “New Blackface: Neuland and Lithos as Stereotypography”, an essay by Rob Giampietro that was originally published in the journal of the Type Directors Club (an org that has been been in hot water over the past few months, incidentally…). It’s available to read on his website.
  • Design in California and Mexico 1915–1985, the catalogue for the exhibition “Found in Translation: Design in California and Mexico 1915–1985” at LACMA in 2018. Purchase from the LACMA online store, buy it secondhand. Feel like this is unlikely to be in a local library unfortunately.
  • “Violence and Economic Growth: Evidence from African American Patents, 1870–1940” by Lisa Cook, published in the Journal of Economic Growth in June 2014. Cook analyzed over two million patents, cross-referencing with Census records to track Black patent activity over time. From the bibliography: “Her data suggested something huge happened after 1921 that caused the rate of Black patenting to tank after that date; it turned out to be the destruction of “Black Wall Street” during the Tulsa massacre.” Available in full as a PDF via Cook’s website.

Time to reintroduce a whole lot of color on this site, I think!

Published

Commonplace WordPress theme

I’ve been gradually updating the WordPress theme that powers this site with the help of a very talented designer and thinker, my friend Bec Worth.

It began with conversations about overhauling her own site. She had a few disparate Tumblrs with a ton (and I really do mean a ton) of great references, photos, and more that had accumulated over the years. All of them had fallen in to disuse for one reason or another, but she still felt like some sort of outlet for collecting these sorts of snippets and longer-format writing would be really useful. She brought up the Commonplace book as a particular inspiration. I’d never come across it before but it really resonated.

We continued talking about her site, and I started to restructure my old color-heavy Notebook theme (view in Wayback Machine) to strip out the less necessary functionality, improve the accessibility, etc. I wanted to make it something that could be more widely useful to not just me and Bec, but others as well. The early version of this new theme used variable Work Sans (view in Wayback Machine)

She liked where it was going, so we got her set up on a WordPress instance and used the Tumblr importer to pull in all of that old content. Since then, we’ve been using her log and my site to test out ideas and continue pushing the idea of what a Commonplace Book could be on the web. For more along these lines, I recommend reading her post “What would a Commonplace Book feel like on the web?

What’s next

It’s far from finished. The type is nowhere near as tight as Bec’s designs, I need to spend a bit more time on that! Amongst other things, I need to clean up the table of posts, add a thumbnail view, and improve the gallery block styles. We’re also going to figure out a way of highlighting work and other projects, something that draws a bit more attention than normal posts.

And color! We’d like to make it possible for people to select preferred text colors, maybe on a post-by-post basis or per category. Color is tricky though, I’d like to preserve some baseline of legibility and I’m not sure how much I could do as the developer to enforce that. Also, how do we handle this if we introduce dark mode support? The HSL or LCH color spaces might be helpful.

I’m not planning to submit this to the WordPress theme directory. Right now, this means that installation and updates are pretty manual, the theme has to be uploaded via FTP before it can be installed. Because of that, I’ll eventually set up an update server so that anyone using the theme can perform one-click updates from the WordPress admin area. Note to self: see this article for more on how to do this.

Realistically, people using the theme might want to change up certain aspects of the theme to be more “them”. Instead of adding a ton of theme options like font pickers and that sort of thing, I’d like to encourage people to tinker with it themselves. This is going to require a bit of documentation to point people in the right direction. I’ll probably start with how someone with little-to-no CSS experience could go about changing the font (i.e. upload font files in the Media library then add the necessary CSS lines in the Customizer, or setting up a child theme).

Clearly, it’s a work in progress!

But anyone is welcome to give it a try for themselves. I recommend it if you’ve been looking for a place to keep important references or get thoughts out of your head. Head to the commonplace-wp-theme GitHub repository to download it and read a bit more.

If you do end up using it, we’d love to know.

Published

Hannah’s Rietveld crate chair and other DIY furniture

HB gave herself a scrapheap challenge and made a Rietveld crate chair. I’m green with envy, it looks so great. She said it’s super comfy, which makes sense given the Adirondack-y angles and nice big armrests wide enough to rest a drink. Photos below are from the lady herself.

Plans for a Rietveld crate chair drawn by Hannah Blows

Hannah’s plans

Woman sitting in Rietveld crate chair in garden with a cat behind her

Hannah relaxing in the finished product with a friend in the bg

Definitely would like to make this, we need some furniture. Note to self: minute differences in the angles, measurements, screw placement, materials, etc. make a big difference in the final result. Tread with care and joy.

In relation to the crate chair, see also Rietveld’s original plans, Self-assembly’s instructions, and Susan Young’s Instructables post.


Other beginner-friendly DIY furniture

For other beginner-friendly DIY furniture that is geared towards simplicity (fewer cuts, mostly right angles, straightforward lumber sizes, not much fuss in finishing, etc.), check out: RietveldBuilder, this Rietveld couch plan on Etsy, Van Bo Le-Mentzel’s Berliner Hocker, Ian Anderson’s Two-by-two chair on Self-assembly, the Wave Hill Garden Chair (inspired by Rietveld’s Red Blue chair), Rietveld’s Beugel chair (I can imagine tweaking this design slightly to be more easily made with few tools), Jesse Kamm and her husband’s Donald Judd-inspired furniture, Judd’s original wood furniture that one could attempt…

I’m sure there’s a lot more along these lines out there by more female and less Euro-centric designers, would love to see other inspo and plans.

Materials and tools

If you’re not salvaging, then you have to select materials at some point. Popular Woodworking has some good writing on this topic, particularly their Choose the Right Plywood, How to Prepare Construction Lumber for Furniture, and What’s the Difference Between Screws? articles. Some DIY furniture plans like Enzo Mari’s Autoprogetazzione call for nails, but most of the time you’re better off with screws and glue for longevity.

The bare minimum of tools I like to have around for a DIY furniture project along these lines includes: a sliding t-bevel + protractor or a combination square; a sharp hand saw (read about Japanese pull saws vs Western push saws); multiple grades of sandpaper; a drill with a bit for pilot holes; a screw driver that matches up with your screw heads; a long metal ruler; a pencil; and a good vacuum. Additional items that are great to have include: a chop saw or table saw; a countersink bit attachment; and clamps.

Measurements are such a critical part of furniture making. If interested in figuring out how to choose good measuring tools, see Popular Woodworking’s “Precision Instruments for Woodworkers” parts 1, 2, 3, and 4. You probably don’t need crazy high-quality tools for the sorts of DIY furniture I’m talking about here, but if you’re buying a new tool, you might as well buy the best you can afford.

Edited 26 June 2020 at 11:30am to add notes about materials and tools and to add Self-Assembly links since it’s back online.

Published

Date-based colour

Read “Dynamic, Date-Based Color with JavaScript, HSL, and CSS Variables” by Rob Weychert

This is such a useful article. His implementation on Tinnitus Tracker is definitely more involved than what I’ve done on this site, particularly what he’s done to account for inherent saturation levels and lightness vs luminance. And his colour wheel mapping is slightly offset from mine. I feel like August is the reddest month! I’ve wanted to reconsider the colour here for a while, particularly since the accessibility of some of the hues isn’t up-to-snuff. Rob’s write-up might make that adjustment a bit more straightforward which is a big relief.

I remember being really interested in where Grant Custer went with colour on his blog when I started screwing around with colour on this site. See his blog in 2013 on the Internet Archive. I wanted to see whether or not there was some way to ambiguously reflect where I was in the world, particularly since I live so far away from most of my family.

The first version of the colour experimentation on this site mapped the HSL values to the season, temperature, and time of day where I was at the time the site was visited. This is an example from Paris in late 2016. The hue value was mapped to the date/season (same as now), and the lightness was mapped to the time of day using Moment.js and Moment Timezone. The goal was to map the saturation to the weather where I was using the OpenWeatherMap API with stormy and cloudy days being less saturated, but that never came to be since the weather descriptions weren’t consistent enough. I ended up mapping the saturation to the temperature instead, but I don’t think it was quite as effective.

When I turned the site in to a blog first and foremost, I dropped the location and weather aspect. It could be fun to return to it since it might bring a bit more variation, particularly on the list page. Might be a little wild though, and it might be a massive headache to introduce location and weather on old posts… At bare minimum, I could probably incorporate the time of day as lightness. We’ll see!

Published

“I don’t think we know how to separate when we’re feeling pity and when we’re feeling inspiration.”

A short surfing with coffee. It’s getting quiet as clients and collaborators head off for the holidays, so I played inbox catch-up this morning

Issue 227 of Rachel Andrew’s CSS Layout News is full of excellent reading and listening related to accessible and inclusive design. The link I dug most in to was “Future Accessibility Guidelines—for People Who Can’t Wait to Read Them” by Alan Dalton. His article led me to Liz Jackson’s Interaction 2019 keynote “Empathy reifies disability stigmas”. Part way through, she recommends the book Pathological Altruism. Looks like a big read (and it’s not cheap!) but it seems very worthwhile.

From about 8min 28sec in to her talk:

Step two of the design thinking process is defining the problem — but because disabled people are rarely able to lead, it often becomes us that are defined as the problem rather than the problem being defined as the problem. It becomes about what we can or can’t do, rather than how something does or doesn’t work for us.

So you have our insights gleaned, we’re defined as the problem, and then designers enter this iterative process of ideation, prototyping, and testing which leads to the unacknowledged stick stepper design thinking or as I call it, design thanking.

Because we’re expected to be grateful for that which has been done for us.

Her talk is roughly 20 minutes long and well worth a watch.

Thanks to Sam for the CSS Layout News recommendation.

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Notes from MozFest 2019

This is super delayed! I typed up my rough notes right after MozFest finished in October but never pressed publish. Voila.

MozFest is 10 years old! This was their last year at Ravensbourne in London. Sad, but I’m excited to see where it heads next.

This is a haphazard brain-dump of everything I want to remember and follow up on, a lot of questions for future consideration and resources that I need to explore. See also Common Knowledge’s notes from MozFest written by Gemma Copeland.

Read more

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Reading via Victor Papanek

Two more books for the reading list: Future Shock by Alvin and Heidi Toffler and Small is Beautiful: A Study of Economics As If People Mattered by E.F. Schumacher.

These suggestions come via Victor Papanek’s preface to the first edition of his book Design for the Real World: Human Ecology and Social Change. I finally started reading it at long last after many recommendations from SB.

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Notes from Redecentralize 2019

Been a busy few days with Redecentralize on Friday followed by MozFest over the weekend. Redecentralize was a one-day unconference at 4th Floor Studios in Whitechapel. The event was expertly organised by Ira Bolychevsky and her crack team.

It was a day of thought-provoking conversations and notebook scribbling. This is an attempt to decode the scribbles, make some follow-up plans, and to generally summarise the day from my perspective. There was a lot going on so I can’t cover it all, but I’m going to keep an eye out for other people’s notes via the Redecentralize newsletter.

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\\ \\\\\\\\\\\ \\\\ \\\\  \\\\\\   \\\\\\\\\\\ \\\ \\\ \\\\\\\\
\\   \\\  \\\\\\\ \\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\ \\ \\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\  \
 \     \    \\  \   \    \\\  \  \\\   \  \   \\\ \\\ \\\  \   
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Mom’s dry-transfer lettering sheets

Sheet of white dry-transfer type in 36pt Futura Bold

How to use instant lettering

  1. Remove blue backing paper and position sheet on working surface. Shade lightly over the letter with a ballpoint pen.
  2. Gently peel away sheet – the letter is now transferred. Repeat until your lettering is complete.
  3. Re-burnish through backing paper over copy for firmer adhesion.

Finally sat down to take pics of Mom’s old dry-transfer lettering.

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Published

Title illustrations from Oct 1967 issue of speculative fiction mag New Worlds

Micheal Butterworth kindly brought a bunch of original copies of New Worlds and Corridor to a recent Corridor8 meeting in Wakefield. It was a pleasure to thumb through them, particularly as Hannah Nussbaum gave us a peek in to her research on Micheal’s body of work and the roots of Corridor8.

The images here are illustrated titles from the October 1967 issue of New Worlds edited by Micheal Moorcock.