Archive for the ‘Internet’ Category

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Flash fantastic

29 January, 2009

The lovely folks over at Boing Boing have often referred to Flash sites as stupid, monolithic blobs that render deep-linking (linking directly to a site’s internal pages) as virtually impossible. As a writer who feels it absolutely necessary to provide the most precise location of all cited sources, I couldn’t agree more. But as a designer, I find that one can achieve so much more when building with Adobe Flash than when depending on squarish CSS or just using (X)HTML. Bearing in mind that deep-linking is already in threat of being branded as a copyright violation in some parts of the world thanks to the ageing legion of out-of-touch judges, there is no doubt that the recent increase in the use of Flash will go on unabated until a more dynamic tool hits the mainstream media. And that’s not such a bad thing when considering the stunning combinations of graphics, video, animation, sound, and interactive navigation that are unparalleled when truly balanced in both aesthetic presentation and streamlined function. Designers who adhere to the principle of creating impressive designs that also serve as both usable and intriguing interfaces are the ones who should be looked towards for genuine inspiration in how one ought to make a site look. As opposed to Flash sites that are (excuse the pun) just flashy, that is.

Quite frankly, I would rather refer a reader or my client’s customers to a ‘monolithic blob’ if I knew they would be able to easily locate what they were looking for and all else that may be equally of interest along the way. Besides, there are several methods of creating linkable pages within Flash (primarily through the naming of frame anchors), and recently built examples live up to this current industry standard. Ultimately, simplicity and creativity are key when striving towards interactive motion graphics on-site. After an interning stint at the web design division of an ISP several years ago, I had seen some pretty awful styling methods that are surprisingly still quite common today (government-affiliated websites are all too frequently exemplars of shame in that regard). But rather than list those now (maybe later, though), it’s much better to celebrate the ones that have succeeded in visual mastery and cyberspace ergonomics. And listed below are ten of my recent favourites found whilst browsing, with brief descriptions for quick reference. There are many more out there, so I may soon update this list for inclusion in a regular album-style line-up with screenshots similar to the recent series of reviews here. Feel free to send in any interesting finds of your own if you’d like them included — especially if they’re your own original creations.

01 » Trevor Jackson :: site of the London-based all-round creative
02 » playMUJI :: instructional product promo micro-site for MUJI
03 » CREAKTIF! :: multimedia graphic design studio based in Paris
04 » AgencyNet :: marketing solutions agency in Fort Lauderdale
05 » Paregos :: graphics and advertising agency based in Stockholm
06 » SectionSeven Inc. :: design and development office in Seattle
07 » The United Network :: WPP global advertising micro-network
08 » hellokarl :: site of French designer and artist Charles Kalpakian
09 » AKQA :: global advertising, media and design agency network
10 » BIG :: site of the Danish architectural firm Bjarke Ingels Group

Sarah Badr © MMIX

See also: Content awareness (pieces at random)

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Great unveiling

28 January, 2009

Like The Medium‘s Virginia Heffernan, I too am a self-confessed TED addict. Sparked by my first viewing of director Jehane Noujaim‘s presentation after she received the TED prize in 2006, I’ve since been keeping close tabs on the various speakers specialized in a wide variety of disciplines encapsulated by the ‘technology, entertainment, design’ cachet that the conference series has set out for itself from the time of its inception. Held annually since 1990 after it was founded by graphic designer and architect Richard Saul Wurman six years prior, the lectures limited within an inspiringly rigorous eighteen-minute time-frame offer over 300 insights of expertise freely available online today. Focused on a marked contribution to contemporary issues related to the sciences and humanities, the TED talks culminate with the awarding of the TED Prize each year, giving three individuals $100,000 alongside their being granted one wish ‘to change the world’ (Noujaim‘s wish had been to organize Pangea Day, with an aim to foster cross-cultural understanding through film).

Ordinarily held in Monterey, the TED 2009 Conference will be held in Long Beach, California this year. And commencing in five days, the programme is set to bring together an unrivalled set of speakers throughout its four-day duration, including Bill Gates, marketing guru Seth Godin, futurist Juan Enriquez, musician Herbie Hancock, and many more. A few of them have already been featured in previous years, though there’s no doubt that the calibre of discussion created will be as unprecedented as ever. I’m particularly excited about the upcoming lecture by maestro Dr. José Antonio Abreu, one of this year’s recipients of the TED Prize, and the founder of El Sistema in Venezuela. For some comprehensive insight into his revolutionary system of music education and its reformative socio-economic impact over the past thirty-four years, I strongly recommend you get your hands on BBC’s Imagine episode featuring music director Gustavo Dudamel and airing this past November.

As usual, the talks will soon be available on the TED site, YouTube and Miro. And another to look out for on the TED calendar will be the TED Global Conference, which will be held in Oxford this year. So luckily for fellow TED addicts who might be stranded in the UK this summer, registration is still open for those who would enjoy a less virtual viewing venue.

Sarah Badr © MMIX

See also: Seth Godin’s Blog

Pangea day (pieces at random)

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Ampersound

25 January, 2009

With the exception of this morning (norovirus woes throughout the night),  I’ve taken to regularly posting a couple of news stories and a single music video to my Facebook feed as I begin to tackle the day’s work ahead over breakfast. Several people tell me they frequently tune in, though more for the music, and I’ve been contemplating whether it might be easier to just present the videos on a page of their own. I’ve been an avid fan of music videos for as long as I can remember (the Jacksons, Ace of Base, Metallica — all introduced to me on-screen), and despite there being several ‘channels’ online with great collections, production information is not always as comprehensive as should be, and not all players are made for convenient embedding elsewhere. So in my poor state last night I had no option but to follow through — and all 165 videos posted to date (with the exception of those removed from YouTube since 2007) are now up on the new Ampersound site.

The current domain is set to change once the IP points in the right direction, so take note of the new address when updated. Still much progress to be made, but have a browse through and let me know what you think.  It’ll be added to daily, alongside extra additions taken from this site and my bookmarked collection not yet tapped into. And on another though related topic, Express Checkout was also refurbished recently. It’s about time, too, seeing as my foray into the blogosphere actually began there and not here. Admittedly this tangled web of sites is starting to become a bit difficult to cover overhead alongside my writing articles for other non-affiliated sites. So the video library will eventually be incorporated into this site, and from there everything is likely to become a new section featured on one or two of the domains currently in main use. In any case, I’ll follow up on all that soon, whenever there’s another chance (hopefully without the involvement of projectile vomiting next time).

Sarah Badr © MMIX

See also: Sticky logistics (pieces at random)

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Spotify v Last.fm

21 January, 2009

So I accidentally got an invitation to use Spotify recently (don’t ask), and my instinctive reaction was as one would expect from someone already devoted to another music platform. ‘Surely this can’t be better than Last.fm‘, I thought to myself as I reluctantly proceeded to sign up — albeit semi-curiously hitting download for the client application. From the outset, it had already been obvious: Spotify’s marketing ploy was envisaged in a byline beaming about its effortlessness, ease, and sheer simplicity. ‘The best thing about music is that you can just listen to it,’ it modestly informed. ‘It doesn’t have to be hard, and neither does using Spotify.’ Minutes later, the introduction screen appeared with an invitation to ‘dive in’. So I did. Naturally, I searched for Trentemøller, and 118 tracks soon appeared in a list, to my surprise including several mixes I’d actually not had the pleasure of hearing before. So three minutes into Djosos Krost’s reworked ‘Chapter One‘, I had already reached my tentative verdict of approval. And that was certainly more favourable if not entirely contrary to my prematurely predicted reflex derived from a growing distaste towards the onslaught of new online and mobile applications seeming to be cropping up by the thousands at breakneck speed.

So what is Spotify and what’s the catch? The Anglo-Swedish cloud-based, peer-to-peer networking service provides unlimited access to a music library, with or without the optional paid subscriptions. It essentially allows you to stream tracks via a player that very much resembles iTunes — or the iTunes Store, rather, only with track-preview in full. Instead of being modeled on profile-driven network interaction as is Last.fm, it allows you to ‘share’ tracks and create collaborative playlists via e-mail and instant messenger with fellow Spotify users. Somewhat similar to Last.fm is the radio available for less autonomous, more exploratory listening (though it limits you to too simplistic a selection for tuning based on music decade or genre), allowing you to skip from song to song as you wish. Integration with Last.fm’s Audioscrobbler is also made possible through enabling preferences in the menu, so you can continue listening without abandoning your chart data collection. And of course conveniently placed are links to purchase the tracks being listened to, helping to fulfill Spotify’s apparent aim to spread the music whilst fairly compensating the artists featured by agreement.

As such, you can reasonably imagine that the legal framework binding this project together is pretty watertight, having to clear rights for use which — for example — would limit you from using it to entertain customers at a restaurant or club. It grants a limited, non-exclusive, and revocable license for personal, non-commercial use, and arbitration arising from legal disputes is administered as per Swedish jurisdiction. But having said that, the audio quality is quite good for a streaming player, using the Ogg Vorbis q5 codec offering a satisfying 160kb/s rate on decent speakers or headphones. And the catch? Well, advertising — like with most things these days — is the primary pool of revenue, and a single advertisement resembling the sort you might hear on local radio programming is evenly distributed (though not distractingly so) between every few songs. Purchasing subscription access does away with the adverts and allows for more invites and more selective radio-listening at a £9.99 premium. The Spotify team are also in the process of exploring options to branch out on mobile and other platforms, so watch this space…

Now the question that remains is how extensive the catalogue may become. In terms of prompt updating, the Fever Ray album that was released digitally last Tuesday is already available; Telefon Tel Aviv‘s latest, however, isn’t there. In fact, few tracks by them are available, and the same goes for The Beatles, Led Zeppelin and Pink Floyd. Radiohead, on the other hand, is included — which says a lot considering the fact they weren’t on offer via iTunes until only earlier last year. I still do wonder if and when more will eventually come; but for the time being, it’s nice to have the option of using a platform friendly to both users and music, where you’re relatively free to select, enjoy, and (as a musician) earn your keep. I have no doubt that Last.fm is far better in terms of ‘musicability’ through its taste-gauging, music-trekking neighbourhood approach that I’ve loved all these years. But the two in fact cannot be directly compared within the confines of being the same type of product. Because they do differ in both purpose, function and presentation — a point clearly concluded when you use Last.fm’s player to ‘heart’ Spotify’s tracks.

It’s still in its beta phase and free service is available only via invitation in Sweden, Norway, France, Spain, and the UK (Spotify Premium is more widespread otherwise). But I might have one or two invitations going spare, so if you’re interested in trying it out, just drop me a line.

Sarah Badr © MMIX

See also: Love thy neighbour (pieces at random)

Exponential growth (pieces at random)

Site overhaul (pieces at random)

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Sticky logistics

20 January, 2009

Many apologies for the recent random disruptions in operation. I had received e-mails last week about several on-site issues resulting from the host having difficulties with universal caching earlier. But luckily that issue has since been resolved, with the premier of WordPress.tv coming as more than adequate conciliation. Of course there has also been yesterday’s sudden disappearance of the UI — or change, rather — as maintenance finally went full-throttle. The feedback received since the previous update seemed to be just as split as I was on the decision. I figured the indecisiveness indicated that by now it was beyond overdue: the gradient grays were not at all helping to curb the claustrophobia. So here it is, lots of white space with sparse linear noise. The silhouettes will more or less be up for the time being. With deadlines approaching, there isn’t much time for well-calculated construction as yet. But consider this a trial-run to verify whether shifting content-focus makes lengthy reading and image-viewing more of a comfortable task to tackle outside the confines of the feed reader. Things may continue to alter throughout the upcoming few weeks until a single stylesheet settles the matter. So if loading appears faulty until then, this will most likely be the reason why.

Just thought I’d throw that in to clear up the confusion, as the title and image above suggest that this post wasn’t initially meant to be an update. The banter of the day narrows in on something that has kept these pages and indeed other areas of daily activity afloat. I like to think of it as the Band-Aid for modern living, fit for the organized though slightly frazzled multi-tasker whose work inevitably becomes steeped in mounds of paper despite all the paperless alternatives gadgetry offers today. The Post-it Note is certainly one of those inventions that is the quintessential brandname-namebrand: Hoover, Kleenex, Cola — any type of object referred to by the name on the tin rather than the term in the dictionary. To think that a small square of paper with non-abrasive adhesive could become such a fundamental part of what we instinctively expect to see in offices, classrooms, and on desktops worldwide is something of an incredible feat. One can only dream of designing an item that is so solidly welded to the culture or activity whose purpose it serves, that it essentially never goes out of demand. In the spirit of Objectified, I owe it to Dr. Spencer Silver to give him an honourable mention here, as without him, Arthur Fry would never have conceived the adhesive application on paper and the Post-it would never have been patented by 3M to launch in 1977.

Today, made available both under the original brand umbrella and in other extraneous generic forms, there’s no shortage of colours, sizes and applications for the household sticky-note. Brooklyn-based artist Rebecca Murtaugh is well-known for using them in installation art pieces, often requiring hundreds of dollars’ worth to cover walls and furniture for a neon mosaic effect isolating the contours of objects through two-dimensional texture. In the virtual world, Jack Cheng’s popular StickyScreen homepage alternative to 3M’s Post-it Digital Notes is a great project providing some space to jot down a brief itemized to-do list for constant reminder every time you open your browser. Even further on the multimedia front, award-winning illustrator Jeff Chiba Stearns animated his entire journey to become a filmmaker on 2,300 Post-its, set to a score by Genevieve Vincent (watch Yellow Sticky Notes below). And its use for sake of memory makes good sense: Harvard psychology department head Daniel Schacter, the author of The Seven Sins of Memory: How the Mind Forgets and Remembers, discusses how the Post-it functions as a ‘prospective memory cue or an external memory aid’ that compensates for our inherent absent-mindedness due to the ceaseless sources of distraction in our lives.

And on that note, don’t forget to watch the inauguration streaming live from D.C. today at 11 am EST (4pm GMT) courtesy of MS Silverlight via the official inaugural site. Comprehensive updates will also be featured on Joost‘s ‘Everything Obama’ channel for US-based users and anyone using a proxy, and CNN.com Live is covering this historic event in tandem with Facebook.

Sarah Badr © MMIX

See also: ‘Humble Masterpieces’ (MoMA 2004)

British hallmarks (pieces at random)

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Content awareness

9 January, 2009

Bates 141 print campaign, Jakarta
Click above for higher resolution

Following the premier of Melih Bilgil’s brilliant PICOL-based animation History of the Internet, and with the hype of the 2009 CES and MacWorld conventions drawing to a close, one can’t help but reflect on how end-user computing has transformed in recent years. Looking back now, it’s startling to think that there had ever been a time during which HyperText editing more or less implied hours of painstaking retinal incineration due to the rather primitive though well-intentioned ColdFusion 5.0. As is the case for designers of my generation and older, when I first began using Adobe graphics and web development applications, it had been back in the day before the Creative Suite was born and Flash flooded the scene. It was also before (affordable) computers became powerful enough to actually get the job done on time. No longer having to upgrade software in increments of 0.5 before laboriously seeking out multi-language extensions only to find that the filters were taking enough time to load for you to pop out and grab a coffee next-door, the CS collection of integrated design tools first released in 2003 was to some respect the watershed on a path flowing towards the dynamic front-end focused Web 2.0 revolution made popular by the O’Reilly Media conference of 2004.

Certainly having come a long way since then, the last five years have continued to follow as per Adobe’s prevailing trend of improvements, making possible so much of what we see to be the impressive, ‘interactive’ online content of present day. So after previous editions continuously albeit very gradually undergoing minor tweaks, interface touch-ups and bug elimination, word of the latest generation in store began buzzing around the web by phantom testers and hopeful creatives right when I was beginning to fully appreciate the CS3 edition. After having grown into it with increased use over the past year and not having had any tantalizing hands-on exposure through the sneak-preview features showcased in CS3 Extended back in April, I had no specific expectations for the fourth coming in the series other than that improvement would be inevitable — though I did wonder whether that improvement would be discernible enough to alter the way I approached my use of the software as has happened sometimes (but not always) in the past. But I am glad to say that the result has been not at all disappointing following the official unveiling of Adobe Creative Suite 4 in the beginning of  October last year. And having taken it for a spin several times courtesy of a friend who has regular access to an influx of software for every season, I’ve found that it’s noticeably a cut above the rest.

In terms of imaging upgrades, the 64-bit support for large file-handling for Windows (the one time I’m actually happy to be using the OS) and 3D acceleration made possible via OpenGL compatibility brings the smoothness of operation to a much higher level. Taking inspiration from the Web 2.0 browsing experience, no less, is the introduction of tabs for document views making it possible to run more than one CS application simultaneously in a single window in order to ease the cross-editing process. Before, one of the bones I had to pick with CS3 and earlier versions was something I often assimilated to the act of having to go up to the tenth floor of a building to get to your sixth-floor apartment: the drop-down labyrinth of menus overhead didn’t always necessarily make it easy to perform minor actions (with or without the shortcuts) repeatedly. But thankfully, the addition of a new adjustment panel with pre-set options now makes it less of a task to access what used to be nestled within the main title bar area and most ‘easily’ reached by having to ctrl+alt+shift+[x] every time you weren’t bothered to use the mouse. Indeed in general, there does seem to be the much needed attention towards realizing seamless accessibility and manoeuvrability (e.g. via window menu enhancement, the smartening-up of the right-hand panel and extra viewing options) than was achieved in prior editions.

Undoubtedly one of my favourite features is being able to resize using its ‘content awareness’, which allows for the singling out of individual visual components within the image for alteration without skewing the scale of the areas left unselected. And it doesn’t hurt that colour management for printing has also been improved, with solf-proofing preview making it easier to get a better idea of how well colours will turn out in finely-lined logo detailing, for instance, in order to help minimize that unflattering appearance of colour bleeding. Having not yet delved into the new InDesign, Illustrator et al., suffice it to say that the verdict so far is quite positive — and it isn’t just the software that has won me over. The advertisement in circulation for CS4 appears to be equally inspired, a good example of which can be seen in the above print campaign by the team over at Bates 141 studio in Indonesia. Promoting the new Photoshop CS4 through online retailer software-asli.com, ‘As Real as It Gets’ features a realistic equivalent to the virtual interface using everyday arts and crafts tools. Wonderfully executed by creative director Hendra Lesmono, art directors Andreas Junus and Wanda Kamarga, alongside copy by Darrick Subrata and photography by Anton Ismael, it has received a great deal of positive media attention since making available the ‘behind the scenes’ takes on Flickr.

And to bring this review to a close — and as earlier promised — more on Irish artist Johnny Kelly and his beautifully directed promo animation for Adobe via Goodby, Silverstein & Partners: ‘The Seed’, shown below, again features the work of Foley artist Sue Harding, this time with accompaniment by Dublin musician Jape and Mike Wyeld on sound, paper modelling done by designer Elin Svensson, and animation by Michael Zauner and Eoin Coughlan. All made possible by the tightly-knit work of the production and direction team on set, including Micolaj Jarosewicz, Matthew Cooper, Christine Ponzevera, Johan Arlig and Keith Anderson — all inevitably helped along by the Adobe integrated design suite itself.

Sarah Badr © MMIX

See also: Making of ‘The Seed’

Whiling away (pieces at random)

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Always has, always will

26 December, 2008

It’s true, she is — and she wants you to print her out, hang her up and take a photo of her, too. Enter the new generation of poster campaigning, My Mother is Watching You by (according to the Whois lookup) Romain Vigier. Apart from the little information available, i.e. Vigier & Co. are possibly based in the Rhône-Alpes region of France, the mystery of it all is just as ominous as the poster itself, poking fun at our burdensome ‘nanny state’, CCTV society and our embedded sense of right-or-wrong with a pair of specs and some Geoffrey Lee-inspired realist sans-serif typeface. With much potential of being the next viral hit, it rivals several internet memes now long gone, including the rather outdated Sleeveface, PostSecret, and the increasingly ubiquitous I Can Has Cheezburger spin-offs unavoidably stumbled upon today. And it’s quite easy to see how quickly this might catch on whilst browsing through the gallery, especially as Mother’s free counselling services are just a mouse-click away… Or else you can just send in your own feedback and snapshots of the poster provided via easy download. A message so simple, yet so effective.

Sarah Badr © MMVIII

See also: Internet Memes (dipity)