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kottke.org posts about design

This Book Is a Planetarium

posted by Jason Kottke   Aug 18, 2017

Planetarium Book

Planetarium Book

A couple of years ago, I told you about designer Kelli Anderson’s upcoming book, This Book is a Planetarium. It took awhile to get everything just right, but I’m happy to report the book will finally be out in early October.

Defying every expectation of what a book can be, this pop-up extravaganza transforms into six fully functional tools: a real working planetarium projecting the constellations, a musical instrument complete with strings for strumming, a geometric drawing generator, an infinite calendar, a message decoder, and even a speaker that amplifies sound. Artist Kelli Anderson contributes enlightening text alongside each pop-up, explaining the scientific principles at play in her constructions and creating an interactive experience that’s as educational as it is extraordinary.

Here’s a video of Anderson playing with two of the six contraptions. She sent me a preview of the book in the form of the planetarium pop-up page (accompanied by one of these cool cards) and when I cracked it open, I actually squealed. Seriously, this thing is super awesome. We took it and my iPhone flashlight into the darkest room in the house and sure enough, there was the Big Dipper projected onto the ceiling…my kids could barely stop saying “this is so cool”. Really looking forward to seeing the real thing in October.

A subway-style map of the Roman roads of Britain

posted by Jason Kottke   Jul 26, 2017

Trubetskoy Britain Map

After completing his subway-style map of the roads of the entire Roman Empire, Sasha Trubetskoy began work on a highly requested follow-up: a similar map of the Roman roads in Britain.

This was far more complicated than I had initially anticipated. Not only were there way more Roman Roads in Britain than I initially thought, but also their exact locations and extents are not very clear. In a few places I had to get rather creative with the historical evidence.

As Wikipedia notes, most of the roads were completed by 180 AD and many of them are still in use today.

After the Romans departed, systematic construction of paved highways in the UK did not resume until the early 18th century. The Roman road network remained the only nationally-managed highway system within Britain until the establishment of the Ministry of Transport in the early 20th century.

An alphabet made from classic rock band logos

posted by Jason Kottke   Jul 18, 2017

Alphabet Of Rock

Dorothy has designed a pair of posters of alphabets fashioned from rock band logos: one for classic rock and one for alternative rock. How many of the band names do you know? Me? Fewer than I would like.

These reminded me of Evan Roth’s Graffiti Taxonomy prints.

Update: See also the ABCs of Heavy Metal poster by Aye Jay. (via @thoughtbrain)

The winners of the 2016 50 Books/50 Covers competition

posted by Jason Kottke   Jul 17, 2017

50 Books 2016

Design Observer and the AIGA have announced their selections for the 50 best designed books and 50 best designed book covers for 2016. You can browse the entire selection in the AIGA archive. Lovely to see Aaron James Draplin’s Pretty Much Everything, Koya Bound, and the Hamilton book on the list. Oh and I love this cover for The Poser.

Poser Book Cover

Letters & Liquors

posted by Jason Kottke   Jul 10, 2017

Letters Liquors

Letters Liquors

For his Letters & Liquors site, Matthew Wyne is profiling more than 50 classic cocktails accompanied by a type-driven design specific to each drink’s era.

As a graphic designer, my specialty is lettering, and the spirits world is replete with lettering styles. This blog is an attempt to merge my knowledge of cocktail history with the developments in lettering that accompanied it. There will be 52 cocktails in all, one for each week of 2017, and each one will be represented by a piece of lettering inspired by the design of that era. I have selected these drinks specifically because they tell the story of why people drank what they did when they did.

I really don’t like Wyne’s use of “she” as a cocktail’s pronoun, but everything else about this is great. (via df)

The origin of the 80s aesthetic

posted by Jason Kottke   Jul 03, 2017

A little-known Italian design & architecture group called the Memphis Group was responsible for the dominant aesthetic of the 80s.

Memphis Design movement dominated the ’80s with their crazy patterns and vibrant colors. Many designers and architects from all around the world contributed to the movement in order to escape from the strict rules of modernism. Although their designs didn’t end up in people’s homes, they inspired many designers working in different mediums. After their first show in Milan in 1981, everything from fashion to music videos became influenced by their visual vocabulary.

Or were they? What’s interesting, in terms of the timeline of influence, is that MTV debuted before that September 1981 show in Milan. Here’s the first MTV broadcast in August 1981, featuring the brightly colored logo:

An amazing online collection of 40,000 vintage film posters

posted by Jason Kottke   Jun 09, 2017

Posterati

Posterati

Posterati

Posteritati is a New York movie poster store/gallery that also has an online store featuring more than 40,000 posters. You can view posters by director, year, country of origin, genre, size, and more. Some of the posters are very old, rare, and valuable: Some Like It Hot ($3,000), Lolita ($1,200), and Star Wars ($1,500). And wow, a 1933 Argentinian poster for King Kong for $75,000.

The three posters pictured above are a 1970 Czech poster for Les gauloises bleues, a 1988 Japanese poster for Beetlejuice, and a 1980 Polish poster for Alien.

A subway-style map of Roman Empire roads circa 125 A.D.

posted by Jason Kottke   Jun 07, 2017

Roman Empire Subway

After much research, Sasha Trubetskoy has completed a subway-style map of the road system of the Roman Empire. From about 300 BC, the Romans built or improved over 250,000 miles of roads (50,000 miles were stone paved) that extended into the farthest reaches of the Empire: from Spain to modern-day Iraq to Britain to northern Africa.

Creating this required far more research than I had expected — there is not a single consistent source that was particularly good for this. Huge shoutout to: Stanford’s ORBIS model, The Pelagios Project, and the Antonine Itinerary (found a full PDF online but lost the url).

The lines are a combination of actual, named roads (like the Via Appia or Via Militaris) as well as roads that do not have a known historic name (in which case I creatively invented some names). Skip to the “Creative liberties taken” section for specifics.

(via @zachklein)

The Art of Slamming Paper Against Metal

posted by Jason Kottke   May 25, 2017

A short vignette of Bowne & Co. Stationers at Manhattan’s South Street Seaport, an old-school letterpress printing shop. I love the description of printing as “dancing with the machine”. My pals at Swayspace — who have printed a couple of jobs for me over the years, including this watercolor map of Paris — taught me how to use one of their presses many years ago and there’s definitely a rhythm to it that takes awhile to master. I’m just glad I still have all my fingers.

Amazon’s data-driven bookstores

posted by Jason Kottke   May 24, 2017

Amazon Bookstore

Over at Recode, Dan Frommer has a look inside Amazon’s first NYC bookstore, opening Thursday in the mall in the Time Warner Center. I haven’t visited any of Amazon’s stores yet (they’ve got several around the country), but what I find interesting from the photos is how up-front they are about the shopping experience being data driven. There are signs for books rated “4.8 Stars & Above”, a shelf of “Books Kindle Readers Finish in 3 Days or Less”, a section of “If You Like [this book], You’ll Love [these other books]”, and each book’s shelf label lists the star rating and number of reviews on Amazon.com. Another sign near the checkout reads “Over 7950 Goodreads members like this quote from Cassandra Clare’s Clockwork Prince: ‘We live and breathe words.’”

Other bookstores have books arranged according to best-seller lists, store-specific best-sellers, and staff recommendations, but I’ve never seen any store layout so extensively informed by data and where they tell you so much about why you’re seeing each item. Grocery store item placement is very data driven, but they don’t tell you why you’re seeing a display of Coke at the end of the aisle or why the produce is typically right at the entrance. It’ll be interesting to see if Amazon’s approach works or if people will be turned off by shopping inside a product database, a dehumanizing feeling Frommer hints at with “a collection of books that feels blandly standard” when compared to human curated selections at smaller bookstores.

P.S. So weird that there’s no prices on items…you have to scan them with a store scanner or a phone app. Overall, the store feels less oriented towards its book-buying customers and more towards driving Prime memberships, Amazon app downloads, and Kindle & Echo sales (which might be Amazon’s objective).

Update: Jia Tolentino on Amazon’s stores.

The store’s biggest shortcoming, though, is that it is so clearly not intended for people who read regularly. I normally walk into a bookstore and shop the way a person might shop for clothes: I know what I like, what generally works for me, what new styles I might be ready to try. It was a strange feeling, on Thursday, to do laps around a bookstore without feeling a single unexpected thrill. There were no wild cards, no deep cuts, no oddballs — just books that were already best-sellers, pieces of clothing I knew wouldn’t fit me or that I already owned.

Tolentino also notes that the fiction section in the NYC store contains fewer than 200 different titles.

New USPS stamps commemorate sports balls

posted by Jason Kottke   May 24, 2017

USPS Balls

The US Postal Service recently announced a new series of stamps that feature balls from eight different sports.

The U.S. Postal Service will soon release first-of-a-kind stamps with the look — and feel — of actual balls used in eight popular sports. Available nationwide June 14, the Have a Ball! Forever stamps depict balls used in baseball, basketball, football, golf, kickball, soccer, tennis and volleyball.

The stamps are round but what’s really cool is that they will have a special coating that lets you feel the unique texture of each kind of ball — the baseball’s laces, the basketball’s nubby surface, the golf ball’s dimples. The ball stamps are available for preorder and will ship in mid-June.

See also their upcoming solar eclipse stamps, which are printed using thermochromic ink — when you touch them, the heat of your finger reveals the hidden Moon passing in front of the Sun. (via print)

Dieter Rams’ classic design principles updated for the tech industry

posted by Jason Kottke   Apr 28, 2017

Dieter Rams, the legendary designer, came up with a now-famous list of Ten Principles for Good Design. Among them:

Good design makes a product understandable. It clarifies the product’s structure. Better still, it can make the product talk. At best, it is self-explanatory.

Recently, designer Tobias Van Schneider posted a tongue-in-cheek update of Rams’ list, the 2017 Tech Industry edition.

Ten Principles for Good Design, tech edition

1. Good design is disruptive.
2. Good design makes a product addicting.
3. Good design is A/B testing.
4. Good design makes a product collect data.
5. Good design is notifications.
6. Good design is agreeing to the terms & conditions.
7. Good design is temporary.
8. Good design is a prototype.
9. Good design is a chatbot?
10. Good design is pleasing your shareholders.

I’m With Her: designing Hillary Clinton’s campaign identity

posted by Jason Kottke   Mar 31, 2017

Hillary Logo Sketch

Pentagram’s Michael Bierut and his team designed the identity for Hillary Clinton’s 2016 Presidential campaign (of which I was not initially a fan but came around later). Here’s how it happened.

I put together a three-person team: me, designer Jesse Reed, and project manager Julia Lemle. We would work in secret for the next two months. Our first meeting with the Clinton team began with a simple statement: “Our candidate has 100 percent name recognition.” There is a well-known marketing principle that is often credited to midcentury design legend Raymond Loewy. He felt that people were governed by two competing impulses: an attraction to the excitement of new things and a yearning for the comfort provided by what we already know. In response, Loewy had developed a reliable formula. If something was familiar, make it surprising. If something was surprising, make it familiar.

That same principle applies to political campaigns. In 2008 Sol Sender, Amanda Gentry and Andy Keene were faced with the challenge of branding a candidate who had anything but name recognition. Barack Obama’s design team responded with a quintessentially professional identity program, introducing — for the first time — the language of corporate branding to political marketing. Obama’s persona — unfamiliar, untested, and potentially alarming to much of the voting public — was given a polished logo and a perfectly executed, utterly consistent typographic system. In short, they made a surprising candidate seem familiar.

We faced the opposite problem. Our candidate was universally known. How could we make her image seem fresh and compelling?

This is a great look at how a designer at the top of his game approaches a problem…and reckons with failure. Even this little bit:

It wasn’t clever or artful. I didn’t care about that. I wanted something that you didn’t need a software tutorial to create, something as simple as a peace sign or a smiley face. I wanted a logo that a five-year-old could make with construction paper and kindergarten scissors.

Leading up to the election, how many photos did you see of Hillary logos hand-drawn by kids on signs and t-shirts? Lots and lots…my kids even got into the act.

Anyway, a huge contrast to the process and impact of the Trump campaign’s identity.

Norway’s new pixelated banknotes are gorgeous

posted by Jason Kottke   Mar 16, 2017

Norway Banknotes

Norway Banknotes

Back in 2014, I posted that Norway would start using new banknotes in 2017 featuring an abstract pixelated design on the reverse of each note. Time did the only thing it knows how to do so here we are in 2017 and the bills will begin circulating later this year. The overall theme for the notes is “The Sea”:

Norway’s long, gnarled coastline has shaped the identity of Norwegians individually and as a nation. The use of marine resources, combined with the use of the sea as a transport artery, has been crucial to the development of Norwegian society.

And each particular note has its own subtheme:

The 50-krone banknote: The sea that binds us together
The 100-krone banknote: The sea that takes us out into the world
The 200-krone banknote: The sea that feeds us
The 500-krone banknote: The sea that gives us prosperity
The 1000-krone banknote: The sea that carries us forward

The final design concept by Terje Tønnessen was chosen from among several finalists. I love the final design but also really like the concept by Aslak Gurholt with a children’s drawing on the back of each note echoing the illustration on the front.

Norway Banknotes Gurholt

Also of note (ha!): Norges Bank crowdsourced several aspects of the design process but managed to do it in such a way as to avoid the Boaty McBoatface problem.

Happy 19th birthday, kottke.org!

posted by Jason Kottke   Mar 14, 2017

Kottke Designs

As of today, I’ve been posting and linking to stuff on kottke.org for 19 years. When I started, I was 24 years old, working as a web designer for a small web development shop in Minneapolis. The site started as a offshoot of another site I had at the time, which I worked on in my spare time at home on my Pentium Pro 200 with a 56K modem. I worked at a desk that was really a 70s-style kitchen table I’d bought for $25. I’m sitting at that same table writing this right now. Earlier I was struggling to think of something else that’s been in my life for as long as kottke.org has…I guess this table is it.

Whether you’re a relatively recent reader or you’ve been along for the entire ride, I’d like to thank you for reading the site and for your feedback, gentle typo corrections, encouragement, push-back, and membership support. I’m really glad to be hurtling through space and time with you good people.

See also a retrospective of kottke.org designs I did nine years ago when the site turned 10.

Papercraft infographic of fire resistant plants

posted by Jason Kottke   Mar 02, 2017

Eleanor Lutz Forest Fires

Eleanor Lutz made these nifty models of California plants that can withstand fire damage out of Elmer’s Glue and watercolor paper. She then photographed them burning for this infographic on how some species have adapted to California’s wildfires. Be sure to click through to see the animated version.

Logobook, a catalog of great logos

posted by Jason Kottke   Feb 28, 2017

Logobook

Logobook is a growing catalog of “the finest logos, symbols & trademarks” in the world. The 5000+ logos are divided into groups like letters & numbers, shapes, animals, objects, and nature and are extensively categorized by industry, designer, and country of origin. Great resource.

They’re backed up with new submissions right now, but you can still send them your logos and they’ll get back to you when submissions are open again. (via @buzz)

Designing the graphics for the Harry Potter movies

posted by Jason Kottke   Feb 27, 2017

Daily Prophet

Quibbler

Mudblood Dangers

MinaLima (aka Miraphora Mina and Eduardo Lima) is the design studio that designs all of the graphics, signs, newspapers, decrees, posters, labels, maps, book covers, and packaging that you see in the Harry Potter movies.

The range of design styles on display is impressive and captures the films’ combination of humour, horror and fantasy.

On one wall, packaging and adverts for products in a shop owned by the Weasley family combine early 20th century print advertising with humorous taglines and garish colours, while posters promoting the fictional game of Quidditch (below) reference 1950s Olympics adverts.

Official notices and letters use hand written fonts, and pamphlets demonising ‘mudbloods’ — a wizard born to non-wizard parents — are inspired by Soviet progaganda (top).

“One of the best things about working on the Harry Potter films was being able to try out so many different styles, from Victorian letterpress to modern design,” says Lima.

“The Daily Prophet was designed to look very Gothic, as did the architecture of Hogwarts [the boarding school for wizards where the film is set]. When an organisation called the Ministry of Magic takes control in later films, the school becomes a kind of totalitarian state, so we started looking to Russian constructivist design to reflect that,” says Mina.

They also worked on the Fantastic Beasts movie. You can follow their work on Instagram and a bunch of the best stuff is available for purchase on their site.

Play around with this trippy Julia set fractal

posted by Jason Kottke   Feb 17, 2017

Julia Set Fractal

Yay! It’s Fractal Friday! (It’s not, I just made that up.) But anyway, courtesy of Christopher Night, you can play around with this Julia set fractal. It works in a desktop browser (by moving the mouse) or on your phone (by dragging your finger).

The Julia set, if you don’t remember, goes thusly: Let f(z) be a complex rational function from the plane into itself, that is, f(z)=p(z)/q(z) f(z)=p(z)/q(z), where p(z) and q(z) are complex polynomials. Then there is a finite number of open sets F1, …, Fr, that are left invariant by f(z) which, uh, is um… yay! Fractal Friday! The colors are so pretty!

The Book of Circles

posted by Jason Kottke   Feb 14, 2017

Book Of Circles

The Book of Circles is an upcoming book by Manuel Lima about the use of circles in information design.

In this follow-up to his hugely popular The Book of Trees and Visual Complexity, Manuel Lima takes us on a lively tour through millennia of circular information design. Three hundred detailed and colorful illustrations from around the world cover an encyclopedic array of subjects-architecture, urban planning, fine art, design, fashion, technology, religion, cartography, biology, astronomy, and physics, all based on the circle, the universal symbol of unity, wholeness, infinity, enlightenment, and perfection. Clay tokens used by ancient Sumerians as a system of recording trade are juxtaposed with logos of modern retailers like Target; Venn diagrams are discussed alongside the trefoil biohazard symbol, symbols of the Christian trinity, and the Olympic rings; and a diagram revealing the characteristics of ten thousand porn stars displays structural similarities to early celestial charts placing the earth at the center of the universe.

I have both of Lima’s previous books, The Book of Trees and Visual Complexity.

The typography of Stanley Kubrick

posted by Jason Kottke   Feb 14, 2017

Kubrick Typography

From designer Christian Annyas, an overview of the typography used in the titles and posters of Stanley Kubrick’s movies. Click on each graphic to see the poster or title sequence it was sourced from.

The myth of Apple’s great design

posted by Jason Kottke   Feb 13, 2017

In the Atlantic, Ian Bogost takes on the accepted view that Apple has great design, calling it “the biggest myth in technology today”.

At base, such a claim seems preposterous. In 1977, the Apple II made the microcomputer useful and affordable. In 1984, the Macintosh made the computer more usable by the everyperson thanks to the graphical user interface. In 2001, the iPod fit a music library in a pocket. In 2007, the iPhone made computing portable (and obsessive).

But if Apple designs at its best when attending closely to details like those revealed in the construction of its spaceship headquarters, then presumably the details of its products would stand out as worthy precedents. Yet, when this premise is tested, it comes up wanting. In truth, Apple’s products hide a shambles of bad design under the perfection of sleek exteriors.

While I find this piece to be hyperbolic, it hints at where Apple’s design is weakest. Apple is great at designing products but less good at designing the connections between these products and the rest of the world.1 iPhones, iPods, and iPads are great, but you have to go through iTunes to manage their contents. As Bogost notes, the power cords and chargers for their products are often bulky and awkward…you can’t even charge the newest iPhone using the newest Macbook Pro without a separate adapter. Who makes all the apps that people want to use on their iPhones to chat/connect/flirt/collaborate with their loved ones? Facebook, Snap, Google, Slack…not Apple, who initially wasn’t even going to provide a way for 3rd parties to build apps for the iPhone. Almost every attempt by Apple to build services to connect people — remember Ping?! — has failed. Even iCloud, which promised to unite all Apple devices into one fluid ecosystem, was plagued for years with reliability problems and still isn’t as good as Dropbox. How devices, apps, and people interconnect are far more important now than in 1977, 1984, and even 2007, when the iPhone was introduced, and Apple could stand to focus more of their design energy on that experience.

  1. Another way of saying this is when it comes to design trade-offs, Apple prioritizes the integrity of the device over other considerations.

W.E.B. Du Bois’ hand-drawn infographics from “The Exhibit of American Negroes”

posted by Jason Kottke   Feb 09, 2017

W.E.B. Du Bois Infographics

W.E.B. Du Bois Infographics

W.E.B. Du Bois was an American author, sociologist, historian, and activist. Apparently Du Bois was also a designer and design director of some talent as these hand-drawn infographics show.

In addition to an extensive collection of photographs, four volumes containing 400 official patents by African Americans, more than 200 books penned by African-American authors, various maps, and a statuette of Frederick Douglass, the exhibition featured a total of fifty-eight stunning hand-drawn charts (a selection of which we present below). Created by Du Bois and his students at Atlanta, the charts, many of which focus on economic life in Georgia, managed to condense an enormous amount of data into a set of aesthetically daring and easily digestible visualisations. As Alison Meier notes in Hyperallergic, “they’re strikingly vibrant and modern, almost anticipating the crossing lines of Piet Mondrian or the intersecting shapes of Wassily Kandinsky”.

Update: Oh, this is great: Mona Chalabi has updated Du Bois’ charts with current data.

Wealth. If I had stayed close to the original chart, the updated version would have shown that in 2015, African American households in Georgia had a median income of about $36,655, which would fail to capture the story of inflation (net asset numbers aren’t published as cumulative for one race). Instead, I wanted to see how wealth varies by race in America today.

The story is bleak. I hesitated to use the word “worth”, but it’s the language used by the Census Bureau when they’re collecting this data and, since money determines so much of an individual’s life, the word seems relevant. For every dollar a black household in America has in net assets, a white household has 16.5 more.

Web Du Bois Infographics Updated

The five simple things to remember when considering Trump’s motivations

posted by Jason Kottke   Feb 07, 2017

Josh Marshall from Talking Points Memo urges us that when it comes to figuring out what Donald Trump’s up to, we should keep it simple. The media has covered Trump for more than 30 years, he appeared weekly on television for several years, and the coverage of his campaign over the past two years was unprecedented. That, says Marshall, means that we know Trump and his motivations quite well at this point and offers a list of five things we should keep in mind:

1. Trump is a Damaged Personality
2. Trump is a Great Communicator
3. Trump’s Hold on His Base Is Grievance
4. Trump is Possible Because of Partisan Polarization
5. Trump is Surrounded By Extremists and Desperados

Trump is an impulsive narcissist who is easily bored and driven mainly by the desire to chalk up ‘wins’ which drive the affirmation and praise which are his chief need and drive. He needs to dominate everyone around him and is profoundly susceptible to ego injuries tied to not ‘winning’, not being the best, not being sufficiently praised and acclaimed, etc. All of this drives a confrontational style and high levels of organizational chaos and drama. This need for praise and affirmation and a lack of patience for understanding the basic details of governing are a volatile and dangerous mix. They catalyze and intensify each other. Perhaps most importantly, the drive to be the best and right drives promises, claims and policy pronouncements which may contradict his already existing positions or be impossible to fulfill.

Marshall also calls out something I’ve been thinking about recently, the Make America Great Again branding:

‘Make America Great Again’ may be awful and retrograde in all its various meanings. But it captured in myriad ways almost every demand, fear and grievance that motivated the Americans who eventually became the Trump base. It is almost certainly the case that MAGA is entirely Trump’s invention, not the work of any consultant or media specialist but from Trump himself. The Trump Trucker baseball cap, a physical manifestation of Trumpite branding, is similarly ingenious.

As much as I came to admire Pentagram’s work on Hillary Clinton’s campaign branding and loved the Obama campaign’s branding (complete with beautiful typefaces from Hoefler and Frere-Jones), I think the MAGA design easily beats them both. Marshall nailed it…it was exactly right for who it was designed to appeal to. It’s perhaps unlikely to happen, but the Make America Great Again hat should be added to the permanent collections of design museums as an exemplary example of branding, right alongside Got Milk?, Think Different, and Just Do It. (Also, you know who else came up with an extraordinarily effective design for his fascist authoritarian movement?)

Abstract is a new Netflix series about design

posted by Jason Kottke   Jan 23, 2017

Abstract is an upcoming documentary series from Netflix that explores the art of design. Each of the eight episodes profiles a designer at the top of their discipline: photographer Platon, graphic designer Paula Scher, stage designer Es Devlin, illustrator Christoph Niemann, architect Bjarke Ingels, shoe designer Tinker Hatfield, interior designer Ilse Crawford, and automotive designer Ralph Gilles.

Step inside the minds of the most innovative designers in a variety of disciplines and learn how design impacts every aspect of life.

Looks like a Chef’s Table for design. All episodes will be available February 10.

How Nintendo’s Shigeru Miyamoto designs a game

posted by Jason Kottke   Jan 13, 2017

Shigeru Miyamoto has designed dozens of the most popular video games in the world: Donkey Kong, Super Mario Bros, and the Legend of Zelda among them. In this video by Vox, Miyamoto shares how he thinks about game design.

This is one of the first times that a video game’s plot and characters were designed before the programming. [Miyamoto:] “Well, early on, the people who made video games, they were technologists, they were programmers, they were hardware designers. But I wasn’t. I was a designer, I studied industrial design, I was an artist, I drew pictures. And so I think that it was in my generation that people who made video games really became designers rather than technologists.”

Also worth watching is this video by Game Maker’s Toolkit about how Nintendo builds everything in their games around a fun and unique play mechanic.

It seems to me that these two videos slightly contradict each other, although maybe you’ll disagree.

My holiday shopping adventures and Amazon’s continued retail dominance

posted by Jason Kottke   Jan 12, 2017

French drone company Parrot recently announced significant layoffs and will shift focus away from their recreational drone business.

French company Parrot has had a rough year and missed its sales expectations. That’s why the company will lay off 290 employees who were working on drones. In total, Parrot currently has 840 employees on the drone team and more than a thousand employees in total.

While the company isn’t just selling drones, it represents a good chunk of the business. But it looks like other companies, such as DJI, are doing better in this market. Parrot expected to report $105.9 million in sales for 2016. It reported $90 million instead (€85 million vs. €100 million expected).

Even though the company is still selling quite a few drones, Parrot says that it doesn’t generate healthy margins. So here’s the new plan: focusing on commercial drones.

Well, this explains my holiday shopping difficulties with Parrot. Ollie asked for a drone for Christmas and after doing some research, I decided on the Parrot Swing. Amazon was out of stock, so I decided to buy directly from Parrot. They had stock and the site said they’d ship in plenty of time for Xmas. So I ordered one. The next day, I get a call from Parrot saying I need to “verify my order”. So, I call them back, give them some info about my order and where it’s being shipped and the very nice woman on the phone tells me that I’m all set and they’re shipping it out.

Two days go by, no shipping confirmation email in sight. I get another voicemail: you need to call us to verify your order. I call back, give them the same info and tell them, oh by the way I’ve already done this once. Profuse apologies were offered, that was a mistake, and the very nice woman on the phone tells me she’s going to tell the shipping people to send out my order “right away”. It will still arrive in time for Xmas. The next day I get an email from Parrot:

Hello! We have refunded your order No. XXXXX-XXXXX placed 12/15/2016. We are sorry that your order did not meet your expectations and hope that you will visit us again.

Obviously, I am done with them at this point but still need that drone. Amazon is still out of stock, but Walmart has them. I order one, it arrives two days later (with free shipping), and on Christmas morning, after some reflection, Ollie says it was the best present Santa has ever gotten him.

I did quite a bit of holiday shopping this year…went a bit nuts making up for some not-so-great efforts the past two years. The kids and I shopped for Toys for Tots (twice), I bought gifts for them from me and from Santa, I bought non-holiday stuff like clothes for myself,1 and I shopped virtually for the gift guide. I shopped every which way: small, locally, at big box stores, and online at 4-5 different retailers. My main takeaway from that experience? Amazon is miles and miles and miles ahead of everyone else. It is not even close.

Sure, Walmart had the drone in stock, but when I’d tried shopping with them earlier in the month, the product page threw a 404 error. I switched to Safari and was able to put the item into my cart, but then a form in the ordering flow wouldn’t work, so I had to get that item elsewhere. (When I did finally create an account while ordering the drone, Walmart thought my name was “Ashley”?!)

Target’s site was so slow that it was nearly unusable (like 30-40 seconds for a product page to start loading). But I persevered because they had an item I really wanted that no one else had in stock. I got an email two days before Xmas saying they were out of stock and couldn’t ship until Jan 4 at the earliest, but that if I still wanted the item, I would have to log in to my account to verify the new shipping date. I didn’t want the item later, so I did nothing. Guess what arrived on my doorstep last week?

My troubles with Parrot I shared above. The local toy stores are expensive (Lego sets are $5-10 more than if you buy online) and ran out of popular items 2-3 weeks before Xmas. Very few online stores outside Amazon, Walmart, etc. had clear holiday shipping policies, so relying on them more than a week or two out was risky. Zappos was great (Amazon owns them) and Patagonia was pretty good, although their shipping estimates aren’t that great and returns aren’t free.

And Amazon? The site is always fast, I have never seen a 404’d product page, the URLs for their products haven’t changed in almost 20 years,1 each product page was clearly marked with holiday shipping information, they showed the number of items in stock if they were running low, shipping was free (b/c I’m a Prime member), returns are often free, and the items arrived on time as promised. More than 20 years after the invention of online retailing, how is it that Amazon seems to be the only one that’s figured all this out? How come massive companies like Walmart and Target, whose very businesses are under immense pressure from Amazon, can’t get this stuff right despite having spent hundreds of millions on it? I’m not a financial analyst, but unless something changes drastically, Amazon is just going to continue to eat more and more of the US retail pie and at this point, with all these advantages they’ve accrued and their razor-sharp focus on low pricing, it’s difficult to see how anyone is going to compete.1

  1. After freezing my ass off wearing improper clothing the last few years (because, to be clear, I am an idiot), I made myself a promise this year that I was not going to be cold this winter. So in November and December, I spent a bunch of energy outfitting myself with the proper gear: sweaters, thermal layers, coats, mittens, boots, etc. I am both warm and happy now.

  2. I linked to the Office Space DVD on kottke.org in 1999 and the link still works. What’s the percentage of URLs from 1999 that still work? 5%? 2%? 0.1%?

  3. Just for fun, let’s take a quick stab. Stripe and Shopify are arguably better than Amazon in some ways and when the one-click patent expires this year, those payment flows will get even easier. And anyone can use them to sell anything. So the problem becomes stocking and shipping. Who’s going to build/provide the third-party fulfillment infrastructure so that shipping and returns are cheap and reliable…like Amazon’s fulfillment warehouses but for anyone to use? UPS? FedEx? The USPS? (Hahaha.) Uber? Can that company offer a Prime-like or Costco-like shipping membership? What is the rationale for everyone involved (the retailers, the payment company, the online store service, the fulfillment company) to keep prices as relentlessly low as Amazon does? There are a lot of different reasons why a collection of interchangeable third-party services could succeed against a fully integrated solution, but price does not seem like one of them…there’s just too much margin lost because of the friction between services.

    (And we haven’t even talked about AWS here. It’s profitable by itself but is also turning out to be a massive competitive advantage. The likes of Walmart and Target can’t use it even if it would be better than their home-grown infrastructure because that’s like the Trojans paying the Greeks to invade. AWS also potentially insulates Amazon against competitors like Shopify and Stripe. Imagine if Amazon got serious about integrating AWS with their payment and fulfillment systems…a low-cost, bulletproof, integrated system that almost anyone could use to sell almost anything would put an enormous amount of pressure on every other retail experience, particularly if they continue to ramp up their real-world retail offerings.)

National Geographic Infographics

posted by Jason Kottke   Jan 04, 2017

National Geographic Infographics

National Geographic Infographics

National Geographic Infographics

National Geographic Infographics is an anthology published by Taschen of some of the best infographics featured by National Geographic in the past 128 years.

Through seven sections — History, The Planet, Being Human, Animal World, World of Plants, Science and Technology, and Space — we encounter the rise and fall of the Roman Empire, the mysterious origins of the Easter Island statues, Cleopatra’s Alexandria and a history of Hawaiian surfboarding, all distilled in expert, accessible graphic form. We discover how our genetic patterns have been pieced together over the years or how hip-hop emerged as a cultural heavyweight; we get to grips with global warming, and explore our ever-expanding study of an ever-expanding universe.

Mini metro maps

posted by Jason Kottke   Jan 03, 2017

Mini Metros

Mini Metros features small and simplified maps of over 200 metro and light rail systems from around the world. Many of the systems are small and simple themselves, just a single line or two, like in Edmonton, Mumbai, Seville, and Qingdao. Others, like in Munich, Shanghai, Tokyo, London, Seoul, and New York, are densely interconnected.

Prints and mugs are available.

The UI design of Rogue One

posted by Jason Kottke   Dec 22, 2016

Rogue One UI

Rogue One UI

Rogue One UI

From design firm Blind Ltd, the user interface graphics they did for Rogue One. They had some graphics from the original Star Wars to play off of, but this is still really nice work. Blind also did onscreen interfaces for The Force Awakens, the Batman films, and some recent Bond films. (via @pieratt)