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kottke.org posts about Rob Walker

The Art of Noticing

posted by Jason Kottke   Jan 15, 2019

When Tim and I first started the Noticing newsletter, I got a note from Rob Walker, a design and technology journalist whose work I’ve followed for some years. He said he was working on a book about paying attention and that the book and an affiliated newsletter were going to have a similar name to “Noticing”. Name collisions like that are always a bummer, but we didn’t challenge each other to a duel or anything. Instead, he asked me to contribute a tiny bit to the book and I said I’d write about it when it was coming out.

So here’s the skinny. The book is called The Art of Noticing: 131 Ways to Spark Creativity, Find Inspiration, and Discover Joy In the Everyday, will be out in May 2019, and can be preordered from Amazon right now. Walker describes it as a practical guide to becoming a better observer, “a series of exercises and prompts and games and things you can actually do (or reflect upon) to build attention muscles or just get off your phone and enjoy noticing stuff that everyone else missed”.

The Art of Noticing is an expansion of an essay by Walker called How to Pay Attention. One of the suggestions is “Look slowly”:

Robert Irwin, the artist mentioned above, shaped his practice in part by spending insane-sounding amounts of time simply looking — at his own paintings, at rooms, at outdoor settings. “Slow Art Day” is an annual event at multiple locations around the country that picks up this spirit in a perhaps more manageable form: Participants meet at a museum and “look at five works of art for 10 minutes each and then meet together over lunch to talk about their experience,” the event’s site explains.

The weekly newsletter associated with the book is right here if you’d like to join me in signing up. So far, it’s both whetting the appetite for the book and also providing interesting attention-adjacent things to snack on in the meantime.

P.S. I love Walker’s idea that paying attention is something that a person can learn to do. In the introduction letter to Noticing, I wrote about a similar assertion Walter Isaacson made about Leonardo da Vinci in his biography:

One of Isaacson’s main points in the book was that Leonardo’s accomplishments were due in no small part to his extraordinary powers of observation. By observing things closely and from all possible angles, he was able to make connections and find details that other people didn’t and express them in his work. Isaacson argues that Leonardo’s observational powers were not innate and that with sufficient practice, we can all observe as he did. People talk in a precious way about genius, creativity, and curiosity as superpowers that people are born with but noticing is a more humble pursuit. Noticing is something we can all do.

P.P.S. When working on the book, Walker asked a number of people for tips on paying better attention. My tip (the “tiny bit” mentioned above) didn’t make it into the book, so I thought I’d share it here:

The thing that popped into my head about noticing suggestions is to pay attention to kids. They are literally at a different level in the world, ocularly speaking, and so notice different things. They’ve also got Beginner’s Minds, again literally. Having been a designer for many years, I am pretty good at observation, but my kids are always noticing details that I miss. I’m not saying you should crawl around on your hands and knees, but occasionally directing your gaze as a child would is often instructive.

Related to this, a few months ago I was able to add a new tool to their observational skills. The kids were having repeated difficulty with the door to a store in our town and on one particular visit, my son voiced his frustration. I asked them why he thought the door was so tough and they couldn’t really say, so I told them about Norman doors and now every time they have trouble with, say, a PULL door with PUSH indications, they go, “Norman door! They should get a better designed door.” It’s really fun because it turns a boring shopping trip into a little exercise in how the world could be a tiny bit better if people were just a little more observant about how others use things.

P.P.P.S. <— Last one, I promise. A version of this post first appeared in last week’s Noticing newsletter. If you’d like to subscribe, right this way.

Personal stories about political objects

posted by Jason Kottke   Jan 26, 2017

Joshua Glenn and Rob Walker have collected a group of writers to tell stories about political objects they own.

Batches of POLITICAL OBJECTS stories will appear on HILOBROW before, on, and just after the inauguration, and will continue to roll out through the end of March. The objects include overtly political artifacts both charismatic and absurd, and items whose stealthily political nature will surprise you; the stories range from the uplifting to the poignant to the unexpectedly illuminating. It’s a terrific collection.

Stephen Duncombe wrote about a God Bless Hysteria protest sign and Ben Greenman wrote about a Matchbox car.

Soon enough, I found what I didn’t know I was looking for — a Corvette. This was early May of 2016. Prince had just died. I had just started writing a book about him. I knew that I needed a little red Corvette, somehow, as a talisman. The only problem was that the one from the bin was black. I bought it. I took it home. I went into the closet and found the model paints that my sons no longer use. I painted it red.

Your most outdated gadget

posted by Jason Kottke   May 23, 2013

Rob Walker asked some tech writers what their most outdated gadget was. Alexis Madrigal pretty much answers for me:

I think it’s the sound system in our car 2003 Volkswagen Golf TDI,” Madrigal says. “We have one of those magical devices that lets you play an iPod through the tape deck (how do those work?) — but it makes a horrible screeching noise when it gets hot.” That leaves the CD player and terrestrial radio: “We seem to rotate between the same three CDs we burned or borrowed some time ago, and the local NPR affiliate.”

Madrigal hastens to add that what he really wants is a stereo with “an aux-in so that I can play Rdio throughout the vehicle.” The problem? “I am scared of car audio guys,” he says. “I knew a lot of them in high school. They are a kind of gadgethead that just kind of freaks me out. I loathe the idea of going in there and having to explain why we have this old-ass tape deck, and then — because I don’t know any better — getting ripped off on a new stereo.

It’s either that or our cable box/DVR…that thing records about 20 minutes of HD programming and is 20 years old now. Really should trade it in for something made since Clinton left office. See also Robin Sloan’s dumbphone.

Really interesting interview with artist/designer Tobias

posted by Jason Kottke   Dec 27, 2007

Really interesting interview with artist/designer Tobias Wong by Rob Walker.

That question hits an important point in my work (and pet peeve), because many people are always interested in how I get work out there, financially. And it’s quite simple. If there’s something I really believe in, I just find a way to make it happen. No daily Starbucks (US$4) or cigs ($8) or dining out ($20), and before you know it you’ve got the money to do something.

Rob Walker on Guitar Hero:

posted by Jason Kottke   Nov 27, 2007

Rob Walker on Guitar Hero:

Guitar Hero offers a connection to all this, but departs from it in an obvious way: You’re not actually playing the guitar. No matter how good you may get at Guitar Hero, if you decide to take up the real instrument at some point, you’ll be starting from scratch.

I don’t know what it’s like to be a rock star and there’s no way I can pick up a guitar right now and play it, but the pretend version of the whole rock n’ roll thing that Guitar Hero provides is pretty powerful, at least for this impressionable newbie. Playing Guitar Hero and believing you’re a rock star might be like eating apple pie on the internet, but if you don’t know the difference in the first place, does it matter?

Scott Nelson produces a “tribute brand” called

posted by Jason Kottke   Jan 30, 2006

Scott Nelson produces a “tribute brand” called MIKE that’s an homage to Michael Jordan, Nike branding, and shoes. After looking at his products (photos and interviews here and here), I’m amazed Nike hasn’t sued him back to the Stone Age. Nelson’s site is mike23.com.

In 1998, six newspapers profiled the streets named

posted by Jason Kottke   Jan 16, 2006

In 1998, six newspapers profiled the streets named after Martin Luther King in their respective cities. Along Martin Luther King is a collection of essays and photographs documenting life along the nearly 500 streets named for MLK. In 2003, Rob Walker took some photos along MLK Blvd in New Orleans).

Rob Walker on the mass-produced individuality of CafePress.

posted by Jason Kottke   Dec 12, 2005

Rob Walker on the mass-produced individuality of CafePress.

An interview with Rob Walker, who writes

posted by Jason Kottke   Jun 09, 2005

An interview with Rob Walker, who writes about design and consumer behavior for the NY Times Magazine. “The consumer is making a decision as to whether the product succeeds or fails, and what I do is to come in afterwards and try to articulate what the consumer saw or didn’t see that makes something succeed or fail.”