I Know, Now
I realized today that I know what I don’t know much more clearly than I know what I know. This is why I’m obsessed with learning (my trajectory points me that way) and why I’m completely unaware of my own specific strengths.
This is also why I’m so bad at selling myself in interviews.
Guys, interviews are the worst.
You’re majoring in a 5,000 year old dead language?
I’ve started to nail down my Masters thesis project, amidst many PCU jokes that I mostly just made to myself.
I synthesized all my ideas and all the input I got from others into the chart below in order to facilitate better communication with potential collaborators and advisors. Making synthesis products, as I’ve been calling them, has become my new favorite activity.
Only now, having published this on the internet, do I realize how nerdy it sounds.
Books, Sites, Goals
Second semester is just around the corner, so a quick update on what I’ve been up to. Given that I’m incapable of being happy unless I’m busy, I decided to use my month-long break between semesters to better myself, or whatever. Goals: get better at drawing, read some design classics, and make my portfolio.
I knocked out my portfolio first, it’s at shrzd.com if you’re curious about my work. Then I went to the library. Guys, I love the library. I spent an hour caressing various books, deciding what I was going to devote my limited time to. Below is a list of what I read, along with my brief thoughts on each book.
Drawing for Graphic Design, by Timothy Samara. As an actual drawing course, this book is way too involved. Even I balked at the amount of drive it would take to complete the recommended exercises. As a book on drawing, I vastly preferred the simple and to-the-point book You Can Draw (below). However, Samara is an excellent teacher and the entire first half of the book was foundational and theoretical teaching. His approach to basic design principles was lucid, articulate, and really pleasurable to read. I’m going to be reading two more of his books.
You Can Draw by Bruce Robertson. A really short, really old book that does everything I needed it to do. Robertson takes you through a primer/refresher course on proper tools and technique, then provides a series of exercises and frameworks that can be tailored to your specific skill level. This book could not have been better. When I was in high school I used to be able to say, with some level of awkward adolescent confidence, “yeah, I can draw.” I feel like I can say that again today.
A Designer’s Art, by Paul Rand. This was a fast read. I was already familiar with much of Mr. Rand’s work, but the clarity with which he laid out design process and design thinking was lovely. What he said here, so long ago, is what the rest of the world is finally starting to see value in. My favorite part was a quote from Frank Lloyd Wright’s Work Song, a sentiment that no one could possibly express better: “I’ll work as I’ll think as I am.”
The New Typography, by Jan Tschichold. I got this just a few days ago, so I’ve only started it. It is… interesting. Tschichold’s passionate belief in the collective and his dogmatic and aggressive stance on their beliefs really highlights how young he was when he wrote it. My copy of the book has a thoughtful introduction which outlines how his beliefs changed as he aged, and also shows the revisions he would have liked to make to later editions. Overall, I’m finding this worthwhile mainly in my exploration of subcultures, collectives, and shared experiences (the topic of my eventual thesis).
The Visual Display of Quantitative Information, by Edward Tufte. I didn’t think I was going to like this book, and I was extremely wrong. Tufte has a no-nonsense approach to visual communication that really resonates with me. Also, he reduces complex principles (e.g. truthfulness, efficiency of data-ink) to ratios, which is supposed to be serious, but which I find mostly entertaining. I used to think I was a bad designer because my graphics never looked flashy and complicated, but now I realize that I think like Tufte: a graphic should communicate without obfuscating.
Finally, Interaction of Color, by Josef Albers. I’m a long-time fan of Albers’ art work, and I love color, so I freaked out, as they say, when I realized this book existed. I’m working through the exercises with the suggested Color-Aid cards, and I feel like nothing has ever been more fun. If you care about color, I can’t recommend this book enough.
I did a bunch of other things over the break: had four house guests over two weeks, traveled to two other states, did lead paint abatement on our basement, and bought some pens. I’ll probably talk more about the pens in a future post.
Guys, a good pen can change your life.
Things I’ve learned in design school
I’ve been in grad school for less than two months, and I’ve learned that there are two types of learning. There’s the kind that augments an existing framework in your brain, building out on scaffolding your previous experiences created, and then there’s the weirder kind - the kind that builds a new little nest inside your head, and thus gives home to a whole collection of thoughts that previously wouldn’t have stayed with you, thoughts that make you see and think completely differently.
Here are some other things I’ve learned-
1. In any sort of group activity, whoever shows up with the first and best graphics WINS. They control the conversation and the direction of what happens next.
2. If you’ve presented something and no one has any feedback, one or more of the following things have happened (whether or not you want to admit it):
a. what you’ve made is just appallingly bad
b. you’ve entirely missed the point of the project
c. your narrative failed, so no one was listening
3. I always thought “visual thinker” was a myth, and I was wrong. Visual thinkers think non-visual thinkers are a myth, and they are also wrong.
4. Espresso is a truly superior method of caffeine consumption.
Perhaps most importantly, I’ve learned that this is where I belong. (queue The Kinks)
On ladyblogging and disagreement
Finally catching up on my reading, and the best thing I’ve read so far is this: Molly Fischer, On Ladyblogs.
I rarely read so-called ladyblogs. I think the Hairpin, to take the same specific example used by Ms. Fischer, is largely condescending, repulsively phony, and offensively self-congratulatory. I don’t read non-ladyblogs often either. I think blogging has devolved into a giant lazy finger pointing at itself, a point that (in the second best thing I’ve read recently) Blake Andrews illustrates beautifully in his photography-specific piece The Finger.
Somehow, as women, we’re allowed to complain about the rest of the blogging world but about not “our” blogging world. We violate the terms of sisterhood if we don’t put hugs and kisses into everything we do, and if we disagree with what’s said or done, we’re supposed to keep our mouths shut lest we hurt someone’s feelings. Everything is personal, even when it clearly isn’t, like your reader’s feelings on those cute new shoes you wear once to take a picture of.
I’ve dealt with this playground mentality by divorcing myself from that world entirely, which I admit is avoidant and unproductive. Thus, I can only applaud Molly Fischer for having the courage to say what needs to be said, even in the face of truly ridiculous personal attacks that revolve around “boys” and “slumber parties”.
As she puts it, “[my ideal website] would be one where good faith could be assumed without gussying everything up in the trappings of intimacy, swaddling tricky subjects in chattiness. These are gestures that seem strange and infantilizing to me, because instant friendship regardless of individuality is the kind of assumption that parents make about children (“They have a daughter your age, you’ll have fun!”) and bosses about subordinates and majorities about minorities, but not one equals in power typically make about one another.”
Ladies, we’re allowed to disagree, and we’re allowed to argue about what we really believe. We’re allowed to really believe things, and we’re allowed to have strong opinions that we stand by. Men have done it for centuries, so let’s stop pretending like we don’t want that same freedom.
P.S. I also think the forced faux-intimacy of the ladyblog world creates unrealistic expectations in female friendships, but that’s a topic for another time.
The internet is my subconscious
You know all those alarmist articles about data mining and our status as a collection of likes and dislikes ready to be massaged into a mindless advertising-driven monetary stream? The internet knows you better than you know yourself.
Here is a semi-random selection of 3+ years of my Twitter “favorites” clearly revealing that I think being a human being on the internet is fraught with problems and that personal branding is a joke at best. Of course this happened without me ever realizing, myself, that I felt this way. And yes, I favorited one of my own tweets.
Some Asshole, @MoorishDignity
Shit just got fake.
Michael Ian Black, @michaelianblack
Maybe I should stop being surprised when I have a good time hanging out with people.
todd levin, @toddlevin
Twitter cuts through all the b.s. that would otherwise distract us from behaving like needy, easily wounded babies.
Alain de Botton, @alaindebotton
Half the fear of failure is of the judgement of false friends we feel compelled to impress but don’t even like.
Kevin Fanning, @kfan
due to overexposure to the internet I can no longer tell where my sincerity ends and my personal brand begins
“He who trims himself to suit everyone will soon whittle himself away.” -Raymond Hull
Bob Powers, @bobpowers1
If any corporations tracking my purchases are reading this, where did it all go wrong for me? Was it the Papasan Chair?
S S, @luckmachine
Went to the store to try to buy my life some meaning.
Amy Stein, @Amy_Stein
We’ve become fixated on the process of distribution instead of the process of personal growth as artists
Andy Borowitz, @BorowitzReport
1963: Ask not what your country can do for you 2011: Please follow me and I will follow you back k thanks #USA
Women Of History, @WomenOfHistory
Fame means millions of people have the wrong idea of who you are. -Erica Jong
Neal Brennan, @nealbrennan
2001: “He’s a good dude.” 2012: “He’s really on-message about the kindness of his brand.”
This quote - sharp, revealing and concise - captures everything I love about Twitter… and with what it says, it captures everything I hate about the social internet.
I started blogging when that meant updating a notepad file with HTML and text, so I went through the agony and anxiety of notice me, notice me, approve of me - online during early adolescence. As I grew and as the possibilities of internet presence expanded into Geocities, Xanga, Makeoutclub(!), I saw how undignified this approach looked on others and I slowly left it behind. I found a new way to embarrass myself as my subtext became, in less than 140 characters, Get the f*** away from me. I don’t need your attention and I will capture it and then alienate you to prove my point.
In case any of you are verging into this needlessly complex and reactionary territory, I’d urge you to find another path.
Because here is the real problem for those of us aware of our place on the spectrum of online self-consciousness: Social media demands that we find our brand and we stick to it, whether that brand involves entertaining, educating, or alienating, and it is fundamentally anti-human to do so.
I’m tired of being one person (or a series of people, as I try to find one that “sticks”) online and another “in real life”. To create a personal brand is to deny real expression and real connections, and it creates a rift in our self-defined identity. When we look back at our timelines, archives, and histories, we see someone - or something - else looking back at us. Each of us has a best that changes with every moment, yet even capturing that fleeting best and preserving it online would not yield such an inflexible, demanding, and destabilizing version of our selves.
It’s time to engage with the internet as human beings, with the intelligent thought and social intent that only humans are capable of. I’m still figuring out exactly what that means.