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Dan Rubin's SuperfluousBanter

Suffering from chronic idiocy since 1977

Archive for March, 2007

Let’s Talk About Appropriation, Baby

Wednesday, March 7th, 2007

My friend and co-author Jeff posed an inter­est­ing ques­tion a few days ago, about what he calls design “appropriation”—the main ques­tion being, essen­tially, if part of the learn­ing process of design is to learn from the works of oth­ers, and if incor­po­rat­ing those styles and pat­terns of design is part of a design­ers evo­lu­tion, then where (or even how) do we draw the line between accept­able influ­ence and rip­ping some­one off?

You might call it remix­ing or influ­ence, or you might refer to it as theft, rip-off, or copy­right infringement.”

Jeff’s par­al­lels between jazz are a ter­rific start­ing point, but the big dif­fer­ence between jazz (or any music for that mat­ter) and design is that (judg­ing by many of the com­ments on his post) many peo­ple can’t make the two relate: music is art (even when done for profit), and design isn’t art.

So, while as a musi­cian (jazz and all sorts of other styles) I get Jeff’s point, and I see and expe­ri­ence it with the music I lis­ten to (the Verve Remixed series is a per­fect exam­ple of sam­pling in this man­ner), I think com­par­ing the issue to prod­uct designs will make things even more clear (assum­ing we all agree that a pri­mary dif­fer­ence between “art” and “design” is that design is meant to be used).


Let’s look at some­thing most of us use every day: the car. Since its intro­duc­tion, designs have var­ied a bit, and cer­tainly man­u­fac­tur­ers and design­ers con­tinue to come up with new con­cepts, but it’s clear that every car design out there has been directly influ­enced by what has come before, and not just from the same design­ers or man­u­fac­tur­ers. Do you think Henry Ford and his team designed the Model A with­out first look­ing at what oth­ers had done, and incor­po­rat­ing the good parts?


This shouldn’t need any fur­ther expla­na­tion for this audi­ence: think of almost any worth­while fea­ture of a lap­top, and then think of how many man­u­fac­tur­ers copied that fea­ture and incor­po­rated it into their own designs. It’s exactly like the com­ment Jeff men­tioned from the Microsoft guy at SXSW last year about Vista’s win­dow switch­ing mim­ic­k­ing Exposé: how many Apple lap­top fea­tures have become stan­dard in all lap­tops over the years?


Easy exam­ple: Apple wasn’t the first com­pany to think “ooh, let’s allow peo­ple to put music on a portable device and carry it around with them!” They weren’t even the first to allow you to do that with dig­i­tal files. And do you think they were the ones who came up with the idea to let users lis­ten to their music using head­phones? Sure, they invented and pio­neered other parts of the phys­i­cal inter­face, and engi­neered an entire expe­ri­ence, but much of the core con­cept that is crit­i­cal to the device was not original.


Think about it for about 10 sec­onds, then make your own list. This one’s easy. (yes yes, Apple is doing new things with the iPhone, but seri­ously, it’s still a phone, still makes and receives calls, still has a speaker and a mic, and is hand-held–think about the cor­ner­stones of the design and you find an exist­ing idea with an Apple skin–and you’re damn right I’m buy­ing one :)

A few oth­ers for your perusal

I can go on like this for hours list­ing things we use every day with­out think­ing about the design process that went into them, and how many design­ers of those prod­ucts copied the good ideas and con­ven­tions that came before.

With­out this nat­ural process of appro­pri­a­tion, prod­ucts would not improve as rapidly. I argue that the same goes for any inter­face, whether phys­i­cal or vir­tual, and forc­ing your­self to start from a blank can­vas every time you design only lim­its your abil­ity to invent and inno­vate, rather than enhanc­ing it.



Pre-SXSW 2007 Hype-mobile

Tuesday, March 6th, 2007

Won’t you join me, just for a moment, in a SXSW Inter­ac­tive sing-along?

It’s that time of year, when the (geek) world falls in love, every sound you hear seems to say… “let’s go to Austin and get crunk!”

OK, so it’s a poorly bas­tardized ver­sion of The Christ­mas Waltz (as for the “crunk” ref­er­ence, I’m look­ing at you Mr. Keith), but I’m just in a singing mood today, in large part because I’m already dream­ing of (no, not sug­arplums) the six days I’m about to spend in Austin, TX, for SXSW Film & Inter­ac­tive 2007.

Speak­ing of which…

If you haven’t added it to your SXSW cal­en­dar already, I highly rec­om­mend attend­ing The Influ­ence of Art in Design on Sat­ur­day at 11:30am, in room 10AB (and not just because I’m on the panel, of course). I have the plea­sure of mod­er­at­ing a fine group of folks, and I’m sure you’ll all appre­ci­ate what Anton, Patrick, Glenda, Erik and Dave will have to share with you over the course of an hour. Those of you who attend will also get to go to lunch with us fol­low­ing the ses­sion, but we’re only going to share our des­ti­na­tion with those in the room, with the hopes of con­tin­u­ing the con­ver­sa­tion over food and beer (as if the panel itself weren’t rea­son enough to attend :)

Don’t Hide Your Shame, Dis­play It Proudly

My panel is all about influ­ence, and so on a related tan­gent, the pan­elists of my ses­sion and Tags to Riches (Sat­ur­day at 4:05pm, room 19AB) thought it would be fun to see how much fash­ion influ­ence we could pull, so we’re all going to wear Cindy Li’s Geeks * tshirts for our pan­els, and we want to see how many audi­ence mem­bers we can get to do the same on Sat­ur­day. I already know a good num­ber of folks who will be dressed accord­ingly, but if you don’t have your shirt yet, don’t worry: Cindy is bring­ing a ton of the shirts with her, so all you have to do is track her down and fork over the cash.

SXSW Inter­ac­tive 2007 Panel Smackdown

It can be a might frus­trat­ing when more than one excit­ing panel is sched­uled oppo­site another, and this year, you’ll have the plea­sure of decid­ing between the above men­tioned ses­sion and another, both with sim­i­lar top­ics, and both at the same time. Rather than pimp the com­pe­ti­tion, I think you’ll enjoy the friendly-but-competitive ban­ter found in the com­ments on Jason Santa Maria’s recent SXSW post. We’ll try to keep it pro­fes­sional once we get to Austin, but no promises… ;)

Book Sign­ing, Sheet Stamp­ing & Related Tomfoolery

This year, I’m all about the printed word: I’ve coau­thored two books over the last 6 months, and been tech­ni­cal edi­tor for yet another two, and I’m happy to report all will be very well rep­re­sented in human form in Austin.

Pro CSS Techniques

The authors of Pro CSS Tech­niques will be in Austin, and we’re sched­uled for a book sign­ing on Sun­day at 4:30pm at the SXSW Book Store. This is a great chance to meet and chat with Jeff, Ian and me in per­son, plus get our John Hancock’s and maybe even a pic­ture (I promise, we’re all rather pho­to­genic, though some­how we always take bet­ter pic­tures with women…).

Web Stan­dards Creativity

What do you get when you ask 10 design­ers who all live and breathe web stan­dards to write a chap­ter each about the design side of the busi­ness? A pretty kick-ass book if you ask me, and Web Stan­dards Cre­ativ­ity is the result of this designer-mind-meld.

Unfor­tu­nately, the book is about to ship, which means there won’t be any copies at SXSW. “Woe is me!” I hear you wail in dis­ap­point­ment. “How can I pos­si­bly make use of the 9 authors who will be in Austin if I don’t have a book for them to sign?” Well, thanks to Rob Wey­chert (one of our das­tardly band of scoundrels), we have a plan: A free copy of WSC will go to the first 10 peo­ple to track down the authors dur­ing SXSW.

9 of us (minus Simon Col­li­son, who has already been appre­hended by the appro­pri­ate author­i­ties) will be on the run while in Austin–by fol­low­ing these instruc­tions, you’ll not only have a good excuse to meet us face to face, but if you’re quick on the draw, you could win a free book:

  1. Down­load and print this WSC wanted poster. Got it? Good.
  2. Track down each of the authors/outlaws, using the loca­tion infor­ma­tion included on the poster (feel free to impro­vise and find us out­side of our sched­uled appearances)
  3. Get us to stamp your poster (start­ing Fri­day night, we’ll each have cus­tom rub­ber stamps on our per­son through­out the week)
  4. When the final stamp has been applied, the stamp­ing author will note the date/time the task was com­pleted (make sure you put your email address clearly on the poster!) and col­lect your sheet.
  5. The first 10 time stamps will win a copy of the book!

That’s all there is to it (ok, so it’s not as sim­ple as some pub­lish­ers are mak­ing it, but c’mon, it’s fun! :)

The Art & Sci­ence of CSS + Begin­ning CSS Web Development

I noted ear­lier that I have also been the tech­ni­cal reviewer for two ter­rific books, and although one author will not be at SXSW (Colly, as men­tioned above), I want to make sure you check out both the books and the authors dur­ing the conference.

The Art & Sci­ence of CSS is a new multi-author book from Site­point, and in addi­tion to hav­ing two Side­bar Cre­ative friends on the cover (Jon and Steve), the ever-impressive Jina Bolton makes her pub­lish­ing debut, plus Cameron Adams and David John­son round out the group nicely. This is a solid offer­ing in the same vein as WSC, espe­cially for design­ers want­ing to try their hand at improv­ing the visual details of their standards-based sites.

Begin­ning CSS Web Devel­op­ment is Colly’s pre­quel and com­pan­ion to Pro CSS Tech­niques, and a damn good read. Even though Colly isn’t able to make SXSW this year, you can always get your hum­ble tech­ni­cal review­ers (Richard Rut­ter and yours truly) to sign our bio pages :)

Once For The Bulk, And Again For The Remainder

What would a con­fer­ence be with­out schwag? With the web award nom­i­na­tion I fig­ured I should have some­thing with me to com­mem­o­rate the occa­sion, so I’ll have a very lim­ited edi­tion of 50 but­tons with me for those of you who would like to show sup­port at the SXSW Web Awards cer­e­mony on Sun­day night (I’ll be in atten­dance for as long as I have to before head­ing over to the Aval­on­star Bowl­ing Extrav­a­ganza, which is my rec­om­mended course of action to any­one wish­ing to attend both). I mean, I really love Twit­ter and all (seri­ously, I’m addicted), but I would love kick­ing their Obvi­ous–ass even more ;)

And More Buttons

I’ll also be split­ting another short run of 50 but­tons for an not-quite-revealed project I’m work­ing on with the lovely and tal­ented Jina Bolton, so make sure you find one of us early in the con­fer­ence if you want to grab one and find out what it’s all about :)

Party Together, Die Alone

So I’ve been watch­ing too much Lost lately, sue me—the par­ties and events at SXSW are essen­tially more impor­tant to many atten­dees (and speak­ers) than the pan­els, so here’s a short-list of the ones I’m plan­ning to crash-erm, attend (though don’t hold me to it–if you really want to keep track of my where­abouts, get on the Dodge­ball train or enable your Twit­ter account for SMS). Check the SXSW Evening Events page for direc­tions and locations:

As Porky says, that’s all folks–leave a com­ment if you’re going to be in Austin, I’m look­ing for­ward to see­ing and talk­ing with every­one!