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Illustration: Benjamin Hersh

A guide for the ‘purplexed’

What do you know about color? You probably know some basics of color theory: Colors live in a circle, and they’re made of light. Some are warm, and others cool, etc.

In my years as a designer, I’ve often wondered how we came to take these peculiar ideas for granted. Color is often the most salient element of design and perhaps the least understood. How would you explain “red” to the uninitiated? That very question has befuddled philosophers for generations, and you can be sure that I don’t have the answer. For something banal, it’s terribly mysterious.

The first thing you need to know about color is that it’s bigger than you. It’s an ancient language, older than English or Fortran, and almost every creature on earth speaks it. The colors of a coral snake say “I kill.” The colors of a ripe fruit say “I am sweet and nutritious.” Your ancestors may have learned to see colors more than a hundred million years before their first steps on dry land—and they had their damn priorities straight. Colors are powerful symbols by which you live or die; they’re worth paying attention to. …

There was a big human element contained in those tiny boxes

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Photo: Swiss Post/Wikimedia Commons/public domain

The way we communicate is constantly changing. We don’t write letters like we used to, but we do have GIFs and rainbow-vomit selfies. The latest trend is automation. Apps routinely suggest what you should say next or complete your sentences after a couple words. These suggestions come from crunching billions of conversations, so they’re compelling if not personalized. With every iteration, our conversations get easier and faster, but we are less involved in them.

Visual and political identity in 2018

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November 6, 2018 marked a significant moment in history. Amid escalating tension and sporadic violence, two visions of the U.S. locked their horns with everything at stake.

And yet, take a look around you. Both sides look the same — literally.

Lessons from fortune cookies, fairy tales, and neuroscience

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Lead Photo: Ben Hersh; all other photos and screenshots, unless otherwise noted: also Ben Hersh

The fortune cookie is no ordinary cookie. It eschews the gooey chunks, decorative frosting, and other cheap thrills typical of the confectionary genre. It carries a certain dignity and grace. A gentle arch and intimate fold tell you how to hold it and how to snap it in two. It has a story to tell. It would not be an exaggeration to call it a designed experience. In fact, fortune cookies were invented by a designer — Makoto Hagiwara, the landscape architect and patron behind San Francisco’s iconic Japanese Tea Garden.

Bland as the cookies may be, something special happens when you eat them among friends. You can’t help but share your fortunes. Just a few words are enough to transform the cookies into a shared experience, a ritual that gives closure to a communal meal and tells you something about yourself. Fortune cookies also have something to teach us about design: Words matter. …

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Rapid Rapidograph Reviews

Copic MultiLiner

The Polymath

A toolkit for when copy becomes design.

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Photo by Dustin Lee on Unsplash

Writing is no easy thing. It’s something product designers do all the time — buttons, navigation, empty states, etc — but rarely with the same rigor or delight that we reserve for visuals and interaction patterns. When you come across the rare style guide for in-product copy, most focus on the finer details of writing: which abbreviations to use, how to type out dates, how to compose error messages and so on. This post is about the bigger picture that we often miss. It’s about the intersection between style and usability where copy becomes a facet of product design.

Copy as design

Every product has a voice. As you read text, you “speak” the words to yourself and hear them like a spoken conversation. This voice is a tangible aspect of the product, just like its colors or animation. It should be designed. …


Ben Hersh

I design tools for everyday life. Currently at Google. Previously at Dropbox, Medium.

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