Why the camera should always be on during video conferences and online seminars

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Hellenistic Theatrical Mask, 4th century BC

A couple of weeks ago, I published a posting on online teaching in times of covid-19. One of the more controversial points of the text was the question whether it is ok to enforce a cameras-on policy in video meetings. Is everyone in a video call obliged to show herself or himself? Should a moderator or a teacher enforce this rule?

Yes — I clearly think so. If you are running a class or heading a meeting, you can set the rules of the assembly. Traditional meetings have a code of conduct. However, as video conferencing is still fairly new, we need to establish — and sometimes enforce — rules for polite behaviour for online meetings. …


Pragmatic reflections on how to teach design online

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Empty lecture hall of the design department, FH Potsdam. Photo by Henrik Hagedorn.

The summer term is over — but the covid-19 crisis is not. When the classes start again in autumn, we won’t be able to move back to our long established ways of design teaching. Therefore, now is a good time to reflect on the online teaching activities of the last few months and plan the upcoming semester.

Almost everyone in the academic community is struggling with online teaching. My reflections are a contribution to the ongoing debate on how to teach art, design and other creative disciplines online. …


Why It Is Important to Understand and Appreciate Historic User Interface Designs. By Boris Müller and Frank Rausch

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MacPaint by Apple Computer, 1984 (Source: Wikipedia)

Students traditionally learn art and design by studying the masters, analysing, sketching and interpreting the grand visions of the past. In doing this, they get to understand the ideas, concepts and motivations behind the visual form.

In user interface design, this practice is curiously absent. Not only do we — as professional user interface designers — lack historical awareness, but we also arrogantly assume that, with every new technology, old designs become obsolete. This is not the case.

When we think about old computers (‘old’ meaning older than two years nowadays), we usually think of constraints and limitations. Smaller screens, less resolution, slower computing power. But the ideas that guided the designs of their user interfaces were often independent from technical limitations. …


A look at using pen and paper to design innovative data visualization interfaces

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Photos by author unless otherwise noted

Data visualization is one of the most exciting and experimental areas in digital design. Creating complex, meaningful, and visually intriguing images is a formidable challenge for every designer. By applying strategies from information design and generative design, it is possible to create data-driven visualizations that are both insightful and enticing. The work of designers like Moritz Stefaner, Nadieh Bremer, Kim Albrecht, and Stefanie Posavec (and many others) demonstrate the power of design-driven data visualizations.

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Project Ukko — Seasonal wind predictions for the energy sector by Moritz Stefaner

A common critique of design-driven data visualizations is that the designer places themself between the image and its significance, suggesting that the design influences the way we interpret the data. However, as I have pointed out before, every form of visual representation — even the most boring bar chart — is a manifestation of cultural image production. Data visualizations are always cultural images. There are no “pure” forms of data visualizations, just more common and less common ones. If you look at the history of information visualization (I highly recommend The History of Information Graphics by Sandra Rendgen), you will find an impressive richness and variety of visual representations. Translating data into images has always been a cultural activity, not a technical one. …


Everyone uses e-mail. But a lot of people are struggling with organising their e-mail workload. So in this essay, I discuss strategies for a more efficient e-mail management and how to write e-mails that work.

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I like e-mail. I don’t love it — but it is definitely my preferred mode of communication. It is accessible, robust, simple and it works. Furthermore, it’s an open standard and it’s decentralised — something that cannot be valued enough these days. In a way, it is one of the last remnants of the open internet.

Yes, I know. E-mail is for old people. In times of Slack, WhatsApp, Signal, Twitter, etc., e-mail seems like tech from the last century. And that’s because it actually is tech from the last century.

However, e-mail is still the workhorse of the internet. In 2018, 281 Billion e-mails were sent and received every day worldwide. (That is 35 e-mails per every human being.) …


We love maps. So Fabian Ehmel and I made a beautiful butterfly world map just using open source tools and public data.

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There is something weird and wonderful about analogue maps. They are increasingly useless yet incredibly beautiful. The obsessive level of detail of Ordnance Survey Maps, the typographic excellence of Swiss National Maps, the visual density of the Ebstorfer Weltkarte or the beautiful relief representations by Eduard Imhof. Old maritime maps smelling of the sea, uncharted areas, treasure maps, here be dragons. As a kid, I spend hours browsing maps and atlantes, imagining distant and secluded places. Maps evoke Wanderlust and Fernweh.

I always wanted to design my own maps. But it seemed difficult and trivial at the same time. There are already so many great maps and map styles out there — why go through all the trouble to create a variation of an existing one? …


Helvetica would definitely be Tom Hanks. But who is Comic Sans?

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Photo: Sky Noir Photography by Bill Dickinson via Getty Images

A common question in my first-year design seminars is also a popular question in the design community: “Why is Comic Sans considered such a bad typeface?”

Discussing typefaces with people who have just started to learn and practice design is tricky. There are good and bad typefaces. But there are also personal preferences and aversions. For a teacher—and a professional designer—it is important to differentiate the two correctly.

Obvious criteria for good typefaces are consistency, efficiency, elegance, versatility, and robustness. It is important to learn about the functional and aesthetic qualities of letters as well as the production quality of a typeface. …


On being featured by Medium

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Calligraphy by Stefanie Weigele

Ok — that was interesting.

On 30 October 2018, Medium featured my essay Why Do All Websites Look the Same?.

Within 14 days, the posting generated 200,000 views, over 100,000 reads, 30,000 claps and over 100 comments. It sparked a lively debate on Medium itself, on Twitter and on Hacker News.

After a couple of days, the whole thing was over — but I would like to reflect on some of the insights I got from the event and want to share my views on Medium as a platform.

Being Featured by Medium

It was obviously great to be featured by Medium! I was a bit surprised by the invitation as I have not really written that much. But I had put a lot of effort in all my essays — so it felt nice to be appreciated. …


A short comment on “Why Do All Websites Look the Same?”

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Redesign of Hacker News by Fabian Dinklage and Florian Zia

Last week, Medium has featured my most recent essay Why Do All Websites Look the Same? (aka “On the visual weariness of the web”). The essay is currently getting a lot of attention. While I am writing this, it has received over 55.000 views, 27.000 reads, 11.300 claps and 60 comments. I obviously hit a nerve.

So — thanks for all the feedback! It’s great to initiate a lively debate! But it is difficult for me to address each remark individually. The feedback I got is diverse and the comments on Medium and Twitter are quite controversial. …


The internet suffers from a lack of imagination, so I asked my students to redesign it

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Photo by Pankaj Patel on Unsplash

Today’s internet is bland. Everything looks the same: generic fonts, no layouts to speak of, interchangeable pages, and an absence of expressive visual language. Even micro-typography is a mess.

Web design today seems to be driven by technical and ideological constraints rather than creativity and ideas. Every page consists of containers in containers in containers; sometimes text, sometimes images. Nothing is truly designed, it’s simply assumed.

Ironically, today’s web technologies have enormous design capabilities. We have the capability to implement almost every conceivable idea and layout. We can create radical, surprising, and evocative websites. …

About

Boris Müller

Professor for Interaction Design at FH Potsdam, co-director of Urban Complexity Lab | http://uclab.fh-potsdam.de | http://esono.com

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