Exploring the dangers of abstraction

Photo by mymind on Unsplash

I’ve tried to swear off grumpiness, I really have.

Without any diagnostic rigor, I’ve accepted that being a curmudgeon comes with age. Within the topography of digital design, I’ve found plenty of landmarks to direct my cynicism toward. Addiction, privacy, sustainability, isolation, and greed are all easy targets for my disdain. They are the usual suspects, the low-hanging fruit.

However, from this ornery vista, allow me to reveal a silver lining. Often, what begins as grouchy thought can end in meaningful conversations. Once I allow my cynicism to fade, I’m sometimes left with a purified idea worth contending with.


What I learned about digital design from an HVAC expert

Photo by Chris Dickens on Unsplash

Summer 2020 has been heavy and hot. While an ongoing pandemic and impending U.S. presidential election would have been plenty enough, the East Coast also suffered an infernal heatwave. As in most heatwaves, this was when we would hold out hope that our HVAC systems would survive the unprecedented temperatures and keep our households perfectly climate controlled.

Of course, the summer is precisely when my household has HVAC issues. Our air conditioning never stops working in the picturesque Virginia fall; instead, it’s always in the dead heat of summer.

What does this have to do with user experience design? …

A person on their phone walking through a luminescent, futuristic corridor.
A person on their phone walking through a luminescent, futuristic corridor.
Illustration by Jeremy D. Cherry

Technology always brings with it a wave of excitement and anxiety. We’re hopeful for the possibilities innovation can bring, but as practitioners, we’re anxious about our place in the new landscape. Digital innovation is advancing at breakneck speeds. My brain can barely keep up with the onslaught of new platforms, skills, and literature required to be a twenty-first-century designer.

Upon the horizon, we have technologies like virtual and augmented reality altering our definition of tangible and intangible. Alongside it, we have artificial intelligence and machine learning asking the question: What can machines make better and more efficiently? …

Creating a more accessible web that my parents can actually use

Photo by Federica Galli on Unsplash

I think we can all agree that quarantined life has been strange. And while most of the day is comprised of the monotony of domestic life, I’ve been surprised at how much of my time is dominated by technology.

I’ve spent my entire career working in front of screens. Constantly communicating through tech is not new for me. But what is new is how much of my time is now spent in video calls with people older than myself, particularly those in the boomer generation.

We’re all familiar with the scenario: The first 5 minutes of every video chat is…

The facade of autonomy in an online world

All illustrations by Adam Crigger

We’re in complete control. Or, at the very least, we find this mantra comforting in these anxious times. Any time we open a browser, we feel that the possibilities are endless. We believe that the decisions we make online are choices that we own, choices we shape along the way.

However, as our sailboats approach the horizon, we violently halt. In this reality, the horizon isn’t infinite at all, and we crash into the boundary of our little world. Suddenly we notice that the clouds are merely projections and the ocean around us is ankle-deep. There’s even a camouflaged staircase…

Designing for real problems without creating more of them

“We need an app!”

These can be complicated words to hear from our clients. Substitute “app” for brand, website, billboard — you name it — and it doesn’t get less complicated.

As designers, we often create a problem in the way that we respond to this declaration. Our gut response to this statement is often, “Well, when do you need it?” Or, even worse: “What’s your budget?”

But the right response is so simple:

“What do you need it for?”

We should make our phrasing a bit more professional than that, but the heart of the matter lies in that…

A tech-obsessed culture calls for more responsible design

Photo by Mika Baumeister on Unsplash

We’re more anxious than ever before. Just typing that sentence makes me anxious. Technology, for all its benefits, can create a sense of claustrophobia. Our devices can make us feel like we’re trapped in a room full of spinning plates, constantly worrying about which one will topple first.

I could go into the tired dopamine diatribe on how your smartphone has transformed you into a technology fiend, standing on the corner trying to score a hit. But I’ll spare you because it’s simple: Technology is reshaping our brains. In real time we’re both observing and suffering from its effects.


Creating a digital brand system that encourages creativity

Photo by Anton Ivanchenko on Unsplash

You awake in a cold sweat. Moments ago the bright blue lights pulsating behind you were so vivid. You got away this time, but next time you may not be so lucky. The Brand Police are still out there, and they are looking for any and all detractors to punish. Like an Orwellian dystopia, we’ve all felt the watchful eye of the Brand Police waiting for us to recreate a scenario deserving of the dreaded red X.

Brands at scale are difficult to architect well and harder still to maintain. Excellence is easily implemented when we devise the rules, but…

Jeremy Cherry

Designer, writer, and educator

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