An Interview with Khoi Vinh, Principal Designer at Adobe

Image result for An Interview with Khoi Vinh, Principal Designer at AdobeEarlier this week I had the opportunity to sit down with Khoi Vinh, Principal Designer at Adobe who leads its Design Practices group and author of Subtraction.com. Vinh, who was in Chicago to speak at the HOW Design Live conference, talks about how Adobe is using Adobe XD to integrate UX and UI design and prototyping into the product creation process for everyone from freelancers to big companies. He also discusses designers’ role in addressing the problems social media is facing, how artificial intelligence is beginning to play a role in design, and his podcast, Wireframe.

(The following has been condensed and edited for readability.)

Tell me a little bit about what you’re working on at Adobe these days.

Adobe XD is one of the main priorities at Adobe. We’re really passionate about the experience design space; really passionate about how product designers, UX/UI designers, they’re really kind of leading the way for how professional creativity is changing and XD is more than just an app, it’s a platform to help us build what designers need. So we see it as more than just a design app. It’s also prototyping and sharing, and so it’s really meant to help designers, and also the people who work with them, get more value out of the design process and be more productive in general.

How does it work with the code side of things when the designers pass things off to the programmers?

That’s an area that we’re really interested in. So, you can design something in Adobe XD in the drawing mode, which is roughly analogous to what you’re able to do in Illustrator or Photoshop in terms of determining what an interface looks like and creating all the artboards. And then you can bring it to life with a prototype, and you can share it with the marketing team or with other designers by sharing a web prototype.

We also have developer specs, which is basically a way of letting a developer take a look at what you’ve created, see all of the colors, the type, the spacing, everything, and that’s going to get more and more sophisticated, more and more rich over time, so that the developer handoff is really smooth. What we want is for design to flow as elegantly as possible throughout the whole team and also to help maintain the integrity of the designer’s vision, their intention, all the way through.

I know you’ve done a lot with things like the animations and the prototyping phase. What kinds of things have you been able to implement there?

Auto-Animate, that’s what we call that feature. We really believe that prototyping is a very critical leverage point for designers, in not just the whole design process, but in the way they work with clients, with stakeholders, with their in-house team, with all the rest of the business. And the reason is that prototypes get you very close to something that’s real without actually committing you to code, so that you’re not afraid to throw things away.

The way we conceive of prototypes – by intention, by design – they are not meant to be the actual code. We may get to a point one day soon where you’re designing right to code, but for right now we really think that to help people get an idea out of their head and into a clickable, tangible, movable version is really important because it changes the conversation. It brings clarity to the whole team. It brings clarity for the designer as well because now they can see how practical their idea is.

So, that’s a long way of saying animation is a really, really elemental part of that because once you see something moving, it becomes more than just an idea, it becomes something that just feels like it’s just a few inches away from reality. And that gets people to pay attention. And so, when we thought about how to implement an animation, there are tons of great animation tools out there that let you do very, very sophisticated animation. What we tried to do is think of a way to let you create sophisticated animations with as shallow a learning curve as possible.

So, Auto-Animate is based on a very simple sort of keyframe approach where you have one artboard where a circle might be the top of the screen and one artboard where a circle might be the bottom, and if you link them up as a prototype, it will actually move from one position to the other, like tweening from the old Flash days or something like that. And that’s something that everybody gets the first time they see it, they say, ‘Okay, I can do that.’

I think that is a really important part of our approach to it because you can get a lot more sophistication, and we’ll enable more sophistication later, but the challenge of mastering a complex interface, like a timeline interface or a scripting interface, can be very off-putting. So we want as many people as possible experimenting with animation creating richer and richer prototypes, and I think we’ve opened up the door to lots of folks. So we’ve seen people create some amazing stuff with this simple concept. The thing above all is that it’s super fun. You’re not wrestling with really complex user interface conventions, you’re just moving stuff around and doing it the way a designer thinks, which is usually visually.

It reminds me a lot of how Apple’s Keynote works because it does the same kind of keyframe stuff.

Well, Keynote is one of many inspirations. It’s purpose-built for presentations. It’s very visually oriented. It’s super easy to learn. All of the metaphors are consistent. There’s a high degree of visual integrity there. We like that model for sure.

So what’s your focus? Is it on custom UIs? Is it on the existing standard set of controls?

We focus on everything that comes under the umbrella of user experience design, which, roughly speaking just means that you’re thinking about the sum total experience for the end user; how to get from screen to screen and then what the interface looks like and what the interactions are and how information can be found and so forth. So, roughly speaking, yeah, it would be for the custom designer, for the designer who’s creating something bespoke for their company or their clients or customers.

But we’ve also invested a lot of money in putting a ton of UI kits out there for iOS, for Android, for all different kinds of things, so that people can get up and running really quickly, and can access them right from within the app. So if you’re not a “trained designer,” you can actually put things together really easily. And we see that in a lot of companies where XD, because it’s so approachable, people outside the design team will start using it in order to create mockups – create quick prototypes – to get ideas.

What platforms is XD on?

Windows and Mac. I should also say that we have two companion apps for iOS and for Android as well.

How do you approach those two products differently?

We try to create a consistent experience while also trying to be true to each platform. We don’t want to create a compromise between them that’s not satisfactory for Windows users or satisfactory for Mac users. So our designers spend a lot of time on both platforms and are very cognizant of what makes each platform unique or what its strengths are and how to respect that for each user.

And also, being truly cross-platform and being good citizens of both is a huge part of our strategy because a lot of other computing tools don’t offer that, especially for Windows users, because so much of the design community is on Mac. For Windows users to be able to use XD and get virtually the same experience and to be able to collaborate with their design studio they hire, which is maybe on Mac, or the design team, that actually makes a huge difference because now they’re going to be speaking the same language – that’s really important.

So is the product geared towards someone who’s working as a designer in a company? Or is it something that individuals like a solo indie developer might want to use as well?

We think user experience design is a profession that runs the gamut. So it’s individuals, small teams, independent studios, small, medium, and large-sized agencies. In-house teams are also small, medium, and large, and their needs are different, but the basic tools that are required to get your job done are roughly similar enough that we believe a solution like XD can be inclusive of everybody.

So if you are an independent designer working on your own, XD is terrific. If you are on any kind of a team, the collaboration features really smooth the workflow. And if you work at a big company with a big design team with super sophisticated requirements, we have a plug-in infrastructure for you to be able to tailor your workflow to build tools that are specific to your company’s needs. We really like the idea that it can scale.

Adobe has been offering subscriptions far longer than we’ve seen on platforms like Apple’s App Store. Do you ever worry that having a subscription leaves certain people behind? Adobe does a great job with students, making products available to them at a price that they can afford, and it works well for companies of various sizes, but what about the person who comes right out of school and maybe is just trying to do work on a portfolio on their own?

So first of all, Adobe XD is free to start, so you can actually create as many files as you want, and work for as long as you want in XD. When you start sharing projects online and collaborating with other people, that’s when we hope you will become a Creative Cloud member.

But the subscription model in general we believe actually gives more people the opportunity to try the app. And our subscriber numbers, which I can’t quote off the top my head, but they’ve just been growing and growing, we have more and more people coming into the Creative Cloud world than ever before. And part of the reason is an enormous amount of investment goes into each release of these apps we’ve got. The apps are cross-platform, they’re internationalized, they go through a heavy QA. We spend a lot of time thinking about how apps work for enterprise and for individuals. So, it’s a huge investment.

Now, in the pre-subscription world, when we were selling perpetual licenses, we had to basically charge for the complete value of all that. With the subscription model, you can pay for a month, or you can pay for 24 months, you can sign on and sign off. And actually many small companies take advantage of that because they have freelancers come in and work for six or eight weeks, and then they leave and turn off the subscription. So that’s really helpful.

And what it does is it allows people to pay for the value that makes sense for them. So if they are going to work on a six-month contract or something, they want to pay for six months. Well, that’s actually a one-to-one mapping of the value that they get for those six months. If they are engaging in projects continually and collaborate with lots of people, then they’re paying each month, and they’re getting every single update for the app that they’re subscribed to. And, if they’re subscribed to all updates, they also get many of the new products that we create just added to the bundle. So the value equation is very different from perpetual licensing, but we believe it’s more accessible for more people in general and makes sense for more businesses.

What do you think about Marzipan coming to Apple’s platform? Any thoughts on where we’re going? Because it’s going to be really interesting from a design perspective. Some of those early Marzipan apps in Mojave are pretty rough right now.

Well, I should say that I don’t know anything more about Marzipan than I read on MacStories. I personally haven’t been disclosed on anything from Apple. I do agree that some of the apps are lacking in terms of their Mac-ness. And as a very, very long-time Mac user, that makes me a little bit sad, because I really like all of the beautiful details the true Mac has.

On the other hand, I’m excited for a world where these platforms come closer together. I think making it easier for developers to create apps that work on phone, tablet, and desktop is super exciting. And for any new frontier like that, it’s not uncommon for things to be a little bit rough in the beginning, like the early days of Mac OS X.

In one of the interviews I saw with you from a while back, you talked a little bit about AI and machine learning and how that plays into design. Tell me a little bit about where you see that going.

I think right now, it’s still the Wild Wild West. There’s a lot of enthusiasm around AI in terms of the end-user experience and how to make great experiences with immersive technology for consumers and for business users.

We are really excited about the opportunity to make things better and remove friction and tedium for professional users as well. So there are things that designers do every day and have been doing forever that are second nature that you don’t think about – like lining things up or wiring an artboard together or drawing a home icon and then linking that to the home screen. These are things that a computer can do just as easily or at least suggest to you. So to remove the tedium of doing that work and letting you focus just on what only a designer can do.

We have this AI platform called Sensei, which takes a ton of anonymized data from millions of users to help us figure out what are the best practices for doing certain things that we’ve implemented on the Photoshop side or on the digital imaging side in terms of helping people with presets for manipulating photos and so forth. I’m actually not super in the weeds on those details, but I know they’re doing a lot there. As we’re building the foundation for XD, we’re looking to bring that kind of stuff to it as well.

What role do you think designers can play in fixing some of the problems that we’re seeing with social media? Is there a role for designers working on making that a better experience for people?

Absolutely. This is part of my talk tomorrow actually. In many ways we’re in this situation partly because of design; because design has sort of abetted the sort of unbridled ambitions that people love to optimize for on these platforms – you know, eyeballs, clicks, views, likes, and so forth. And it’s been really effective at doing that.

So when you think about all these problems, they’re not just technology problems, right? They’re not just a matter of the algorithm. You’re thinking about the sum total user experience, and design can’t solve them on their own, but I really believe that design needs to be a key part of that conversation.

The responsibility of the designer in crafting solutions is to think about the total experience of the user or the customer. Like what is the effect on that customer of seeing only confirmation bias-oriented content in their feed? Or we’re only pushing them to come back, again and again, to view the same thing over and over again at the expense of other activities in their lives. I think design and the approach that designers bring to research and the whole user journey, so to speak, is a very valuable tool there.

So part of the challenge is that the world at large doesn’t see design in that light necessarily. First of all, the world doesn’t really understand design. They sort of assume it’s all technology. So I think part of our challenge is to try to level up the conversation around design to help people understand it, and appreciate what it can bring, and then be proactive in trying to figure out how to solve this problem.

Tell me a little bit about your podcast.

It’s called Wireframe. We do it in partnership with Gimlet who are based in Brooklyn, New York, conveniently where I live.

The hook is to tell high-quality, in-depth stories about design, and to treat design in the way that you might hear stories about architecture or technology or art or culture, like on the radio. Our attitude is design traditionally hasn’t been treated that way. Most of what gets written about design is written by designers for designers. There are tons of great design podcasts out there, and I don’t want to take anything away from them, but they’re almost all just interview format, and so it really feels like you’re dropping in on shop talk, right?

What we tried to do is tell a complete story about design. Our first episode was about the Hawaii missile crisis and how that warning system was flawed in terms of design. We try to show how design led to the situation and how it can be part of the solution. We try to take you into the mind of a designer, but in a narrative way. It’s not just interviews, it’s actually a story start to finish that, hopefully, pulls you in.

And what we found is that it’s been surprisingly popular with people who don’t call themselves designers. They get pulled in and start to see design as something tangible that they can relate to. And at the same time, it’s actually been really fun for people who know design already, because they’re not accustomed to seeing design, or hearing design I should say, treated in this manner.

[“source=macstories”]

What it takes to become a ‘social designer’

Social design is the application of design methodologies to solutions for complex human problems. A world battling pollution, education, inequality, and climate change requires each of us to contribute in ways we deem meaningful. There is a need for design professionals and recent design graduates to think beyond traditional (product, building, service) design through an additional lens of purpose.

Design is a tool to create environmental and social value that has a role in social development and is definitely the need of the hour.

But the question is how do designers find these opportunities? Enough design schools and institutions are not taking it upon them to urge students to think about the potential impact that they can have in the world through their work. Secondly, most people, designers included, are of the opinion that solving social problems are for government, non-profits, and CSR institutions, and hence don’t think about this as a career opportunity.

Last but not the least, one of the biggest challenges is the fact that the role of design in the social development sector is still not a mainstream concept in India and most parts of the world and hence, there are no such ‘jobs’ to begin with. Until we change this narrative and create platforms/avenues/opportunities to engage and make available careers for design professionals and recent graduates in the social development space we will not be able to grow the field and make these opportunities readily available to pursue.

 

In this article we highlight design mindsets and toolsets that can be incorporated in social development work and help prepare potential social designers for this field.

1.  Looking for impactful career choices

The first option of course is looking for opportunities to use your design skills to solve environmental and societal problems, be it in government, non-profits, CSR, or design consultancies that consult for any of these. If you decide to start on your own be mindful of the problem that your organisation will solve.

2.  Getting into the right mindset 

Whether you are already working or looking for your next gig and want to do more with your design skills start by training your muscles like a social designer.

●     Adaptability: Given the ever-changing social landscape, it is vital that our thinking is both flexible and adaptable to support future growth and change.

●     Learning through failure: The process is iterative with the need to constantly pivot in face of new learnings, insights, and data.

●     Cultivate empathy: Being empathetic is always a given in design. You might have heard it a lot. Empathy means understanding and sharing. Taking some time out to truly listen is important when you design for them. Only when you listen, you are able to understand the problem and the solutions.

●     Embrace ambiguity: There are always times that we start solving a problem and then realise after more in-depth research that the problem that we set out to solve was not the problem at all and end up learning the crux of the problem. Embracing such ambiguous moments ultimately end up leading to ‘Aha!’ moments in design.

3.  Building your toolset

Whether you are already working or looking for your next gig and want to do more with your design skills start by building a social designer toolset.

Design methods:

Design is an iterative and non-linear process that can be divided into four phases – Understanding, Looking, Making, and Testing.

Systems thinking/Mapping:

While designing for one end user, one can fall into the trap of unintended consequences for other people in the system interacting with the user. When you design, you design within a larger system, in order to leverage best experiences for all the players in the system, systems mapping is a useful tool to understand the ecosystem.

Storytelling/Communication:

Often times, explaining the problem is the hardest. Storytelling involves communicating design insights, and creating brands and bite-sized information that are easily understandable and approachable. Storytelling adds value to the user experience and involves both visual storytelling, verbal and written narratives.

Measurement and evaluation:

It’s easy to fall in love with our solutions and ideas. And hence, it’s important to create a feedback loop to ensure that our design solutions are working. Measurement and evaluation is a crucial step in social design to track progress.

4.   Social design learning resources

Last but not the least, change is the only constant so don’t wait to become a continuous learner. Here are some wonderful resources to learn and get inspired by people all around the world using design approaches in social impact.

Podcasts – Podcasts are great for inspiration and get a sneak peek into what others in the field are doing, for example Social Design Insights by the Curry Stone Foundation.

Open innovation challenges – Nothing is better than picking up a challenge with a friend or colleague – Open Innovation Practice by Ideo.

Toolkits – The wheel does not have to be reinvented each time, there are plenty of toolkits to refer

●       Design for Health by Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, Dalberg Design, Sonder, and USAID

●      D.I.Y Toolkit by Nesta, UK

●      NYC Civic Service Design by New York City Mayor’s Office of Innovation

Talking to people in the field – There is nothing better than learning about the impact space and the role that you and your skills can play by speaking to people who are affected the most by the problem as well as those who are in the frontlines trying to solve these problems.

I hope these resources are helpful to open our minds to new ideas and possibilities whether we work for technology companies or non-profits or consultancies. The question I want to leave you with is how might we as designers incorporate strategies to be leaders of advocating for social change wherever we go?

[“source=yourstory”]

Young fashion designer stitches his way to international catwalks

Chinese designer Zhang Yan, whose work has just hit New York and Chinese catwalks, has unraveled stereotypes about men in needlework and high fashion.

Impressed by the aesthetics of ancient Chinese embroidery on regal costumes displayed at a local museum, the designer integrated its unique way of presenting images into fashion design, to make traditional embroidery wearable while maintaining its classical beauty.

The 25-year-old said he particularly hopes more young people can develop a love for embroidery.

 Models present the new collection of “Fusheng.” /SUNCUN Photo

While Zhang’s glorious gowns are made of ethereal embellished fabrics, his success was the result of sweat and tears. Handling the tiny needle properly in his big hands wasn’t an easy job for Zhang in the early days.

Though many think embroidering is meticulous women’s work, Zhang believes the spirit of craftsmanship has nothing to do with gender when it comes to technique or inheritance.

What’s more? When he first engaged in embroidery, Zhang said that his friends and parents dissuaded him from pursuing it, thinking that it had no future or development potential.

“Chinese cultural stuff probably wasn’t yet very well accepted at that time,” he explained.

Zhang said he had learned from several senior artists about different forms of embroidery and spent nearly all his money.

Zhang Yan practices embroidering. /CGTN Photo

Once when he failed to get the desired pattern from senior embroiderers, the young designer realized that this intangible cultural heritage can only be safeguarded via innovation.

After three to five years of practice, Zhang said he has greatly improved his work in terms of texture and detail. His designs quickly gained attention. He first made a name for his sophisticated embroidery on cheongsam – a traditional slit dress with a mandarin collar – and participated in New York Fashion Week and China International Fashion Week early this year.

His last show called Fusheng, literally “a floating life,” featuring glimmering fabrics, intricate embroidery, oriental silhouettes and a dreamlike atmosphere, is about how adults find their childhood courage. At the curtain call, about 100 children in all kinds of authentic Chinese clothing came up to the front, amid thumping, clanking music.

Many audience members burst into tears at the scene, which Zhang named as his most moving breakthrough moment. “It was like, finally, Chinese culture has touched the deepest, most tender part of their hearts,” he added.

Embroidered cheongsam is seen in Zhang’s studio. /CGTN Photo

Zhang said he even asked one of the children if she had a preference for the Snow-White style and the girl replied by telling him that she liked traditional Chinese clothing very much, which made him feel honored. “Just like when an athlete gets a medal and the Chinese national flag is raised for him, we bring Chinese designs to the world while the foreign media has given us some positive feedback. I feel most encouraged by being recognized. Not only Chinese people like my work, but many abroad do as well.”

The designer’s next stop is Paris in September. He is planning a show named after Chinese literature “Classics of Mountains and Seas.” Zhang said it will bring ancient China’s geographical culture and literary culture, including some Chinese myths, to the world’s fashion capital in the form of clothing.

As to more and more young Chinese designers developing like him, Zhang told CGTN that his motto was “stay enthusiastic, stay interested and keep moving on.”

“I think as long as what you are doing is good and right, in this age of the internet, you will soon get your fame,” he added.

[“source=cgtn”]

I’ve always dreamed of designing for Madonna someday: Varun Bahl

Designer Varun Bahl and showstopper Sanya Malhotra at Blenders Pride Magical Nights 2019 in Guwahati, Assam on Friday

Guwahati: Pride is your individuality, it is everything, said designer Varun Bahl. The fashion designer was in Guwahati, Assam on Friday to participate in the Blenders Pride Magical Nights 2019 held at the Radisson Blu Hotel in the city. Incidentally, ‘Pride’ was also the theme of the Blenders Pride Fashion Tour and the evening was only an extension to that.

In an exclusive interview with EastMojo, Bahl talked about up fashion trends, his creations and what inspires them, among others. Excerpts from the conversation:

EastMojo: Tell us about your theme for the show tonight.

Varun Bahl: Today, we have started a new brand Varun Bahl Pret, whose basic theme is based upon nature largely, besides many other things. Flora and fauna are an important part of our creation. Few months ago, while I was sitting and sketching, I made a flower of five petals. Thereafter I started repeating the pattern and subsequently many beautiful patterns came up and it gave birth to the Varun Bahl Pret. So this is what I am showing tonight and the idea behind this was to reach out to a much larger audience. This couture is basically for weddings. As we see a lot of people look for wearing Indian clothes, so I thought of contemporising the whole Indian wear. This is the five petal story and every design and every print is based on it. It is contemporary Indian clothing.

EM: How will you define ‘Pride’, the theme for the evening?

VB: Pride is your individuality, it is everything. For me, pride is my journey — how I handled and I achieved it. My uniqueness is my pride.

Designer Varun Bahl at Blenders Pride Magical Nights 2019 in Guwahati, Assam on Friday
Designer Varun Bahl at Blenders Pride Magical Nights 2019 in Guwahati, Assam on Friday
EastMojo image

EM: What inspires your creations?

VB: A lot of flora and fauna. In terms of detailing, I love the Victorian period — this is very costume type so we need to wash down and make it relevant for the 21st century and for 2019. That will also be showcased in tonight’s event — high necklines and all. I love the art nouveau period which was in the earlier 19th-century period, it is my favourite period. I also like Barukh though it is not showcased tonight.

EM: What do you have to say about the earlier and the present fashion trends — the way they are evolving?

VB: What is past fashion is past, it was relevant then what is at present it is relevant now. We should not think about yesterday. But in future, I think today we are in the best stage, one of the nicest stage of fashion. Many things are co-existing because individuals wear according to their style and personality. There are many changes nowadays. Like I have introduced many things in fashion industry, one being the use of very light and pastel colours in bridal wear. I was one of the few ones to start this and now everyone is using this. Today, at the show, you’ll see I have brought in contemporary Indian wear. You will see a lot of ‘shararas’ but they won’t look like a ‘shaadi ka sharara’. It is a trouser which cut in a certain way in which a sharara is cut and worn with a short kurti, which is slightly short. It may be a shirt or a jacket. So Indian wear is modernised in my creations tonight. The kind of clothing I showcase can be worn by women in any way and any where across the planet.

EM: How would you describe your personal style?

VB: My personal style is very casual, a T-shirt and jeans. I don’t think much about what to wear when I am working. But when I go out in evenings, I dress up and go.

EM: How do you unwind when you are not working?

VB: I live in a city called New Delhi and there is a lot of social activities happening in the evenings. I am a very social person and I like going out and meeting people. I also like watching movies when not working.

EM: We have heard that you earlier showcased your designs in Milan Fashion Week. Tell us about the experience there.

VB: It was many years ago. It was a wonderful experience. As a young designer to showcase the designs there and to show India anywhere, it was really wonderful.

EM: Tell us about your upcoming projects.

VB: I am working on my next couture collection that is coming up in July. And I also have to make this Pret reach out to more and more audience.

EM: Any celebrity/person you dream to design for someday.

VB: I have always dreamed to design for Madonna someday.

[“source=eastmojo”]

Aldous Harding’s Designer mixes a lush surface with compelling depth

One of my favourite things of late has been to show unsuspecting people the music video for Aldous Harding’s ‘The Barrel’. As a song, it’s an excellent little thing, the perfect aural venn diagram of Tori Amos and Katie Melua – all the shameless opacity of the former mixed with the pleasant approachability of the latter. With the willfully bizarre video, it gains an extra dimension, a threat and a weirdness that draws you into the song rather than pushes it away. Maybe it’s Harding’s simple, beguiling dancing. Maybe it’s the sudden shift to a blue-faced goblin. Maybe it’s that sudden cut at the end.

It’s a song that I haven’t tried to figure out. I’m perfectly content to listen to it over and over again and bask in the very obvious surface pleasures of it; the interplay between the guitar and the piano, Harding’s smoky falsetto and the insistent drumbeat. But hearing it in the context of Designer, Harding’s first album after her Taite-winning Party, it makes me want to figure out what is at the heart of the song. To get to know it better, to get to love it better. Or, at the very least, try and work out why ‘I know you have the dove / I’m not getting wet’ has been in my head for the past few months.

Designer is full of songs like this. They’re not united by sound necessarily – other than a dedication to loping acoustic melodies, the only genre that fits the album is the lazily defined ‘alternative’ label – but more by a linked sense of mystery. This is an album that rewards multiple listens, with little bits of each song jumping out at you every time you listen to it. The little electric guitar in ‘The Weight of the Planets’, the sudden empty darkness of ‘Heaven is Empty’, the whimsical air to ‘Pilot’. Some songs are easier to work your way into than others, the aforementioned ‘Heaven is Empty’ is a fairly clear lament about the lack of an afterlife, but the majority of the album has a sense of finding a feeling, an image, or a character and then rolling about in it.

It’s easy to label something as ‘enigmatic’ and leave it at that, and unfortunately the label has become a backhanded compliment. We dismiss something as enigmatic rather than try and figure it out, and we reward art that reveals itself to us immediately, that tells us what its about, where it comes from, and why its here. ‘Enigmatic’ can be seen as being difficult and inaccessible, and god knows, I’ve been guilty of applying the latter label to something I didn’t think of as worthy of my time or investigation.

It’s a word that’s been applied to Harding in the past. Her earlier reticence in interviews, while perfectly understandable to me, equated a desire for privacy with a similar desire to be mysterious. Her malleable, shapeshifting voice only adds to that mystery, capable of stirring low notes and rapturous high notes, with more characters in between those extremes than you can name. While nothing about Designer is obvious, there’s nothing about this album that is closed off. Designer wants to be listened to, and relistened to. It wants you to figure it out, and to enjoy whatever the hell its about.

But while I’m figuring that out, there’s still so much surface to love in Designer. The entire album, co-produced with PJ Harvey collaborator John Parish, has an enveloping lushness that makes it suitable for that late night, slightly tipsy, walk home or a too-tired Sunday morning. You don’t just listen to the album, you spend time in its world, wandering around in it. The best part of a mystery isn’t the answer – it’s actually the time you spend getting there. Designer values each part of the mystery equally; the question, the journey, the answer, and it’s so rare to hear music that values all three parts equally.

[“source=thespinoff”]

Former Gmail designer builds Chrome extension to declutter your inbox

Despite Google’s attempts to improve Gmail, the web version remains hectic and cluttered. While that might be frustrating to users, it’s especially irritating for Michael Leggett, one of Gmail’s former lead designers. Finally fed up, Leggett launched Simplify, a free Chrome extension meant to streamline your inbox.

Simplify moves all of Gmail’s sidebar icons to discrete drop-down and pull-up menus. It relocates the search feature to a less prominent location and moves core functions, like delete, to the top bar. It also eliminates color-coded labels, and places the create new mail button in the bottom right corner, where the new mail window opens.

It’s all about improving Gmail’s user interface, which Leggett has been trying to do for more than a decade. As Fast Company reports, after leaving Gmail, Leggett co-founded Inbox, and later, while working on products like Messenger for Facebook, he continued to think about Gmail. He developed extensions to redesign other sites, and when Google killed Inbox, he decided to share Simplify.

The extension has reportedly been downloaded more than 15,000 times, with about 500 new installs per day. It doesn’t deliver ads or collect analytics, and Legget has shared the code on Github. He’s had an offer to sell, but says he’ll keep Simplify free — though he hasn’t ruled out creating a separate paid service.

[“source=engadget”]