Less meat: lower carbon footprint

I have known this in principle for a while, but it’s nice to have some proper documentation:

John McPhee’s Draft #4 and the “Right” dictionary

A link over at kottke landed me at a post by John Somers which laments the awful prose in modern dictionaries. The dictionaries most of us now use, online or built into our computers, have definitions which have been sapped of their vitality:

words are boiled to their essence. But that essence is dry, functional, almost bureaucratically sapped of color or pop, like high modernist architecture. Which trains you to think of the dictionary as a utility, not a quarry of good things, not a place you’d go to explore and savor.

Somers refers to John McPhee’s essay on the essential stage of good writing where the author takes the rough hewn work and polishes into something truly beautiful, what he refers to as Draft #4:

the draft after the painstaking labor of creation is done, when all that’s left is to punch up the language, to replace shopworn words and phrases with stuff that sings.

Somers argues that in writing, an excellent dictionary—itself composed of thoughtful, vibrant, writing—is a necessary tool in this process.

Design is about intent

As a designer specializing in creation of presentations for corporate events, one of the most difficult things to get across to people who are immersed in the ideologies of business process and management is that the supporting graphics I’m creating for them need to have a single focus. I’m often asked to create a graphics template for an event. Or worse, I’m asked to convert an existing presentation to new template. “Clean it up, make it look good,” might be the direction. But design is goes much deeper than the format of a presentation. Good design requires becoming clear about what you mean.

John R. Moran expands this idea to running a company:

The opposite of design, then, is the failure to develop and employ intent in making creative decisions. This doesn’t sound hard, but, astonishingly, no other leading tech company makes intentional design choices like Apple. Instead, they all commit at least one of what I term the Three Design Evasions.

via Daring Fireball

Is revenge a human evolutionary advantage?

Norwegian author Harry Hole explores the idea that revenge is natural extension of the human ability to think abstractly. He suggests that while revenge may be specifically rationalized out of modern legal systems, it still lies somewhere in the foundations of civilized behavior.

That is why revenge is more than a shortsighted and pointless instinct; it is an example of man’s sublime capacity for abstract thought. By avenging a misdeed we don’t regain what we have lost, but we ensure that misdeeds have consequences that we hope can be a deterrent in the abstract future: Your adversary knows that attacking your offspring has a cost, even if the attack is successful. Or especially if it is successful.

“I don’t own a radio”

So happy to learn that Ira Glass is bringing This American Life to the BBC. The Guardian seems to think that a reference to Ira Glass taking Ecstasy was was the headline. But the thing about TAL and Ira Glass is the program’s transcendence of the medium. The fact that it is more than just a radio show allows it to expand beyond the realm of radio and indeed beyond “American Life”. Ira Glass crafts stories which help us understand the world by connecting us deeply to the experiences held by other human beings.

There are stories that change the way I see stuff, like the Harper High School story. I didn’t really understand what it was like to live in a neighborhood like that, or be a kid like that. One of the things we learned is that every kid in the school is in a gang. The nerd kids are in a gang. The drama kids are in a gang. Before I read that series, and this is kind of ugly to say, but I would think, ‘Well, if they got shot they’re a gang kid … that’s a bad kid.’ I don’t feel that any more at all. Those of us who don’t live in neighborhoods like that, we’re so dumb.

Most important, design in grayscale

Adam Keys with some good advice on design for programmers. I think the advice is good for all graphic designers as well.

Most important: design in greyscale. Color is hard and can lead to tinkering. My goal is to get in and out of the front-end bits quickly, so tinkering is the enemy. Greyscale is one dimensional, greatly simplifying matters. Give important information higher contrast and less important information or “chrome” less contrast. Now you’re done thinking about color.