Apple’s fall rollout of new products isn’t welcome news for some of us still adjusting to the iPhone 5 and getting the feel of the iPad we got last Christmas. Many of us who grew up in the analog age view every electronic upgrade as stressful and disruptive. Innovation for innovation’s sake isn’t always welcome. Just because you could, doesn’t mean you should. Millennials, born thinking of their opposable thumbs as digital operating devices, don’t understand that “intuitive” is a relative and generational term. Which brings me to this classic comedy sketch created for Norwegian TV a few years back.
To celebrate the holidays, AKQA, the San Francisco/London-based digital creative agency, teamed up with members of the Pacific Chamber Symphony and Music Director Laurence Kohl to produce an interactive arrangement of “Carol of the Bells.” They are assisted by “shadow orchestra members” led by a “shadow conductor” who coordinates the performance by linking to Mobile Orchestra.com via wi-fi to get a unique web address. From there, up to 12 people may sync their smartphones, each choosing an instrument played by one of the real musicians. Once the “conductor” sees that all the mobile instruments are ready, he/she presses a key to let the music begin.
German magician Simon Pierro reviews the iPad iOS, demonstrating feats through sleight-of-hand and digital illusions. Aside from the fact that Pierro is an awesome performance artist, you have to admire his code-writing genius. He had to have spent hours designing apps and editing video and then working out split-second timing to have the image on the screen materialize seamlessly as a real object in hand. It used to be that magicians worked with smoke and mirrors, now the act is man and machine. Although this is entertainment masquerading as product demo, it is a clever sales pitch for iPad engineering – color clarity, speed, multi-screen patterns, instantaneous rotation of images so they can enter screen right and exit screen left or the other way around. At a trade show, Pierro’s act is sure to stop passersby in their tracks, and leave people marveling not only over what a great magician can do, but the iPad too.
Elegant. Simple. Intuitive. Graphic. These are descriptions not applied to technology until Steve Jobs dazzled the world with the Macintosh, the iMac, the iPod, iPhone, iPad and more. He understood the purpose of design on a visceral level and not only transformed the way designers work, but elevated public awareness that design is not merely an aesthetic marketing device, but the heartbeat of innovation. Thank you, Steve. Well done. Rest in peace.
Aside from the fact that these are charming images embroidered by New York-based illustrator Jillian Tamaki, the covers of Penguin Threads Classics signal yet another move to define non-electronic publishing as more than a vehicle for communications. Traditional publishers can no longer assume that readers will stay loyal to print because e-books are harder to read due to screen glare, not offered in full-color, crippled by short battery life, limited in availability of subjects and titles, etc. Over the past year, the iPad, Kindle, Nook and other e-readers have proved otherwise, and are getting better with each iteration.
Over the past couple of weeks two separate stories appeared in the news. One was a report by Amazon that for the first time its e-books outsold its hardcover titles. For the quarter, Amazon says it sold 143 e-titles for every 100 hardcover books.
The other story, which appeared in San Francisco Bay Area newspapers, was about the town of Walnut Creek’s new library, which incorporated 17 original works of art at a cost of $300,000. The neighboring town of Lafayette (population 25,000) spent roughly $400,000 on paintings, photographs, sculptures and prints when it rebuilt its library last year. The local paper described this new crop of libraries with conference rooms, fireplaces, computers and cafes as “community living rooms.” Libraries are not just repositories for books anymore. Some public libraries are redefining their role by positioning themselves as knowledge centers free and open to the entire community – not a museum, not a school, not a social club, but a place that bridges the digital divide and draws together those who share a love of art and learning.
Sports Illustrated and Wired are the latest magazines to demonstrate a prototype of how its online content could work on an iPad-like tablet. While dazzled by the possibilities, as someone in the communications design field, I started wondering about all kinds of practical production matters. This may seem silly but I wondered if reporters and designers would be “joined at the hip” creatively, assigned to sit side-by-side, desk-to-desk, in the editorial office and work in unison to produce “content”? It used to be that editorial and art departments were separate entities and sequential processes. And the interactive staff often was not even in the same part of the building. Now, more than ever, visual, interactive and editorial content have converged. How will that change the physical configuration of an editorial office?