Archive for the ‘design’ category


May 2021 gallery

01.05.2021

Here are May 2021’s images—aides-mémoires, photos of interest, and miscellaneous items. I append to this gallery through the month.

Sources
Viki Odintcova, via Instagram.
   Alexa Breit, photographed by Weniamin Schmidt, via Instagram.
   Vickery Electrical advertisement: something I asked my Dad to photocopy for me in the 1980s. Briefly we had one of those Apple II portables, on loan from a colleague of Dad. I can’t recall if it had one disk drive or two, but it was a fun little unit to have in my bedroom for that period. Dad was prepared to buy it if I wanted to keep it, but I didn’t have much software to run, plus I already had the Commodore 64 for schoolwork.
   Lucire issue 43 cover, photographed by Damien Carney, creative direction and fashion styling by Nikko Kefalas, make-up by Joanne Gair, hair by Kirsten Brooke Anderson, and assisted by Rachel Bell, and modelled by Elena Sartison. Find out more here.
   Drew Barrymore quotation from Elephant Journal on Twitter.
   I still have plenty of old stamps, which I tend to save for family (though I’m less discerning about those discounted Christmas ones, which I always used to buy in bulk). This is going to my cousin’s daughter and her husband, and their family.
   Comments after an article on Buzzfeed News. Business as usual for Facebook.
   Happy birthday to our niece Esme!
   Tania Dawson promotes Rabbit Borrows, from Instagram.
   Bizarre that the only car with a manual transmission on sale at Archibalds is from the 1950s. I’m sure New Zealand was majority-manual into the first decade of this century.

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Time to abandon Meizu Music: 8.2 is a lemon

21.04.2021

That didn’t last long. Within a day, this was what Meizu Music showed:

   The songs, all 1,229 of them that I had fed in manually, are still there, and they still play, but the question remains: for how long? If they don’t show in the list—I told you computing devices were forgetful—then how long before the program fails to play them at all? Not only were the songs gone from the list, the few MP3 files that were on the phone’s RAM (from dynamic wallpapers and recordings) don’t show, either!
   I really didn’t want to chance it but you just have to conclude that Meizu has released a lemon, and if in a year they still can’t get it right, then it’s time to abandon it.
   I could go with Migu Music but I wanted something with the functionality of the old Meizu Music. After trying several apps, I’ve settled on an advertising-supported Muzio Player. It’s not perfect—the cover artwork doesn’t show for everything, and updating it manually for an album doesn’t see it shared with the individual tracks within—but it does the job for the most part. And, like every other app I trialled, it picks up the music on the SD card.
   Since I keep phones for some time—the old M2 Note is repaired—it’s going to be a long time before I’d contemplate a replacement for the M6 Note. But when I do I doubt it’ll be another Meizu. After being a cheerleader for the brand in the late 2010s, they’ve really fallen behind in customer service and, how, software development. Whomever else is willing to go the Google-free route is going to get my vote.

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Facebook whistleblower gets fired; and a workaround for Meizu Music’s inability to find your SD card

19.04.2021

This is a pretty typical story: find fault with Big Tech, try to alert the appropriate people in the firm, get fired.
   Julia Carrie Wong’s excellent article for The Guardian shows a data scientist, Sophie Zhang, find blatant attempts by governments to abuse Facebook’s platform, misleading their own people, in multiple countries. Of course Facebook denies it, but once again it’s backed up by a lot of evidence from Zhang, and we know Facebook lies. Endlessly.
   Facebook claims it has taken down over ‘100 networks of coordinated inauthentic behavior,’ but I repeat again: if a regular Joe like me can find thousands of bots really easily, and report some with Facebook doing next to nothing about them, then 100 networks is an incredibly tiny number in a sea of hundreds of millions of users. Indeed, 100 networks is tiny considering Facebook itself has claimed to have taken down milliards of bots.
   And people like me and Holly Jahangiri, who found a massive number of bots that followed the Russian misinformation techniques, have been identifying these since 2014, if not before.
   Zhang reveals how likes from pages are inflating various posts—forget the bots I’ve been talking about, people have manufactured full pages on the site.
   She uncovered one in Honduras, and then:

The next day, she filed an escalation within Facebook’s task management system to alert the threat intelligence team to a network of fake accounts supporting a political leader in Albania. In August [2019], she discovered and filed escalations for suspicious networks in Azerbaijan, Mexico, Argentina and Italy. Throughout the autumn and winter she added networks in the Philippines, Afghanistan, South Korea, Bolivia, Ecuador, Iraq, Tunisia, Turkey, Taiwan, Paraguay, El Salvador, India, the Dominican Republic, Indonesia, Ukraine, Poland and Mongolia.

   Facebook was inconsistent with what it did, and its own self-interest interfered with it taking action. In other words, Facebook is harmful to democracy, and not just in the US which has received most of the occidental news coverage. On Azerbaijan, Zhang wrote in a memo:

Although we conclusively tied this network to elements of the government in early February, and have compiled extensive evidence of its violating nature, the effective decision was made not to prioritize it, effectively turning a blind eye.

   She was ultimately fired for her trouble, Facebook saying she wasn’t doing the job she had been hired for.
   So if you are going to work for Big Tech, leave your conscience at the door. That blood on your hands, just ignore it. Red’s such a fetching colour when it’s not on a balance sheet.

Little Tech can be troublesome, too. Last year, Meizu updated its Music app after a few years of letting it languish (a familiar theme with this firm), and it was a real lemon. It wouldn’t pick up anything on my SD card, at the location the old Music app itself saved the files. When I could still access the Meizu (English-language) forum, I managed to post a comment about it. Only today did I realize someone had responded, with the same issue.
   I can read enough Chinese to get the phone to do a search for local music files, and the only things it could pick up are what’s on the phone RAM itself, not the card. There’s no way to point to custom locations such as a card (even though there is a custom search, but it applies to the phone only).


Above: Meizu Music will only find music on the phone’s RAM—in this case sound files that come with the dynamic wallpaper and a couple of meeting recordings I made.

   Eventually I restored the old app through the settings, and all was well. It would occasionally forget the album cover art and I’d have to relink it (who says computers remember things?), but, by and large, Music 8.0.10 did what was expected of it.
   Until this last week. The phone insisted on upgrading to 8.2.12, another half-baked version that could never locate any SD card music.
   Sure I could just move the entire directory of 1,229 songs to the phone, but I wondered why I should.
   Restoring the app would work only for a few hours (during which I would try to relink the album cover art, ultimately to no avail). Blocking the new version the app store did nothing; blocking the entire app from updating did nothing. Blocking network access to the Music app did nothing. Essentially, the phone had a mind of its own. If anyone tells you that computing devices follow human instructions, slap them.


Above: I asked the app store to ignore all updates for Meizu Music. The phone will ignore this and do what it wants, downloading the update and installing it without any human intervention.

   I had a couple of options. The first was to make Migu Music the default—and I had used that for a while before I discovered I could restore the Music app. It’s passable, and it does everything it should, though I missed the cover art.
   The other was to find a way to make Music 8.2.12 work.
   There is one way. Play every one of the 1,229 songs one by one to have Music recognize their existence.
   Using ES File Explorer, you head to the SD card, and click on each song. It asks which app you’d like to open it. Choose Music. Repeat 1,228 times.


Above: I finally got there after doing something 1,229 times. As a non-tech person I know of no way to automate this easily. I can think of a few but developing the script is beyond my knowledge.

   Whoever said computing devices would save you time is having you on. They may have once, but there are so many systems where things are far more complicated in 2021 than they were in 2011.
   You may be asking: doesn’t ES let you select multiple files, even folders? Of course it does, but when you then ask it to play them, it ignores the fact you’ve chosen Music and plays them in its own music player.
   And even after you’ve shown Music that there are files in an SD card directory, it won’t pick up its existence.
   It’s at odds with Meizu’s Video app, which, even after many updates, will find files anywhere on your phone.
   For a music player with the same version (8) it’s vastly different, and, indeed, inferior to what has come before.
   How’s the player? Well, it connects to the car, which is where I use it. But so many features which made it appealing before are gone. Editing a song’s information is gone. Half the album cover art is unlinked (including albums legitimately downloaded through the old Meizu music service), and there’s no way of relinking it. European accented characters are mistaken for the old Big 5 Chinese character set.
   The only plus side is that some songs that I had downloaded years ago with their titles in Big 5, as opposed to Unicode, now display correctly. That accounts for a few songs (fewer than 10) of the 1,229.
   I know Meizu will do nowt, as its customer service continues to plummet. I may still file something on its Chinese BBS (the western one is inaccessible and, from what I can tell, no longer maintained by anyone from their staff), but it’s highly unlikely I’ll be brand-loyal. It’s yet another example of a newer program being far, far worse, by any objective measure, than its predecessor, giving credence to the theory that some software developers are clueless, have no idea how their apps work, have no idea how people use their apps, or are downright incompetent. It’s a shame, as Meizu’s other default and system apps are generally good.
   In the future, I’m sure someone else in China will be happy to sell me a non-Google phone when it’s time to replace this one.

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April 2021 gallery

05.04.2021

Here are April 2021’s images. I append to this gallery through the month.

 
Sources
Tania Dawson promotes Somèrfield Hair Care, sourced from Instagram.
   Austrian model Katharina Mazepa for Dreamstate Muse magazine, shared on her Instagram. This was an image that was removed from a PG blog at NewTumbl last year—apparently this was considered ‘nudity’ and rated M.
   AMC promotes the Gremlin, the US’s first subcompact car. More on the Gremlin at Autocade; 1970 advertisement via Twitter.
   Volkswagen 1302S photographed in June 2018, one of the images I’ve submitted to Unsplash for downloading. I did have the owner’s permission to shoot his car.
   St Gerard’s Church and Monastery atop Mt Victoria in Wellington, New Zealand, photographed by me and also submitted to Unsplash.
   Facebook group bots: someone else was so used to seeing bot activity on Facebook, they made a meme about it.
   Holden Commodore Evoke Ute, an example of ‘base model brilliance’. More at Autocade.
   Morris Marina ad via the Car Factoids on Twitter.
   Innocenti Mini 90 and 120 via the Car Factoids on Twitter.
   The aerial shot of Rongotai in 1943 is from the Air New Zealand collection. This is a scan of a photostat Dad made for me in the 1980s. The piece of paper was getting a bit old so I thought it was time to make it digital-only. The ‘1929’ marks the site of the original Rongotai Aerodrome, I believe.
   Instafraud, from Bob Hoffman’s The Ad Contrarian newsletter.
   Alisia Ludwig, from her Instagram, photographer unnamed.
   Fiat X1/9 brochure, from the Car Factoids on Twitter.
   More on the Peugeot 508 (R23) at Autocade.
   Model Skyler Simpson at Seminole Hard Rock Hotel & Casino, Tampa, photographer unknown, via Instagram.

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Helvetica in metal, 1985

03.03.2021

This was the back of Mum’s 1985 tax assessment slip from the IRD. Helvetica, in metal. The bold looks a bit narrow: a condensed cut, or just a compromised version because of the machinery used?
   Not often seen, since by this time phototypesetting was the norm, though one reason Car magazine was a good read was its use of metal typesetting until very late in the game. I know there are many reasons the more modern forms of typesetting are superior, least of all fidelity to the designed forms, but there’s a literal depth to this that makes me nostalgic.

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The colourless world

14.02.2021

This is a development proposed for my old street in Rongotai. Since I’ve moved away I haven’t a say in what happens there. I can only make some general remarks. And this post is not written from the Luddite position.
   It’s the price of progress that as cities grow, we need more housing, and if it means bowling for old bungalows from the first decades of the 20th century in favour of 14 townhouses, then that is the reality we must face, no matter our feelings of nostalgia. What a shame the green space will be reduced dramatically.
   But why, oh why, must there be another development devoid of colour with a planned uniformity that smacks of communism? Don’t people deserve to live in colour and in dwellings that have some imagination and individuality from their neighbours’? Come to think of it, people deserve to have cars in shades beyond black, white and grey, but I’m not sure if all dealers have that memorandum.
   I also hope these aren’t airtight mould-traps that harm their future residents.
   The obvious bright side is more people will have homes in a pretty handy part of Wellington. Another bright side I see here is that with the increase of dwellings on the street from 14 to 24, there might be more neighbourhood children enjoying living in a cul-de-sac.
   It’ll be a shock when these developers discover there are more paint colours available than the ones they have chosen. And when certain architects discover there are multiple ways to skin a cat. They might also get a shock to find that bread can come pre-sliced these days. Vive la révolution!

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Facebook fooled us into thinking we were being creative

11.02.2021

My friend Keith has been away from Facebook for six weeks, for work reasons, and hasn’t missed it. And he asked, ‘Was it all really a waste of time?’
   I know you think you know what I’m going to say, but the answer might surprise you a little.
   Fundamentally, it’s yes (this is how you know this blog has not been hijacked), but Keith’s question brought home to me, as well as other work I’ve done this week, the biggest con of Facebook for the creative person.
   It’s not the fact the advertising results are not independently checked, or that there’s evidence that Facebook itself uses bots to boost likes to a page. The con was, certainly when I was a heavy user around the time Timeline was introduced, making us feel like we were doing something creative, satiating that part of our brain, when in fact we were making Zuckerberg rich.
   How we would curate our lives! Show the best side of ourselves! Choose those big pictures to be two-column-wide Timeline posts! We looked at these screens like canvases to be manipulated and we enjoyed what they showed us.
   Before Facebook became ‘the new Digg’ (as I have called it), and a site for misinformation, we were still keeping in touch with friends and having fun, and it seemed to be the cool thing to do as business went quiet in the wake of the GFC.
   And I was conned. I was conned into thinking I was enjoying the photography and writing and editing—at least till I realized that importing my RSS feeds into Facebook gave people zero incentive to come to my sites.
   This week, with redoing a few more pages on our websites, especially ones that dated back many years, I was reminded how that sort of creative endeavour gave me a buzz, and why many parts of our company websites used to look pretty flash.
   The new look to some pages—the photo gallery was the most recent one to go under the knife—is slightly more generic (which is the blunt way to say contemporary), but the old one had dated tremendously and just wasn’t a pleasure to scroll down.
   And while it still uses old-fashioned HTML tables (carried over from the old) it was enjoyable to do the design work.
   There’s still more to do as the current look is rolled out to more pages.
   Maybe it took me a while to realize this, and others had already got there, but most of my time had been spent doing our print magazines lately. But designing web stuff was always fun, and I’m glad I got to find that buzz again, thanks to Amanda’s nudge and concepts for jya.co, the JY&A Consulting site. Forget the attention economy, because charity begins at the home page.



Photo galleries, old and new. The top layout is more creative design-wise than the lower one, but sadly the browsing experience felt dated.

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When fashion magazine websites begin looking the same

08.02.2021


Above: Vogue Korea’s website follows the æsthetic of a big lead image and smaller subsidiary ones.

This started as a blog entry but took a tangent about 500 words in, and it was better as an op–ed in Lucire. Some of the themes will be familiar to regular readers, especially about Big Tech, but here I discuss its influence on web design trends and standardization. The headline says it all: ‘Where have the fun fashion magazine websites gone?’. Browsing in the 1990s was fun, discovering how people coded to overcome the limitations of the medium, and, in my case, bringing in lessons from print that worked. Maybe it’s an age thing, or the fact I don’t surf as much for leisure, but in 2021 the sites I come across tend to look the same, especially the ones that were in Lucire’s ‘Newsstand’ section.
   I do know of great sites—my friend and colleague Charlie Ward has his one, which does everything you would expect from a great designer’s web presence. So many others look like they’ve bought a template. As to those of us in magazines—I’d love to see something that really inspired me again.

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Branding ourselves in the 2020s: a revamp for JY&A Consulting’s website, jya.co

05.02.2021

Last night, I uploaded a revised website for JY&A Consulting (jya.co), which I wrote and coded. Amanda came up with a lot of the good ideas for it—it was important to get her feedback precisely because she isn’t in the industry, and I could then include people who might be looking to start a new venture while working from home among potential clients.
   Publishing and fonts aside, it was branding that I’m formally trained in, other than law, and since we started, I’ve worked with a number of wonderful colleagues from around the world as my “A team” in this sector. When I started redoing the site, and getting a few logos for the home page, I remembered a few of the old clients whose brands I had worked on. There are a select few, too, that I’m never allowed to mention, or even hint at. C’est la vie.
   There are still areas to play with (such as mobile optimization)—no new website is a fait accompli on day one—and things I need to check with colleagues, but by and large what appears there is the look I want for 2021. And here’s the most compelling reason for doing the update: the old site dated from 2012.
   It was just one of those things: if work’s ticking along, then do you need to redo the site? But as we started a new decade, the old site looked like a relic. Twenty twelve was a long time ago: it was the year we were worried that the Mayans were right and their calendar ran out (the biggest doomsday prediction since Y2K?); that some Americans thought that Mitt Romney would be too right-wing for their country as he went up against Barack Obama—who said same-sex marriage should be legal that year—in their presidential election; and Prince Harry, the party animal version, was stripping in Las Vegas.
   It was designed when we still didn’t want to scroll down a web page, when cellphones weren’t the main tool to browse web pages with, and we filled it up with smart information, because we figured the people who’d hire us wanted as much depth as we could reasonably show off on a site. We even had a Javascript slider animation on the home page, images fading into others, showing the work we had done.
   Times have changed. A lot of what we can offer, we could express more succinctly. People seem to want greater simplicity on websites. We can have taller pages because scrolling is normal. As a trend, websites seem to have bigger type to accommodate browsing on smaller devices (having said that, every time we look at doing mobile versions of sites, as we did in the early 2000s, new technology came along to render them obsolete)—all while print magazines seem to have shrunk their body type! And we may as well show off, like so many others, that we’ve appeared in The New York Times and CNN—places where I’ve been quoted as a brand guy and not the publisher of Lucire.
   But, most importantly, we took a market orientation to the website: it wasn’t developed to show off what we thought was important, but what a customer might think is important.
   The old headings—‘Humanistic branding and CSR’, ‘Branding and the law’ (the pages are still there, but unlinked from the main site)—might show why we’re different, but they’re not necessarily the reasons people might come to hire us. They still can—but we do heaps of other stuff, too.
   I might love that photo of me with the Medinge Group at la Sorbonne–CELSA, but I’m betting the majority of customers will ask, ‘Who cares?’ or ‘How does this impact on my work?’
   As consumer requirements change, I’m sure we’ll have pages from today that seem irrelevant, in which case we’ll have to get on to changing them as soon as possible, rather than wait nine years.
   Looking back over the years, the brand consulting site has had quite a few iterations on the web. While I still have all these files offline, it was quicker to look at the Internet Archive, discovering an early incarnation in 1997 that was, looking back now, lacking. But some of our lessons in print were adopted—people once thought our ability to bring in a print æsthetic was one of our skills—and that helped it look reasonably smart in a late 1990s context, especially with some of the limited software we had.

   The next version of the site is from the early 2000s, and at this point, the website’s design was based around our offline collateral, including our customer report documents, which used big blocks of colour. The Archive.org example I took was from 2003, but the look may have débuted in 2001. Note that the screen wouldn’t have been as wide as a modern computer’s, so the text wouldn’t have been in columns as wide as the ones in the illustration. Browsers also had margins built in.

   We really did keep this till 2012, with updates to the news items, as far as I can make out—it looks like 2021 wasn’t the first time I left things untouched for so long. But it got us work. In 2012, I thought I was so smart doing the table in the top menu, and you didn’t need to scroll. And this incarnation probably got us less work.

   There’s still a lot of satisfaction knowing that you’ve coded your own site, and not relied on Wordpress or Wix. Being your own client has its advantages in terms of evolving the site and figuring out where everything goes. It’s not perfect but there’s little errant code here; everything’s used to get that page appearing on the site, and hopefully you all enjoy the browsing experience. At least it’s no longer stuck in the early 2010s and hopefully makes it clearer about what we do. Your feedback, especially around the suitability of our offerings, is very welcome.

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Autocade reaches 22 million, while Rachel Hunter appears in Lucire

16.01.2021

As I begin this blog post, Autocade has just crossed the 22 million page-view barrier, at 22,000,040. I had estimated we would get there on Sunday, and as it’s just ticked over here in New Zealand, I was right.
   We have 4,379 models in the database, with the Bestune B70, in its third generation, the most recent model added. I’m grateful it’s a regular car—not yet another crossover, which has been the usual story of 2020 whenever I added new models to the site.
   As crossovers and SUVs were once regarded as niche models, historical ones weren’t put up in any great haste, so I can’t always escape them just by putting up models from the past. However, there are countless sports and supercars to go up, so maybe I’ll need to add them in amongst the SUVs to maintain my sanity and happiness. These high-riding two-box vehicles are incredibly boring subjects stylistically.
   It’s a stroke of luck, then, to have the B70: Bestune’s sole saloon offering now in amongst an entire range of crossovers. The saloons are the niche vehicles of 2020–1. It’s a stylish motor, too: Cadillac looks for a middle-class price. Admittedly, such close inspirations haven’t deserted China altogether, but this is, in my mind, no worse than Ford pretending its 1975 US Granada was a Mercedes-Benz for the masses. It’s not going to get GM’s lawyers upset. And unlike the Granada, the B70 is actually a fairly advanced car, with refinement now on par with a lot of joint-venture models coming out of China.
   You know the drill to track Autocade’s growth:

March 2008: launch
April 2011: 1,000,000 (three years for first million)
March 2012: 2,000,000 (11 months for second million)
May 2013: 3,000,000 (14 months for third million)
January 2014: 4,000,000 (eight months for fourth million)
September 2014: 5,000,000 (eight months for fifth million)
May 2015: 6,000,000 (eight months for sixth million)
October 2015: 7,000,000 (five months for seventh million)
March 2016: 8,000,000 (five months for eighth million)
August 2016: 9,000,000 (five months for ninth million)
February 2017: 10,000,000 (six months for 10th million)
June 2017: 11,000,000 (four months for 11th million)
January 2018: 12,000,000 (seven months for 12th million)
May 2018: 13,000,000 (four months for 13th million)
September 2018: 14,000,000 (four months for 14th million)
February 2019: 15,000,000 (five months for 15th million)
June 2019: 16,000,000 (four months for 16th million)
October 2019: 17,000,000 (four months for 17th million)
December 2019: 18,000,000 (just under three months for 18th million)
April 2020: 19,000,000 (just over three months for 19th million)
July 2020: 20,000,000 (just over three-and-a-half months for 20th million)
October 2020: 21,000,000 (three months for 21st million)
January 2021: 22,000,000 (three months for 22nd million)

   Not a huge change in the rate, then: for the past year we can expect roughly a million page views every three months. The database has increased by 96 model entries, versus 40 when I last posted about the million milestones.

In other publishing news, Jody Miller has managed to get an interview with Rachel Hunter. Her story is on Lucire today, and I’m expecting a more in-depth one will appear in print later in 2021. It’s taken us 23 years (not that we were actively pursuing): it’s just one of those things where it took that long for our paths to cross. Both Rachel and Lucire are Kiwi names that are arguably more noticed abroad than in our countries of birth, and I suppose it’s like two compatriots who travel to different countries. You don’t always bump into one another.

I end this blog post with Autocade’s views at 22,000,302.

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Posted in cars, China, design, New Zealand, publishing, USA | 2 Comments »