Piano Phase: Visualizing The Music of Steve Reich

Piano Phase: Visualizing The Music of Steve Reich

Alexander Chen, a Creative Director at Google Creative Lab and all around talented guy, has created an interesting web app called Piano Phase.

This site is based on the first section from Steve Reich’s 1967 piece “Piano Phase”. Two pianists repeat the same twelve note sequence, but one gradually speeds up. Here, the musical patterns are visualized by drawing two lines, one following each pianist.

It’s fascinating to see something complex like Steve Reich’s work visualized. Doing it graphically and using only code is so mesmerizing, and although it’s only 12 notes repeated over and over, the phasing effect is intriguing. Check out the video below for a preview.

Bobby Solomon

July 1, 2014 / By

What does your personal dialect sound like?

Personal Dialect Map

The New York Times has put together a quick, 25 question quiz that’s able to detect where your personal dialect is from (sadly, U.S. only). I’d say I was skeptical before trying it but I have to say that this nailed me perfectly. In between those three cities on the map is where I’m from, Sacramento, California, and you can see my results by clicking here.

Even if you’re not in the U.S. it’s really interesting to go through the questions and see all of the weird words and phrases we use around the country. I think the funniest one is, “What do you call the insect that flies around in the summer and glows in the dark?”

One of the answers is “peenie wallie”.

Bobby Solomon

April 10, 2014 / By

When Good Design Means Bad Business… Or Does It?

Facebook Redesign

When we design for the web, we’re usually optimizing. I find it’s rare that we’re genuinely breaking new ground, that usually happens when we apply design to new realms, such as apps or Car UI or video game ecosystems. Recently, there was a post by Dustin Curtis who pointed out that Facebook killed a redesign because it was performing poorly… from a monetization standpoint.

After an investigation into the problem by Facebook’s data team, they discovered that the new News Feed was performing too well. It was performing so well from a design standpoint that users no longer felt the need to browse areas outside of the News Feed as often, so they were spending less time on the site. Unfortunately, this change in user behavior led to fewer advertisement impressions, which led, ultimately, to less revenue.

From a design standpoint I think the redesign (above) is really well done (though the left sidebar makes me a little stressed out). There’s a clear hierarchy, the content is easy to read, and there’s clear paths to all of the things you visit. It makes sense to head down this path as the idea of a feed can only get so simple. The fact that Facebook moved away from this direction because people circulated around the site less is an interesting problem, as Dustin points out in his piece. From a human standpoint they achieved their goal, that the stream of content had everything a person was looking for. Unfortunately, money talks more than usability, and in this case we end up with the sad, cluttered, confusing design below, which is rolling out as I write this.

Anyone else have similar stories they can share? Any stories of a company taking a financial knowing it made for a better human experience?

[Update] Julie Zhou, Product design director at Facebook, disagrees with Curtis’ assessment in a Medium post you can read here. Summed up, Julie points out that the experience, though beautiful on big designer-y Apple monitors looked great, the majority of Facebook’s users have older devices with smaller screens.

It turns out, while I (and maybe you as well) have sharp, stunning super high-resolution 27-inch monitors, many more people in the world do not. Low-res, small screens are more common across the world than hi-res Apple or Dell monitors. And the old design we tested didn’t work very well on a 10-inch Netbook. A single story might not even fit on the viewport. Not to mention, many people who access the website every day only use Facebook through their PC—no mobile phones or tablets.

I also updated the screenshot below which is from Julie’s post, showing what the design should look like. It’s certainly clean in it’s approach but to me the colors overall reminds me of Windows 95. I suppose you could say their tack is about designing for the majority, not for the minority who obsess over aesthetics.

Facebook Redesign

Bobby Solomon

March 31, 2014 / By

Patatap Playfully Combines Sounds and Visuals

Patatap

Patatap is a portable animation and sound kit that’s controlled by key commands and touch controls. It combines playful sounds with abstract shapes that aniamte in creative ways, which give visual feedback as you create music. Amazingly enough you can try it out for yourself in the embed below.

What’s interesting is where the motivation to build Patatap came from, which builds off the idea of triggering synesthesia as well as the art of Mondrian and Kandinsky.

The motivation behind Patatap is to introduce the medium of Visual Music to a broad audience. Artists working in this field vary in discipline but many aim to express the broader condition of Synesthesia, in which stimulation of one sensory input leads to automatic experiences in another. Hearing smells or seeing sounds are examples of possible synesthesia. In the case of Patatap, sounds trigger colorful visual animations.

The history behind the aesthetic expression of synesthesia arose from the paintings of Piet Mondrian and Wassily Kandinsky and the early videos of Viking Eggeling and Norman McLaren, to the contemporary animations of Oskar Fischinger and softwares of C.E.B. Reas. Patatap takes elements from all these visionaries and aims to present this concept in a direct way.

The project is a collaboration between Jono Brandel, who has a knack for combining design with computer wizardry, and Lullatone, a musical duo based out of Nagoya, Japan. Together they’ve made abeautiful fusion of technology, design, art, and music that I’ve rarely seen achieved.

Bobby Solomon

March 26, 2014 / By

Frank Chimero Builds A Home on the Web

Frank Chimero Builds A Home on the Web

Designer and intelligent idiot (his words) Frank Chimero updated his personal site, creating a homey location for his digital self to live. He found inspiration in the work of the Eames, wanting something that felt modern but lived in, that you could see the fingerprints of the maker on the site itself.

I wanted something homey. Better yet: homely. Americans think of homely as something that’s unhandsome, maybe even ugly. But the Brits observe the root “home,” since they invented the damn language. Homely, for them, is like a house: familiar, comforting, easy. There’s a rightness to it. For me, the Eames house is homely, because they filled it to the gills with the things they loved. How great would it be to have that online, where you would not run out of shelves? It’s an old dream, and one that’s still alive, but we’ve outsourced it. I think that shelf belongs at home.

It’s certainly interesting on a conceptual level, and I think he does achieve his goal, but I think it could have been cool to see more charming details scattered throughout. Perhaps more charming fonts? Wing dings used for dividers? Subtle textures here and there, like dusty corners of an attic? If Frank has truly built himself a home on the web, I hope he keeps adding on to it and building it into something even more charming and lovely.

Bobby Solomon

March 4, 2014 / By

30 Fantastic Websites To Lose Yourself In

Animated Browser Window

If you follow me on Twitter you might know that I moved to London last September. You might also know that since then I’ve had nothing but trouble trying to get an Internet connection set up in my home. Fortunately, last week I finally got everything up and running and to mark my triumphant return to the world of the Internet I went a little crazy and shared 30 of my favourite websites on Twitter.

The majority of them are single-serving sites. Some are very useful while others, others just plain entertaining. Bobby enjoyed the list so much that he suggested I share it with you. So, without much further ado, I present (in no particular order) 30 great links for your enjoyment.

Continue reading this post…

Philip Kennedy

March 3, 2014 / By

The Tumbler by Andrew Hoyer

Tumbler by Andrew Hoyer

The Tumbler is a “simple physics simulation/meditation/relaxation experiment” created by Andrew Hoyer which has left me totally enraptured. This beautiful code experiment uses a series of shapes which, when they touch, make lovely little sounds. You can then speed up or slow down the shapes which then changes the pitch of the sound the shapes make. The slower sounds are extremely pacifying, like something you can put on another screen and chill out.

You can see many more of Andrew’s experiments by clicking here.

Bobby Solomon

February 6, 2014 / By

A responsive redesign of Daring Fireball

Daring Fireball Redesign

It might come as a surprise, but I don’t read a lot of design blogs. In fact, the one site I visit most is Daring Fireball, a blog devoted primarily to the discussion of Apple (with a side helping of Stanley Kubrick trivia). His ability to piece together stories and articles is always enjoyable, and though he tends to keep his posts relatively short his more verbose posts are always insightful and cut through the bullshit. That all said there’s one big problem I have with Daring Fireball: it’s not responsive.

In 2014, responsive design seems like a must. Gruber himself states that 41.62% of his traffic comes from iOS yet he has no tablet or mobile optimized views for his site. For a site that talks a lot about technology and the web, doesn’t this seem obvious like an obvious move? So I decided to pull a “no one asked you to” redesign to see if I could improve the reading experience of Daring Fireball on tablets and mobile.

Continue reading this post…

Bobby Solomon

January 29, 2014 / By

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