• A look at the difference between photo-realism and realism in painting, and how we perceive shape, form, color and space in general. It's worth noting that fine art and design education are pretty divergent here, with fine art teaching multiple modes of depicting visual space that are based on inference, and design education focused on making things as clear and communicative as possible. Skeuomorphism in digital design might rely on tricking the eye (creating the illusion of 3D space) in a way similar to painting, but it's purpose is still clear communication more than reveling in the weirdness of human perception. Perhaps the UI of AR/VR tech will depart from that clear-cut tradition to engage with a more painterly way of presenting information and interactivity. 
  • Some big brands rolled out new design approaches this past week, with Twitter and Bloomberg Business Week both rebooting their looks. We were personally big fans of the prior incarnation of Bloomberg Business Week's bold choices in design, graphics and presentation, particularly their online content which blended animation, illustration and typography in a way that went beyond visual interest and really added depth and flavor to the articles themselves. But we can understand that from a viewpoint of seeking customers from the buttoned-up world of finance and Fortune 500s they very well might be making the right choice. The reactions to Twitter's redesign were predictably intense. Any mass social platform that redesigns goes through a period of hand-wringing, disgruntled users, and unsolicited suggestions but much of the reasoning behind it is sound: the feather quill to represent writing didn't translate well for a global user base, pushing platform content to the fore vs. the twitter brand itself, and so on.



  • Last year the Chinese appliance company Midea acquired a majority stake in Kuka, the industrial robotics company. We wrote a tiny blurb about that event last summer theorizing that it was a bet on automation to deal with rapidly rising wages in China but it seems that's only part of Midea's plan. They're working on robots *as* appliances - domestic bots to deliver on the usual appliance marketing promises: making your life easier, better, saving you time and money, and so on. We've worked with a number of robotics companies and we think Midea's approach here is incredibly savvy. For one thing, it's easier for a company with deep brand trust to get a person to make the leap to a robot, but mostly developing both appliances and robots means they can create strong interoperability across the hardware that makes up the modern home - e.g. it's much easier for a robot to know how to deal with your dishwasher if it knows all the details of the dishwasher, and how to talk to it machine-to-machine. 


Big Business: 

  • Looking at the Amazon acquisition of Whole Foods move through a few stories: the dynamics of retail/e-commerce titans Walmart and Amazon battling it out through the lens of dress shirts (with lessons on returns to scale, fast fashion, and the growth of winner-take-most firms), BuzzFeed compares prices at Whole Foods to Amazon (and unsurprisingly, finds Amazon sells some of the same goods for 25-40% less, but some goods have a gap of only a few percent). It's not at all clear what Amazon's acquisition is about from a strategic perspective, but those hoping for cheaper Whole Foods goods from their local store may be left disappointed.


Virtually There: 


Engineering Communities: 

  • MIT is shutting down the (in)famous Senior House - a community known for partying hard, but also for being creative, artistic, and diverse in terms of race, class, and sexuality. Alums are not happy about the decision, which MIT says was done in an attempt to address the much lower 4 year graduation rate of Senior House residents vs the university as a whole. In a high-pressure, high-performance place like MIT, having the support of peers that embrace you as you are seems incredibly important. Given that the institution has also struggled to address their suicide rate in the past, scrapping a place that many MIT grads revere as a sanctuary seems incredibly shortsighted. The truth is that innovation often emerges from these 'messy' spaces that challenge the status quo not just from a technological perspective but also from a social one. When we over-police, over-regulate, and redistrict the weird spaces out of existence everyone loses, even the normies. 


More next week.