Nostalgia for the Inglamorous

There’s a certain kind of nostalgia that we have for the shitty times we lived through… whether it’s bad relationships, bad living situations, bad jobs, it happens all the time. Just talk to anyone who’s been in the military. “Ah, remember that time we were in that ditch pissing ourselves thinking we were gonna die? yeah those were the days, man… they were REAL.” Okay, I admit, I’ve never heard anyone say that, but they say it in the movies. And it always makes me think “wtf is wrong with you?”
But I get that nostalgia too. And I can’t wait to have it about where I am now.
It’s a bit crowded in the current place I’m living. Like… overflowing crowded.
Our House
It’s easy to get frustrated (especially when I come back with groceries and am trying to fit them in the fridge or when I need to use the restroom or use the stove), and there’s little sense of privacy. But the things that are bad now…


…really don’t compare to the places I’ve been.

Comparison 2

I’ve lived in places with poisonous bugs crawling under our doors at night, with spider bites that turned into fungal infections, shaking cockroaches off of pots and pans, getting my food devoured by crackheads and zombie girlfriends in the middle of the night… and for all those places I have a bit of that weird past-tense-masochistic nostalgia. I’m not sure what it’s a mix of. “I survived that shit” mixed with “hey it could be worse” and some sort of weird bragging rights. They make good stories.
And right now, a budding entrepeneur (or bootstrapper, Seth Godin’s term which I rather like, as it sounds more appropriately flying-by-seat-of-pants-ish), with only meager paychecks from a part-time job, there’s nothing glamorous about my living conditions. Maybe Gates and Zuckerberg get inglamorous nostalgia for “those days when we were surviving off of pizza and making shit up as we went along”… but then again, though I’ve heard the media talk about that nostalgia in an odd vicarious way, I’ve never heard of any interviews with them about that period of their lives. Maybe they can still remember how unnerving it was (is), to not know if they were (I am) going to succeed or fail, how terrifying and thrilling and crazy it all feels. I’m betting everything I have on the belief that if I bust my butt hard enough on this project I’m passionate about, I’ll somehow come out the other end alive and financially sound.
There’s nothing safe about it. But maybe that’s why we do it. We know it’ll make one hell of an inglamorous nostalgia story on down the line.

Chronozoom wins SXSW Interactive Educational Resource Award

one of the innumerable redlines made for the project.

one of the innumerable redlines made for the project.

The very first project I worked on as lead designer at Microsoft Research, Chronozoom, just won this award at South by Southwest!
I couldn’t be more proud to have been part of that team. And it’s a great joy to see in continue to grow and develop after I’ve left!

The joy to be found in business cards.

business cards
I used to be a criminal.
I used to go online and use those “FREE BUSINESS CARDS” ads (which were so not free, beeteedubs), and then get 300 pre-designed cards in the mail and use those. Ugh! How could I?? It was terribly embarassing. It didn’t come up much in corporate world though.
But no longer! In a couple hours I whipped up a design, had them printed, and spent a twiddly hour cutting them out. Tedious, yes, and while designing I was being a moron and not thinking of bleeding colors, but hey, it’s a STEP FORWARD.
Still, business cards gives you such great ideas! How can I integrate hand-made elements into it next time? Could I double-layer the paper and cut out the top layer in my name? Need a laser cutter for that, but still.
I’m out of prison, though still on parole. As my job progresses further, I’ll have to knock out a whole day and just make something so totally badass it’ll blow your mind.

just like that.

just like that.


On Readings from Lupton, Brockman, and Gerstner

So I include these because I always get a kick out of seeing other artists’ notes:

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

As I mentioned at the end of my previous post, I realized my big weakness was typography. So I did some quick searches as to what would be the best resources to consult and found what turned out to be a fabulous book: Thinking with Type by Ellen Lupton. It was a great deal of what I had been vaguely aware of for some time now, but had never clarified into principles. Not only was there a brief history of typography to put the different styles in context, but she added in “Type Crimes” of not-to-dos which were very helpful. I also liked the guidelines of mixing fonts… ok, I liked the whole thing. I’ll leave it at that and go to the more interesting parts: the questions it rose.
Studying the letter though is only a tiny portion of the work; How to lay out text on a page? Naturally this question led me to grabbing books on grid systems in design, specifically that of Josef-Muller Brockman. I found his text a thorough investigation of grid designs in print, rich with examples. Yet that led to the next question- when to use one grid system over another? And when you choose a grid system, how do you choose which variant to use? These questions were starting to lead me outside of graphic design, for in design for print, a designer will usually know how much text there is, what photographs there are, how the guiding thread of narration needs to lead the reader across the page, etc, and these will be the guidelines they’ll use. But what about for dynamic content?
This question led me to Karl Gerstner’s Designing Programmes, a collection of essays that I had hoped to gain more out of than I did. There are, of course, flexible design models that allow for a great deal of variation even when the content is dynamic… newspaper designs, for example. Yet… it still wasn’t quite what I was looking for. I wasn’t just thinking dynamic content in that the content changes from one page to the next, or one issue to the next, but from moment-to-moment, depending on dynamic information.
Of course what I would think to go to next would be website design resources, and there are a million of those. And though I still plan to check out some books I haven’t already seen, I feel as if I already know a great deal of what they’re going to say: Have a navigation pane, use a grid system to communicate clearly, always provide a home button… etc. But there are two things wrong with that sort of guidance:
One: it’s only elements. It’s like saying “to make an animal, you’ll need limbs, a brain, and innards.” Putting aside the fact that those elements were completely arbitrary, it doesn’t tell you anything about how the animal should act. For example, how should it interact with its environment? Let’s put it back in digital terms: How should an app or software interact with a user’s dynamic environment? Or how should the app interact with the other apps and software already on the device?
Two: this ‘limbs, brain, innards’ guidance points to only two design principles: first, clear information presentation (this goes back to traditional graphic design). And secondly, a clear navigational structure (linking).
Yet where does motion design fit in? Already designers in companies big and small are finding ways to make the motion design of a piece of software not only be elegant and pleasureable to use, but contribute to the ease of navigation and the user’s understood structure of the program. Look at Windows 8- for all I might pick at their interaction methods, the motion design is fantastic and quite unique. Yet you wouldn’t know it unless you actually picked up a Windows phone or tablet and started using it (and made it past the learning curve to actually be able to enjoy and admire the motion design… but that’s a different issue).
Undoubtedly, in regards to these questions, there are already long discussions and detailed blog posts by design professionals much more along in their careers and experience than I. And it’s clear I need to find them.
…..SIGH. Is it ridiculous of me to complain that there’s too much information available and I get tired of hunting it all down and the guilt I feel if I don’t?
Oh well. Off to google.

Working on Process

One of the things I’m always learning more about is the early design phase. It’s my favorite part, the place of boundless possibility. You have an idea, you say “okay awesome I’ll go talk to my potential users and find out everything I need to know about them!” but you can’t just show up on their doorstep with nothing, right? Otherwise they’ll give you all their hopes and dreams and you won’t know what the hell to do with them. So you make a quick mock-up of what you think it could be structured like. Just some wireframes. But since wireframes inspire no one, you make a few aesthetically rendered ones so they get it.
This is the part I get carried away with. I start doing the entire wireframe storyboards in this aesthetic style. Why not, right? I mean, you already have the aesthetic ones made, you’re just saving yourself work that you’d have to do later… right? (no.)

getting carried away with a first idea is never a good idea.

getting carried away with a first idea is never a good idea.

Usually when I’m working on a team, this impulse to keep running with something gets checked, but since I’ve started freelancing I’m learning that I have to have a different kind of discipline than I was anticipating: I have no problem with getting myself to work long hours before a project has even gotten funding… I have a problem NOT over-working an idea before it’s at the correct stage.
What happened next is completely natural, of course: as my user research began in earnest and I began meeting with many great, intelligent people, the scope of the project widened tremendously. Perhaps I’m wrong, but I don’t see this as a bad thing; by entertaining other’s ideas by saying “huh, yeah, it COULD go that direction, couldn’t it?” I can make a list of all the possibilities. Then, once I have a good idea of the possible scope, I narrow it down to a small list of must-haves for something small, simple, with a big punch. Not a big scope- I’m not looking to nuke it. I’m looking to snipe it.
Inevitably however, the design now needs a complete revamp. “But wait!” a part of me wants to wail. “I’ve just spent so long on this beautiful design!”
…Actually, that’s a lie. There is no part that says that in me. Call me a masochist, but I get a kick out of crumpling designs and tossing them over my shoulder. They weren’t wasted- nothing’s EVER wasted. I learned a lot through creating that first iteration. But it’s back to the drawing board.
I often draw the same design a few times over and over; with each time i redraw it, I reconceptualize it into a more organized essence of its idea.

I often draw the same design a few times over and over; with each time i redraw it, I reconceptualize it into a more organized essence of its idea.

Part of that learning process is discovering your own weaknesses: and I’ve found a big one, one which was hidden during my time at Microsoft Research because I was working solely in the Windows 8 metro style. No, I’m not talking gradient meshes, although those are a pain in the ass… I’m talking about typography. So after I tackle that weakness head-on (Helloooo Ellen Lupton) I’ll post about that. Nothing like facing your fears right?
…I’d totally rather face a shark than face typography.
…..then again, that’s a poor comparison perhaps, because I like sharks. hm.

TouchViz Motion Design Animation

TouchViz Motion Design Animation from J. Herron on Vimeo.

Touchviz was a project done at Microsoft Research to explore how gesture-based exploration of data could facilitate not only menu-light interfaces, but could create a richer understanding of the data itself. The paper on the project has been accepted to the ACM SIGCHI Conference on Human Factors in Computing Systems, rendering this video finally no longer NDA.
To learn more about this project, the design process, and the user research which resulted from it, you can see it in my UX portfolio on my website (

Diane’s House

Diane's House

One of the advantages I found to being out in the bush was that I was no longer “Jessica Herron, UX designer who knows these programs and has that experience/degree” but was simply “The Artist”. So when Dr. Spelman, the professor I was traveling with, and Diane McTurk, the elder lady who long ago started the Lodge with her efforts to rehabilitate giant river otters, turned to me and asked “are you interested in designing Diane a house?”, I could indulge the architecture bug I rarely get to itch and say “YES I WOULD.”
It was challenging in that I had to design it to be built ‘in house’ by the Amerindian men who worked at the Lodge, in the materials they commonly used, for Guyanese weather, in the building traditions that Diane favored. But it was easier than a pro job because I could count on the common-sense knowledge of the men building it (who I talked to during the design process) to make sure that all the parts were properly supported. So I didn’t have to actually know anything about physics. To make up for that though, I used structural measurements of the buildings which were already being used at the Lodge. Since, well, those buildings hadn’t fallen down.
It was a blast. I did four structure designs in total, and am hoping I get to see at least the partial completion of some of them when I go back.

Giant Water lilies- quick study

Giant Water lilies- quick study

As we turned in the bend and the vines overhanging the water parted, an island of flat leaves appeared in the jungle before us. Well, not an island actually, although to look across the giant lily pads it seemed that with a simple step out of the river boat, one could walk across the pond as easily as the many cranes and frogs did. We paddled ourselves over the great greenery, as there was no trail through it, the thorns of their lipstick undersides scraping against the steel hull. We parked ourselves next to a closed blossom and proceeded to pull out the rum punch to sit and drink and wait for night to fall, when the blossom would open like a lantern of white in the twilight, cricket-heavy darkness.
I was so excited, I nearly fell out of the boat.

Karanambu Lodge

Karanambu Lodge

I recently took a trip to Guyana in South America, and got the chance to stay at Karanambu Lodge, a fantastic eco-lodge set in the heart of the bush/jungle, which also functions as a place for scientists and students to go to study the incredible biodiversity. Though I didn’t have as much time to do art (and I found my materials sadly inadequete to express the brilliance around me), I’ll be helping them make a wildlife-tracking app (more on that soon, I’m sure). I’m also planning on returning next year with plenty of oil paints and more time, so that I can properly make the attempt to capture it. I will fail -nature outdoes all the artists in the end- but maybe I’ll get something of it.
In the meantime, a little pen-and-ink work of the main lodge house.

holiday gifts for the family…

a few ink pieces done for members of my family…

San Juan Islands

Pacific Northwest Woods

Iron Sky Grazing

Happy Holidays everyone! Keep an eye out, I may start a little Etsy print shop soon…