Have been exploring this question deeply since decades. It cannot be culture, as spiritual music exists in all cultures that you may feel, even if you may not understand the language or the culture. Even more true if it is instrumental music that is spiritual.
So if it is beyond language, then what they sing about definitely may not necessarily make it ‘spiritual’. In fact, it may just be religious music. I draw a distinction between ‘spiritualism’ and ‘religion’. That’s for another post some day. How often have I heard priests from different religions mindlessly chanting prayers, often with such discordance and lack of sensitivity to sound and scale that they inadvertently create more disturbance than peace.
Would it then be the genre of music? Not that either. Contemporaries thought the singing of Saint Meera was rather ribald for her times. I have frequently been startled by how moving the spiritual quotient is in music from original sound tracks Take Hans Zimmer for example.
Here is Angélia Grace, singing a cover version of the music by Hans Zimmer for the film ‘Inception’. This gives me goosebumps every time I listen to this. And my eyes close in deep contemplation. What is this music?
Is it music filled with acute, strained emotions and complex or complicated arrangements? That’s just technical artistry for me. Is it close to the genre of romantic music? Sufi ishq music for instance is majorly expressed through metaphors and allegories of romance and love. It could be, but the spiritual payload is implied. I find myself wading through emotional storms stirred by passion and romance to break into the clear skies of spiritualism above, and I fail often more than I succeed, so slippery is this path.
Has it to do with a slow tempo, long, sustaining notes, and a soft, dulcet voice? I’ve been conducting meditation sessions with extraordinarily wild tribal dance music. A techno-trance album composed by a musician who I later discovered is a fellow-meditator, quite literally sent me into a trance when I first heard it 23 years ago. It still remains one of my favourite albums for spiritual music.
I feel the answer may just be alluded to in our ‘Rasa’ theory of art and music from classical India, which is on the discipline of aesthetics. ‘Santam rasa’, which means ‘the aesthetics of peace’ (Shanti), was added after great debate over centuries to the eight existing rasas. And also ‘bhaavas’. More intriguingly, it is described not as one with equal measure and footing with the other rasas. More like an invisible thread that strings the exotic pearls of all the other rasas and bhaavas. How beautiful is that?
Speaking of pearls. As an example of music that I find deeply spiritual, last week I shared Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan singing ‘Sason Kee Mala Pe Simroo Pee Ka Naam’. From hist rich heart-traditions of Middle-Eastern-influenced cultures, let’s move to the rarefied and invigorating cold air of the majestic Himalayan mountains.
Ani Choying Drolma singing a Buddhist hymn in her Nepali language. I understand not a word, but her music and voice touches me spiritually, stirs something that feels forgotten deep within me
From the heart of the innocent child within you, untainted by religion, cultures, knowledge, and prejudice, what is spiritual music?
Sure! You could make a billion-dollar startup. But am always disappointed by the challenges that startup teams choose when am out mentoring, conducting Design workshops, or as part of a jury at a hackathon. C’mon folks, once you launch a startup, you are taking huge risks with careers, your finances, mental peace, and taking on unimaginable stress. At least choose a problem that will have a significant impact on the lives of people. Learn to think this way: you could make a billion-dollar startup and have a positive impact on a real-world issue that impacts the 1.3 billion people of India. So let’s call this Vision 2020 as it is already going to become a terrible pun for the next decade. And let’s set our eyes on the top 3 challenges and opportunities facing India that need you to come up with some brilliant Design-Thinking.
Design-Think 1: Health Creates Wealth
According to IBEF.org the Indian healthcare industry “is expected to reach USD 372 billion by 2022.” If you search the web, you may find articles on the top healthcare startups from India driving huge revenue and impact. Here is one for instance from Ink42 with the list being led by cure.fit, DocsApp and Forus Health. The Design-Think challenges to solve in India are huge and diverse. Focus on the people, their diversity, economic disparity, the poor ratio of patient-to-hospital-bed, and the outbreak of diseases. Look at child-birth, women hygiene, medical tourism, rural medicine, affordable diagnostics, insurance. The list is endless. Here are my top 3 Design-Think guidelines for Health challenges that often seem overlooked in startups:
Ethics and Transparancy: How many of you actually feel you can trust your doctor and the call for diagnostics? That the medicines are not spurious or fake? This is a big-ticket design challenge and whoever cracks this is sitting on a gold-mine
Privacy: A patient’s crucial and private medical-data is being harvested every time a lab-report or a diagnosis is whatsapped by the patient or the doctor. I am truly appalled at the amount of patient-data that is harvested or leaked by players within the healthcare and insurance industry. Yes we need strong government regulation, like HIPAA in the United States, but we also need startups that help us from getting our privacy invaded when we are at our most vulnerable. Case-in-point: All those doctor-appointment booking apps, I have no idea how my data is being harvested and even sold. And I do not have an opt-out option.
AYUSH: India is at the forefront in the world of offering various medicine-systems and not just allopathy. For instance, our government has AYUSH that officially recognizes Ayurveda, Yoga, Unani, Siddha, Naturopathy, and Homeopathy. Couple this with medical-tourism as also the need for affordable healthcare, indigenous knowledge, the dilemma and fight against the medicine patent system, and you’ve got opportunities that can scale from India and sweep across the world.
Design-Think Challenge in Health: Neglected Rural Population
So, you want one random, Design-Think challenge? Solve the problem for the neglected rural population of India. According to KPMG, 75% of India’s doctors focus on 30% of the population, the one that resides in urban India. That’s just about 442 million people. That still leaves a population close to a billion people, taken care of by the rest 25% of doctors. The rural population of India also suffers from access to public hospitals, affordable diagnostics, medicines, and a lack of insurance.
Design-Think 02: Unemployment
India has an unemployment rate of 6.2% and it further spiked in Feb 2019 to 7.1%. Accurate, credible, and verifiable data on unemployment in India is hard to come by. However, no one disputes that there are some specific aspects of Unemployment that need deep Design-Thinking:
Educated Unemployment: This is a peculiar problem of India. Education is not related to jobs. Some interesting factoids to chew over are in this article by The Hindu.
94% of Engineering Graduates Unfit for Employment: This figure may sound controversial and was initially disputed. A McKinsey report pegged that figure to around 75% around a decade ago. Since then India has had low-quality and sub-standard engineering insitutues mushrooming across the landscape, and the industry is beginning to realize that figure is not off the mark. Take a look at this article by EconomicTimes.
Skills-gap Report: Sorted by industry and state, here is a comprehensive executive brief, on the skills-gap in India, published by the Ministry of Skill Development and Entrepreneurship and according to this only 47% of people completing their graduation are employable
Here are aspects of the Unemployment challenge, that are mostly overlooked:
Emotional Impact: Our ethography raises unique challenges in handling the emotional, psychological, social, and cultural suffering caused by unemployment. These need to be addressed with equal measure.
Short Window of Being Employable: An average of 25 years in top-quality education usually yields skills that last about 3 years for gainful employment. Most people face insecurities from the incoming fresh talent, and soon end up in middle-level job rut and stagnation.
Social-Security: There is no safety-net for people who do not have jobs or have just lost their jobs. Indeed the government is working on it and talks about a 10-year window for it to be fully operational. That too for about 500 million people. What about the rest? Here, take a look-see
Design-Think Challenge in Unemployment: Frugal Innovation based Entrepreneurship in Rural India
Here’s one Design-Think challenge to stoke your imagination. Rising unemployment leads to migration from villages and rural India to urban cities that are already bursting at their seams. How can opportunities be created in the diverse cultural nuances of rural India, based on methods of frugal innovation, and of rural entrepreneurship, that create jobs and opportunities for people, where they are? Finding meaningful work where you are, is one of the basic tenets of Schumacher Economics and I find that quite compelling for a nation the size of a sub-continent.
Design-Think 03: Ecology
This one should have been number 2, but have kept it here because Ecology is a challenge that many new startups in India are trying to tackle head-on, with innovation and great ideas. Enough is already being said about India’s air-pollution, water pollution, soil-erosion, deforestation, soil-contamination, plastic-pollution, and more. The impact on life expectancy, health, economy, and on the planet is already well-audited and documented.
Design-Think Challenge in Ecology: Noise Pollution
Here’s a vector in Pollution that is seldom considered as a huge challenge among startups. Noise-Pollution. Kickstarter may have a dime-a-dozen noise-cancellation headphones and earphones, but these simply isolate the user from noise. How do you bring down noise pollution. The incessant honking of vehicles, the disturbances at night, the noise of planes, trains, industrial machinery, construction?
Bonus: Here’s another noise pollution challenge that am surprised no one has yet considered implementing. It’s easy and a lot of fun. Just measure the decibels of sounds and noise you will get in a bed at every hotel in India through the night for a restful 8 hours of sleep. The true offering of a hotel, is the quality of your sleep. This needs to be measured through this one important vector.
Look forward to more exciting, imaginative, and innovative solutions from india towards this meaningful challenges. If you’re the type who strongly feels about some of these challenges and wishes to solve them, but have no clue about Design-Thinking and UX Design, consider attending one of the workshops I conduct across India, to kickstart this revolution in Design. It will help you get started in ‘thinking’ in the right way about how to solve problems using the discipline of Design. No prior knowledge or qualification in Design required. Thousands of folks can tell you how much these workshops have helped them in every aspect of their professional and entrepreneurial dimensions, and how they have been able to become more innovative in whatever they do. For more details, log on to DesignRev.in
Cars have evolved dramatically yet the car-horn remains essentially the same: a brutish, beastly remnant that barks loudly and incoherently in our ears and our cities’ soundscapes with its harshness. Can design-think solve this problem? Here are some quick notes I made as I crawled in a huge traffic snarl in New Delhi recently, with horns just hooting and honking thoughtlessly all around.
Am looking forward to all of you discussing and pitching in with your design-thinking to give this a more evolved and final shape, and to have you implement at least some ideas to get the wheels moving in this direction. You sense the birth of new startups here?
Horns With Eyes
Let’s give eyes to our horns. Imagine we set up sensors in the car. Sensors that continuously monitor the eyes of the driver. The moment the driver presses the horn the sensors immediately track, in milliseconds, with sensors outside, what is it that the driver is seeing that prompts her to honk. In the case of motorbike and two-wheeler scooter drivers, the sensors and tech are embedded into the helmet and are synced with the vehicle’s horn. I know this is a rather sophisticated and demanding piece of tech, but it is possible. In fact, such ‘driver monitoring systems’ have already been designed and exist since more than four years. For instance, take a look here. None, however, explore how to integrate these smarts into a horn and to curb our propensity towards honking.
The smart-horn system not only quickly identifies what is the driver honking at, but also assesses why, using machine-learning. Here are some typical real-world user-case scenarios, and on how it is programmed to respond. The driver honks at:
A car ahead to give way. The system emits no sound into the open environment. Instead, it blinks an icon on the dashboard inside the other car and sounds a gentle, specific tone that indicates to the other driver to give way. Imagine the peace and silence outside.
A jaywalker who suddenly steps in front of the moving car or bike. A short note designed to alert but not alarm, emitted only in the direction of the jaywalker and adjusted to be audible enough for the short distance.
Children or a procession in front to give way. First, the system ensures the vehicle cannot speed in such a situation.The horn quickly changes its tone to a fun, cheerful, musical chime that will catch the attention of the children or the procession, and makes them alert and also happy. The volume of the alarm automatically levels down to fill only the area with the children or the group in front and not travel further than that. Did you know most horns are typically 103dB and above. Factor in closer proximity and that may cause permanent damage to ears.
A speeding vehicle coming headlong. The systems on both the vehicles will attempt to avoid the collision by setting each on a different course while dramatically slowing down the vehicles. Emergency warning tones and notifications fill the cockpit of the two cars. It also checks if the respective horns have to be sounded externally, and will rapidly decrease the volume as the vehicles near. Yes, you read that right.
Of course, in every situation the system will have a quick over-ride placed at the steering wheel, so the driver may blare away if required in any case.
Road-Rage? Just Horn OK Please
So what else can the system do? For trigger-happy, road-ragin’ folks who love to press the horn hard, the system will always play the sound of the horn inside the car for psychological comfort, without actually playing it outside in the open. This is a little like that camera-shutter sound you hear when you click a photo with your mobile-phones. There is no manual shutter mechanism in a smartphone. The system will also trigger the appropriate alert-sound and notification inside the targeted vehicle or towards the pedestrian, but with more pleasant notes and volume. More importantly, sensors monitoring the eyes and those embedded in the horn measure the psychological state of the driver. It specifically picks up cues for aggression, impatience, anger, rage, frustration, as well as panic, drowsiness, and even drunkenness. Based on these cues, the system will intervene as appropriate. The possible interventions that can be designed would need a whole, separate post, but you get the idea.
For instance, it could play soothing music; release calming and pleasant aromas to soothe the nerves; and even talk to the driver. In states of drowsiness it could turn up the music-levels, turn down the temperature considerably, and release sharp lime-based aromas in the car to make the driver more alert. In the case of drunk-driving, the system may suggest and even prompt the driver to pull over or even book a cab, and on refusal, may alert authorities and loved-ones as well.
Look Dashing on Your Dashboard
The local authorities could also set up analytics on the smart car-horn. Based on how sparing and courteous the driver is with the horn, parking-lots and gas-stations could offer discounts as a government incentive. The results of the analysus may also negatively or positively impact the car-insurance policy premium and bonuses. Yeah, this rabbit-hole can go quite deep.
The system makes the use of the car horn in our outdoors almost redundant, bringing much-needed peace and quiet in our cities and our lives. The sounds are also tailored to indicate context and emotion, rather than just blare the same loud and garish notes. For this system to be successful, the government needs to set policies, resources, and deadlines. Car and vehicle manufacturers could launch such systems as smart value-additions. And I foresee a slew of startups that see the numerous opportunities available in this space.
All of this may take anything from two to five years, but eventually our cities will get less noisy and more quiet, and our citizens more civil and courteous. We may then just finally say “OK TATA” to the rudeness and crudeness of the archaic car-horn.
Her two graceful fingers point towards the sky. The rolling sounds of thunder envelope the lightening-dazzled valleys of Pune. Swaying in her balcony overlooking a verandah with a mango tree, Shravani suddenly widens her eyes, lifts her hands, and her wrists begin to tremble. With two fingers from each hand still pointing to the sky, she traces the path of rains descending on the hills in the distance.
As if on cue, the rain falls heavily on the thousands of thirsty leaves of the mango tree. The young and beautiful Shravani’s dance is expressing her joy at her gaining admission into the prestigious National Institute of Design (NID), a train-journey away in Ahmedabad. The daughter of a dear family friend, Shravani is at the threshold of her new life, sharing for the first time with me her love for design and for Kathak, which is a classical dance-form from India.
When the rain starts to abate her movements slow down, focussing all her energy to the forefinger of each hand tenderly tapping its thumb. Aha! The gentle pitter-patter of a drizzle. In simple, evocative dance moves, she wordlessly expresses the different moods of India’s majestic monsoons. From downpours to light drizzles, lushly lazy to dramatic, thunderous ones.
Her hands and gestures, known as mudras in Kathak, soon melt into evoking the stately poise of a proud peacock, the sudden alertness of a grazing deer, the determined hunt of a ferocious lion, the prowl of a fierce tiger. And finally of course, the dancing form of Shiva, the playfulness of Krishna, the longing of Sita, and the desperate search by a lovelorn Ram.
Design Is Non-Verbal
Like the first exhilarating chirp of a Koyal, or a nightingale, that bursts into song when the rain finishes, a fresh thought dawns into my mind. Through centuries in India, the essence of stories and myths have been expressed using the non-verbal. Elegantly, they cut across the barriers of different languages and our rich and intricate cultures. Generation-after-generation, the eternal truths encoded in our legends are literally danced through gestures and expressions.
We need to trace our steps back to thousands of years, when ancient tribes in India first discovered the art of storytelling through non-verbal communication. Indeed the word ‘Kathak’ is from Sanskrit that literally means ‘story’ and this art relies solely on the dancer’s expressions, gestures, mudras, stance and especially delicate eye movements to evoke emotions while unfolding the story.
When I then turn my gaze to the years just ahead of us, I see the same game at play. Today, the world is a multicultural, plural society. The internet embraces all, the literate and the non-literate. In the present moment, how do we design apps for smartphones, tablets, smartwatches, smart TV, Internet of Things (IoT) and even more that we have not imagined yet for this rich, diverse and global cauldron that bubbles on this planet.
The Womb of Verbs
Design philosophers of the twentieth century from the Bauhaus movement and its minimalism boldly proclaim: ‘Form Follows Function’. Yet I strongly feel that design is not made of just nouns and its associated forms. Design to me is forged from the womb of verbs, actions and interactions. The role of a designer therefore is to design interactions that emotionally touch and delight your customers while fulfilling specific, precise tasks. Exactly like a dance.
To me: ‘Verb Follows Function’ is the new design language of the century. From the flirtatious swipes of the Tinder app, the harmless pokes on Facebook, the pinch and zoom in photos, the flicking of cash in an e-wallet, the exploding and popping of sweets in Candy Crush Saga, all design has become verb follows function. We are transiting from pure user-interface design to user-interaction design.
In Interaction design, there is indeed a form of Kathak at play in your hands. The Natya Shastra, an ancient Indian text on classical arts, has this famous quotation:
“Where the hand is, the eyes follow Where the eyes go, the mind follows Where the mind is, there is the feeling Where there is feeling, there is mood, flavour, sweetness.”
Shravani’s dancing points to a deeper truth: The most fundamental approach today is to design as if the world has turned non-literate.
The objective of design is to use playfulness to enhance usefulness.
Take a look at these stunning and inspiring examples of six second transitions and interactions here for web and smartphones: sixux.com
In the ‘Dive Into Interaction Design’ workshops, I cover a great deal more about every aspect of making the world more meaningful through interactions. Here, for example, are easing functions which choose not just the speed but also the mood of moving elements in a design: http://easings.net/ Each one conveys a mood and emotion in the interaction design. I call this ‘Motion with Emotion’.
Lots more is covered in the workshop, including for instance, finding inspiration from some great film-sequences and opening title sequences in movies. From these we gain insights in interaction design for apps and UI. Am also curating a special board on my Pinterest account, dedicated to great examples and inspirations of interactivity. I may currently be conducting other workshops on Design, so if you do wish me to conduct one on Interaction Design, just write to me, and will inform you of upcoming dates.
Meanwhile, the next time you have to hire a designer or developer, ask them what they understand about dance. Every button, every icon, and every relationship between elements jumps to life with interaction design, because dance is a celebration of life. Need some quick inspiration to dance? Here’s some trippy, groovy music I composed a few months ago for a colleague, ‘Think With Your Feet.’
So go ahead, dance like its raining. It might just help you understand design as definitely being more alive.
What is common between Steve Jobs, John Lennon, and Mahatma Gandhi? Round-rimmed glasses, of course. But look around you. This is August 2015. Almost everyone with eye-wear perches a rectangular frame on their nose, especially when it comes to prescription spectacles.
Being able to spot a design trend is an art. It can’t be taught. You just have to know when the common consciousness of people around you gets “design-fatigue” from the “same old thing” which happened to be trendy only a few years ago. Even more challenging is the ability to anticipate when they will reach a tipping point, months or even years before it happens. More importantly, you also need to sense what ushers in the change in the taste of people towards design.
Put My Money Where My Mouth Is
So here’s what I sense. By the fourth quarter of 2015 the early adopters and trend-setters in fashion and design, will move towards more circular designs in frames. By the third quarter of 2016, this trend will become a little more mainstream. Am leaving my design-prediction published here on this blog, so can come back and check twelve months from today.
Ambling through DLF Promenade mall in South Delhi, I did a double-take when I saw an artsy wooden display with only round-rimmed eye-shades and eye-wear to sell. Wow! That is bold, cheeky, and fun. A young, confident Sugandha Mahajan introduced herself. When I quizzed her about her designs her eyes twinkled in merriment from behind her round specs: “Because I just like it!”
That’s it. A woman’s heart just knows. No need to conduct surveys and pour over market research. When I told her my design predictions, she nodded her head in agreement, which I found even more intriguing. Here indeed is a design-thinker. Surely, she must have studied design or fashion, I asked.
Turns out, Sugandha is a software engineer by qualification and profession. She has never studied design. After working in a few companies in IT and in telecom, she chucked it all and launched her fashion startup: pataaka.in.
Software to Soft Wear
We discussed how, for the first time, the real-world has found design inspiration from the world of software. Look carefully at those folks with rectangular frames staring into their mobile and tablet screens. All the buttons in modern user-interface designs of smartphone apps are round, as are images masked into circles. That’s because smartphones have started to behave like computers, sans the mouse and the click of its sharp pointer. Instead, round-ended human fingers and thumbs are being used to tap around the screen. So buttons and visuals have to adapt to circular forms for the moment, to offer and suggest an immediate connect between humans and their machines.
As I walked away, I tried to imagine all the millions of Sugandha Mahajans in India, living in such a rich and vibrant culture such as ours. No wonder they can know without knowing. These are the women who need to express their innate sense of art and design. It’s for women like these that Sheroes.in is my nurturing partner for the user-interface design and UX workshops that I have been conducting, almost every fortnight and now across India, since almost a year.
For these are the women who could kick-start a revolution in design from India that sweeps across the world.
Using Design to Surpass My Experience of Reading A Book
You use your nose to read a book.
The faint smell of ink mixed with that sharp note of glue, and of course the woody smell of paper. Your fingers love the assuring texture and of paper as you unfurl your mind and curl up your body with your favourite book. When you finally close your droopy eyelids, you love the book resting on your chest, as if in a gentle embrace, while your imagination expands into your dreams with the fantastic worlds conjured by the living words of the book.
I carefully studied the user-interface design of the Amazon Kindle, now in its 7th incarnation with a touch-screen, 6-inch ink-display. The initial simplicity of design over this Linux-driven device peeks through. Just a screen with text typeset to the font and size of your liking, with margins you can choose, and with a single long-press to look-up the dictionary or a wikipedia-entry. Convenient and intuitive. A gentle tap on either side moves to the previous or the next page. However, with each new feature and extra option added over versions, the patchy, shoe-horned approach to design begins to show its signs. Even after three months of heavy use, I tend to get as lost and bewildered in the rabbit-hole of menus and options, as Alice in a Matrixed-wonderland.
Are You Experienced?
One evening, after the first session of one of my Design workshops, I sat alone, visualizing how I would overhaul the user-interface design of the Kindle for the third decade of the 21st century. Lots more can be achieved by not doing, and by leaving things out, in design. But is it all about the UI bass, no treble? Curious, I called some of my friends who use the Kindle. The response was universal. Each felt disappointed by eBooks and expressed something lacking with reading pixels. That may explain why sales of eBooks have suddenly plateaued across the world and printed books have rebound.
Aha! Here then, is where user-experience is the real bottleneck. I can’t fix the user-interface design of the Kindle as Amazon has locked it all away. But I can certainly fix the user-experience. All I need to do is to focus on the nose.
Notebook by A Student
I got in touch with Hina Khan, one of the students I have been mentoring in design since several years. In the past ten years, Hina has come to me every few years, just to sit and learn over several months, some aspect of design, color, photography, and more recently, typography. Hina is quite a versatile creative-professional, dabbling in many disciplines of art, design, and creativity. So when she ambled in one fine morning for her mentoring session on the complexities of free-culture, I gave her my DRM-ensnared and restrictive Kindle as a side-project.
The brief was simple. Let’s take a beautiful, handmade and organic notebook or diary which is made in India. Carve out the inside pages hollow and glue them, to form a cavity into which the Kindle tucks in. Hold it down with elastic or a thread or something. Embellish the design at will. And here, ladies and gentlemen, is how and what she crafted.
Hina caught the Delhi Metro to Chandni Chowk to deftly skip back in time by three centuries. She scoured the small by-lanes in search of a handmade notebook or diary of the required size and aesthetics. Surprised at not finding anything worthwhile, she did shop for a variety of exotic hand-made papers and art-supplies for her other various projects. Hina then searched the more artsy Khan Market where at last she spotted just what she wanted. A notebook with screen-printed inscriptions in Hindi and Urdu, some quite incomprehensible, but nevertheless beautiful in its calligraphic style.
She bought this silky azure ribbon and handed it to a tailor to carefully stitch it around the border.
From her collection of wood-block prints, Hina stamped a paisley design on front-side of the notebook, and then meticulously painted it in by hand.
Why tweet about a book when you can have a birdie in the inside front-cover? Yes! an original illustration by Hina drawn and traced onto that red paper, and then glued to the inside-front of the Kindle cover. The hollowed-out pages of the notebook were glued together and stuck into the inside-back, and then painted orange.
The final finish of the book-case, with the Kindle embedded.
Hina braided this cord, then punched two holes into the back of the book-cover and tied it in. We noticed the cord holding the Kindle in was a bit bulky as well as loose, causing the device to often fall out of its crevice.
So Hina promptly replaced it with two elastic bands in white.
The New User-Experience of Kindle
Here at last was a Kindle with a spine. That was what was missing in the experience all along. The feel of a real and more importantly, organic, hardbound cover. The flourish of calligraphy with Indic scripts. The touch of silk. The smell of real paint-inks and not just printing inks. And the feel of handmade paper inside.
Now I find offset-printed books too mechanically perfect, machine-made and precisely trimmed. A product of an industrial age that dehumanizes, scales monstrously in the name of economy, and ravages the environment. A machine-made book is not compatible with the new value-systems of the more sensitive 21st century. Why sacrifice a tree for just one, and usually expensive and disposable book, when you can just make one hand-made book-cover, and read thousands of books-as-software inside. All this while enriching and enhancing the ‘real’ experience of reading a ‘real’ book.
Speaking of free-culture, should you wish to replicate the design of this ‘Kindle book-cover’, be happy to know it is published under a creative-commons license, specifically the cc0 license. The design of the original handbook may be subject to copyright by its author. What this means is that you may freely replicate this design, modify and adapt it, to make your own Kindle-cover or iPad cover, a book-case or a hide-out case or piggy-bank or anything else you can conjure up. You may choose your own colors and materials, improve upon this, use a different handbook or even a hardbound or paperback book, and kickstart a cottage industry around this. A few are already doing this around the world.
I’d be happy to see your designs. Please share them by posting them on my FaceBook page on design here: fb.com/niyamdive
So get yourself a Kindle or any other eBook reader, and make this Earth into a lotus-paradise.
One day I just opened this hand-made notebook. Looked at the blank page, and then just started writing this down. It just flowed. I did not have to think this. I also have no idea what it means. And then I just forgot about it, until I opened the notebook again and happened to glance at this page. Am sharing with you. For those who can decipher this message, but only if they can decipher my handwriting, here is what is written:
Everything will be broken into Rules of 3
Three times three will give you nine
This nine will give you the answer
Nine times three will give you 27
27 will give you love
Love is always between 3
The two who love, and the third
in who’s abode there is love
Why I’ve Stopped Using A Smartphone, And So Will You.
The increasing momentum of my digital life, personal and professional, was suddenly hurled over a precipice into a beep-less, soundless, vacuum. All thanks to my Samsung Galaxy Note. One moment it was an artsy, smartsy phablet. The next moment it frapped into an inert, lifeless brick while in the middle of a battery-recharge. As abruptly simple as that. The experience reminded me of one of my favourite meditation techniques: The Stop Exercise by the mystic master, Gurdjieff. The great aspect of the Stop! Meditation is when you re-emerge from it, something intrinsically changes in you. Maybe that explains why I wish to explore a new way of living and working digitally without a traditional smartphone.
Yoga: The Alpha and the OMG!
What’s better than using a smartphone? In fact, what is it that a smartphone aspires to be? A tablet, of course. So I immediately started researching on the most suitable tablet for my needs, one which can also handle voice-calls and SMS-texting. That immediately ruled out the Apple iPad. Try this experiment for yourself: Look at the price of an Apple iPhone 6 plus. Then look at the price of a 7-inch iPad. Do you realize a 7-inch iPad is nothing but a larger 5.5-inch iPhone, with similar or same features, the same iOS, the same apps, but with voice-calling disabled? It still has cellular network connectivity, mind you. So then exactly what is it that merits an iPhone to be so expensive? Your hypnotism that a smartphone is meant to be expensive, while a tablet is meant to be a cheaper alternative to a laptop. If anything, the iPad should have actually been more expensive than the iPhone 6 plus, given the larger screen. Yet in a rather twisted way, the top-end iPhone 6 plus can be 250% to 300% more expensive than the price of an iPad mini. Emphasis on the hundreds of percent here, for the same tech.
The other thing I want is freedom. The freedom to have a micro-SD card in which I may freely drag-and-drop all my music, photos, and videos, and carry it around. Good luck with that shiny Apple thingie. First, you don’t even get a micro-SD card. And forget about the woes of using iTunes. I love the simplicity of using a pen-drive or a micro-SD card to manage my music-collection. My way. The lack of a micro-SD port on the new Google Nexus also puts it to shame, and out of this race. Again, do note how much you pay for a 32GB or 64 GB microSD card or pen-drive. Then take a look at how much Apple charges you for moving up from a 16GB Apple iPhone to a 64GB one. Har! Har! No wonder they don’t want to offer you a micro-SD port.
Okay, so everything I need in a smartphone, I have here. Rear and front-facing cameras. GPS for navigation, audio-jack, microUSB, sensors, Bluetooth. The battery especially is impressive at 6400mAh which can even be used to charge your other devices. The greatest joy is I get to install all my favourite apps from the Android store. Can you imagine the experience of WhatsApp, Telegram, FaceBook, web-browsing, Google Maps, on a gigantic 8-inch screen at full HD resolution? You may never want to look at your scrawny 5-inch smartphone screen again.
Witnessing the Watch
For a phablet that large, my life has surprisingly become so hands-free. I feel freed from the tyranny of having to constantly clutch a smartphone, or pull out one about a hundred times a day to glance and respond to the constant stream of interruptions. I carry the Yoga tablet 2 in a smart and artsy sling-back, which was originally meant to be an iPad slingbag. Often, I just dump it in my laptop bag, or leave it aside on the co-passenger seat or even the backseat while driving. No more distractions. A discreet bluetooth headset perched on my ear allows me to make and receive calls.
The jewel is of course the Moto 360. All incoming calls, tweets, facebook messages, emails, WhatsApp and Telegram messages, SMS-texts, and several other types of notifications from many other apps, land straight on my wrist. Just a glance is enough, followed by a swipe or two on the watch screen. The battery on both devices lasts me a full day of solid work with no need to recharge. I pair my interaction with the devices using Google talk. It still has issues in recognizing Indian names to call, so am waiting for that experience to improve. A smartwatch is a winner of an idea. While people are predicting the failure of the Apple watch, am quite confident the market for smartwatches is going to explode. The smartphone does need a smartwatch. There are new paradigms at work here. Apple may emerge the top smartwatch maker in the world, but Android will have the largest marketshare by far. Don’t kid yourself about a smartwatch. This paradigm-shift is here to stay.
Suffice to say I get a complete 100% overlap of all the features and tasks I expect from a smartphone. Now comes the stimulating part, the extra and new experiences and discoveries I couldn’t even have imagined. And which take me into a new leagues with experiencing smart mobile devices.
Beyond The SmartPhone
The first experience which is completely new for me, is the lavish 8-inch screen on which to surf the web and watch videos, at full HD quality. It’s like moving out of a congested single-room apartment into a mansion with gardens. This is not an incremental jump from a 4-inch screen to a 5-inch one or 5.5-inch screen. My first Apple Macintosh computer, the Mac 512K launched in 1985, had a 9-inch greyscale screen, with less than one-fourth the resolution of this Yoga tablet.
Then comes the music. The Lenovo Yoga tablet 2 ships with large, stereo speakers built-in, and with Wolfson audio-processing and Dolby. The sound, though near-field and moderate in volume, has to be heard to be believed. At my table at work, the side-table at night, or even at impromptu moments, I just prop up the Yoga and play some music. When I wish. It’s so personal. Indeed, I bought the first Yoga tablet in April of 2014 for my mother, as a personal music-player and iPod-replacement. Take a look at the pic here, with the two Yoga tablets. The ease with which I can manage my music-collection, share files, look up and play music, find albums, just cannot be beaten by an Apple iPod or iTunes. That era is finally over.
The Lenovo Yoga 8 as a replacement for an Apple iPod goes further. Using the new dual-plug microUSB pen-drives, you know the types that have a standard USB plug on one side, and a microUSB plug on the other, I can effortlessly and seamlessly transfer music on-the-go back and forth between my tablet and my laptop and even to or from another smartphone. While listening to an Osho discourse, if I find the mp3 file suffering from audio problems, I can just launch the web-browser, and download a newer version of the file from the Oshoworld.com site. I’ve set up a sleep timer that switches off the music or the discourse automatically after 45 minutes. And auto-starts with a playlist of music with which to start the day early in the morning. I can freely create my own playlists with gaps of silence, for meditations when requested. Indeed, my mother uses the Yoga tablet without a SIM card, and as a dedicated music-player, which in her own words, has a gorgeous, large, and colorful user-interface and a user-experience that is far more delightful, and easier, to use than an iPod.
The cylindrical housing of the battery is a unique aspect of the design. It offers a better grip than the tiring one required to hold a razor-thin tablet or smartphone for longer durations. It feels like a curled book or magazine. Indeed, the Yoga tablet offers a great experience for reading eBooks.
I just finished reading ‘Autobiography of a Yogi’ on the Yoga. This is the book by Paramahansa Yogananda that Steve Jobs had willed to be gifted to everyone who attended his funeral. More on this book someday perhaps in another blog-post. I find reading books on Yoga a joy. Okay, that’s a pun, I obviously mean the tablet, not just the topic. Then there’s Zinio and the ability to read all my favourite magazines in a digital format. The large screen is just so much more comfortable.
The Path of Renunciation
There are still a few minor things to sort out. I still haven’t found a suitable tablet-holder with which to affix my Yoga tablet in the car while driving. That’s also because I haven’t looked hard. But that’s the point. Google’s voice-recognition is still awkward and clumsy at times. For names it just can’t recognize, I memorize the numbers and then spell out the numbers alone to dial. Clumsy. The rear-camera does not have a flash though it can click in very low light. People did complain about the software being buggy, but that was at its launch. A couple of updates later the software works fine for my needs, but there are still a few annoyances which I’ve just taken in my stride for the moment.
The one negative aspect that I truly dislike, is the apparent renunciation of Yoga for MHL support. For the uninitiated, MHL stands for Mobile High-Definition Link. That means, with a nifty little adapter, you can mirror what’s on the Yoga tablet’s screen on to an HDMI-enabled device like a large LCD or LED screen, or an overhead projector. Most needed for a guy like me into professional and corporate training and workshops around design, design-think, and creativity. So far, tech-support in India seems clueless about its support, and the few adaptors I’ve tried don’t work. I do know the previous version supports MHL so am hugely disappointed this one does not.
I hope Lenovo fixes these problems in the next version, while Google refines its voice-recognition considerably, as am probably going to stay on the path of Yoga for sometime.
So that’s it. That’s my story. Hidden in this is of course the concepts of design-think used to find a creative approach to selecting my next smartphone. I love to think of everything as a design problem, and try to use a creative approach to find an alternative solution each time. So why don’t you read this post again, this time from the perspective of design-think. Makes the journey more rewarding.
I just spent half a day at ComicCon 2012 in Delhi today. That’s the annual Comics convention and celebration, held for the second time in India. Here is a link to some photos with descriptions of the event. ComicCon 2012
Anonymous web. Anonymous ftp. No one really wanted to know who you were. If you wanted to identify yourself it was even more cool to use a pseudonym. Today, you are being profiled with such fine-grained control on the web, it’s scary.
At last, the first smart phone for creative people is here: The Samsung Galaxy Note.
What is the one, exclusive, killer-feature of the Samsung Galaxy Note that endears it, right out of the box, to creative professionals like me? The pure simplicity with which I can open any web-design or user-interface screen, encircle elements and scribble over them with a stylus pen. Then add notes to it, and send it across to my colleagues or clients. That’s it. And what’s the next? The legendary use of the paper napkin for scribbling logo designs for startups and million-dollar companies can now move to a digital incarnation, in this the second decade of the 21st century.
How to Handle Pressure
Turns out there’s lots a creative professional can do with this smartphone. The stylus is pressure-sensitive. Hence it mimics shades, tints, and variations of shapes and shades as you draw, sketch, and illustrate. The screen-resolution of 1280 x 800 pixels equals the resolution of most netbooks, so you can assess how your designs will render in that ratio. But what’s really impressive, is that the 1280 x 800 resolution fits into a dazzling super-AMOLED screen of just 5.3 inches, in 16 million vibrant colors, at a pixel-density of 285ppi. My first Mac in 1985, had a 9-inch black and white screen, at 72 ppi. Which is why the world is still stuck to the now mythical 72ppi. Grow up, people.
I love the rendering of fonts on this display. Reading books and periodicals is such a joy. Have just been looking for fonts and typography apps to relish the crispness of typography. Those of you who’ve grown up with the coarseness of mobilephone font-renderings that lasted nearly 15 years, will know what I mean here. This phone makes owning the Kindle Fire redundant. I’ve got the Amazon app here, plus a few more apps for eBooks and magazines. But it’s the feel of typography, the comfort and smoothness and attention-to-detail that my much-neglected eyes experience with this display.
The large screen manages HD video playback with no latency or dropped-frames, thanks to its dual-core 1.4 Ghz ARM Cortex chip. You read that right, this beauty comes with a dual-core CPU. Plus a Mali-400MP Graphics Processor Unit. The result is a smartphone not just for authoring, but for pure inspiration. I have a live wallpaper with floating fish in a pond. A tap or a touch on the screen creates ripples and refraction-effects in the water that is just breathtaking.
All this consumes battery. The Note ships with a Li-On 2500 mAh battery. That’s huge. But given the bandwidth-leech that I’ve become, and the heavy geeky use that I extract from all my devices, it’s surprising how the battery lasts a day for me, and sometimes more. your mileage will vary. Mine does, every day. I carry my micro-USB cable with me in my laptop bag, have a separate charger in the car, and generally move to places not far from the grid. Knowing how to throttle your power-consumption is an art every geek must know, and it’s not just true for this phone. Secondly, with the growing gaggle of gadgets I find myself carrying every day, I’ve decided to invest in a battery power-brick. Am still deciding on an Amzer or an Eto, or something else. Given the abundant sunshine I get in the Indian capital, I’ll settle for the one with the added solar-panel, like the Amzer.
Is it a phone for folks like Sudev Barar, who tend to motor their muscle-cars out into the Indian sub-continent’s harsh climates and tend to veer off far away from the grid? As a GPS device mounted inside the car, most definitely yes. Digital-freedom lovin’ folk like Sudev will especially appreciate its support for both A-GPS and GLONASS. Though rather unfortunately named, GLONASS is what you’ll run to should the powers-that-be decide to abruptly switch off your access to GPS satellites and imagery and ask you to kiss their ass. I have yet to play around with GLONASS, but I hope Sudev does us all the honour of a thorough testing of GLONASS on the Samsung Note with his sojourns across the majestic terrains of our sub-continent.
The in-built video-editing software is another marvel of engineering and software interface-design. I could never have imagined non-linear video-editing would come down from its lofty heights of high-end workstations costing millions of dollars and several hundred thousands of dollars in training, to handheld devices for folks to use with nothing more than a swipe and a thumb. Am utterly overwhelmed here.
Sentimental Note for the Newton
Then there’s the handwriting recognition. I must admit, the moment I unboxed the Samsung Galaxy Note, a wave of nostalgia overwhelmed me. I went back to the time I unboxed my Apple Newton 120 in circa 1997. Having endured the idiosyncrasies of the Apple Newton’s infamous handwriting recognition engine, I found myself delighted with the generations of evolution am inheriting here. It’s been just three days with the Note, and I’ve eagerly abandoned all other forms of input, and am always tapping and scribbling furiously away with my stylus. I hope I soon forget how to use QWERTY keypads on mobile-screens. The arrow of technology is going to come full-circle. At least for me. So far, all my new contacts, memo notes, expense sheets, web-forms, emails, text-messages, and other forms of verbose text are handled entirely using the handwriting recognition of the stylus.
Okay, I know, I do need to write another blog-post, in which I’ll share all the apps and widgets I use, plus the techniques and workflows, for handling some aspects of professional user-interface and UX design on the Galaxy Note. Pause, I’ll just make a note of this. There! I’m back.
Let’s talk about how the Galaxy Note disappoints. Unless you’re a large-sized Gorilla who’s adopted Tarzan the man-child as your son, there’s no way you can clutch, and use your fingers, all using just one hand. We take this for granted with other phones, but don’t try this at home, at office, at your studio, or anywhere else. I can live with that, as it is like a small moleskin digital diary for artists, designers, poets, and dreamers. But here’s the huge design failure I refuse to forgive. It has no eyelet for a lanyard. Yup! No way for you to hang it from your wrist, should you need your hand to grasp something else, or for those awkward moments when it falls. The question with the Galaxy Note is not if it will fall or slip out of your hands, but when. Thankfully, for mere humans like us with puny hands, Samsung compensates with its wildly successful Gorilla Glass. The smooth and shiny screen can take a few nicks and bumps and falls without even a scratch.
Another thing. Most dealers will play to your insecurity, and insist you buy a screen protector. Don’t. All you’ll get are tiny air-bubbles if not applied well, and a less responsive stylus. This is Gorilla Glass, remember. To be inspired by Gora Mohanty’s favaourite aphorism: “Lipstick on a pig”, sticking that flimsy plastic to this is like applying a UV sunscreen lotion to a polar bear.
The Gamma Ray professor reminds me, I’d better look up the impact of the phone’s microwave radiation on the human body. This impact is known more popularly as the SARS rating. Can’t seem to find reliable data at the moment, so someone please post here, but the Note seems to be actually better in some cases, with lowered SARS rating, than an iPhone 4s. That’s a real wow! if that’s correct. Anyways, keeping it away from my pocket or person when I’m not moving is what I do.
Okay, so how should you use this moleskin diary of a thingie, as a phone? Holding it against my cheek and talking to it is akin to experiencing a face-palm in mid-sentence. I for one pocket it in specially tailored trousers I anyways fashion myself. The headset wire then runs under my clothing from my ears to my pocket. There, I’ve got my hands free, but Alas! The headset provided by Samsung has an omni mic that picks up all the ambient sounds and noise around you and pumps it into the ears of your caller miles away. I’ve spent three days researching and finally ordered myself a Plantronics 903+ bluetooth headset, so I can hopefully pair it later with my iPhone 4S as well. Thanks to Vivek Puri, who lived up to his “And now for something different” clarion-call by pushing me to the Plantronics rather than some run of the motormouth.
The sound-quality, as expected, is tuned for the human-voice. Call-quality is good, actually great on the phone, but listening to music is a real ear-sore. Anyways, I’ve segregated my music-listening to the vastly superior Creative Zen xi-fi. When I say “vastly superior”, fellow audiophiles know which devices I’m comparing this to. But let’s not get into that discussion, fanboys.
The microphone is surprisingly sensitive. Too sensitive in fact. Coupled with bad software-engineering, the voice-recognition is a huge failure for me. The software does not compensate for the mic’s sensitivity to pick up ambient noise, so the monitors keep trembling. Takes it quite a while to end its scanning and start processing the audio data. By that time I’ve lost interest and am quietly waiting in amusement to listen to the rubbish the voice-recognition will dole out.
The other major design-flaw, is the Note’s less than mediocre lense and camera quality. Creative professionals long know that a higher megapixel camera means nothing, unless you’ve got great glass and algorithmic goodness to bring out the subtle nuances of photography. The Galaxy Note is a classic example of how Samsung’s goofed up major-time on this. Hey! Samsung, Apple and the rest of the mobilephone market just nailed Kodak to the cross-hairs of their viewfinder. Flickr and Picasa revel in how the Apple iPhone is the camera of choice. A nice and buzzing cottage-industry has sprung up around the iPhone, selling custom lenses to fit over the phone. Samsung’s totally lost it on this one. So get it right folks.
The Note comes with no manual. I just googled for it, and downloaded it. Incidentally, the smartphone’s got 1 GB RAM, and 16 GB internal storage of which 11 GB is free. I’ve also added an 8GB microSD card for good measure. The Android Gingerbread 2.3 OS on it works smoothly. The other reason I bought the Note was that I knew this would easily upgrade or update to Android 4.0, just when I’ll be finally settling into my soup of OS and apps on 2.3. That’s the way the cookie crumbles for me. But love it.
I’m using Ubuntu 9.04 on my Apple MacBook Pro 5,1 for the moment. Connecting the Note over a USB cable automagically mounts its storage, but strangely, I cannot find the photos and videos I’ve clicked to drag-and-drop around. Thinking it could be a kick-in-the-tyres that Ubuntu needs, I just did a double-check under the Mac OS. Same story. More on this in some time once I’ve figured out what’s happening.
Having played around with enough smartphones and tablets, I find the Samsung Galaxy Note is a surprising joy and delight to use. It’s a whole different way of looking at smartphones again. I’m sure Atul wants to know what I did to my beloved Bada phone. I gave it a Wave of goodbye, of course. Heck! I just got inspired and remembered a nice joke must scribble it to Atul right away. Meanwhile Apple, keep banning Samsung. They’ve become too innovative and creative and I wouldn’t be surprised if people want to step out of their iOS cages and stretch their limbs with superbly designed Android experiences. How I wish the battle between Apple and Android was not about market-share, but about freedom.
Am looking for a web-designer to work full-time with me.
You should be young and hard-working, and you wish to work with me because you love design and the web.
Web-Designer (1 or 2 openings)
You’re going to work on some rather exciting projects in:
Web user-interface design
Your Location of Work:
Minimum: a certificate, diploma, or a degree in web-design, graphic-design, fine-arts, or any creative field. Those with a diploma or a certificate must also be a graduate with a degree in any discipline.
What’s Your Experience:
None? One year? Two? Even more? Okay, I’ll let that pass if you have a real kick-ass portfolio.
Ability to author a design in pixels and shapes. Then convert it into a web-page. You should be comfortable in customizing the visual-theme to some extent, of at least one Content Management System, such as WordPress, Drupal, or Joomla.
In addition, you must have:
Sense of design and of what looks good.
A good command over spoken English.
Your written English should be devoid of SMS-spellings, and easily comprehensible.
Your Software Skills
GIMP (or Photoshop): for photo-editing and pixel-imagery.
Inkscape (Or Illustrator, CorelDraw) for arm-twisting those beziers.
HTML, CSS. You should be able to write good, clean markup.
Knowing how to strive for browser-compatibility.
Theme-customization of at least one Content Management System: WordPress, Drupal, or Joomla.
Your Optional Skills That’ll Get You Noticed:
Understanding and use of UI-widgets, like JQuery-UI among others.
Getin’ your feet wet with HTML5, and newer experiments in CSS3.
Designing for mobiles and tablets.
Some familiarity with using Linux, such as Ubuntu for example. Or else, some familiarity with Apple Mac.
Personal or professional interest in any creative skill or discipline. Do mention if you have any.
Some familiarity with Django, or other similar frameworks.
Your own Laptop of any brand. The model should not be more than two-years-old. Must support a resolution of 1280 pixels or higher. These two factors because your laptop should be able to run the latest versions of modern browsers. Candidates with an Apple laptop will have a definite advantage.
Roaming internet datacard. Those with a broadband connection preferred.
Would be good if you have your own vehicle.
If you use GNU/Linux, I’ll buy you the first round of coffee. In Linux, any variation or flavour of Ubuntu or Debian preferred. The release should not be more than two years old.
My Hiring Process
Send me only a PDF-file of your C.V.
In your mail and your PDF, please share links to some samples of your work online. Please don’t send me your portfolio via attachments or even on a disc.
I’ll just glance at your qualifications, experience, and references, but will dive into your portfolio. It is okay to include tutorials and exercises in your portfolio, but I may quiz you on them.
Am looking for a portfolio that shows a decent understanding of HTML-markup, use of CSS, and an ability to convert websketches into markup or themes.
If you do get shortlisted, I’ll call you over for an interview, and if you look promising, you’ll have to sit for a short 30-minute test of your skills. So bring your gear.
If you qualify, I’ll sign you up for an initial probation-period which should lead you up to a renewable annual contract.
I’m looking for a graphic-designer willing to work with me full-time.
You should be young, hard-working, and you wish to work and grow because you love design. You are going to work with me at the cuttin’-edge of design, as we move away from the creative restrictions of the 20th century, into the brave new-world of design and creativity as it unfolds before our eyes in the 21st century. You therefore have to be willing to study and work on your own, learn and grasp new concepts and paradigms, and follow design-trends and analysis.
Graphic Designer ( 1 or 2 openings)
You’re going to work with me on my projects in:
Logo and Branding design
User-Interface design (UX)
Illustrations, info-graphics, and imagery.
Your Location: Delhi.
Minimum: a certificate, diploma, or a degree in design, web-design, graphic-design, or fine-arts. Those with a diploma or a certificate must also be a graduate with a degree in any discipline.
What’s Your Experience:
None? One year? Two? Even more? Okay, I’ll let that pass if you have a real kick-ass portfolio.
Have a fundamental understanding of the four pillars of design, Yes, you will be quizzed, and your portfolio evaluated on these:
In addition, you must have:
A good command over spoken English. Your pronunciation and fluency over English should reflect your refined cultural-background and the polish of your education.
Your written English should be devoid of SMS-spellings, free of grammatical mistakes, and easily comprehensible.
You should be able to handle cursory sub-edits.
Those with a flair for creative-writing will be preferred.
Your Software Skills:
GIMP: for photo-editing and pixel-imagery.
Inkscape: for arm-twisting those beziers.
[Just in case you want to know: rigid, legacy, and proprietary bloatware like Photoshop, Illustrator, InDesign, are so last century. Move on.
Note: It’s okay if your existing skills and portfolio are based around Adobe and/or Corel software. However, I do want to see work you’ve authored that shows you’ve dabbled around, and kicked-some-tyres in Inkscape and GIMP, and optionally the software mentioned below.
Your Optional Skills That’ll Get You Noticed:
Understanding and use of UI-widgets as a designer, like JQuery-UI among others.
Ability to learn how to customize the look-and-feel of any CMS.
Having taken Bluefish-editor or Kompozer out for a spin
Basics of 3D modeling and animation. Familiarity with Blender3D software preferred.
Digital Camera: point-and-shoot would do, but a dSLR camera even if an entry-level model, preferred.
Your own Laptop. Any mainstream brand: Dell, Lenovo, HP, Toshiba, Acer, Sony…, whatever catches your fancy. The model should not be more than two-years-old. Must support a resolution of 1440 pixels or higher. Candidates with an Apple laptop will have a definite advantage, you’re a designer, right?
If you have an Apple laptop, your Mac OS should be an updated Leopard, Snow-Leopard, or Lion.
If you use Windows, your OS should be authorised, updated, and secured.
If you use GNU/Linux, I’ll buy you the first round of coffee. In Linux, any variation or flavour of Ubuntu or Debian preferred. The release should not be more than a year old.
If you don’t have Linux installed on your laptop, you must have it installed before you commence work with me.
Roaming internet datacard. Those with a broadband connection preferred.
Wrist-watch that shows the accurate time. Your internal time-clock should be calibrated to Delhi’s traffic so you stay punctual. Surprising how many ‘five-minute-distances’ in Delhi have slowed down to take 15 to 20 minutes.
Would be good if you have your own vehicle.
Mobile-phone. Ideally, it should be smart enough to do a little more than just voice-calls and SMS.
You should have an interest in gadgets that are impacted by graphic-design. Over time you may have to dabble with iPads, iPhone apps, Android-tablets, eBook readers, higher-end smartphones, and whatever else blends with culture and technology.
My Hiring Process
Send me only a PDF-file of your C.V. Please note if you have your C.V. authored as a *.doc file, then you must convert it to PDF before sending it to me. A filter in my mailbox will delete your *.doc file and your application will be automatically rejected.
In your mail and your PDF, please share links to your online portfolio. Please don’t send me your portfolio via attachments or even on a disc. If you don’t yet have your portfolio online, this job is naturally not for you.
I’ll just glance at your qualifications, experience, and references, but go with a toothcomb through your portfolio. Tutorials and exercises are okay, but for artworks and design authored by you, will check your work for plagiarism. Yes, when I say I want sincere and genuine people who have a love for design, I mean it.
Am looking for a portfolio that shows a high-level of creativity and innovation, shows your ability to solve design problems, and resonates with your sense of aesthetics and design.
If you do get shortlisted, I’ll call you over for an interview, and if you look promising, you’ll have to sit for a short 30-minute test of your skills. So bring your gear.
If you qualify, I’ll sign you up for an initial probation-period which should lead you up to an initial 6-month contract.
So Why Is My Website Looking So Tattered?
Get hired. There are dozens of projects to complete.
This one is just one of them.
Saturday-afternoons in Delhi are beautiful in January, especially with the golden sunshine of winters, and less traffic. So, like on most lazy Saturday afternoons, took my six-year-old on a trip to his library in my car. The distance from Greater Kailash 2 to his library in South Extension is six kilometres (3.7 miles). As we neared our destination, my heart sank to see a total jam at the entrance to the South Ex market. Hmmm! Must be the result of the winter-sale season, I wondered. Cars spilled out from the jammed parking lots onto the Ring-Road. Yes, there were cars on the Ring-Road, waiting in queue with engines switched off. Helpless traffic-cops just stood by. I waited for ten minutes, but saw not a car move even far into the parking-lot.
I’m Feeling Lucky
“Let’s do something crazy and inspiring” I told my six-year-old. I pulled out of the queue, and drove all the way to Nehru Place, which is about six kilometres away (3.7 miles), carefully noticing I could find not a single parking-spot on this entire route. Parked my car in the lot of The Delhi Metro Station, which was also nearly full. The assistant informed me today was a lucky day as there were less cars due to the weekend. In Delhi, It’s not unusual to hand over your keys to the attendant so he may keep shuffling your car around in the driveways of an overflowing parking-lot. I didn’t have to today.
Nehru-Place is the nearest metro-station from my home, and Moolchand is the closest station to South-Extension on the violet-line. I bought two metro tickets from Nehru-Place to Moolchand, for Rs 20 (43 cents). The distance from Moolchand to South-Extension is about 1.5 kilometres (0.93 miles). I could have easily walked this last mile, but not in Delhi’s pollution and noise, and certainly not with a six-year-old. Please search the web to discover the alarming levels of Delhi’s air-pollution, and how Delhi records the highest cases of respiratory diseases and infections in its population. So I decided to catch an auto-rickshaw for this short distance. He charged me Rs 40 (87 cents). Wow!
Anyways, business done in South-Extension, we walked back to the Ring-Road, and this time I decided to catch a bus to the Moolchand Metro station. A spanking new Redline Bus came by, and we hopped abroad. This was my first trip on these new buses. The conductor charged us Rs 50 (USD 1.08) for this short ride. That’s more than what the auto-rickshaw charged me, and that too for an even shorter distance as we had to take no U-turn on this route. Lesson learned. Next time, I’ll try the green-line.
The bus dropped us at a bus-stop about 400 metres away from the metro-station, and we carefully walked our way through the Moochand crossing with its dangerous and bewildering BRT crossings. Another set of metro-tickets for Rs 20 (43 cents) got us back to Nehru-Place, where I paid another Rs 10 (21 cents) for the car-parking. Then spent another ten minutes in the traffic to get back home.
I spent Rs 140 (USD 3.04) for a return-journey for two by public-transport, for about 12 kilometres total, that took a total-time of 90 minutes of commuting, including walking and waiting. Rupees 140 is high, even by Delhi’s mad and neurotic standards. I don’t know whether for the same amount I could have covered this round-trip by auto-rickshaws. For that kind of money, my auto-rickshaw driver quipped, I could buy bus-tickets for two from the Inter-State Bus Terminus (ISBT) to head out far into the countryside.
On such days, maybe I could have my driver drop me at South-Extension, find parking in a two kilometre radius, or else drive back home, and in either case wait for me to call him over his mobile-phone to pick me up. Sinful.
I do want to switch to public-transport. That’s what I use when I travel anywhere else in the world. And Delhi’s metro service is indeed impressive, as is the redline-bus. Am eager to see better solutions emerge for this route and other short but equally congested distances near me. Let’s see. Oh! And by the way, must confess I did have quite a lot of fun doing this today. Expect to see me hop on-board the metro and even the red-line buses more frequently.
Realistic paper-textures! They look so cool in the background of sophisticated website designs, mobile-applications, desktops, in brochures and print-production design, and for interesting user-interface design. Better than using just a plain white background, or a background with black-to-white gradients that often remind me of retro-1980s design. I prefer realistic-looking paper that is subtle, and use it with sensitivity to draw a viewer’s attention to the content.
GIMP is a free and powerful alternative to Photoshop software. When I say ‘free’, I mean muft and mukt. GIMP is available for Windows, Macintosh, Linux, from http://www.gimp.org/downloads/ so get your copy and let’s get started.
Step 1: Launch GIMP, and select File-menu > New. Choose the height and width of your paper in pixels, and press ‘OK’.
Step 2: Select Filters-menu > Noise… and choose ‘RGB Noise’. Apart from ‘Preview’ make sure all other check-boxes are unchecked.
Step 3: Do you want your paper to be smooth, or would you like to have a texture that’s tad stronger? Take your pick as you slide the tab on ‘Red’ ‘Green’ or ‘Blue’ between 0.20 to 0.69. Do notice how all three values move in tandem. Check out the preview which may show granular dots increase or decrease in density. I prefer values between 0.20 to 0.32. Once you find a pattern to your taste, click ‘OK’.
Step 4: Go to Image-menu > Mode > Grayscale. This one step will make the dots appear more textured, and shrink your file to one-third its size in kilobytes or megabytes, which is a good thing.
Step 5: Go to Filters-menu > Blur > Gaussian Blur. Choose a value between 3 and 9 on the slider below. Check out the ‘Preview’ to see what suits your taste, and click ‘OK. You’re done. If required, you may re-apply Gaussian Blur with a different value, for an even smoother finish.
Save your file in the format of your choice, and you’re done.
Use the Color-menu > Brightness-Contrast slider to set the tonality of your paper.
I use the muft and mukt illustration-design software, Inkscape, for authoring user-interface designs. You may find it for free download and use for your platform here: http://inkscape.org/
Import your paper-texture into Inkscape, then draw your interface elements over it using Inkscape’s tools.
Hope you find this quick tutorial useful. It’s a Christmas gift for a client.
I just bought myself a Samsung Wave mobile, a stunningly beautiful phone with engineering that’s even more delightful. I had my wallet out of my pocket, seconds away from buying a Nokia E72, when I spotted the Samsung Wave. Wallet back in my pocket, went home to research if the Wave is as promising as it looks, or should I look for a third option. First stop, the reliable review-aggregator website alatest.com that showed both the Nokia E72 and the Wave were equally matched. Next stop, YouTube, where I checked reviews and hands-on demos by geeks and reviewers. Then I went through the official website, and then scoured through the Samsung Apps website to check for available software for the smartphone: samsungapps.com. The underlying platform, called Bada, is indeed open-source and totally rocks.
Wave Goodbye to Nokia
My only worry though, was how to transfer my contacts and calendar from my old and battered Nokia E61i, to the new Wave. For the record, I use Ubuntu Linux 9.04 on my MacBookPro laptop, which also has Mac OS X installed separately on the hard-disk. No Microsoft Windows on my machine. The Wave ships with a software called ‘Kiet’ that syncs contacts between the mobile and MS Outlook which obviously only runs under Windows. Digging deeper I discovered FoneSync, a Euro 19.95 utility from Nova Software that syncs the Wave with the address book and the calendar of Mac OS X. A few users’ comments elsewhere on the web alluded to some bugs and issues with it. Hmmm. No support or software or hack for Ubuntu Linux users. Time to shift to the cloud.
First, I used a free plug-in for iSync under Mac OS X, that syncs contacts and calendars between the Nokia E61i and the Mac OS X. Once I got the data into my laptop, I then opened the Address Book of the Mac, and exported all my contacts into a single file, once as a *.abbu file, and again as a *.vcf file which is a vCard file. Similarly, I exported all my calendar events as an *.icf file.
Booted into Ubuntu Linux and imported these into Evolution, which is a free, muft-and-mukt alternative to MS Outlook for Linux users. Now I could happily deposit the E61i in the new ‘ecology-recycle’ bins dotting every good mobile-store in Delhi. If you have old mobile power-adaptors and phones, please do consider depositing them here rather than throw them away with regular trash. Anyways, back to the cloud-sync.
I then opened my Gmail account, clicked on the ‘Contacts’ link in the left-pane, and then clicked on ‘Import…’ to pull in all my contacts into Gmail. Similarly, imported all my calender-events into Gmail’s Calendar. So now, apart from backups on my Mac OS X and Ubuntu Linux partitions, I also have my mobile data backed up in the cloud. I can connect into it from anywhere and sync any of my devices whenever I wish.
Finally, on the Samsung Wave, here are the steps to follow:
1. Press the main-menu button to display all your software and applications.
2. Press the ‘My Accounts’ icon.
3. Press [Exchange ActiveSync]
4. Type your email ID “firstname.lastname@example.org”
5. User name will appear as “xyz”
6. Type your password
7. DO NOT enter anything in domain field.
8. Press [Done] and let it process
9. Type “m.google.com” for server URL
10. Enable “Use SSL”
11. Press [Set]
12. There you go, select anything which you want to sync.
I’ve compiled these steps from the helpful info provided here: http://www.google.td/support/forum/p/Google+Mobile/thread?tid=1b80c29b961dfa61&hl=en
This obviously assumes you’ve got internet-access activated on your mobile-account, or else have access via Wi-Fi.
Cleverly enough, the Samsung Wave links multiple records of the same person into one consolidated entry in the phone’s address book.
Plus, for the first time, I can see just how hyper-connected I’ve become: click on a contact’s name and view all calls, sms-messages, facebook messages, tweets, direct-messages on twitter, emails, and IM chats, in just one place.
The Samsung Wave GT S8500 is a great phone. I especially love it’s voice-quality and ability to hold on to weak signals. My ears feel better since I’ve switched. And of course, the touch-screen experience on a vibrant AMOLED screen is sensational. It’s 5 MP camera, and HD-Video capture is impressive. A built-in video-edit software can also add captions to video-segments, and an optional cable outputs to a TV. Everyone, from little children, grandmas, Blackberry-enthusiasts, iPhone-users, to uber-geeks I’ve shown the phone, appreciates the beauty and design of this phone. The only thing that beats it currently, is the Samsung Galaxy, and the newer and newer models of top-end Android smartphones, which of course, cost a great deal more.
Sometimes, late into the night when I enter my bedroom, I find it plunged pitch-black in total darkness. The experience is rather delightful. The sense of space suddenly disappears. I don’t know what’s ahead, above, sideways, or below. I just know I am there but I can’t see anything about myself either. From within my body I can feel my hands and limbs moving without being able to see them move, and I bring all my attention to my movements, warily observing if I touch, bump, or brush against something in this abyss.
The only orientation I can deduce initially, is the sense of my standing upright, thanks to the constant pull of gravity I feel through the soles of my feet and across the various postures of my body. If I don’t feel my head being pulled down and my entire body pushing it further down behind it, then I must not be falling down. It’s really that simple.
I pause to appreciate all the vibrant colors that cover every surface in my bedroom are no longer available to my brain to recognize. The color-cones within my eyes capture nothing. The subtle play of lights and shadows, which helps my mind perceive depth and distance around me is also gone. The rods within my eyes capture no ‘concurrent monotone textures’ with which I understand 3D and spatial distances. In fact, there is not even enough ambient light for me to at least see objects where ‘color constancy’ has drained all sense of color from their surfaces. Finally, I can’t even see any sillhouettes of my bed, chairs, tables, jutting into the darkness. My mind cognizes no shapes. As I said, it’s all pitch-black.
Well, nearly. The only things my eyes see, are pinpoints of three to four lights. These are the standby lights emitting from the LEDs of my gear. The TV’s red-colored standby light. The Home Theater System’s standby Red light, the TV set-top box’s amber-green light. Up above on the side, the AC unit’s neon-blue light, and in another area, a larger red-dot from the AC’s stabilizer. All these small dots of colored light, look like starlight to my mind depraved of all sense of dimension and space. Interestingly, the color from these LED dots, is sensed by the cones in my eyes, and apart from each one’s inherent shape as a dot or a small-circle, my brain picks up no other shape. As far as my mind is concerned, these could be star-light that travelled millions of years ago, from exotic stars, millions of light-years away on a night horizon.
Within a few moments, I marvel at how my mind auto-magically rummages through its couldron of experiences and memories, of how it has cognized the room’s dimensions and spaces during normal daylight or artificial light moments. My mind draws a mental map as it were, of the entire room, and overlaps it in 3D over those pinpoints of LED lights. It then orients my position, and lets me ‘know’ I am five steps to the right of my bed, after I make a subtle swaying movement to dodge a table-edge jutting out on the right. I thus navigate myself through various obstacles, literally on an invisible path, safely to my bed, using nothing but nearly dimensionless points of light.
As I rest my head on my pillow, I always wonder at the ancient antecedents of this algorithm in my mind. It must be buried somewhere, deep in our collective consciousness, used by ancient travellers navigating their way across the shifting and rolling landscapes of deserts or vast oceans, using nothing but stars to point them to their destinations. Thankfully, no ancient traveller lived for hundreds of thousands of years to observe the gradual shifting of the night-horizon. Thus, those stars were the most permanent navigation points, in an impermanent and ever-changing land or seascape. But, the ‘LED stars’ in my bedroom can be hacked. If someone were to move my gear around a bit, and I were to enter the room without prior knowledge of this, would I stumble through the room? With each bump and knock, how hastily would my mind create a new version of object-placement and my orientation in the room?
As I slowly drift into the inner darkness of sleep, I can only wonder: The accuracy of the mind’s navigation-map has to be sensitively appreciated as well. To test it, I have often shut my eyes tight and moved through the physical space in my room, guided only by the mental space conjured by the mind. It works flawlessly. Static shape dissolves into fluid motion, and the pillow under my head reminds the mind to unravel and repose in its secrets far away from my conscious self.
‘Flight’ is a music-track I composed, arranged, mixed and produced in 2007. The music emerged towards the end of an intense three years of active meditations. ‘Flight’ is authored using 100% Free and OpenSource Software (FOSS). More specifically, used a Linux-based OS, called UbuntuStudio.
Excerpts from ‘Flight’ were later used as background music for a short-film published from Los Angeles. Was even more thrilled when I also got paid for it. 🙂
You are encouraged to download, share, mix, re-mix, and have fun with ‘Flight’ for commercial or non-commercial purposes, provided you respect its copyright and creative-commons license, which is cc-by-sa-2.5 india. Here is a simple-to-understand version of this specific CreativeCommons license.
In 2007, Was also invited to conduct a small workshop on ‘Digital Sound’ at a leading national FOSS event, called freed.in. You may view a blurry picture of UbuntuStudio with a sound software. Then in 2008, was invited to another National FOSS event, called FOSSMEET at NITC in Calicut, where I delivered a talk “How to design sound, compose music, and master your album.” Ended the talk with ‘Flight’ which received a huge ovation, and hours after the talk the participants lingered around and discussed all things from music to FOSS. That was quite an experience. You may view a photo of the audio, sound, and music talk at fossmeet here. Finally, on 28 March 2010, I released ‘Flight’ at the CreativeCommons Salon event held in Delhi. Discover more about this event on twitter using the id ‘ccsdel’.
Flight into Jamendo
‘Flight’ is published on Jamendo.org, a wonderful website for musicians and music-lovers who wish to share muft and mukt music. This is my first album published here. Within a few days will also publish another album of dance-music composed more recently. Discover my artist page at Niyam on Jamendo where I intend to publish even more tracks and albums over the coming months. You may also soon find me dabbling at ccmixter.org.
Soaring with Freedom
All the sounds you hear have been designed in a software-synth with quite a tongue-twister of a name: ZynAddSubFX. This software-synth was plugged into a software that handles virtually unlimited multi-track recording. Called ardour, it is more specifically, a Digital Audio Workstation (DAW). Even more interesting is how almost all the sound-based software plug into one another under UbuntuStudio. Mimicking the coils of cables, plugs, and connectors found in a real-world sound-studio, is a software sound-patch, called Jack Audio Connection Kit. A lot of sound-effects and the pre and post-processing of sound were handled using myriad sound-FX plug-ins, from LADSPA. You may find thousands of free sound-effects from LADSPA. The final and minor tweaks and exports were handled in the audio-editing software Audacity.
In October 2006, also published an entire album of sound-field recordings made in the middle of the night and at dawn, in remote mountains while living in a stone-cottage next to a stream. Thousands of people have downloaded the audio-files from this album, a few have re-mixed these in their works, and some I know held a group-meditation based around the album. You may discover the sound-field recordings at Niyam on freesound.org. Plus, discover some drum-loops published around the same time creativedot though the site seems to go down every once in a while.
Stay tuned for more sound and music, especially since I love authoring in diverse genres.
Mobile-Towers May Be Endangering Species of Birds Across India and Threatening Bees.
How do you poach customers in a battle for survival and marketshare? An Indian mobile-telephony company, Aircel, may have hit upon a new idea for big-game hunting. Aircel has partnered with the World Wildlife Fund (WWF) India, in a strategic campaign to save the declining population of tigers in India. Why save half a paisa on talk-time, when you can go save a tiger? You may join the initiative here: www.saveourtigers.com
In one leap, the company has earned good karma points by creating a growing social-buzz around its campaign in new-media such as facebook, twitter, and online blogs, and most importantly, by generating market-conversations around its brand. City-wide hoardings, and ads in traditional media are further fueling their buzz. Suddenly, people are emotionally-charged and galvanized, and funds and support are pouring in to save the tiger. This is Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) at its best. I wish every corporate in India feels inspired to devote a huge chunk of their marketing funds and warfare at similar causes that matter to us.
Save Our Birds and Bees
But who will save species of birds and even bees endangered by the harmful radiation emitted by mobile cell-towers? According to several media reports, the ElectroMagnetic Radiation (EMR) from cell-towers can damage eggs and embryos of birds, and may have caused the rapidly-declining numbers in the bird-population across regions. “It’s almost like being microwaved”, says a researcher involved with the study on the impact of EMR from these towers.
Here’s a report from the Times of India from 3 October 2008, on various researchers that seem to concur on their findings: http://bit.ly/CellTwrBirds
Another report, carried by AFP and published at PhysOrg, mentions the deadly impact of EMR on the population of bees in India: http://bit.ly/CellTwrBees
We must save tigers. But we must also save these birds and bees. Even if it means the cell-tower as we know it has to become extinct. Smarter Corporate Social Responsibility, not just from Aircel, but any other corporate, should urgently address this issue. As an individual, you can generate enough buzz around this issue to galvanize the powers-that-be to take positive and affirmative action. You can buzz about bees on blogs, chirp about birds on twitter, and use the power of the social-web to make all mobile-telephony companies wake up to the call of our winged living beings.
The first mobile-telephony company to take on this urgent cause will unleash a brilliant marketing strategy that will not only save these precious species, but also improve the current technologies used in mobile telephony to make them safer. Oh! And along the way, poach millions of customers away from its rivals. Now that is predator-thinking.