Design vs. Art.

I’ve been trying to explain the difference between these two things (design and art) for, oh, about 20 years, but Joshua Porter does it way better and more simply than anyone else I’ve seen. The differences are perhaps not as stark as Porter desires but his point, that design is about usability and art is about expression (political, social, psychic), rings.
In case you’re skeptical, here’s the firstmost of his Five Principles to Design By (and I really recommend reading the rest):

Technology Serves Humans.
Too often people blame themselves for the shortcomings of technology. When their computer crashes, they say “I must have done something dumb”. If a web site is poorly designed, they say “I must be stupid. I can’t find it”. They might even turn to a book for Dummies to get it right.
This is horrible! People should never feel like a failure when using technology. Like the customer, the user is always right. If software crashes, it is the software designer’s fault. If someone can’t find something on a web site, it is the web designer’s fault. This doesn’t mean that the designer has to hang their head in shame…they should see this as a learning opportunity! The big difference between good and bad designers is how they handle people struggling with their design.
Technology serves humans. Humans do not serve technology.


I was speaking with a client today and talking about blogs. I was explaining to her that smaller blogs today tend to cover less globally-relevant information while the mass-media continues to cover mass-relevant news, “like Boris Yeltsin.”
I don’t know why I mentioned even Yeltsin to her. It came out of nowhere. I hadn’t listened to the news all day. (I’m on a morning news fast.) I’m neither a huge fan of his nor do I think about him regularly. I sure hope I wasn’t the cause of it all.


It only took over a year of (part-time) work, but I’m thrilled to announce that MANOVERBOARD is redesigned, revised, and renewed.
It was a huge ordeal because designing for oneself is a bit like being a psychoanalyst trying to gain insight into one’s own parents’ dysfunctions. I spent hours and hours anxiously thinking about what kind of company I wanted to project, what kind of voice the content should produce, and which clients to feature and how. Because the site has to appeal in equal parts me and the universe of potential clients, I sweated and squirmed my way through nearly every stage of the design and the content development. I spent a few mornings at various non-wireless coffee shops, getting away from email and folders full of projects, so that I could write simply and simply write. I came up with at least six potential designs for the new site. Some of them sucked a lot. Others were so good that I almost ended up using them, though I’m thankful I did not.
The resulting website forced me to really think through some of my core beliefs about design. They are as follows:

  • Create a beautiful container. I learned this when I designed the Barneys New York site a few years ago. There was no need for me to emphasize the decorative, the typographic, the obscure, the bizarre, or the visual form. I knew that Barneys would consistently present beautiful, unusual, and striking product and editorial imagery. My job was to create a gorgeous frame that could showcase the company’s photography and then get the hell out of the way.
  • It’s not about you/me. Too often, designers work hard to over-represent themselves and their cleverness in their designs for clients. Some clients might appreciate this but I suspect those that do will probably fail. A designers’ responsibility is to present his or her clients’ work in the best of many possible lights. If, coincidentally, the designer gains kudos for their work, that’s nice. But the focus of the design should always be the client—and their customers.
  • Everyone is equal. I’m a huge fan of Web accessibility and I feel it’s my responsibility as an educated designer to make sure that most of my clients’ content is accessible to most people. I know I can’t always do this, despite my best attempts. But keeping accessibility in mind in designing sites makes me feel that I, in a small way, am contributing to the democraticization of information online.
  • Make it easy. Too many websites, even today, ten years after the commercial Web’s birth and growth, are hard to use. It’s sad, really. Bad technical practices, lack of foresight, and plain old laziness on the part of designers and developers make the Web a sometimes overly complicated experience for the average Joe. When designing, I always try to get in the head of a potential visitor to a site; I know I don’t always succeed but I have a brilliant colleague that can set me straight when I stray from the path. Making it easy for visitors means, to me, making potential visitors’ lives just a little bit easier.

Extra special thanks to Michael Barrish for helping with every phase of the site’s design and development, including producing the stellar CSS code and markup.


My friend Danny Schur, an award-winning musician and playright, is rapidly preparing for the next stage of his Strike – The Musical about the Winnipeg General Strike and the riots and deportations that took place here in May of 1919. (A CBC Radio Concert Special will be recorded on May 15th, the 88th anniversary of the event.) The music is, well, striking—and powerful. O’Reilly’s Song is shown below.


I got the new Grinderman (aka Nick Cave and a new band) and it’s good, but also sad.
I saw Nick Cave in concert in Providence, RI, around 1988, and then again in Boston a few months later. He was incredible then. Just fresh off the Your Funeral, My Trial trail and with a band that included the inimitable Blixa Bargeld on guitar and the brilliant Mick Harvey, the shows were positively electric. Lights blinked on and off, red and yellow and white, pounding drums. Nick Cave commanded the fucking stage, his slicked back hair and lit cigarette flying everwhere. Girls were going mad at these concerts for him and the guys I knew would just die to be him, even for a day. He built his entire character on the backs of Johnny Cash, Leonard Cohen, William Blake, James Dean and a hundred other romantics, Nick Cave in his thin, black suits and ties just rocked.
Can you tell that I adored him and the Bad Seeds? I did. He told the dirty truth about a dirty world and a dirty mind and, for someone with a poetically romantic bent, Nick Cave bent sinister.
I lived in London in 1990 and I, somehow, got tickets to see him there. That was a truly remarkable concert, part of his The Good Son tour.
Now, with Grinderman, Cave looks old. His eyes are sunken, his hair is thin, his wrinkles are pronounced. He looks like hell – the tobacco and drugs and drink evidently haven taken their toll. And the new songs are desparate, dispairing, grotesque even. One song, “No Pussy Blues,” is particularly impactful. There’s a bad interview with Cave in Salon that’s worth reading, if, for nothing else, getting a sense of where the guy is at, currently (but don’t listen to the young, naive interviewer make a fool of himself in front of Cave on the podcast). Here’s an excerpt:

Look, when I’m alone and writing there are all sorts of influences — feminine and masculine influences, memories and ghosts of the past, all that stuff — having an impact on what I write. With Grinderman, most of it, I’m stuck in a room with four guys in the middle of a fucking monumental midlife crisis. It’s a male thing. It’s an old man kind of thing. I think there’s really something kind of hysterical in the music that’s a reflection of that.

Look, Nick Cave is old. He’s the musical acknowledgement of our age.
Postscript. Found on YouTube:

The Moon.

I wanted to write up a post about how I think Microsoft is completely wiped out because no one is interested in Vista, no one wants to use Microsoft Office anymore unless they have to, no one likes Internet Explorer too much, etc. But then Paul Graham beat me to it with his Microsoft is Dead.
Oh well. I’ve been even more powerfully interested in tides. Tides. According to my source, the moon controls the rising and falling of the water on the surface of the earth. Yes, the moon. The moon! I’m saying, “the moon.” That huge-ass object in the sky that smiles cruelly down on us, its bone white teeth shining on some occasions, then disappearing behind our own bright shadow on others. The moon controls the water surrounding us. Inevitably, it must control us, subtly, sometimes mechanically, sometimes with fierce command. The moon. The Moon. How come we’re not all worshipping the moon?
The moon.

Pesach, First.

I spent almost two hours today shopping for Passover foods. First, I went to Sobey’s, which being located in a relatively Jewish neighborhood here, and they had some things I needed—overly expensive macaroons, matzo, matzo ball mix. Then it was on to Safeway, which had a nicer display of Passover fare. And then I found some dill, horseradish, and parsley, all key ingredients for a dinner. Granted, I was shopping late, but the selection wasn’t there and it was hard to find all of traditional Pesach foods I really wanted. I left the supermarkets feeling oddly down, as if my new home couldn’t sustain me Jewishly. This city isn’t Brooklyn.
Then I talked with my friend, M.B., who kindly reminded me that there’s only one Brooklyn and that the vast majority of people who celebrate Passover scrape it all together and just celebrate the holiday, wherever and however. And then he said something that I just only figured out, “The whole holiday is about making it work,” or something like that, and he’s right, of course. This was a huge gift to me.
Passover is about the celebration of human freedom, the liberation of the spirit, and the beauty of the bountiful that surrounds us. It’s a holiday about the redemption of Jews from slavery and, amazingly, it’s suffused with the sadness of G-d’s reign of terror upon the Jews’ masters.
I’m sorry I took for granted the incredible bounty surrounding me, here, in Western Canada. An embarassment, of riches.
One of the final passages of the Haggadah, the book read during Passover, is this: “On this Seder night, when we pray for freedom, we invoke the memory of the beloved Elijah. May his spirit enter our home at this hour, and every home, bringing a message of hope for the future, faith in the goodness of man, and the assurance that freedom will come to all.”