Pixels to Pronouncements

Quick Read: Pixels – the building blocks of our digital edifices – could be assuming an influence of mammoth proportions across verticals. For e.g., an interesting wave of ‘virtual dressers’ is catching the fashion world by storm.

30 Rock..

..or 30 Rockefeller Plaza is a skyscraper that forms the centrepiece of Rockefeller Center in Midtown Manhattan, New York City. When walking by its Sixth Avenue entrance one might find something curious. It has four sculptures – bas reliefs, carved in stone by Gaston Lachaise, an American sculptor  – placed all the way up on the third floor.

One might ask, “What are they doing all the way up there?”

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Sixth Avenue Entrance of 30 RCA Building. Source

The answer is that when Rockefeller Center was built, the elevated train still ran up Sixth Avenue. The Lachaise reliefs were placed so these ‘El riders’ passing through the station could see them.

This happens all around us. 

When real estate is at a premium – from facades of iconic buildings to the shelf space in our neighbourhood grocery stores – one can make an entire career out of optimising the design/layout of the underlying physical space for our attention, so it delivers on its intended ‘return on placement’.

These days it could almost be trite to state that it is actually the ‘digital real estate space’ that arguably commands a greater premium vs that of any physical space. And the job of the UX/UI designer thereby becomes one of the most influential (and in my opinion – one of most fulfilling) roles in Product Dev/ Management. In fact, the ‘pixels that they design’ essentially become the gateways to digital products/services shaping the user experience for millions of us around the world. No wonder great UX/UI designers are in great demand.

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And never is the product designer’s* significance more evident than in the current Covid times when the design/layout of an app could be a true window into its product’s soul. (*’product designer’ as a catch all phrase for all design functions in the service of a product) 

For e.g,. given these unprecedented times, how does a product balance its rational (product/services) promise with that of its emotional (empathy/sensitivity) narrative? What are its core values and beliefs and how does the product reconcile it with its commercial underpinnings – its core reason for existence?

Check out a highly recommended read here on this very topic. Post reading it, one could even be tempted to take a walk down one’s playground of pixels (a.k.a one’s apps on their phone) to try and infer those subtle truths that govern their design.

These days, pixels don’t just make for subtle commentary, but also influential pronouncements impacting the zeitgeist of the times.

When pixels become fashion pronouncements

In what now feels like a different meta verse, human beings used to gawk at outfits on the streets or ogle at chic strangers’ coats to see what new brands/designs/designers people are into while designers used to organise their new expositions through coveted fashion shows and had hordes of fans waiting in lines for their exclusive pop up sales. Well now (or rather here in this current meta verse of social distancing) some designers have still been able to do this and more.

For e.g., on a recent weekend, the fashion designer Sandy Liang held an extremely exclusive pop-up sale. Only six people were allowed in at a time, with attendees (the list that swelled to almost 100 people at one point) waiting in line for over two hours.

Before you panic about the potential social distancing violations involved, know that this sale took place on a completely virtual plane: an island in the video game Animal Crossing.

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Enter a captionScene from Sandy Liang’s Animal Crossing pop-up. Source

For the uninitiated, a quick crash course on Animal Crossing below:

With the Nintendo game Animal Crossing: New Horizons, players can customize their looks to show off outfits that reflect their personal style, something that piqued the interests of fashion enthusiasts playing the game, who quickly began designing custom looks that riffed on the trendy designers of the moment. Coupled with social distancing and less opportunities to show off fits in-person, it’s created an unorthodox, but amazing opportunity for Animal Crossing users to show off their outfits — so much so that many real-life fashion designers are creating official clothing codes so users can cop designs from their latest collections.

–Time

Today there are entire Instagram communities centered around Animal Crossing fashion. Marc Jacobs even created his virtual fashion line available for gamers through codes.

And if I’ve run out of style codes or ideas, there are even virtual stores like nookazon (a fan built enterprise) where I can buy clothing for in-game characters. And we have not even scratched the surface of this trend of fashion-conscious people using the game as a platform for style expression by dressing their avatars in pixelated versions of clothes by Gucci, Celine, Supreme and more.

For many, it could even look like Animal Crossing is the only place where people seem to get dressed up for now. Clearly ‘pixels’ seem to have become our canvas for self expression like never before.

Could this change the way fashion works forever?

[Featured Image: Animal Crossing illustration on The Washington Post]

Soundscapes And Sonic Tapestries: Part 1/2

See: Visualize :: Hear: (?)

Can you believe that there is officially no word in the English language that can encapsulate this? Doesn’t exactly do justice to our ability to invoke our mind’s ear to identify, create, re-create and remix sounds and thereby trigger emotions, memories and associations within us. No wonder, the aural realm remains an under exploited, and in some cases, under appreciated dimension to inform and enrich our perceptual experience. Take two of our most common habitats:

(1) Our Constructed Spaces (Architecture)  

So far the practice and purpose of architecture was anchored by the ‘eye’ and for the ‘eye’. Ears – apparently – were compelled to take a back seat and thereby had limited influence over design decisions (unless we speak about amphitheaters). Result –  offices, schools, homes, malls, restaurants and the list goes on, that are so poorly designed so much so that they actually do us more harm than any possible good! Not entirely convinced? See this TED video by Julian Treasure:

(2) Nature  

There was a time when wild soundscapes were considered just some exotic/charming artifacts of nature. But as it turns out,every habitat is believed to have its own unique sound signature – a sonic tapestry that can potentially convey an incredible amount of information about the present state and the future fate of any given place/habitat.

First a quick dose of general knowledge. A soundscape is made up of three basic sources:

  1. Geophony: these are non-biological sounds that occur in any given habitat, e.g., wind, water, waves etc.
  2. Biophony: these are sounds  generated by organisms in a given habitat at a given time and place.
  3. Anthrophony: these are sounds that we humans generate. e.g., our music, noise from machinery, automobiles etc.

So at any given point in time and place, anything that we hear is composed of these three kinds of sounds, and can be graphically represented in a Spectrogram – a graphic illustration of sound with time represented from left to right and sound frequencies represented from the bottom to the top, lowest to highest.

In an incredibly ‘earopening’ TED talk that is insightful, shocking, profound, inspiring and immensely thought provoking, Bernie Krause – a natural sounds expert –  proves that while a picture may be worth 1,000 words, a soundscape is worth 1,000 pictures. If there is one TED video that you need to see this week, let this one be the one – a must see:

In many ways these two talks could be said to be a call to action for us to resist our ‘natural’ instinct of zoning out most of the sound that reaches our ears and to start appreciating our faculty of hearing for how it can enrich our perceptual experience.

On a related note, let me submit my following hypothesis:

I started off by saying that in the English language we don’t seem to be having a word that can effortlessly fit in the following context

See: Visualize :: Hear: (?)

My guess would be that there might be some language out there (Chinese? Japanese? Korean? etc) that might have just the apt word for it. If so, my hypothesis would be that, such a country/culture must be having sonically richer traditions, must be producing relatively higher number of music prodigies and must be having general public with greater appreciation of sound and our faculty of hearing. And as an extension, I would also risk a bet that people from such a culture would also be adept at living in the now and here and appreciating everything about it.

Does your language have a word for this?

To Be Continued…

(Featured Image, Source)