Introducing Portwiture: Your Twitter status, in photos

portwiture_mascotTwitter (a mass-messaging service) and Flickr (a photo-sharing community) are both stunning examples of audience-powered communication. One thing they both have in common: open APIs.

I hadn’t experimented yet with either interface, so I thought to myself: “Why not try both at once?”

The result is Portwiture, a little jQuery-powered web app that finds and displays Flickr photos based on the most common words in your last twenty tweets.

Typically I start my projects with a problem to solve. Portwiture is the product of a more artistic temperament, created out of the simple desire to see what would happen.

So go see what happens, and let me know what should happen next on the UserVoice forum or in the comments. Dig it!

Ron Asheton and the Birth of Punk

I love punk rock, but not unconditionally. Despite my passion for British rock, my punk tastes are extremely American and far-removed from the bands of today who, however erroneously, bare the same label (I’m looking at you, Fall Out Boy and My Chemical Romance).

For me, the spirit of punk rock was born as early as 1964, the year that gave us both the gnarly, slashed-amp sounds of The Kinks’ “You Really Got Me” and the guitar feedback opener in The Beatles’ “I Feel Fine.” The vibe was amplified the following year when the Velvet Underground hit smarter ears like a hypnotic, rhythm-and-blues subway train from Hell. But if Velvet Underground poured the gasoline on punk, it took the Stooges to set it ablaze.

Rest in Peace Ron Asheton (guitarist from The Stooges)It’s no accident that the Sex Pistols incorporated The Stooges’ “No Fun” into their set. The Stooges are punk. Irreverent, evocative, modern, dangerous punk. This is Bauhaus rock; only the most communicative elements are retained. In spite of their deliberately minimalist arrangements, the band grew tremendously from 1969’s self-titled debut to the more gut-wrenching, no-holds-barred approach of Fun House (1970). But it would be 1973’s Raw Power which would leave the greatest abrasion, distilling the band’s sound into a product free of compromise and influence; it remains the purest statement of the group’s aural impact.

Iggy receives and will continue to receive a more pronounced percentage of the Stooges’ belated celebrity, and with good reason. As frontman, Iggy is less a vocalist than an absolute force-of-nature. But guitarist Ron Asheton’s importance cannot be over-estimated—his guitar gave the Stooges their mystique. Classic riffs in “I Wanna Be Your Dog,”  “T.V. Eye” and many others established hooks from which the audience could accept the band’s otherwise abrasive stimuli. His playing was rhythmic, his arrangements hypnotic, and his influence on punk is arguably even greater than that of his bandmates.

Ron Asheton died on Tuesday from what appear to be natural causes, but his music will continue to be the anthem for every kid growing up artier than conservatives yet angrier than hippies.

I’ve been hurt And I don’t care Cause I’m burning inside I’m just a dreaming this life And do you feel it? Said do you feel it when you touch me?

From “Dirt,” off the Stooges’ Fun House

Logos and lighthouses

lighthouseThe term “logo design” has become passé. Contrary to my repeated use of the phrase, I’m well aware of this fact. I’m even confident enough to believe I understand it.

Logo design fell out of fashion because of the popularization of the concept of brand. According to Wikipedia, “brand is a collection of symbols, experiences and associations connected with a product, a service, a person or any other artefact or entity.”

Brand is compelling because it goes beyond the aesthetics and purely visual symbolism of The Logo; it represents the far more important (and more mysterious) issue of audience perception. Entire companies can cheat themselves into believing these issues are cosmetic, but you can no more powerfully augment your brand with a new logo than you can your personality with a new haircut.

This doesn’t mean that the importance of identity design is necessarily overestimated, but erroneously defined. To carry the personal appearance metaphor to its merciful conclusion, attempting to make a good first impression with an ugly (or worse, misguided) identity is like showing up to a job interview with messy clothes and unkempt hair. It isn’t impossible to sell your skills regardless, but you’ll waste time and effort redeeming yourself in lieu of real progress.

Great logos are more than just a calling card. They’re a unified and distinct symbol of your brand’s character and aspirations. Oftentimes, they’ll influence the viewer’s first impressions, but their continued trust demands real follow-through.

I don’t sell the zesty hipness of “brand” because, ultimately, you’re the one who has to deliver. Logos I can deliver. When used to proper effect, they are your “brand lighthouse,” aiding your audience’s navigation in a sea of choices. Just make sure their destination is what you’ve advertised.

CyborgCamp’s transparent design process

I averted my gaze from the composition adorning the Adobe Illustrator artboard in front of me, purposely avoiding the brunt of its stare and the intense starkness that came with it. I attempted to focus again on the chicken scratches dotting my sketchbook pages (to no avail), or perhaps the multitudes of contradictory feedback which had been offered by disagreeing (yet evenly passionate) volunteers.

The embrace of crowd-sourced editorial direction is of unpredictable comfort and temperature.

cyborgcamp_01

To say that designing the logo for CyborgCamp was a unique challenge would be an understatement. Identity design is typically an intimate process (wherein the logo is a relatively small part) in which the designer attempts to know and express both the character of the brand and the needs of the audience. Educating oneself about those needs is often collaborative, but the actual act of design, of applying that knowledge, is quite introspective by comparison.

But then, CyborgCamp was not an ordinary event. Concocted by Amber Case, Bram Pitoyo and their cadre of evil geniuses, CyborgCamp managed to exude purpose in spite of its organic growth and direction, amorphous in scope. This appealed to my artistic sensibilities, and I quickly realized that a transparent design process would be the sincerest approach. Previously, I would have predicted that prolonged transparency would lessen the final product’s impact. Since this hadn’t occured for the event itself, I discarded that concern.

After an initial meeting/sketchbook-jam with Amber, Bram and others (gorgeously captured on film by Mark Colman, one of the coolest guys in Portland), the first round of sketches was posted on Flickr, the CyborgCamp planning wiki and several Twitter feeds. I should give Bram credit for picking the concept (plant circuitry) that would ultimately be deemed the most sensible, and from there the entire world was privy to each and every obsessive adjustment.

I’m proud of the final product; I think it suited the grassroots-meets-geekery mindset of what became an awesome event. I certainly made mistakes along the way, but these experiences led to a series of simple, guiding principals that may help other designers interested in attempting a similar process:

  • Be a director and mediator before a designer. Otherwise, you’ll slip into tweaking endless minutae in lieu of a guiding vision.
  • When possible, give a few variations of a design at once. “Civilians” and non-designerly folk shouldn’t have to learn your industry’s vocabulary; comparitive observations are much more intuitive.
  • Ask relevant questions of specific people. Bram Pitoyo has a strong typographic skill set; why not ask him for extended assistance in type selection and kerning?
  • When no conclusive “next step” is provided from the community, take responsibility for that decision. These are volunteers who, unlike your clients, do not have an obligation to nudge you along. Avoid work stoppage and ignite the conversation by moving a step forward or back as you deem necessary.
It’s hard to say if I would recommend this process to other designers. In early stages, the feedback of enthusiastic Twitterers is nearly immediate and immensely satisfying. Later on, things can slow to a crawl as community members struggle to find passion for every minute detail.

Overall, transparency is a worthy option for projects as unique as CyborgCamp. For more traditional identities? Probably not. That being said, lessons learned in this experience can certainly be applied to more focused, narrowly-collaborative endeavors. In that, this experiment was monumentally successful.

‘Tis the season to be relaunched

Welcome to the new Tyler Sticka dot com! This design has been a pet project of mine for quite a while now, and it is incredibly satisfying (not to mention cathartic) to finally unveil it.

The old site served me well, but there were many issues (both aesthetically and behind the scenes) I was enthusiastic to remedy.

Some highlights:

  • Simplified portfolio layout; explore any content (including 11 new pieces) that grabs you visually! No more narrowing down by category or duplicated content.
  • Greatly expanded journal, with more reader-friendly line lengths, better categorization and tagging, more usable archives and, most importantly, commenting!
  • A page full of extras, including some classic webcomics, downloads and links to products featuring my work. Also includes the brand new comic “Stan the Cat Goes Nuts!”
  • Progressive enhancement! Firefox, Opera, Chrome and Safari users will not be burdened with IE fixes and adjustments (hint, hint).
With WordPress 2.7 and it’s new, gorgeous UI, I’m looking forward to blogging more meaningfully, more often. I’ll be discussing new media (i.e., the web), technology, art, design, rock n’ roll and anything else with relevance and resonance.

This new phase of my online presence is just beginning, but let me know what you think so far. I’d love to hear from you!