— Nina Mehta

If you’ve seen one Darren Aronfosky film you’ve seen them all, and you’ve seen none.  Since the days of watching math psychothrillers in my friend’s parent’s basement, I find his movies to be unmistakably his and like nothing else I’ve seen. He’s like a folk-singer. He repeats themes, shots, and patterns in ways that are always innovative but beautifully familiar. Looking for this in his work:

Clint Mansell writes the score for every feature film Aronofsky directs. He writes a beautiful theme around the narrative and characters that can transcend throughout the film. And like the stories and imagery, the score is always rich, dark,  heady, open and somehow both sad and hopeful all at once. The score for The Fountain is undoubtedly my favorite.  But Mansell’s work on Requiem for a Dream might be the secret sauce that makes a story about addiction and desperate hope stay with us longer than we’d like. Here are the themes from each of his films in order of my favorites.

The Fountain – Death is the Road to Awe (2006)
Requiem for a Dream – Hope Overture (2000)
Black Swan – A Swan Song (for Nina) (2010)
Pi – r^2 (1998)
Noah – Make Thee an Ark (2014)
The Wrestler – Theme (2008)

Recurring images are woven through each of his films in ways that are specific to the stories, but if you’re watching you’ll see it. Look also for images of trees, pools of water, crosses, and characters making extreme demands of their body. For example, in both Noah and The Fountain, the main character plants the seemingly exact kind of seed (that will breath in new life).

Elapsed Time Film Techniques are used in almost all of his films and most famous in Requiem for a Dream to show when the characters are high or  getting high. He uses the same style in Black Swan and leans on a choppy but rich elapsed time technique to show nature changing over time. A good example is the scene of the slithering snake crawling through the Garden of Eden.

Immediate and unnatural growths shift the plot for the main characters in The Fountain, Black Swan and Noah. Without introducing any spoilers, I can tell you to look for organic natural activity happen in an unexplainable, mystical, transformative way. Aronofsky of course also uses the same, and beautiful, filming and editing technique in all three of these scenes.

Rebirth shows up in nearly all of these films. The Fountain and Noah most explicitly explore these concepts as Tom is searches for the fountain of youth in three parallel stories. Whereas, Noah builds an Ark so nature can start anew post-apocalypse. In Requiem for a Dream and Black Swan, however, the characters struggle with addiction to either drugs or perfection. These films resolve not with a warm, nurturing hope for a better future but as an expression of what it looks like  when we go too far.

Strong, still, female leads play a role in almost all of his stories. They coincidentally tend to have long brunette hair, milky skin and can probably make a man feel 3 or 13-feet tall in one glance. He writes their roles to soften the edge of their male counter-parts while remaining pillars of strength. They are strong, reliable, sensual partners that walk with grace, talk with intimacy and of course playing dual roles.

A once young 90s indie actress Jennifer Connelly in Requiem for a Dream returns to Aronofsky’s screen as Noah’s wife. In between Rachel Weisz plays Queen Isabella of Spain and Natalie Portman as a transforming ballerina in Black Swan.

Obsessive, righteous, male leads like Max Coehn in Pi are extremists. Cohen is beyond obsessed with expressing the natural language of the universe through mathematical patterns and hopefully the stock market. Of course, like all Aaronfsky films, he doesn’t quit until he’s gone too far. Noah, too, builds an enormous Ark and is willing to let his family die and slaughter his son’s offspring in the name of what he believes to be a righteous cause. And again, all version of Tom in the Fountain are obsessed with impossible goal to solve the “disease of death” so he can be forever with his wife. Who could forget how far Harry will go (and let his friends and girlfriends go) for a fix? 

Our beautiful universe is a place of wonder for almost all of his characters. Scenes are often set underneath the night sky early in during the films. As the story progresses and time elapses we later see the sky, stars, light or water, like small golden charms, behind silhouetted characters, coming down from the sky. That’s an easy way to tell if the story is about to resolve.

FUN EXTRAS

Toy Story 2: Requiem
Buzz and Woody get wasted

The Children Watch Darren Aronofsky’s The Fountain
Pretty smart, analytical 9-year-olds break down this three-part love story searching for eternal youth

The Simpsons Requiem for a Dream
Homer tragically eats too many rib sandwiches

All images are screencaps from Youtube videos and obviously belong to the rightful owners

Read More

I’ve been traveling to Detroit every Memorial Day Weekend since 2009 for the annual Electronic Music Festival. You may have read my post last spring about why it’s the best festival of them all. But as I’m maturing, I get tired faster and want to spend my travel dollars going other places, so I was on the fence making my pilgrimage this year. 

– But real quick, before we go any further, I’ll give you the miles I had, the miles I bought and the miles AA gifted me for an extremely fair price. please tweet or message if we can help each other. – 

While flight scanning, AA sent me a very kind email about how some miles of mine were about to expire. It felt like an omen to make the trip. I spent about 30 minutes trying to figure out this UI, then parsing out which flights didn’t have two connections or require me to change airports. I did eventually figure out I could uncheck flights from San Jose and Oakland, that was a win. While of course having no concept of the differences between a 12K flight and a 25K Economy AAnytime or 25K Economy Business First, I just tried to pick flights furthest to the left.

There’s some glitch in the system where after I choose my dates and select the seats, my flight on May 24 would shift to May 10. After 30 minutes of finding a loop hole around that bug, I was finally ready to book the flight and get on with my life.

It’s difficult to know how many miles I have, how much they cost, what that means about the minimum miles I need to have (or use?) and that I couldn’t pay the balance of the flight in cash. Upon expecting to purchase the flight, they tell me it’s on hold and I need to buy more miles. I’m so frustrated and ready to buy the flight I maybe want at this point, I just buy the miles. A few dropdowns and fields that don’t auto-complete later, I see the total is $10 less than how much it would cost to fly on United Airlines. Great!

Somewhere I missed the taxes and fees. I’m sure they clearly stated the numbers somewhere, but you can see how after and the clicking and guessing, I just wanted the task done. Afterwards, I see the extra fees and see that I still have to pay $10 to book a flight with miles. This  was not the cheaper option.

So of course I call them on the phone and kill them with kindness. You know I listened to static elevator music for a long time before the representative told me she could not do refunds. I asked if she could put me in touch with someone else who could help me feel better. More static muzak. Same explanation.

But with honest candor I explain to her what my experience has been like. And that I’m sure it clearly stated the costs but this is my first time buying miles and I had a holistic stressful experience that led me to make mistakes. I told her I knew she does not work on the website and that I know AA cares about their customers. I told her my experience starts from the moment I decide I want to go somewhere until this phone call. I asked “what can you do to help me?” She asked what I had in mind and I explained she had more experience helping people like me.

She offered me 2,000 in miles. Naturally, I explained I was hesitant to accept them because it would just return me to this stressful miles loop. Since she absolutely could not offer a refund, a free flight, vouchers or first class upgrades, I accepted. Of course, I cannot actually purchase the flight for 3 days until the miles I bought online can appear online.

The lesson here is to

  1. Be patient and careful with old websites
  2. Be very kind to associates on the phone. It’s just not their fault
  3. Don’t stop til you get enough

But really, will someone please buy my AA miles?

Read More

Open up your hand-sized glowing rectangle. traverse a glorious landscape of stories, messages and photography anywhere in the universe. It’s really quite Incredible.

Taps, swipes and drags take us anywhere we want to go. However, these views, navigation structures and transitions are still organized analogous to how we interact with paper, windows and physical objects.

Pull to show the refresh spinner hidden behind the Instagram photos. Tap on a Twitter link to add a layer on top of the feed. Drag your homescreen to the left to show more apps on the right. We know the content is not actually behind, on top of or beside one another.

We once needed skeumorphic graphic design to help us understand digital interfaces. That’s also how I see today’s designers relying on animations and transitions to do the same. That’s not to say this a wrong thing to do, it’s where consumers cognitively are today, but still is the case none-the-less. Let’s look at some apps I’m into these days that are handling transitions and animations quite well.

Moves step counter and distance tracker

Scroll down to travel the path of your day. As you tap on the green circle, it bounces and responds to the impact of your tap. Doing that changes the display to time, calories, steps or distance. I love this little animation detail, it feels good and transitions me between unit types which could otherwise be data overload.

If I swipe down hard, the circle hops up into a calendar view. I can then pan left and right to compare progress. It’s delightful and helpful. This is a remarkable app all around.

 

Secret posts for and from people you know

This itty bitty app is a scrolling feed of secrets from friends, friends of friends and saucy strangers. Here I can share a private tidbit about my life to a big audience. It’s fun, too. The apps says 16 of my friends have joined but I don’t know which.

This app is not only about the secrets about about how it feels to tell them. The screens and letters fade in, giving a ghostly and invisible feeling. When posting a photo I can swipe to right to blur photos. This is a nice example of interaction design that doesn’t rely on an analog from the physical world (like smudging your screen to create a blur effect, for example). Nicely done. Look for my secret from today ;)

Paper stories from your friends

Facebook’s launch of their news reader is exciting. We cannot critique the quality of a social app on the day of its release. How it feels to use it will emerge over time and only then can we make a sound judgement.

However, the designers here use a navigation style similar to Moves, where we travel up and down to move in and out of the detail of content and from left to right to traverse across content. They also have some animations that I’m seeing other folks call “flipboardy”, which is, I think, a good thing. I can be easy to lose context of where you are in this app, but there are escape hatches everywhere in case you can’t find your way home.

Automatic device to help you drive better

This little guy plugs into a port on my car and lets me know the location of my car and how I’m driving. It also makes a little beep when I break or accelerate too hard. Also like the Moves app, I travel down a stream that is my timeline of activity. In fact, a little car drives down the timeline. When it’s next to an activity post, the car’s headlights turn on. It’s a very tiny detail that’s easy to miss and some people may even find cheesy. But in the age of cold, flat, graphicless interfaces, I find it endearing.

Read More

Tucked under warm blankets in below freezing Chicago weather on my birthday, I got on a video chat with two HCId students from my alma matter, Indiana University. I really enjoyed hearing about what they care about and want to know. Getting your career started can be hard and scary but I’m excited about how thoughtful and hungry the future of our design community
Listen here:  http://www.connecthcid.com/#nina-mehta

In this episode of ConnectCast, with Stephanie Poppe and Jordan Hayes. Poppe and Jordan speak with designer and visual artist Nina Mehta. Nina graduated from Indiana University’s HCI/d program in 2011 and currently works as a product designer at Pivotal Labs in San Francisco. In this segment, Nina discusses her graduate school experience, the challenges she faced as a young designer, her liberating foray into experience design through projection live visual art installations, her passion for social activism and the importance of creating real products for real people.

 

Read More

The game of Chess is a Kingdom’s of strategy, problem solving and battle together in conquest. The pieces and tactics in the game of chess are not so different than those on a product team, just hopefully less bloodshed.

The Pieces

The King (♔, ♚) represents your Users.
They can move in any direction, but only one square at a time. Without them you have lost the game; you’re just moving pieces around on a board.

The Queen (♕,♛) is your CEO.
They can move in any direction, any number of squares. This player is most powerful, and can  easily transfer firepower and control the opposition.

The Rook (♖ ♜) is your Product Manager.
They have limitless horizontal and vertical movement. They can safely exert control of the board and have a special relationship with the King.

The Knight (♖ ♜) is your Developer.
They move in a two-step, one-step L shapes-shaped direction. Their power comes from jumping over pieces in closed positions especially early on.

The Bishop (♖ ♜) is your Designer.
They have limitless diagonal movement. They are underrated by beginners and gain strength as the board opens up with their power of influence.

The Pawn (♙♟) is Marketing.
They advance only forward a single square except twice in their first move. They are the front-lines and promote to any piece if they reach the opposing edge of the board.

The Game

The positions of the Pawns (Marketing) can determine the flavor of the entire game. Similar to brand strategy and community development, they’re the only piece that doesn’t attack head-on. If a Pawn can endure the length of the game and reach the other side of the board unscathed, a Pawn is promoted. It’s most common to promote the piece to a Queen (CEO) adding significant charge to the board.

The Queen is most powerful when the board is open, when there is not much product competition or an unsolved problem or need. She can swiftly change direction and seize control, even at long distances. Experienced players know to develop minor pieces in the beginning and make this piece more active in attacks later on.

Surprisingly, two Rooks (PMs) are more valuable than a Queen. They are often blocked in the beginning of the game by other pieces but when opened up the two together can seize control of the entire board. They are good for pawns advancing for promotions but also are at high risk of pawns in opposition.

The Knight (Developer) and Bishop (Designer) are equal in value but differ in power. The knight is especially powerful at the beginning of the game as it can get out on the board and make strong attacks, and build a good framework for the game, even in tight situations. Two knights are not said to work together as well as two Bishops (designers) because of the how they move and strategize.

However, near the end of the game, the Bishop becomes extremely valuable, especially in pairs since it can influence the entire board (unlike the Knight) and can introduce long term threats (like killer user experience or usability) for an advantageous endgame.

Of course, in Chess, the opponent is simply another Kingdom, rather than competitors and technical, societal and political barriers. The ratio of players on the board differs than that of a product team but there sure are some tried and true strategies that have worked for this game over 13 centuries.

Chess strategies courtesy Wikipedia
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Chess
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/King_(chess)
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Queen_(chess)
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rook_(chess)
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Knight_(chess)
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bishop_(chess)
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pawn_(chess)

Read More

Tucked and nestled inside these faked-out-book-boxes, are the supplies I use daily. I curated a list of my favorite Muji pens, the best whiteout, my required features in a ruler and why you should push for white sticky notes. Every designer has their own favorites, these are mine!

Visit the Pinterest Board listing my favorite supplies:
http://www.pinterest.com/ninamehta/design-tool-box/

Read More

As it turns out, I’m a person. And like many persons, I too am a visual creature. Technology isn’t naturally built for people or to be visual. Here are four apps I’m using to help bring less clicks and more imagery into my daily flow.

 Awesome Screenshot  - Longpage captures

Until I found this, I had no way to take full captures of websites without stitching them together like a dope in Photoshop. Check the ‘autosave’ box in the Extensions options to skip the annotation step and get one-click awesomeness. I like Coin’s new homepage, in one click, I saved it forever.
Single Screenshot of Coin

ShiftIt – Window management

In one keyboard shortcut, reposition your windows to take up half or a fourth of your screen. We love this one at Pivotal Labs so much it comes preinstalled on most of our machines. Here I’m updating my Thanksgiving Asana list with Martha Stewart’s recipe for Sweet Potato Rounds. Yum.
Shiftit

Momentum – Nice new tab

Every month there’s another Chrome app for your new tab. This one shows me the time and beautiful photo with a prompt for something to focus on today. Thanks for the tip Noah.
Momentum

DevRocket – iOS asset exporting

This goodie is for iOS designers. In one click export all (or selected) Photoshop layers into assets. Unlike the Photoshop generator, DevRocket automatically exports to retina and non-retina. And no need to manually sludge through the mudd add extensions to layer names. It’s really one click and as easy as the demo promises. It’s worth $19 of your own smackeroonies.

 

More lovely apps
I’d love to hear if you’re using any of these too or know of some other good ones. This is my fourth installment that shares some great under-discovered apps. Here some others I love:
Nine lovely services that will make your computer work like it should
Brilliant (free) Services for better reading online
Seven online services that do more than mail you lipgloss

 

Read More

Design Bubble goes Pop

“Hey, the economy is going to turn around in the West,” I yelped across the living room to my roommate. She poked he head around the side of the door,

“What? When?” Flipping through my favorite issue of The Economist, one that foreshadows the following year, I tell her things are turning around for the Americas, Europe and Japan. I flip a few more pages and see the word “tech” in a headline with an image of an occupy protester.  I lowered my brow and shoulders as I read the coming tech-lash.

“Nevermind. Not here…”

“We live in a bubble,” says Eric Schmidt, the chairman of Google (and a member of The Economist Group’s board of directors), “and I don’t mean a tech bubble or a valuation bubble. I mean a bubble as in our own little world.” This little world has been protected from popular anger about inequality. The popping of the bubble will be one of the biggest changes in the political economy of capitalism in the coming year.

This isn’t the first bubble and it won’t be the last. But Schmidt gets to the social issue of the bubble, disengagement. This same article gets beyond the millionaires and billionaires, but the young elite.

The oligarchs sit on top of a huge money culture: Silicon Valley is not only minting but thousands of young people who pull in more than $100,000 a year…[spending] money on sci-fi flavoured projects…

We came here to do things differently. Not for different’s sake, but because there was a better way. We wanted revolutions over old systems. Broken systems. People here call it disruption.

We were Software People up against The Man. Somewhere along the way, some of us became The Man. As the energy shifted, we saw more and more photo-sharing-coupon-marketing-analytics apps. And less disruption.

But it hasn’t been all bad. As my personal career shifted from straight-up-old-school newspaper journalism to working with startups in telephony, translation, travel and the web itself. Design became important. And I, we, engaged in politics and social change through software and user-centered design. Bringin it back to the people!

How important will design be when this fantastical iridescent sphere goes pop? Here are a few things that could happen:

The bubble will burst for everyone
Designers, no more or less than engineers, PMs, marketing and sales folks will feel the squeeze. Companies, not individuals will pop with the bubble.

The bubble will burst for designers first
Perception of designers will reshift to be seen as soft roles focused on shadow weights and illustration. The bubble will give up on color theory and not realize they’re losing product strategy.

The bubble will burst for designers later
Companies will hang onto designers as long as they can, but inflated design departments will return to 1-man shops.

The bubble will burst for everyone else
Thanks to companies like Apple, IDEO, Airbnb and Jawbone, design-driven product will remain a priority.

Realistically, all, some and none of these things will happen. But let’s at least engage in the conversation. Are we doing what we came here to do? And how should we think about the future? Sooner or later, Silicon Valley will have to pay attention to the rest of the world.

Read More

New York Times Tower - Renzo Piano Building Workshop + FXFOWLE

Today the NYT released their redesign to all employees. It looks very much like their redesign prototype from earlier this year.

I remember when I saw the prototype. “Impressive,” I thought, here’s a company over a century and a half old practicing user-centered design techniques to rethink their site. With a semi-public prototype release, I assumed they were collecting both qualitative and quantitative analytics: user-testing and tracking data. According to Poynter, the public release is expected in “early 2014″.

article_news

According to a news release on Poynter.org, the redesign is available to all employees behind their firewall. However in the message to all employees, the authors wrote:

This employee preview includes nearly all of the same elements found on the article prototype we made available earlier this year, but rendered on an entirely new page serving platform which is both faster and dynamic.

Questions & Critque

This made me question the purpose of the prototype:

  1. Did they collect analytics and feedback on the prototype?
  2. If they did collect analytics on the prototype, why didn’t much change? Was everything perfect the first time? Did they ever intend to make any changes?
  3. Was the prototype a proof of concept for stakeholders?
  4. Was the prototype more of a service for the engineering teams to help understand what to build?
  5. Does the prototype serve to ease the discomfort of those in an industry general adverse to change?

The article pages are beautiful and keep to the spirit of the New York Times publication and brand while bringing it to actual modernity to digital content. I expected to see more change on the homepage: larger images and a layout closer to the modern web and further from 18th-century newspapers.
nyt-new-hp

Accolades

But, what they have done is impressive. This company, a content-not-software, company, mind you had their work cut out for them. They had to update a potentially 8-year-old codebase with conservative stakeholders, draining readership, work with short staffs, all while keeping the 24-hour news cycle moving. Not an easy task.

Activity in the Community

It’s been wonderful to see more news organizations adopting experience and user-centered design tools and techniques. Here are a few other examples from the last few weeks:

Experience Design Adoption

The author in the PBS article refers to prototyping as something “NASA” does for the Mars Rover and people who build software as “Silicon Valley Whiz Kids”.

  • How can we make Experience Design techniques adoptable to those who are not software people?Some argue we should not to keep our jobs in high demand–I disagree. Also check out Jeff Lawson’s talk on Software People.
  • How can news organizations without the resources, but with the desire, of the New York Times, to modernize their newsrooms? Some argue that we should bide our time and let new organizations and media outlets replace the old. However, many out there want to change but are experts in reporting and content, not products development.
Read More

Untitled

It’s Saturday night before Burning Man officially begins and our camp is out for a family ride to see the desert city coming to life. Somewhere past the Temple, pedaling beside a brotherly figure, I ask
“Have you ever had a bad burn?”

He stuttered. I backpedaled. And we let the sound of our wheels churning against the dust take over the conversation. Our bikes followed the blinky lights from our campmates headed straight for the infinite black sky.

“Are you worried about having a bad burn?” His reply hit me like a wall. I wasn’t prepared to answer that question or to have a bad burn. But thought I might.

Untitled

I felt prepared for a third return to the Playa. In fact, I had successfully ‘burned all year.’

I moved forward as an artist, recharged my professional life and made space and time to nurture myself, friends, family, conflict and heart. I did not ‘save up’ thoughts or ideas to explore at Burning Man. Usually I would. And like clock work, I would panic the week before it’s time to drive to Nevada.

But this time my bags were packed two weeks in advance and until we crossed the gates, Burning Man was set to be a smooth happy sail. So why after all this work, did I feel like MOOP?

Untitled

We don’t get to choose who is in our family, when the wind will kick up the dust or how we’re going to feel when the sun changes. We do get to choose how we want to act and react when we’re faced with a new truth.

And my truth changed.

Untitled Untitled

While ringing bells at the Stands of Chime, I rang too hard, missed the bells for my hand and fractured my right index finger. At the medical center I asked, “Should I go home?”

“Do you want to go home?” This my out, I thought. I could leave Burning Man and be free from the pressure to have some scheduled spiritual awakening.

“No,” I heard myself replying.

“Then don’t go home.” So there. I had committed to turn things around.

Untitled

I had to accept being radically reliant and an involuntary sparkle pony. During Short Stack’s big party, Tutu Tuesday, our sister camp Om Skillet took care of me as their own. They fed me electrolytes, tucked me in for countless naps and sewed a darling tutu for my pointer finger. I let them help me.

Ask for help
No one can read you mind or know when you want help. Often times I got help when I didn’t need it and needed help when I couldn’t find it. I had to be comfortable asking my brothers and sisters to  do basic things like wash my hair, write thoughts in my notebook and flip bacon for me on dinner duty night. I’m not good at not being able to take of myself.

Polish Ambassador - Apex Colesium

Experiment
I went to a global meetup for music visuals artists. I was booked to make art for thousands of people the next night at the biggest stage on the Playa. With my dominant hand impaired I was ready to throw in the towel until a lead artist reminded us, “This is Burning Man. This is an experiment. Bring your weird stuff here.” Try out something new, he continued, this is the community that will accept it.

So I not only did the show, it was my best gig yet (and left-handed!). I usually insist friends not attend since they won’t like the rave music or big crowds. But they showed up and danced in front of the booth the whole time. And it made me happy. Instead of feeling I had to promise them the world or a moving experience, I promised them first row seats to my experiment. That was freeing.


Untitled

Be Patient
We want to be good children and siblings and partners and parents. It’s very easy to expect and require a lot, sometimes too much, from our families and from ourselves. Seven days at Burning Man helped me remember to take time to move through moments and to be patient and forgiving with myself and of my family. We are just people.

I spent all of Thursday night with the Listed family at Music Savages. Naveen, Hoj and Khoury played beautiful, moving and experimental sets. And like Neil’s lights, I took my time, all night in fact. And there among dinosaur shadow puppets and knee-slapping unicorn jokes, we did one of my favorite burning man actives, danced to call the sun up.

Untitled

Find your family
We don’t get to choose with whom we share blood and family trees. I got lucky on that one. We do get to choose what we value and who to pull closer and who to push away. And for many of us we are hundreds of miles away from blood relatives at Burning Man and in our daily lives. So we have to make family. And these people actually are a choice. So let’s choose people who will help us, experiment with us, be patient with us and unconditionally love us and be people we can love back.

 

Untitled

I don’t think there is such a thing as a ‘bad’ burn or even a ‘good’ burn. Every year it’s just a lot of ups and downs. I was tough cookie at Burning Man, but the Playa is a fantasy world and we’re not there anymore. My arm hurts, I need help getting feathers out of my hair and I miss my friends.

Anyone want to play?


More lessons from the Playa

2012 What small teams can learn from Burning Man
2011 What designers can learn from Burning Man

Read More