A Sound System Fit for an Emperor

A Sound System Fit for an Emperor

The Oswald Mill Audio showroom in Brooklyn’s industrial-artisan neighborhood of DUMBO is packed with the presences of luminary recording artists. Alicia Keys has rifled through the record crates of jazz, rap, and blues. JLO and Al Green have climbed the concrete stairs from Bridge Street to sit in the throne-like ‘listening chair’. For a Rolling Stone photo shoot, Gwen Stefani smashed bottles in the tub of the solarium-style bathroom. (The showroom also doubles as owner Jonathan Weiss’s studio apartment.)

But those aren’t the only artists whose presence can still be felt. Among the cherry and ash megaphone-shaped speakers that tower over the average person’s height, you can feel the ghosts of performers long gone. Weiss demos the speakers using old vinyl records. When he pulls yards of red curtains over the windows to dampen the sound, the room resonates with the vibrato of the French singer Barbara, and the rollicking notes of Willie Dixon, the Beatles, and Michael Jackson. These singers are all brought together by Weiss’s passion for fusing new industrial design with vintage audio to create the best sound and design experience that (a lot of) money can buy.


sound-system, AMO, speaker, dumbo


Weiss caught a glimpse of the heyday of sound quality when he was fourteen, cleaning up popcorn at an art deco movie palace in California. During their shifts, the staff would use the massive speaker system behind the screen to blast film soundtracks through the theater. “It was a magical experience,” says Weiss. Now, Weiss is on a mission to unmask what he sees as the audio industry’s decades-long focus on decreasing speaker size at the expense of sound quality and new technologies cutting out the music’s soul when compressing audio files into low-res MP3s. His solution? Bring back mid-century cinema speaker and amplifier technology because they knew how to do sound right.

Weiss founded Oswald Mill Audio ten years ago, after he bought and restored a four-story grain mill in Eastern Pennsylvania. For a brief span, he put his interest in the sensory experiences to work as a chef, crafting feasts of Dutch apple pancakes, coconut curries, and the occasional whole roast pig for visitors to the mill. At the same time, the audio underground, itching to test drive Weiss’ growing collection of antique audio equipment, morphed those food feasts into annual sonic ‘tastings’ of music listening and nerding out on audio equipment.

Those informal gatherings grew into Weiss’s current venture. To make his speakers, which can run up to $300,000, Weiss works with a prototyper, a loudspeaker and industrial designer, and an extended network of Pennsylvania-based craftsmen and manufacturers. For a founder fascinated by the invisible waves of sound quality, Weiss is just as obsessed with the caliber of the tactile elements of OMA’s manufacturing processes. The wood for the speakersash, cherry, maple, and walnutis milled from the Pennsylvania countryside. It’s the same wood used in Martin guitars that are made across the valley. Entire trees are purchased in boules and the boules are air dried for several years in solar kilns.


sound-system, AMO, speaker, dumbo


Weiss’s industrial designer, David D’Imperio, sketches out a pen and paper speaker drawing, which Weiss then takes to his loudspeaker designer, Bill Woods. Woods maps the design against the acoustic goals of each speaker. Weiss then shepherds the acoustic constraints to D’Imperio to inform his next round of industrial designs. OMA’s designers don’t necessarily speak the same language: D’Imperio “knows nothing about audio, but is a brilliant industrial designer,” says Weiss. “He’s like Houdini; you put him in chains and then dump him in water, and he comes out with something every time.” And Woods “doesn’t know anything about how to make something look beautiful, but he’s the world’s best at the acoustic part,” adds Weiss.

OMA isn’t large enough to warrant in-house manufacturing, so, once Weiss brokers a design agreement, the plans are sent to a local Pennsylvania woodshop that also counts Ralph Lauren as a client. “They build super high-end millwork, and then they make our speakers,” says Weiss.


sound-system, AMO, speaker, dumbo


Weiss doesn’t only design speaker systems; he’s committed to supplying the full audio set up, including the turntables, cables, and furniture for shelving. The 100-pound turntables are made of slate quarried in Pennsylvania. Once the heavy matte stone is cut, it’s sent to a Mennonite family-owned facility ten minutes away in Fleetwood. Here, the slate is shaped with a water jet on the same machines that Boeing uses to slice carbon fiber for airplanes. Weiss loves the balance between thousand-year-old manufacturing traditions and new technology. He points to a picture of a man in goggles cutting the stone. “This is as medieval as it gets.” Meanwhile, the mold for the coral-reef-like Ironic speaker is 3D-printed.

Weiss knows his speakers are for very few, and that’s okay with him. While he wouldn’t comment on revenue numbers, he says the business is doing well enough for him to move it into a new 42,000-square foot factory complex he just bought in Fleetwood, Pennsylvania. There, the goal is to make a product priced at under $10,000.


sound-system, AMO, speaker, dumbo


Back at the DUMBO showroom, a potential client, whose company just went public, stopped by for one of the listening appointments Weiss requires to visit the showroom. Weiss put on a few classical records and disappeared into the kitchen while the music played. (He likes to leave people alone while they listen to the music.) The room filled with the spirits of concert pianists, ferociously raising the notes of past composers.

Afterwards, the customer asks Weiss to play some music off his iPhone. Weiss is disappointed; his speakers are built for vinyl records and he’s in a constant war with the MP3. But he’s a businessman and he connects the phone to the 3D-printed Ironic system. As the music pours out of the printed shells, the visitor takes pictures of the speakers with his phone. He sends a few texts. It’s hard to tell if he’s already sold and texting pictures of the soon-to-be-his speakers, or maybe he’s lost interest in making a purchase. In either case, when listening to the MP3 it does feel like the spirits have abandoned the OMA showroom and left us all alone.

from 99U99U http://bit.ly/2jCgD8J

Jenny Arden: Look for Dark Horses and Misfits

Jenny Arden: Look for Dark Horses and Misfits

As Airbnb’s user experience design manager, Jenny Arden is tasked with the job of helping create a seamless experience for all Airbnb hosts, and that includes her mom, a self-employed writer living in Ashland, Oregon, an artsy hamlet at the southern end of the Rogue Valley, just north of the California border. “She adores meeting people and providing pastries and great coffee for them,” says Arden, adding, “Baby boomers renting out a small room are actually a key demographic for us.”

And Jenny’s mother has actually offered her daughter some advice on how to improve the host experience. “My mom has a warm personality, and she gives me feedback on how the platform can help match her with people who want that graciousness,” says Arden. “To get the value of her particular style of hosting is to be into coffee, pastries, and exchanging travel stories.”

Further personalizing the stay experience is central to Airbnb’s ongoing mission to connect people to places. It’s also tricky: How do you best match 160 million visitors to four million homes hosted by 2.5 million people in 191 cities? It’s a Rubik’s Cube puzzle, and Arden leads a team that aims to better support the growing number of hosts in a way that allows them to run their homestays as small business owners.

“Our guests, on average, use our platform maybe a couple times a year when they’re planning a trip and traveling, whereas our hosts, on average, open up our app several times a day,” says Arden. “Just the frequency alone changes the entire nature of the experience and what you have to design for.” Adding another level of intrigue is that about 90 percent of the host experience is offline – the product is the stay, the business goal is a great experience, and the technology is simply the enabler.

Ninety Nine U spoke with Arden about how Airbnb is designing for the superhost, what her team is learning offline that they are applying online, and how the line between design and business is so blurry these days she can’t even see it anymore.

jenny-arden, designer, rbnb, uxdesign, career, creative

Jenny Arden photographed in San Francisco for this interview.

One idea that has been born in the Airbnb community is that of the “professional host.” How has this come to be?

The big shift I’m seeing is that it’s not like one day you’re an amateur host and the next day you’re a professional host. It’s a gradation; there’s a spectrum. Some will enter into a market where you can have multiple homes, and they may choose to host for many people, and that gets into our co-hosting initiatives, where you can actually host on behalf of someone else. Interestingly enough, on LinkedIn there are 60 people whose title is “superhost” – they put that as their actual job title. I’m thinking about how professional tools can support those people to be killer superhosts and go from just the one-on-one [host experience] to thinking about scale.

One key digital tool in particular for a superhost is the easy-to-use calendar. Your team went through about 40 different prototypes of the host calendar before you got it right. What issues were you working through there?

When I talked to my team about that particular project, I kicked it off by saying, “If you nail the calendar, you won this entire project.” Other things are important, yes: reservation management, communication. But quite honestly, designing for a messaging system is easy, and it’s been done before. Coming up with a really robust calendar for hosting – that’s a new challenge.

Why was it so difficult?

The reason is because every single person thinks about their day differently and structures it in a different way. The construct of a calendar is pretty finite, like days and weeks. How you use a daily view, a weekly view, or a monthly view: That’s what changes. So what we ended up doing is, rather than saying there’s one solution, we created four different views to support what we found were the major buckets in the ways that people were using the calendar.

When hosts are looking at a monthly or yearly view, what they’re really trying to figure out is, Have I booked up my place? They want to make sure they have no availability. Maybe they see one week and no one’s booked it. Maybe they’ll drop the price a little bit, just for that one week, to get a booking in there. They’re optimizing and they’re trying to run their business, making sure they’re getting all the bookings they can.

On the weekly view, hosts are coordinating with the people that help them host, like their cleaner. They’re coordinating. Then on the daily view, hosts are looking at what’s happening today, who they need to greet, errands they have to do.

With the majority of the hosting experience being done offline, what’s one thing you’ve recently seen in how people host in the physical world that you have applied to the digital platform?

We’ve launched a new check-in feature, which is the result of a workaround we saw people doing. Our hosts were using a new mobile app feature that launched in November where users had the ability to send photos through messaging. What people were doing was essentially taking a bunch of photos in sequence to make a check in guide: Look for this store; look for that flowerpot; the keys are under there. Here’s the lockbox; punch this code. And they were drawing the code on top of the image. So we decided to make a photo-based template so hosts can show guests how to check-in to their Airbnb. This completely transforms communication between a host and a guest because it’s standardized. Every time you stay in an Airbnb now, you can look for the check-in guide and it’ll walk you through how you get into this place.

This seems like such a benefit for international travel, where language could be a barrier.

Absolutely. This was coming from our Asian markets, in particular. There are some parts of Asia where their addresses are not like how they are in the U.S., where we have specific pins on a map. In some Asian countries they have areas or blocks only, and the guest has to figure it out. Visual instructions are the only solution, so a picture guide was really the only way for those particular hosts to translate exactly where their Airbnb is located.

jenny-arden, designer, rbnb, uxdesign, career, creative, interview

Your team designs for host problems that need to be solved. Why does this work fall into the bucket of design versus more traditional customer service?

Because I’m part of the functions that create, that build, I have the power to actually make it happen. It’s one thing to listen, and those supportive roles are absolutely critical to success. I can’t do my job without them. But my job is to execute, and to choose and decide and ensure that the most important and meaningful features will be built. Even as designers we have our bias. We’re still always going to be skewed by our own perceptions, travel experiences, and history. A great customer experience partnership will be that sense of truth. They’ll keep you in check and make sure you’re actually doing the right thing.

In terms of hiring, what do you look for outside of the requisite design skills?

I may not be the norm in recruiting here, but I definitely look for dark horses and people who are misfits. I look for quirkiness – maybe they had an off-the-beaten path trajectory for how they got here. Everyone has to meet a particular bar, so I’m looking at what’s above that, and that’s usually purpose, and the number one prerequisite: heart toward people who are trying to make a living out of home sharing. Designers that are good at system designs, those who think horizontally and can see how one thing they do can percolate across the entire company – those designers can weed through the mess of feedback from all different sources; take that chaos and find that golden nugget idea, the actual problem, and execute without getting distracted.

On a career note, you worked for JP Morgan Chase and Goldman Sachs early on, then at Google on self-driving cars, and now Airbnb. What is the thread that has connected these jobs in different sectors?

What I get excited about is creating tools for people so they have a better day. That’s a commonality between all of these industries, and, particularly with my career, what I’ve focused on. The second area is ambiguity. Every one of these companies and industries has had an intense amount of ambiguity. Earlier on in my career in banking, if I had ambiguity I would get super stressed. I would sit there and I’d say, “I don’t know what I’m supposed to be doing” and I’d get really scared and frustrated. Now when I see ambiguity, I’m excited, because it means we’re doing something that no one has done before and we don’t have the solution yet. And that’s an opportunity for us to be inventive. I look for those moments more than for the moments of clarity.

You have a graphic design degree from Rhode Island School of Design, a degree in physics from Brown University, and you completed a business program for creatives at Harvard. How have those three disciplines fit in to what you do?

I’m definitely left brain, right brain. I found early on that art was not going to satiate me intellectually and science was not going to satiate me emotionally. I needed both. This led me to find user experience design before that term was even invented. I also broke every rule you can think of in college when it comes to academic careers. I was that first person ever to do a double major between RISD and Brown University at the same time. Now it’s an actual program, but you should’ve seen the look on Academic Affairs’ face when they discovered this was my plan. They asked me, “What are you doing? These are not the same schools.” My response was, “I know; I just don’t care.” I see what I want to do, and that is the path I will take.

Careerwise, I have not done all the right things. I haven’t climbed ladders. I haven’t done the politics that a lot of people find themselves falling into and hating because there is nothing in my personality that will support that.

jenny-arden, designer, rbnb, uxdesign, career, creative, interview

How important is it for a designer to have a business brain?

As you become more senior, it’s a requirement. In fact, the lines are so blurry I can’t even say business and design are two separate things anymore. What you’re looking for when you’re creating a great business model is a need for it to even exist in the first place. You can monetize lots of things, but if no one will want to put money toward that. And what design does is find the reason why someone should put money toward that. So a lot of people think of design as just being the front end, the execution of a plan. But what it really is is finding the human need for it in the first place.

Do you consider yourself a designer, or have you evolved more into a business executive with a design perspective?

It’s funny that I still see myself a designer because I literally – as many people at my level will say – haven’t opened a design [software] program in a year and a half. As you get more senior, execution is not your primary task. Your job is to push for stronger ideas as quickly as possible. So it’s a combination of those two – pushing, pushing, pushing, and focus, focus, focus.

If I were to put a label on myself, I am a hard-core entrepreneur. It will always be in me. At Airbnb I feel like I’m at the forefront of a new business model and a leading technology, and a company that’s making a lot of change. I’ve always seen myself as a founder, someone that’s diving into the unknown, doing something that’s new and scary.

Airbnb was founded by designers, as were Pinterest and Kickstarter, and there is some talk in Silicon Valley that we’re entering the era of the designer-founder. What’s your take?

These days I find that almost every single person I hire says they want to be a founder. They want to own their own company one day, which maybe is part of our process in finding the people who are very ambitious and very A-type. But in that, I’m starting to realize that the next generation of designers are not design practitioners in the true sense that we were seeing five, ten years ago – people who were going through traditional graphic design programs. What we’re seeing now are designers who are thinking business. They’re thinking, “How can I take something that matters to me, that I actually experience pain or excitement about firsthand, and use my skills as a designer to create a business for that?” That is a major shift among designers ages 22 to 30 these days.

Let’s end with where we started: What’s the best food your mom serves at her Airbnb?

Her cranberry nut bread with Irish butter – she’s Irish.


This interview was originally published in 99U’s special issue for Adobe XD.

from 99U99U http://ift.tt/2z1zSO6

Ian Spalter: Find the Grind that is Your Personal Fairytale

Ian Spalter: Find the Grind that is Your Personal Fairytale

Welcome to Instagram! Step right up and take a selfie! Tucked right inside the front door of Instagram’s new office building on Facebook’s Menlo Park campus is an on-brand, magenta-shaded installation where visitors can snap a photo of their beautiful mugs – make sure to get the Instagram logo in the background! – and post them on Instagram, naturally, for a meta social media moment.

The entire three-story building is a real life interpretation of the app. It has everything from wall-sized picture frames displaying Instagram images from around the world to its own Blue Bottle Coffee outpost to an offering of free candy-colored toothbrushes in the bathroom. (Hey, it’s nice to have options.) If Instagram is a platform for sharing fairy tales, then this physical manifestation of that digital world seems to check many of the boxes for a nice, happy existence.

Over the last two years, Instagram has grown from 400 million users to some 700 million today. It might be the hottest brand on the planet (even if your mom is now on it or your feed is filled with baby pics), a platform that is becoming the world’s greatest collection of images, available to view for free at the tap of a button.

As Instagram has grown its user base, the company has also increased its number of staff designers tenfold, jumping from seven to 70 since Ian Spalter, the new head of design, took over the job in 2015. Spalter arrived from YouTube, and before that Foursquare, with the objective of developing a suite of tools for users so Instagram could continue to evolve from its photo booth roots to a visual hub for all kinds of shared experiences.

Ninety Nine U sat down with Spalter at Instagram’s new office – where, full disclosure, a selfie was taken in pursuit of this interview – to discuss his strategy behind building out the design team, the importance of a logo when customer-brand interactions are starting to take place beyond a screen, and how he nurtures his own creativity.

ian-spalter, instagram, creatice, career, interview, design

Ian Spalter photographed in and around Instagram’s headquarters in Menlo Park, California.

What impact has the user growth over the last two years had on the design team?

I inherited it a small team of talented people, so my job was to not screw that up. When you have a really small team, folks can work on lots of things. And as you get bigger, you have to create areas of focus but you still want to enable people to solve different parts of the problem spaces. You have to define those problem spaces fairly broadly. An example would be growth. We have a team that is just focused on growth, but within that you’ve got everything from helping users get in the door, registration, helping users get set up and orientated with what Instagram is, and then if people fall off Instagram, actually helping them come back in. Then we have a team that is focused on giving you the tools for expression: posting to your feed, Stories, or using direct messaging. Then we have a team that’s thinking about connecting you with interests and passions and surfacing that stuff. How you do find new, great stuff on Instagram? These are fairly broad problem spaces that you can build entire teams around to obsess about outside of any one feature, because we want people thinking about the features we haven’t developed yet.

Much has been said about the Instagram logo. How important is a logo in this day and age?

It would depend on what the brand is and what you mean to people. What was interesting about [the new Instagram logo] is that no matter what we launched, we had hundreds of millions of people tapping it every day, making an association between that mark and the experience known as Instagram. And so you have a tremendous responsibility to get it right. On the other side, people are going to use Instagram regardless of what the doorway looks like. The importance of having this one kind of mark or moment will start to fade and the brand experience will be the thing, more so than a particular symbol. I think it will take time for that to really change.

What you’ve seen is a lot of marks getting very simple, and part of that is that they become adaptable to the places where they may show up. It’s not just the bottle with the wrapper on it that is the moment. The logo is a lot more fluid, so I think the fluidity piece is important in figuring out how you create a mark or a system of marks that are fluid. But once you start to get into, say, Voice UI, how important is the logo at that point? Or if you get into things that are three dimensions, how important is a mark?

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You’ve worked for both agencies and in-house. Compare those two experiences.

When you work in an agency, you get a great breadth or range of work and a range of different types of brands, and that’s really educational and valuable. But in the end, I like the marathon ability to invest and go deeper. I feel like the trend right now is moving more things in-house, which overall is a good thing, because I think that means a lot of companies are learning to inject creativity and design into what they do as a company.

More and more companies are incorporating design into their process, and as the future unfolds, creativity is going to matter. Machines will be good at doing repetitive tasks that are based off of recognizing a pattern and then repeating it. But those who have trained themselves to be creative and invent the next thing will have longevity. Software will get very good at optimizing along a certain path, but actually finding a new path takes people still, and probably will for a while. The folks who are able to make intuitive leaps and be creative and generative will probably be better off. That’s true not just for designers. It’s true for every working person.

What’s one thing you do to nurture your own creativity?

That’s mostly at home, being able to tinker with ideas with my kids, whether it’s playing with marble runs or watercolor painting or things like that. I think those are the places where I get to play.

ian-spalter, instagram, creatice, career, interview, design

When you were the head of design at Foursquare, you asked your designers and engineers to draw the person they envision using the product. And then you also did an exercise where you used a Monopoly board to brainstorm the person’s user check-in moment. Why?

The first exercise was more of an empathy-building exercise: a shortcut to imagining in your mind who you want to actually have a great experience and what you want them to feel. That helps people get beyond themselves. Then the Monopoly one was an exercise where we were looking into redesigning the post-check-in screen, with a prompt for doing a team sketching exercise. The way it worked is that the designer wrote a bunch of different common scenarios – checking into a bar that your friend told you about, going to a local coffee shop. And they would shout it out almost like a game of Bingo. Everyone has about ten seconds to sketch out the scenario. What you got from that is people had the scenario in their mind, a person in their mind, and then they had ten seconds to say: “This is what we should see in this moment.”

Why the decision to do it on paper versus sharing this verbally?

Drawing is a commitment – especially if I gave you a Sharpie and I only gave you ten seconds. You’ve got to get to the shorthand of what’s important really fast. When you describe it, you could use all sorts of words, but it’s hard for me to understand what you really mean. Drawing gives us a point of reference to then have a conversation. Also, it’s fun to get people out of their comfort zones – most people are trained not to be comfortable with drawing.

You have a background in cultural studies. How does that influence how you see the world and how you design?

The cultural studies I got into are on the clinical science side, so Freud, Saussure, and Marx made up the school, and that helped me with thinking – coming at problems from different angles and appreciating what that brings. But more importantly is that I went to a school called Hampshire College in Massachusetts – a pretty young college. You could put together your own major; they had been doing that since they started in the ’70s, and that taught me a lot about being a self-starter and going from zero to one. Starting from something amorphous and figuring out a way to make something concrete gave me a good advantage going into more entrepreneurial environments, being comfortable when things aren’t figured out, and enjoying the process of working through that uncertainty to get to something good.

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What advice would you have for somebody who didn’t go to a Stanford about breaking into a Facebook or Instagram?

The most important thing is to find a certain aspect that you can really obsess about and lose time in. For me in college, I discovered that being in a computer lab doing graphics work was something I could spend 12 hours on. That was key. And from there, I was able to find an internship and start to get into the industry. But I think what matters most is figuring out what you feel passion about to grind hard on and begin making work and then leveraging that work and starting to connect with people who are doing that work, knocking on enough doors to hopefully get an internship and start to make your passion your profession.


This interview was originally published in 99U’s special issue for Adobe XD.


from 99U99U http://bit.ly/2kZ4CdS

Hector Ouilhet: Making Technology Human

Hector Ouilhet: Making Technology Human

Hector Ouilhet, Google’s head of design for Search and Assistant, is part of a rare breed in the tech sector. He appreciates the sartorial grandeur of a fine necktie and regularly wears one to the office. Today, he’s chosen a tangerine-colored Hermès cravat crawling with blue alligators and parrots that perfectly matches the pantone of the flower pinned to his left lapel. “Hermès ties are so intricate and interesting, and they usually help me strike up a conversation,” says Ouihlet. “And accents in somebody’s outfit say a lot of things about who they are.”

Ouihlet has routine and experiment days, where he’ll either play it safe or start with the accessory, like the tie, belt, or pocket square, and build the ensemble from there. With age, he’s gotten more adventurous. “Years ago, there were certain colors I’d never wear together,” he says. “Now I wear things that don’t feel fantastic yet, but I can see will eventually come.”

An eye looking toward the future is also central to Ouhlet’s work at Google, where he leads the design team making the products and interfaces that a good chunk of the population will be using in the next few years. His career trajectory was anything but a straight line. He was born and raised in Mexico City, then moved to South Korea in his teenage years to live with a relative (it was a youth rebellion phase).

Later, he studied fine arts, sculpture, and computer engineering in Mexico and then interaction design in Italy. Since 2008, he’s worked at Google in New York City and now in Mountain View, California, with a focus on the intersection of design, communication, and technology. He remains one of the most stylish people in the Bay Area. Ninety Nine U recently spoke with Ouihlet at Google’s San Francisco office about Google’s next-gen projects, including creating voice-controlled “conversational interfaces,” how his team is trying to make technology more human, and what he learns from watching his four-year-old daughter interact with his prototypes.

hector-ouilhet, design, uxdesign, interview, creative, career, google

Hector Ouilhet photographed in San Francisco for this interview.

What’s the most exciting new idea you’re working on right now?

I’m currently working on how you design a platform that is able to give you the right answer no matter what you’re looking for. It could be something very specific, like What is the weather right now? Or more broad, like When should I change the tires on my car? Then how do we apply that way of thinking to a new set of devices? The new set of devices is particularly interesting, because people like my four-year-old daughter won’t really know what certain devices are. She recently grabbed a keyboard, and she thought it was a guitar. She was touching the keys and asking, “Why is this not making music?” She saw a keyboard as an artifact from the past. And I’m also excited to look at how you mimic this notion of human-to-human conversation in human-to-technology conversation.

Actual conversations, with back-and-forth dialogue where the machines understand us?

Oh, yeah; that is where we’re heading. Communication works with two main pieces: audio and visual. Depending on the device, we’ll be able to use both. Here’s an example: You go to a restaurant and you don’t know what to order, so you have two choices. One is, the waiter can tell you the menu in a linear way. Or the waiter can give you a menu, and then you scan it and are able to jump around, because the visual medium is nonlinear. So you go directly to the dessert. Or to the beer.

To find out more, you can either ask the waiter or – imagine if the menu gets to know you better. The next time you come in, the first thing you’ll see on your menu is the beer, then the dessert: The menu adjusts itself to what we know about you. We can then design things like, “Okay, it’s a rainy Thursday. You feel like whiskey?” “Yeah.” So the next time it’s a rainy Thursday, the whiskey shows up without you even asking.

What kind of timeline are we talking about here?

Five to ten years. I was in Berlin recently, and someone asked me if conversational interfaces would happen in a leap or a breakthrough. Well, no. It’s like human beings: A kid doesn’t suddenly become an adult. You go through these painful yet interesting learning phases. Same thing with technology: It’s going to learn from you, and you’re going to learn from it. 

hector-ouilhet, design, uxdesign, interview, creative, career, google

You mentioned your daughter earlier. What have you observed and learned from watching how a four-year-old interacts with your voice-recognition prototypes?

Kids have a constrained vocabulary, and they use context to say what they mean. A sign like this [points to the ground] can mean, “Put me down,” or “I’ve got something in my shoe.” It could also mean many different things, depending on the location in your house. If you translate that to technology, how can you use a device’s location or place to help you in the experience? Because technology, like kids, has a constrained vocabulary and understanding. How can you use these signals to make your experience better? Maybe the first thing you would tell your device is that you’re in the kitchen, so it knows you’re in the kitchen and is only going to say certain things. You start treating the device less as a general-purpose machine, like most phones are, to something more specific, because this thing is in the bathroom, kitchen, or car. It’s fascinating to learn from little kids how much they use context to help them tell what they have in their hand.

You’ve said that Google technology must act more human. What do you mean by that?

I’m hoping that technology can get to know you, so the response you get from machines is better over time. Humans are predictable beings. Like when I ask for the temperature, the machine should know that I like Celsius because I’m from Mexico. I don’t know what Fahrenheit is. Things like that can make people appreciate that somebody’s listening. So if we’re talking and you make a reference to my daughter, I like that you’re trying to use the knowledge that we have of each other to enable a better conversation. That is how Search and Assistant should be, and are becoming, actually: more understanding of your intent. With that, we’re able to provide you with the right answer.

hector-ouilhet, design, uxdesign, interview, creative, career, google

On a personal note, you grew up in Mexico City. Was there a big design scene there when you were growing up?

Not really. At the time I was really into fine arts; that’s what I wanted to study. I studied that for a bit because my mom is really good at it, and she encouraged me. But my dad was like, “You’re probably not going to make enough to live on in the fine arts.” He asked me to consider engineering, because I always loved tinkering with machines. My first business, which I started with some high school friends, was making digital yearbooks that we put on CDROMs instead of printing them. We took photos of everyone in the school, scanned the photos, and burned them onto CDs. We would stay up all night doing that. I liked the act of creating – bonding creativity and technology to make something powerful. I ultimately studied computer engineering at University of the Americas Puebla, which, looking back, was the right choice.

Yet you’ve continued to dabble in the fine arts and even studied sculpture at one point. What impact has that had on your design process?

I love making something tangible, and now I apply that to how we work in our team at Google. We usually start our product reviews with a piece of paper the size of a table. Because something like Search is so deep and broad, we try to visualize it by drawing it, and then we draw on top of the original drawings to answer how we would code that design element. Drawing is a natural way to tell what you have in your head – once you see it, you can see your own gaps or your own possibilities.


This interview was originally published in 99U’s special issue for Adobe XD.

from 99U99U http://bit.ly/2kZ4hb6

Have We Got a Design Award For You

Have We Got a Design Award For You

I think we can all agree that you are uniquely talented. And yet, how often does anyone acknowledge it? Let’s face it—since you took home that blue ribbon for a pencil sketch of Black Beauty in 4th grade, you’ve been on the other end of a lot more no’s than yes’s. But hey, rejection is a painful yet necessary part of the creative process, isn’t it?

Not anymore.

For a nominal fee of $250 per entry (or $1,000 for five) you’ll have the rare opportunity to be considered for a gleaming trophy indicating that you possess talent. We’ve assembled a fine panel of judges from among the select few who have already won these very same trophies, not to mention our framed certificates, crystal flames, and various other objects, all engraved at enormous cost. (Winners will be eligible to purchase additional copies of said awards for their regional offices, their mothers, and their kindergarten art instructors.)  

Sure, we all know that clients are more focused on “results” and “sales” and other things that could be measured by any number cruncher in accounting. But they’re just clients—they have no idea of the blood, sweat, and tears that you put into every word of copy, every perfectly aligned pixel, every vector illustration. They don’t even know what a vector is, so how can they be trusted to assess your work? The truth is, they can’t. But they’re sure to be impressed with the phrase “award-winning designer” on your About page.

Yes, there are plenty of awards out there already, and once the season of giving begins, you’ll see the same logos, illustrations, and websites honored in exactly ALL of them. That’s why we’ve gone out of our way to offer dozens of unique opportunities to garner silverware, from Most Engaging Call-to-Action Button to Best Weather App for Infants, and new this year, due to popular demand, Best Pro Bono Campaign Promoting Pretty Much Anything. Of course, each of these categories will be subdivided into five tiers based on the size of your agency, because big agencies with big budgets and big-time clients always produce the most revolutionary ideas, and we’re committed to leveling the playing field.

As always, this year’s competition includes a category for projects killed by ignorant clients and bumbling coworkers. Just because your work never saw the light of day due to a shortsighted CMO or an account director who couldn’t sell a gym membership in January, that’s no reason you shouldn’t be acknowledged for your brilliant execution, which may or may not have been “on brief” or “under budget.”

All finalists will be invited to attend our award gala held in the ballroom of a downtown hotel on either a Monday afternoon or a Tuesday evening (depending on the number of entries received). There, you will be able to dress like an adult for the first time since last year’s event and sit at a table with your coworkers pretending that you truly enjoy each other’s company—a task made more palatable thanks to a lavish cash bar underwritten by a new brand of liquor or an old brand of beer.

We know you’re busy working 60-70 hour weeks, because creativity cannot be planned, and because a client’s preposterous last-minute demands simply must be satisfied. That’s why we’ll announce a deadline in early July, but extend it well into October, to ensure we receive the highest quality of work—and for no other conceivable reason.

So look through all the amazing work that you created this year, and pick only the best—or better yet, select the “Enter It All” menu option (sponsored by Dropbox) and submit everything on your hard drive for only $10,000. You’re sure to win something. We guarantee it.

from 99U99U http://bit.ly/2ANxtbm

I Post, Therefore I Am (Please Follow Me)

I Post, Therefore I Am (Please Follow Me)

I don’t keep track of how much time I spend on social media, but I know it adds up.

Before the internet, my creative progress was easily measured. I spent most of my day alone in my office, bringing ideas to life, or doing something ancillary that enabled my work—interviewing, filling out expense accounts, prospecting new jobs. In any case, something would be started or finished or added to. Something on my to-do list would be checked. Honest effort would be expended and I’d see the result.

Now, at the end of a work day—which never really ends until I scroll one last time thru the platforms, send an appropriately ironic goodnight Bitmoji to my son, and turn my cellphone face down on the night table—I sometimes strain to remember what I’ve accomplished during the previous hours.

With a lifetime of accomplishments as fuel, my star may be as bright as ever, but my universe has expanded to such an extent that keeping my head down and doing killer work is no longer an option—not if I want my stuff to be seen, not if I want further employment. And definitely not if I want to maintain my own self esteem.

We are all of us judged by the clicks we receive. By our Google rankings, our numbers of friends and followers; our hearts, wows and thumbs up—and our shares, most especially our shares: the hardest to come by and the most telling. To like is no investment. Even to love. But to share is to take someone else onto our own timeline, to truly support, yea, even to advertise for them. (Or to steal a little of their thunder.)

You might have a boffo blurb from The New York Times Book Review, a photo show at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, or a three-car garage courtesy of happy clients, but if you don’t get enough good customer reviews to trip Amazon’s algorithm, you’d better learn to be happy being the very best artist nobody’s ever heard of.

I post, therefore I am. Please follow me.


Before the internet, the media universe was very small.

It wasn’t hard to know which magazines, newspapers and television shows were the most popular and important, or which stories were making the most impact. All you had to do was step up to one of those iconic newsstands that, according to a Google search, once occupied more than 1,300 street corners across the great city of Manhattan, which itself was once the central axis of world communication. Compact and convenient, fashioned of plywood, each newsstand displayed a nearly identical collage of riotous photographs and screaming headlines, an ever-evolving portrayal of the American zeitgeist.

To be published in one of these titles, or in a book—or to appear on a television or radio show on one of the finite number of broadcast networks operating over the airwaves—was an obvious indication that your work, your talent, had been recognized and was valuable to the culture at large. Usually, it took years of dues, practice and salesmanship to break into one of these arenas, though a talented first-timer, given a little luck and the right rabbi, could land there, too.

In any case, you couldn’t just post something yourself. Which also meant you couldn’t publicize yourself, either—unless you wanted to hire a publicist. Or buy a lot of Xerox copies and an industrial stapler.

For the most part, the publicity part was up to the client, the news organization, the network, the studio—whoever paid for the work. As the creative, all you could do was hunker down and make the best product you could come up with. If it was really good, it got noticed. Or it didn’t. Whatever. Basically, I always believed that my every effort was created with only three people in mind. My subject, Myself and The Guy Who Authorizes the Checks.

Day to day, alone in my room, nobody else mattered.


Among the greatest guilty pleasures I’ve experienced during my forty-year career have been the several times I actually spotted people in the act of reading something I wrote. It’s happened on a beach. On a plane. At a newsstand, my piece on the cover, an actual reader’s nose buried in something I did. But I never—not for even one second—did I think about tapping the person on the shoulder and saying, “Hey! Look at me! I wrote that!”

Now I do it all the time.

According to Google, there are only 300 newsstands left in Manhattan. But there are so many outlets where one can publish, broadcast or otherwise exhibit one’s work or ideas that aggregating services are thriving. Even though I’m entering my fifth decade in the biz, when I receive my various emailed lists of best new stories, there are always publications (and writers) of whom I’ve never heard. And it’s a pretty good possibility they’ve never heard of me, either.

So now we post, we like, we share. We hope for shares back. We jump up and down: Hey! Look at me! I did that! And sometimes, even after months of labor, we swallow the bitter pill of indifference. Four impressions. One thumb up. One heart…from my mother. 

And then there’s the reach. Years ago, I wrote for a newspaper with a Sunday circulation of about one million—it seemed huge. Most major glossy magazines, up through the 2008 economic downturn, hovered at about 700,000. This past summer I wrote a sports story that got 200k likes in one hour. Remember the first time you went viral? Holy crap.


In some ways the internet is like an opiate. You use it and develop a tolerance. You need more and more to maintain. And even more to get high.  

Recently, I wrote a whole section for a major magazine. I was proud of the work. A Father’s Day special, it featured stories about some pretty special guys— the fathers of a trans woman and a multi-racial son, an American-Muslim man raising his son in difficult political times, and another dad with two severely disabled twenty-somethings. For reasons having to do with marketing strategy (something about wanting to sell actual magazines?), it wasn’t featured online.

Being a magazine devoted to men’s health,  a copy of the new issue was easily found at the local drugstore. Seeing it there on the shelf, stacked with the others like days of yore, I felt…weirdly unfulfilled. Even after buying the usual four copies.

So I went home, tore the pages out of one of the magazines, and photographed each of with my iPhone.

I post, therefore I am. Please, follow me?



from 99U99U http://bit.ly/2ANtjQQ

Home is Where the Art Is

Home is Where the Art Is

The E.U.’s architecture of international relations may be taking a beating, but one international organization at least is still building cultural ties in Europe. The Artist’s Studio Museum Network links the cottages, castles, and farmhouses that artists once used as homes and studios. The buildings now serve as museums of the artists’ domestic lives and work routines; where Monet tended his waterlilies, where Rosa Bonheur could wear work pants without a government permit, and where Beatrix Potter fed lettuce to the furry inspirations for Peter Rabbit. From Croatia to the Canary Islands, the goal of artist house museums isn’t just a history lesson—it’s a 360-degree understanding of the lifestyle and context of an artist’s work.

While some studio museums are front and center in bustling metropolises like Paris, many are tucked in far corners of the globe. When the founding Network museum, the Watts Gallery Artists’ Village, put out a call for the Network, they weren’t surprised when house museums came out of the woodwork. “Many artists seek seclusion in which to work,” says Kirsten Tambling who administers the Network. “Many of the studio museums we found are set in picturesque and inspiring, though remote, locations.”

The curators share a passion for keeping alive the soul of the artist whose home they steward, from preserving tubs of oil paints, to polishing the silverware, to asking visitors to be respectful in the crypt. “There’s a strong tradition in many studio museums of artists both building and then being buried in the estates,” says Tambling. 

We selected ten of our favorite studio museums for your next road trip through Europe – with a few suggestions for additions to the Artist’s Studio Museum Network

Galerija Meštrovic

Built as a summer villa for Croatian sculptor Ivan Meštrovic and his family, this museum perches like a Greek temple over the sparkling Adriatic. Visitors on art pilgrimage can rent bicycles in Split and peddle the cliff trail, stopping at pebble beaches along the way. Once there, you can wander the sculpture lawns and pass through the galleries, contemplating Meštrovic’s larger than life figures, which range from serene goddesses to the tormented figure of Job asking his eternal question: “Why do bad things happen to good people?” Meštrovic was imprisoned during WWII for refusing to exhibit for the Nazi regime. Much of his life was spent in expatriation to Paris, Rome, Yugoslavia, and the United States. His sculptures, most notably his emaciated Pietà in Paris’s Notre Dame Cathedral, dot the global map and once you become a Meštrovic expert at this gallery, you’ll notice them everywhere.

Šetalište Ivana Meštrovica 46, Split, Croatia

Ivan Meštrovic

Ivan Meštrovića, museum, gallery, sculpture, art

The Galerija Meštrovic overlooks the sparkling Adriatic. Image courtesy of Zoran Alajbeg © Muzeji Ivana Meštrovića.


The Hortamuseum isn’t just for fans of the Baron Victor Horta’s architecture. It’s a hub for lovers of the organic whimsy of the art nouveau style. From the doorbell to the dishware, the aesthetics of art nouveau invade the home of the Belgium architect. Horta’s self-designed house presents the leaps and bounds in functional capacity that the Industrial Revolution meant for iron and glasswork. There are few straight lines at the Hortamuseum. Botanical figures blossom from every corner and grow into load-bearing architecture. Voluptuous windows suffuse light. Wall-paintings and mosaic are in petal-like interplay. Parade up and down the stairs and into the tiled dining room, which can be rented for private dinner parties. 

25, rue Américaine, Saint-Gilles, Brussels, Belgium

Château de By, studio of Rosa Bonheur

It shouldn’t take the full American Indian regalia presented by her friend Buffalo Bill Cody and the walls of taxidermy animal heads displayed at the Rosa Bonheur studio to tell you that this painter was a badass. Bonheur is famous for her action-packed landscapes populated with powerful animals. To learn to paint her subjects, she frequented farms, horse markets, and slaughterhouses, inspiring generations of women artists with her no-shits-given attitude and her internationally-renowned career. When Bonheur moved from painting horses to lions, she ordered several of the large cats for her castle estate at Fontainebleau. There are no lions at Fontainebleau now, but a tour of Bonheur’s former studio is a dose in the robust energy of a woman who took a close-minded society by the scruff of the neck and shook it until it awarded her all the top honors the 19th century had. It’s a little off the beaten track to make the forty-minute trip from Paris. But hey! If Bonheur could go off the beaten track, so can you.

Chateau de Rosa Bonheur, 12 rue Rosa Bonheur, Thomery-By, Fontainebleau, France

Painter, museum, gallery, Rosa Bonheur

Taxidermy animal heads and antlers are displayed alongside paintings at the Rosa Bonheur studio.

Red House

William Morris fans sometimes make strange bedfellows – they include design and decorative arts aficionados, wallpaper lovers, architecture buffs, socialists, Medievalists, and art historians. If Morris was a midwife to the birth of the Arts and Crafts Movement, Red House is the birthplace. Morris’s home was a nerve center for a fellowship of Pre-Raphaelite thinkers, writers, and painters whom Morris hosted in his Gothic Revival dining room. The house manifests Morris’s conception that modern manufacturing had corrupted the decorative object and that home décor should be made by guild-style artisans and handcraftsmen. In addition to Arthurian inspired tapestries and Gothic stained glass, you can see the origins of Morris’s design company: Morris, Marshall, Faulkner & Co., a furnishing and decorative arts manufacturer founded on the principles Morris’s circle and developed at Red House. While the company disbanded in the early months of World War II, Morris’s focus on the handcrafted and the artisan has certainly seen a resurgence in the early 20th century.

Red House Lane, Bexleyheath, London, United Kingdom

Foundation Claude Monet

This museum in Monet’s country home in Giverny is for all those who ever wanted to live in a painting. The house, with its floor to ceiling windows thrown open to the flower gardens, makes you realize that Monet’s passion was the outdoors. En plein air, or outdoor painting, may be a staple of the vacation watercolor workshop now, but back in the day, Monet’s move to turn the garden into his studio was revolutionary. Don’t leave without strolling through the gardens, where you can see the Giverny waterlilies that Monet made famous around the world.

84 rue Claude Monet, 27620 Giverny, France
Claude Monet

Claude Monet, museum, gallery, painting, art, garden

The Monet Museum’s kitchen windows open onto the vegetable and water gardens. Image courtesy of Fondation Claude Monet-Giverny/Droits réservés.

Hill Top

Hill Top is a charming country cottage where Beatrix Potter wrote and illustrated more books in the vein of The Tale of Peter Rabbit. Her affection for farm life as a retreat from London suffuses the whole property, from the parlor, to the bedrooms, to the vegetable garden. From dust pans to dolls houses, the building is stuffed with the accoutrement of Potter and her stories. The staff frequently rearranges the furniture–as Potter often did when she magpie-like added new trinkets and trophies to her décor. The staff is knowledgeable, but the only guide you need is The Tale of Samuel Whiskers; many of the scenes are recognizably set in the different rooms of Hill Top. When you’re through, hop next door to the Tower Bank Arms for a drink before the fire. The pub was around in Potter’s day, and it makes a cameo in The Tale of Jemima Puddleduck.

Near Sawrey, Ambleside, Cumbria, United Kingdom

Halosenniemi Museum

If your dream house is a log cabin by a lake, the museum dedicated to Finnish painter Pekka Halonen might be the place for you. Halonen built the timber villa with his brother, allowing him to self-design the two-story studio he had seen while studying in Paris. From here, alongside his eight children, Halonen painted many works that contributed to the Golden Age of Finnish painting. Visitors can stroll down to the lake to watch the ice-skaters or tramp through the forest that inspired Halonen’s works. Halosenniemi Museum is a quick twenty-minute car ride from the airport – perfect if you have a layover in Helsinki and a few hours to kill.

Halosenniementie 4-6, Tuusula, Finland

Pekka Halonen

Museum, gallery, painting, artist, Pekka Halonen

Halonen designed the two-story studio after ones he’d seen in Paris. Image courtesy of Museokuva / Tuusula Art Museum.

Camille Claudel Museum

Until 2016, it was a cruel irony that, to see some of the best work by a sculptor whose artistic legacy has been overshadowed by her relationship to Auguste Rodin, one had to visit a museum with his name on it. But recently, a museum dedicated to Camille Claudel opened in her former childhood home. Claudel never gained prominence in her own time. Many of her onyx and bronze sculptures were considered too erotic by her contemporaries. Claudel herself destroyed much of her own work out of paranoia that her ideas would be stolen. Sadly, the decades it took for Claudel’s star to rise from obscurity means that the interior of the house museum in Nogent-sur-Seine was not preserved. However, the exterior has been restored and the interior is the best collection of Claudel work in the world.

10 Rue Gustave Flaubert, Nogent-sur-Seine, France

575 Wandsworth Road

The Kenyan poet Khadambi Asalache bought this Georgian townhouse in 1981 and almost immediately began decorating every inch with hand-cut salvaged pine. Several homes on this list might be called a ‘gesamtkunstwerk’a total artworkbut 575 Wandsworth Road beats everyone in square inches of handmade décor. Some art critics also use the home as an example of ‘horror vacui’ or the fear of empty spaces. Figurines and geometric forms dance along the walls, lintels and mantles. Perhaps not surprising, given his love of latticework, Asalache’s life partner was basketmaker Susie Thomson. The museum has recently launched a composer in residence program, which will interpret the house carvings into music. 

575 Wandsworth Road, Lambeth, London, United Kingdom

from 99U99U http://bit.ly/2AVYuG7