December recommended read: “Station Eleven”

Jeevan found himself thinking about how human the city is, how human everything is. We bemoaned the impersonality of the modern world, but that was a lie, it seemed to him; it had never been impersonal at all. There had always been a massive delicate infrastructure of people, all of them working unnoticed around us, and when people stop going to work, the entire operation grinds to a halt. -Station Eleven

Have you ever read a book that just perfectly captured your life in a given moment? That’s this book for me, right now. Station Eleven is a few years old, so I’m definitely late to this party, but Emily St. John Mandel’s writing is just stunning and was exactly what I needed after the trash fire that has been this year. Mandel weaves together the stories of a few people affected by a global flu disaster. Like, civilization-ending disaster. Seeing as how I’ve been sick with a cold for the past two weeks and, you know, the election and the rest of 2016 happened, reading about the end of the world due to a virus has been both upsetting and oddly comforting. Besides all the expected end-of-the-world doom and death, there’s a prevailing sense of hope throughout Station Eleven: hope that humanity will rebuild, hope that there’s safety out there somewhere, and hope that regrets can be put behind us before the end comes.

Besides that grim hope, Station Eleven also discusses technology and our relationship with it in a refreshing way. Because the story jumps between before the flu and after the flu, you get to see how the same characters relate to each other with technology and without. Lo and behold, humanity discovers that people were making modern life happen all along!

This concept of people-driven-technology is somewhat of a recurring theme for me right now. The ever-growing importance of technology in everyday life combined with changing political climates is sparking a reinvigorated conversation around ethics and compassion in digital work. Take for instance this lovely piece on amending Dieter Rams’ seminal Ten principles of good design with an ethics-focused principal. While the definition of ethical design is perhaps up for debate, the necessity of having that discussion is not. Ethically designed technology is, I think, inherently compassionate – it’s made not only for people, but for the good of people. Perhaps if more technology was made for the good of people we’d find it easier to remember how many people we encounter through technology every day?

There’s much, much more to discuss about compassion in this industry I find myself in, but we’re here to book review, right? Station Eleven left me feeling hopeful and reflective, which is honestly my favorite mix of post-book feels. The story moves fast and it does get hard to put down; I could probably have finished it in a few sittings if I hadn’t felt the need to savor it more. The various story lines are masterfully woven together, even as they jump from before-flu to after-flu. Mandel does leave the book on an open note, but I felt the uncertainty suited the overall message of the story: something always comes next, even after catastrophe.

 

PS. Come find me on Goodreads if you’re into that sort of thing!

 

Three things that save meetings from wasting time

How do you run efficient & effective meetings?

Picture this: you’ve been sitting in a meeting room with eight other people for an hour, talking in circles about an issue that was supposed to be solved 45 minutes ago. Two of the people in the meeting are looking at Twitter because this conversation has nothing to do with them, but they have other topics that need to be discussed. No one can move forward because this decision needs to be made, but the person who can really make a decision had a conflict and left 20 minutes ago.

Sounds kinda awful, right? This isn’t a great way to get things done yet it seems a lot of meetings end up this way. Where do things go wrong? How can they be better? I’ve been told that I run pretty okay meetings (a point of pride, to be honest!) so I decided to share what works for me.

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Finding a place in tech without writing a line of code

"What if I love being in tech, but don't love writing code?"

A short while ago a student asked me “What if I love being in tech but don’t love to write code? Is there a place for me?” It reminded me that there’s this perception that developers are the most valuable people on a tech team, but building a successful product definitely takes a village. There are a ton of different things that people do in tech to help make the digital products and services that we use everyday possible. Some of the non-programming jobs focus around design and content, others are more directly linked to development like quality assurance and technical management. Having at least a high-level understanding of each is super helpful no matter where on the team you sit, so I thought it might be helpful to look at a few of the more common non-development roles.

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Accessible HTML video as a background

It’s always important to keep in mind that just because a design fad works for one site doesn’t mean it will work for all sites. Background video is a great example of when it’s probably best to not blindly follow a design trend. There are several important accessibility considerations to think about before throwing content over a video and this article (plus the comments) does a great job breaking them down.

Accessible HTML video as a background

It’s always important to keep in mind that just because a design fad works for one site doesn’t mean it will work for all sites. Background video is a great example of when it’s probably best to not blindly follow a design trend. There are several important accessibility considerations to think about before throwing content over a video and this article (plus the comments) does a great job breaking them down.

Happy Monday

Lovely watercolor by Natalia Tyulkina

Lovely watercolor by Natalia Tyulkina

Monday, Monday, Monday, here you are again! Last week was unexpectedly busy at work (hello 12 hour days! It’s been a while!) hence the quiet couple of days. Luckily my weekend was slow and peaceful, the perfect breather after a super busy week! I don’t know about you, but I’m ready to tackle whatever is in store for this week. How about some good links to get the day going?

  • Apple finally announced a smart watch! It’s definitely interesting, from an industry point of view, but I’ll personally be passing on this version. This piece does a great job of voicing my own issues with the new device. It all boils down to this: the Apple Watch feels like a computer you happen wear on your wrist, not a watch that happens to check my email.
  • Use Your Interface is hands-down the best gif-based interface collection around. Definitely check it out if you haven’t come across it before!
  • Need some designy retail therapy to really get Monday going? I love this charming (and appropriately named!) script font Monday. Check out those pretty loops, swashes, and ligatures!

Bright Simple Deco

Bright Simple Deco nail art on Miss Venn

Okay okay you have to get some nail vinyls if you haven’t seen them before. Really! Nail art necessity! I get my vinyls from NailVinyls.com for a few reasons. First of all, the owner Linda is a lovely person who seems to really enjoy what she does. Love it! Also her nail vinyls have always been super high quality. And they come in tons of shapes! If I haven’t convinced you yet I don’t know what will.

This manicure was made with the right angle vinyls which I hadn’t used before. It took a bit of work (and my non-dominant hand looks, uh, iffy) but I think it’s worth it in the end!

Bright Simple Deco nail art on Miss Venn with Butter London Cuppa and Slapper, plus nail vinyls from nailvinyls.com

Voice vs. Tone

Voice vs. Tone

I picked up Nicely Said a few weeks ago and am seriously loving it. It focuses on writing for the web and covers everything from writing for communities to making interface elements easy to understand. Nicole Fenton and Kate Kiefer Lee make everything super approachable with common sense advice and reusable patterns. Basically, it’s great! The chapter on defining a writing style has been extra helpful since I’m starting to write here more often. This quote about voice vs. tone stood out especially; I’ve never really considered the difference and have probably used them wrong in the past. Now I know!

I’ll be sharing more quotes and things I’ve learned in a few weeks, once I finish reading. In the meantime, you should pick up your own copy and let me know what you think!

Happy Monday

Welcome to a new week! Start your Monday with some good reads: