The Spirits Of Those Times

What is nostalgia? Why do images or videos from a bygone era crystallize fascination in all of us? Is it the simplicity of the lives lived back then? Is not all past looked at with some yearning for crumbs of positivity, so that our lives do not feel like an utter waste? There is always a past to look to and smile at no matter how bad and unsatisfying our lives have been. Because in it is the fleeting moment at its most familiar, that familiarity is what we relate to our present, for good or for worse.

When I come across imagery from times other than now; if it was the time when I was alive, for me, I think of where I would have been when that image was captured. How the flutter of some butterfly’s wing would have related it to my day.  I think of the objects in that image – that they were the best outcomes, a result of the apex of technology of that time. I try to remember if I had owned or used one of those objects, or if I had interacted with one and, if yes, when did I interact with one for the first time. These can be anything from telephones & chairs to electrical switches. And prior to my existence, I think of where my parents and family would have been, the fake memories from their stories I plant in space and time appropriately. Nostalgia is an expert level family puzzle game for all ages.

Whether it is a video from the 2000s or from the early 90s, there is always something to connect. Then there are the images from further back in time, and I look at all of them and think of the people in those frames – each and everyone with an important story to tell, their life central to their reality which is the most important of them all. And they walk out of the frame to their lives and days as more like them walk in – these people who are always on the way to something important.  There are ultimate geniuses, and leaders as well as complete desolates and degenerates in those crowds – some of them are now dead and some of them are still around to witness how far we have come. It would be interesting to see how they connect their youth to the media they come across from their times – how does that weigh against their childhood memories and which connections of memories survived and which ones did not? How would have the 90s’ technological boom affected their attitude compared to how our parents recalled their youth?

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No, There Need Not Be An App for That

In this post, I would like to talk about applications for digital devices, or anything on a screen for that matter. This topic does not really require an introduction like how it did ten years back, and most of this has been mentioned in places elsewhere but I will ramble because I must. Applications have managed to become a part of almost everyone’s lives, whether they wanted it or not – even the ones who were once very anti-tech find themselves staring at a screen for hours everyday (my mother who once used to blame the computer to be the source of all evil now cannot get by without YouTube and WhatsApp). Since our relationship with technology has changed, so must the degree at which we analyze and criticize it.

For Users:
Privacy –
Our devices have a good number of apps; and apart from the two or three which are essential to going about our lives, most of them are what we did not use after that one time we needed a discount code, or because everyone else was using it and we did not want to feel left out. It is not possible to use all the applications on your phone and function as a normal productive human being, as often promised by their developers. There is more to this compromise – these applications linger on with their bloating updates, keeping an eye over what we are doing till we either uninstall them ourselves or lose/break our phones. Enough has been discussed on this and I would not drag this along further but, in short, – the service never really ends with the transaction.
Attention –
Even if we can view more of what is going on in our screens than ever before, our focus on tasks is diminishing – more tabs and more sources of notifications lead to a complete saturation of our senses and attention. And then, there are apps for improving productivity and focus as well, or that is what they claim. Some have even crossed over on to keeping one enriched through audio while we are doing some other task – I am not really sure how much of that content is retained in our minds compared to sitting down and, say, reading an actual book. All of this seems to perfectly complement a population that is getting increasingly dependent on focus enhancing medication. This only gets worse when expensive smart e-learning packages are sold to institutions – these are nothing but more applications, each with its own set of distractions aimed at the youngest of our populations.
Life-
With that, we have come to a point where the interactions of our existence, directly or indirectly, rely on a digital application of some sort – whether the goal is achieved by downloading an app for a particular task, or is realized by going through multiple layers of digital media to achieve a goal (an example would be – turning your computer on, dealing with its interface and then pulling up a browser that leads you to the website delivering the solution/information required). In this flood, our modern and smart living experience is nothing but us looking at one screen and then moving onto another. The real world just doesn’t have room in our lives anymore and it is just not us who is to blame but also the creators who see an app as an end, or at least a supplementary essential, rather than as a means. People have often talked about how real conversations do not exist when everyone is looking at their phones, but I wish to prod this along even further – do real conversations even exist nowadays without phones? Do most conversations not eventually spiral towards someone pulling out a phone to look up something that would make things more interesting? And when the conversation is in an exciting scenario or leads to a great moment, the need to capture it through photos becomes essential (the real world interaction leads to a great experience which must now be put into and validated through the application realm). The phone gets pulled out regardless. Not to forget that the phone and its make also influences how we are perceived.

For Designers:
To designers and product developers, apps seem like an intelligent & quick solution to what were previously insurmountable problems. The evaluation of a product’s worth is mostly centered around the digital experiences it has to provide, even when that isn’t primarily the focus of that service. The seamlessness of its interaction with the real world and its changing dynamics is one of the key barometers to make this said experience great. This seamlessness also involves the success of that application to keep the user absorbed/pulled in within its ecosystem, away from other ecosystems (which also includes the real world). This competition for attention is a deadly game we are playing with our society and is not really expected when every other design group uses feel-good words like ‘social responsibility’ etc.
I feel, this is something we are not talking about as a community, maybe because of how much it has simplified our living and has achieved a status where it need not be questioned. Also, not to forget, that a lot has been built upon this and a huge industry with its numerous specialized jobs depends on the screens which keep us distracted and unsatiated. For every young designer, having visualized apps and interactions to some extent has become almost like a rite-of-passage. User interface/experience and visual communication design, fields with immense opportunities for research, have somehow gotten fixated for too long in this trap of the app – everyone is focusing on ‘crafting’ these experiences and great products in the form of phone or tablet applications. It is almost as if these designers, by their own will, have forced themselves and the experiences they seek into the guidelines set by the corporate giants. But, if at the end of the day, one is held hostage by a leading device platform developer, and if that is where most of the bread and butter is at, how can one really solve problems beyond the screen? This is an honest question – in a walled garden with a limited number of playing blocks provided (to which the platform developer regularly adds or removes), can you really innovate for the real world beyond a certain point?
If the ever-present and unquestioned goal is to push for a digital product that solves real problems, all the research and the decorative post-its are, thus, useless.

Businesses & Products:
New and old businesses alike, whether big or small, fall prey to the app trap. The reasons are many: it might be because of their desire to try out a new technology without a huge investment or risk, or a push to keep up with the times, or just finding the app-marketplace to be a level ground when competing against big players. The last one probably is stemmed in the overnight successes of independent app developers that became multi-billion dollar corporations. Even within the established digital services domain, some businesses have already ditched their online websites completely for apps while others are slowly phasing them out or are downgrading their capabilities. The reasons for these are both economical and socio-technological, and hence the snowball of applications only gets bigger with every passing year.
One does not need apps to control or manage light-bulbs, shower-heads or keys – these objects serve their own purpose by themselves. A device with apps for that is the intangible equivalent of a purse with all the keys to your home, your passport, your bank account info, your nail cutter, hair trimmer and your toolbox – all of it, in one place, all the time. You have to carry it around and take these objects out every time you need them, must have it all in there regardless. Losing your purse also gives away all of these to someone who finds them, or at least takes them away from your reach, even if the loss is temporary and recoverable. Just because there is no physical weight to it does not mean there is no weight to it.
Apps also encourage obsolescence – while physical parts might be, to some extent, easier to source and create (or at least replace) – code is difficult to break into for repairs by an average user. Open source alternatives completely depend on how impactful the product was during its run and they too might stop once the interest of the community dies out or the overall use of this gets absorbed and closed off as a small feature by the larger fish (discussed below). This effect magnifies if you have a physical product that relies on an app to run. Imagine having a perfectly functioning ‘smart’ light-bulb which cannot function anymore because the application is out of development; or the application now only serves a newer line of products; or it works only on newer operating systems for your devices. To turn that damn bulb back on again, what would you throw and what would you replace?
Apps should be replaced by relevant interfaces that only become salient to the product’s scenario of use and context. And there need not be an app for everything. Even in situations where an application or a digital experience seems to be the absolute necessary for a product or a service, it need not be so at all. All the designer needs to do is step back and look at things through a new perspective.

The Unified Interface & Its Coming:
Usually, there would be a software capable of performing a given set of tasks, anything that would expand its capabilities would be done through a plugin or another software that would use the application in a certain manner. These handy plugins or widgets are suicidal by nature in these times, because once they gather enough user-base, they are rapidly absorbed by the system they rely on or work within. Things which are the USP of these smaller products get picked up and added as extra features to the main apps they rely on. Take for example Maps, you can now call for a cab, lookup places to eat through this single application on your device – sure it might rely on another installed app for this feature to be available, but once enough people start to use these features on this ‘mother’ app, the economic incentives of piggybacking for these food and taxi aggregators become high enough for them to discontinue their standalone applications. Right now, these things happen slowly within an ecosystem or in between applications that work with each other, but soon this will expand into entire operating systems. What we are headed towards is an experience where independent (not independent in the development sense) software would not exist – it would be the part of the operating system where it shows up only when needed.
The focus of the industry is also on VR or personal home assistants, but the song remains the same for this new medium. In fact, it only gets murkier with this – the simple action of whipping out a phone will be completely replaced by the presence which is actually beyond one’s control, we would be incapable to really turn it off. It will soon extend itself to the devices we will interact with or shall be present through someone else we interact with (asking people to put down their phones nowadays is an escalated situation by itself, imagine asking someone to turn off their personal assistant or such entities). The user will become an extension of the interface. The strings of control just became tighter – good luck coming up with socially responsible designs for that.


So simply put, things look bad and will only get worse. And I am not really big on changing this, because there is no other way either – it is just that we can only be cautious and know about the consequences of what has us smitten. The signs of it already show up indirectly through the court hearings, political conspiracies and corporate leaks we frequently read about. Such is progress and it does not come without sacrifices. Behind all disappointment is a hype, behind all utopias is absolute control.

Interactive Art: False Color

This is an idea for an interactive art installation where both the spectators and the performers participate through observation and creation, respectively.  It consists of a booth, like a darkroom used for developing photographs, with a counter has four colors which render as black to the subject in the saturated red light from overhead. The subject uses these four colors to paint a blank canvas in front of him/her. In the end, the piece is given back to the subject – for them to validate against their imagination.  There are one way glass windows on the sides of the canvas through which the spectators on the outside can look inside this booth but only see the canvas’ reflection on the wall behind the performer (not shown in the image).

This piece seeks to initiate conversations and thoughts about the subjectivity of vision, our perception of colors, reality and light.

falsecolor-01

Seasons

In Rochester, weather is the most easiest-to-converse-about topic between strangers. Everyone and anyone can get started about their own snow and storm story. This post is based on one such discussion I had today with a Lyft driver about it – rather than the “back in ___ we got _ feet of snow”, this conversation was more about appreciating this climate, even with its extremes.

Living in the upper latitudes of the northern hemisphere is way different from where I have spent most of my life. Here, all the four seasons are very salient and each comes with its own intensity and beauty.  This is unlike how it is in the temperate climates, it gets hot or cold but your surroundings pretty much look the same throughout the year. Nature reminds one loudly about time as it passes and a new appreciation develops as each year ends and starts over back again.

For people like me, who arrive here in August, it is almost like starting a biography of someone from somewhere in the middle. You get to see the individual age, shrivel up and die, but you also start the book again to see what you missed. Maybe that is how I will write my autobiography, that might help me know myself better.

Fall

The colors of the summer can be found to be lingering on for a month or two and give one enough time to observe what will soon be gone. It quickly rustles away with the winds, the same omnipresent winds which once felt like a breath of life, now carry with them the remains. Life measures time with decay, but in that decay it puts on a grand show, its last colorful push of reds and yellows – maybe a struggling display that this life, these trees, these leaves and flowers, too existed in this space and time. And then they are gone.

Winter

Winters are long and unforgiving, thus meditative. They bring in that necessary pause our lives require. One can just sit for hours and look out at bare trees, with maybe an animal skipping through quickly gathering the last bits before heading home. A crow would often break the silence bragging probably about how it has braved these winds. I am always fascinated by that one leaf which is dry and dead but still clings on to the tree, as if by some miracle it will revive once again; and maybe it does, and no one notices. Even within this stagnation, one can see decay occur – in the wet ends, at doorsteps and carpets, in what happens under the snow and the salt. Life recedes back to the bare necessities, around the heart and the hearth, and the extremes and excesses are numb so we can only hold the layers tighter to our chest, bent in and closed off from the death that stands at its strongest in this veil of stagnation outside.

Spring

The burst of the spring through the sleet, wind and snow, is that reminder of life’s return which one tends to forget about in the months of the winter. This happens almost by magic, within a week or so, and you see life raise its head once again. It feels like it would only get colder there onward and it often does – the winds and the rains crush and dissolve the large chunks of snow that lay out there for months, the same winds which had suppressed life now destroy what they had set. And then, one can see the grasses rise through the snow and the flowers dot the trees. From that, which one assumes to have been dead and stagnant, comes a sign that life was always there. It only survived in decay.

Summer

Summers are absolutely beautiful here in the flower city. It never gets too hot, and rains cool down the weather whenever it gets too uncomfortable. The days are long and the sunsets at 9 pm with their long shadows and the reds make the whole place look like a few places I have seen in my dreams. There is this laze which sets in even in the life people lead here. Now at its most fertile, this is when humans come out – we are the decay which feeds on this tree from the top.

Why did I ramble about the weather of Rochester? I do not know. Maybe this is my ode to it.

 

Space Force Marine Equipment Concept

 

The announcement of a US Space Force is an exciting one – refreshes the entire stage for concept artists and designers alike.

This is a collection of imaginary equipment that a Space Marine might have to carry.  GAU-Photon is my favorite.

The Experience Design of Ragas

For most people, vibe is important. Ambiance is another term some like to use. But overall, people enjoy and pay more for an immersive experience. This has been central to the new improvements in the entertainment and media industry. The design industry has also found itself talking more and more about experience of using and interacting with a product or a service. People now have things which communicate with sight, sounds, touch and smells and almost everyone is exploring ways to set the perfect mood for an experience – whether it is for long lasting emotional design or planned obsolescence, all are aiming for an experience that goes beyond the product/service itself.  At its core, it is about making things more immersive. New fronts are emerging as we find relationships between sensations, sensors and technologies. But the number of augmentations really do not determine the quality of experience, this is often neglected and misunderstood. This is the reason why we often hear things like, ‘bad sound’,  ‘bad lighting’, ‘three dead in a pyrotechnic accident’; or we see a restaurant with lighting that makes the food look like crap and a lounge where social interaction is expected but the music prevents it.

For music, what was once a simple equalizer dancing within the confines of a screen (initially a utility of monitoring sound levels for different frequencies) has now mapped to low-cost smart lights in one’s living room for the parties. Up the budget for a concert and you have something grand yet similar, but it is tailored for the venue and the performer (smoke, confetti, water cannons, flames etc.). Things are also changing with VR, where listening to a song could also mean being the protagonist in its music video.

With all that said, I want to talk about something old.

I cannot help but think of Hindustani classical music in the context of experience design, and more specifically the concept of ragas. Even though there is lots to discuss about the rituals, instruction and hierarchies, all of which I know nothing about, there is something about the entire system which is very organic and sophisticated. The people who framed these rules knew that it was not just about the music (product/service – depends on how one looks at it) but the entire experience. Ragas are, by design, an immersive experience rather than a simple set of notes to improvise along with. Traditionally, ragas are to be performed at a particular time of the day and even have appropriate seasons designated for their performance. This is probably an early example of where entertainment was designed with the environment in the mind. It had to reflect back, through music, what the environment presented; and given the absence of technology at that time, a master performing a raga at the correct time and season would have yielded a mood that is really difficult to recreate with all our screens, smoke, flames, sprays and amplification. Among these, amplification is an interesting tool as its presence or absence also raises questions like – should an audience beyond a certain number really witness this performance? Would architecture across the world evolve differently if we had access to modern amplification methods? Would that have also affected the instruments we have today?

As Western music took the main seat in the world, the ambiance of entertainment was now sourced in the replication of concert halls which was only made more colorful with open air stages etc. The music too has distanced from the nature worshiping pagan traditions, and is now a projection from man on to his environment (the western approach where man is at the center of his reality – a closed-in approach which I feel was guided more by the climate than philosophy or religion) – it became important to create and impose the vibe rather than let it come in from the outside. Even the western instruments had to eventually mic into modern amplification to cater beyond what they could deliver by themselves and the spatial acoustics. And with all the tech, attempts are rigorous to subconsciously guess at and recreate the conditions that might best complement a song. The right answer perhaps will come when we open our senses to the world before applying our sensors to it.

1984 Maruti 800

 

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Finally started playing with Sketchbook. This is a 1984 Maruti 800 (based on Suzuki Fronte SS80), a landmark for the Indian automobile industry, which brought cars within the reach of the common people. It truly captures the spirit of the Indian middle class in the 80s-90s along with two wheelers like Bajaj Chetak. The legacy still lives on through various descendants in the market today but spotting the original one, though a rare opportunity, can bring a smile with a flood of memories to anyone. Reference photo credit: @motorbeam @autodesk @autodeskuniversity @autodesksketchbook @adobe @adobestudents @ritart_design @rit_id #autodesk #sketchbook #suzuki #marutisuzuki #maruti800 #indiancars #japanesecars #india #art #automobile #vintagecars #india #nostalgic #industrialdesigner

A post shared by Aishwarya Uniyal (@punditgotarmor) on

Finally started playing with Sketchbook but primarily worked on this in Illustrator.

This is a 1984 Maruti 800 (based on Suzuki Fronte SS80), a landmark for the Indian automobile industry, which brought cars within the reach of the common people. It truly captures the spirit of the Indian middle class in the 80s-90s along with two wheelers like Bajaj Chetak. The legacy still lives on through various descendants in the market today but spotting the original one, though a rare opportunity, can bring a smile with a flood of memories to anyone.