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INTERVIEW | At Work
The Paris Review • JAMES ATLAS
Douglas Coupland is the author of Marshall McLuhan: You Know Nothing of My Work!, a pithy biography of the Canadian professor and communication theorist. McLuhan, who was born in 1911, is perhaps best known for coining the phrase “the medium is the message”
and for anticipating the Internet decades before its arrival. Earlier this month, Coupland answered a few question about his work as a biographer and what drew himto McLuhan.
You used an unconventional form for your biography of Marshall McLuhan such as MapQuest, an autism assessment test, use of Wikipedia as a source.
Was this innovative method a deliberate reference to McLuhan’s own idiosyncrasies? Or is it the reflection of a personal quirk?
Since starting the project I’ve felt like an unwitting manifestation of McLuhan’s beliefs about the effects of media: born 1961, TV child, Photoshop user, and so on. Having said that, I think I started the book at the crisis point in the history of biographies, and it’s a happy coincidence it happened to be Marshall.
Twofold. First, if I want to know about Marshall or anyone, I can YouTube them, hear their voice, see them in action, read capsule biographies and dissertations on them—you name it. You can get a subjective and highly factual dossier on most anyone in the public realm almost instantly. It’s why publishers don’t worry about author photos any more; people just google a person and get on with things. Second, we’ve obviously entered the age of near total medicalization of personality. To write a biography of anyone, let alone someone so neuroconnectively fascinating as Marshall, seems like a gross abnegation of duty to truth. The biography has begun to morph into the pathography. Note: Marshall McLuhan’s left cerebral cortex was vascularized in a way only ever before seen in mammals in cats. He wasn’t just different; he was very different.
One critic has claimed that the freedoms you took with the linearity of traditional narrative were done more in a spirit of subversion than of literary innovation. Please defend.
Has that critic written a biography lately? I suppose one could take disparate chunks of information and stick them into a narrative through-line as in a pre-2000 biography, but with Marshall it felt like a nostalgic conceit. The fact that information comes from places like Wikipedia, YouTube, and Amazon seems to be a part of the overall message of a 2011 biography. Seamless concealment of sources seemed, in this instance, like an attempt to get away with something.
What attracted you to McLuhan as a subject?
Actually, nothing. A friend doing a series of biographies of Canadians writing about Canadians asked me to do it. I accepted and bailed three times before finally getting down to it.
Did you see him as a prophet of the revolution in global communications?
No. Like most people, I only knew his three clichés: Medium equals message, global village, andthe scene from Annie Hall. I’ve found that most people truly would like to know more about the man, but it’s almost impossible to do.
Why did you believe he was still relevant?
Well, I didn’t. I had to figure that out myself. It took months of reading and rereading his stuff to realize that in Marshall we had a classically trained scholar realizing that there’s this thing coming down the pipe—the Internet—yet because he didn’t understand the ultimate interface, he was frustrated in his inability to describe it clearly. I think that’s what people really respond to in Marshall: the almost vibrating sense of being in on one of the biggest prognostications of all time, yet having news of its arrival coming from this fuddy-duddy guy in 1950s Toronto. How on earth did that happen? [jump to next column]
At accelerator graphics, it's our job to help you "assess each element of your service or product and better it — to see design not just as a mere clerical check box but as true source of competitive advantage, customer and employee satisfaction and, lastly, higher bottom line profits."
FORBES | Welcome to the Era of Design
May 03, 2015
All businesses, no matter what they make or sell, should recognize the power and financial value of good design.Obviously, there are many different types of design: graphic, brand, packaging, product, process, interior, interaction/user experience, Web and service design, to name but a few.In this post, I am referring to design as a broad and deliberately applied discipline, with the aim of creating simpler, more meaningful, rewarding experiences for customers.You see, expecting great design is no longer the preserve of a picky design-obsessed urban elite—that aesthetically sensitive clique who'd never dare leave the house without their Philippe Starck eyewear and customized iPhone cases and be seen reading the sleak looking magazines. Instead, there’s a new, mass expectation of good design: that products and services will be better thought through, simplified, made more intuitive, elegant and more enticing to look at.
Design has finally become democratized, and we marketers find ourselves with new standards to meet in this new “era of design.” To illustrate, Apple, the epitome of a design-led organization, now has a market capitalization of $570 billion, larger than the GDP of Switzerland. Its revenue is doubleMicrosoft’s, a similar type of technology organization but one not truly led by design (just compare Microsoft Windows with Apple’s Lion operating system). Every day my Twitter feed populates with astounding growth facts about the likes of Apple, Amazon, Facebook, Pinterest ... It is no coincidence that these successful brands seem to really value design and utilize it to secure a competitive advantage. Even the UK government has issued its “design principles,” naturally on a clean, easy-to-navigate website.
But why have people become so design sensitive? Why does that credit card mailer look so bad and dated now? Why can’t you access my account details? Why does airport signage seem so unhelpful? Why doesn’t that technology plug and play? Perhaps Apple’s global dominance has elevated our design expectations, or Ikea’s vision to bring great design at affordable prices to everyone on the planet has finally taken effect, or perhaps the Internet has taught us what well-designed user experiences and good design really are. Likely, it is a combination of all.
What is certain is that the design bar has been raised and design-oriented businesses are winning.
Think how swiftly and strongly a design experience shapes our opinion of that brand, company or store, for good or bad. For instance, we know quickly when a website is bad. And we associate that feeling of frustration, or worse, disappointment with that brand. Design-oriented organizations invest in thinking this stuff through.
When you buy Apple Care, instead of receiving the standard bland letter or email, you receive a nicely designed box containing the paperwork, guidance and all the information you need. You have questions? No problem. There are clear user diagrams and a simple section on the website to help you.The impact on brand is that customers see these brands as both progressive and customer-centric.
Thoughtful and innovative design makes us feel good. It is no surprise that we are happy to advocate them, talk about them in social media and can be fiercely brand loyal. As Michael Eisner, former CEO of Disney, once said, “A brand is a living entity—and it is enriched or undermined cumulatively over time, the product of a thousand small gestures.”
That thinking still holds true, but it all happens a lot faster now. Thanks to the Internet and a hyperconnected, social-media-fueled society, brands can be instantly undermined and that experience shared with millions.
So this is a call to action for executives to recognize this new era and make the effort to transform even a mundane product or service into something more rewarding and more memorable. Try to assess each element of your service or product and better it—to see design not just as a marketing thing but as a genuine source of competitive advantage, customer and employee satisfaction and, lastly, a route to higher profits.
VIEW | Home Tour
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RE:CALL | Upper & Lower Case
Click on The Cat for today's history lesson.
DESIGN SHOULD NEVER SAY 'LOOK AT ME';
IT SHOULD ALWAY SAY 'LOOK AT THIS.' –DAVID CRAIB
MAKE YOU GO
Font or Typeface,Yo?
Confused by the terms? That’s probably because it’s confusing! But here’s the simple way to think of it.
Typeface: is the design of the alphabet–
the shape of the letters that make up the typestyle. The letters, numbers, and symbols that make up a design of type.
So when you say “Arial” or “Goudy” you’re talking about a set of letters in a specific style ot typeface.
Font: is the digital file that contains/ describes the typeface. Think of the font as a little piece of software that tells the computer and printer how to display and print the typeface. A font is a very specific extension of a broader typeface or type family.
According to Adobe’s type glossary:
“A font is one weight, width, and style of a typeface. Before scalable type, there was little distinction between the terms font, face, and family. Font and face still tend to be use d interchangeably, although the term face is usually more correct.”
A typeface is a type family or group of typefaces that were designed to be used together. For example, Goudy Old Style has Roman (upright or normal), italic (slanted and cursive), bold and bold italic versions. Each of the style and weight combinations is a more specific font of that type or typeface, and together they are, hopefully, a happy typeface family (rather than a disfunctional typeface family which will probably be more familiar to you). Typefaces are the larger styles; fonts are the very specific instances of them.
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McLuhan said that the work of the artist is to find patterns.
He did. He also saw pattern recognition as a survival technique for staying sane in a universe of constant information bombardment.His language is a universe unto itself and is astonishingly dense and hard to navigate. He died the year I started art school , and his stock was at an all time low. His name never came up.
Is there a pattern in his own work?
A few things come to mind: he preferred to collaborate than to write solo; he tended to say the same thing over and over again, albeit phrased differently; and he liked to say sensational things to provoke responses from his readers. The two preexisting biographies of him that I used doing research are dense in their margins with exclamation marks, swear words, and most importantly, ideas triggered by his way of thinking. Few writers can do that to people so consistently.
Do McLuhan’s ideas seem archaic now?
Oddly, no. A few of the pop culture material he references, like Blondie and Dagwood cartoons, feel a bit old, but the writing remains utterly fresh.
Then what is it like to actually read McLuhan in the twenty-first century?
How does it sound to the contemporary ear—and mind?It consistently addresses the human soul (Marshall’s work is deeply pastoral in that way) while, at the same time, in tone it comes across sounding like an alien entity hovering over planet Earth filing mission reports back to his own galaxy.