New book: ‘Algorithmen & Zeichen — Beiträge von Frieder Nake zur Gegenwart des Computers’

If you are reading my essays, you probably know Frieder Nake. For over 50 years, he has worked at the intersection of computer science, semiotics, art, interaction design and cultural theory. His essays and his art are remarkably relevant for the current debate on the significance of the computer in our society.

I know Frieder since the mid 90s. When I started my degree in graphic design at the Art College in Bremen, I immediately went into multimedia and web design. (Macromedia Director 4.0 was one of the first applications I learned on the Mac.) A fellow student told me…


‘Form follows function’ is a meaningless platitude that professional designers should avoid

Flourishing by Stefanie Weigele

One of the most irritating and misleading things that were ever said about design is ‘form follows function’. It is an inaccurate and deceptive aphorism. And yet it has shaped the public debate on design for decades. This is surprising, considering the fact that it is now 125 years old and was made by a fairly unknown architect.

Ironically, its success is entirely based on form. ‘Form follows function’ is memorable because it is a catchy alliteration and not because it is particularly meaningful.

But why is it so bad? Why do I dislike it so much? Let’s have a…


Photo by Simo Räsänen & Tauno Räsänen, CC BY-SA 3.0

In the last few years, a couple of my essays have been featured on Medium. Overall, it was a very pleasant experience and I really appreciate the feedback and constructive criticism from the editors. One thing, however, bugged me. Every single time, the editors changed the title of my essays. I admit that the titles were sometimes a bit obscure, but the editors continuously turned them into something bland and unimaginative.

Their motivation for this is clear: a title is the main reference to a posting. Given the attention span of the internet audience, a title should be literal and…


Why the camera should always be on during video conferences and online seminars

Hellenistic Theatrical Mask, 4th century BC

A couple of weeks ago, I published a posting on online teaching in times of covid-19. One of the more controversial points of the text was the question whether it is ok to enforce a cameras-on policy in video meetings. Is everyone in a video call obliged to show herself or himself? Should a moderator or a teacher enforce this rule?

Yes — I clearly think so. If you are running a class or heading a meeting, you can set the rules of the assembly. Traditional meetings have a code of conduct. However, as video conferencing is still fairly new…


Pragmatic reflections on how to teach design online

Empty lecture hall of the design department, FH Potsdam. Photo by Henrik Hagedorn.

The summer term is over — but the covid-19 crisis is not. When the classes start again in autumn, we won’t be able to move back to our long established ways of design teaching. Therefore, now is a good time to reflect on the online teaching activities of the last few months and plan the upcoming semester.

Almost everyone in the academic community is struggling with online teaching. My reflections are a contribution to the ongoing debate on how to teach art, design and other creative disciplines online. …


Why It Is Important to Understand and Appreciate Historic User Interface Designs. By Boris Müller and Frank Rausch

MacPaint by Apple Computer, 1984 (Source: Wikipedia)

Students traditionally learn art and design by studying the masters, analysing, sketching and interpreting the grand visions of the past. In doing this, they get to understand the ideas, concepts and motivations behind the visual form.

In user interface design, this practice is curiously absent. Not only do we — as professional user interface designers — lack historical awareness, but we also arrogantly assume that, with every new technology, old designs become obsolete. This is not the case.

When we think about old computers (‘old’ meaning older than two years nowadays), we usually think of constraints and limitations. Smaller screens…


A look at using pen and paper to design innovative data visualization interfaces

Photos by author unless otherwise noted

Data visualization is one of the most exciting and experimental areas in digital design. Creating complex, meaningful, and visually intriguing images is a formidable challenge for every designer. By applying strategies from information design and generative design, it is possible to create data-driven visualizations that are both insightful and enticing. The work of designers like Moritz Stefaner, Nadieh Bremer, Kim Albrecht, and Stefanie Posavec (and many others) demonstrate the power of design-driven data visualizations.


Everyone uses e-mail. But a lot of people are struggling with organising their e-mail workload. So in this essay, I discuss strategies for a more efficient e-mail management and how to write e-mails that work.

I like e-mail. I don’t love it — but it is definitely my preferred mode of communication. It is accessible, robust, simple and it works. Furthermore, it’s an open standard and it’s decentralised — something that cannot be valued enough these days. In a way, it is one of the last remnants of the open internet.

Yes, I know. E-mail is for old people. In times of Slack, WhatsApp, Signal, Twitter, etc., e-mail seems like tech from the last century. And that’s because it actually is tech from the last century.

However, e-mail is still the workhorse of the internet


We love maps. So Fabian Ehmel and I made a beautiful butterfly world map just using open source tools and public data.

There is something weird and wonderful about analogue maps. They are increasingly useless yet incredibly beautiful. The obsessive level of detail of Ordnance Survey Maps, the typographic excellence of Swiss National Maps, the visual density of the Ebstorfer Weltkarte or the beautiful relief representations by Eduard Imhof. Old maritime maps smelling of the sea, uncharted areas, treasure maps, here be dragons. As a kid, I spend hours browsing maps and atlantes, imagining distant and secluded places. Maps evoke Wanderlust and Fernweh.

I always wanted to design my own maps. But it seemed difficult and trivial at the same time. There…


Typefaces resemble actors. Helvetica is Tom Hanks. But who is Comic Sans?

Calligraphy: Stefanie Weigele

A common question in my first-year design seminars is also a popular question in the design community: ‘Why is Comic Sans considered such a bad typeface?’

Discussing typefaces with people who have just started to learn and practice design is tricky. There are good and bad typefaces. But there are also personal preferences and aversions. For a teacher—and a professional designer—it is important to differentiate the two correctly.

Obvious criteria for good typefaces are consistency, efficiency, elegance, versatility, and robustness. It is important to learn about the functional and aesthetic qualities of letters as well as the production quality of…

Boris Müller

Professor for Interaction Design at FH Potsdam, co-director of Urban Complexity Lab | http://uclab.fh-potsdam.de | http://esono.com

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