Category Archives: Information Design


(#27 of 27, final post in the series)

After re-visiting 26 posts from last year over the past 30 days, it’s time to wrap things up. The goal of this “blog feed-forward exercise” as I described it, was threefold:

  1. Focused output
  2. Reflective practice
  3. Sheer experimentation

Stretch Goals:  You're going to feel a little pressure...

Re: 1) Definitely got the focused output  — but it took a huge effort. As usual, I was being more ambitious than I initially realized. But I got it done with only a bit of faltering… well within the acceptable parameters of self-imposed high standards.

Re: 2) Got a boatload of reflective practice, in a much deeper and rigorous way than ever before. Even when I came across an oddball post that seemed irrelevant and/or poorly executed, I was able to draw out value from it by forcing myself to revisit it in some way. This was particularly true when I considered a sequence of posts which had continuing threads or themes, but looked at them in reverse order.

Re: 3) Got a decent amount of sheer experimentation out of this exercise. However, because of the daily pace and competing personal and professional demands, I could not fully experiment as much as I would have liked. I’d love to put together a graphic map showing how each of the last 26 posts related back to the corresponding 26 posts from 2014, with icons indicating the approach taken on each pairing.  For example, in a couple of cases I re-blogged a post. In one case, I split out a post into two posts, and in another case I combined two into one.  Many of the posts were reversals, some were refutations, others were remixes or extensions. Got to play around with visual and audio elements a bit, too.

One of the biggest lessons for me was seeing what it was like to blog every single day. It had all the elements of a grind, and it often felt lonely, but I did manage to get some feedback — both online and offline — during the process. Some of my “interaction” with fellow WordPress bloggers during this time helped improve my perspective and/or validated thoughts I hadn’t yet fully articulated. For example, the essay  “Why I Write so Personally, Publicly” resonated deeply. Sinawali Clip Art WomanAt least one real world friend offered solid encouragement and insights. I now realize that I miss the dialogue and debate that I used to have in comment threads with my buddies, especially Nareg. Having bolstered my writing skills by running this mini-marathon of 27 posts, I’m now interested in slowing down the pace and delving deeper with a stronger element of conversation and co-creation.

All of this ties in neatly (of course) to the first two posts from 2014 — one of them written by me (“Rough and Refined, Filipino Style: Sinawali Eskrima”) and one ghost-written by contributor Jake Broce (“6 Tips for Making and Sticking to an Exercise Regimen”). My two biggest takeaways from this past month are:

  1. I need to keep writing on a regular basis — not necessarily daily, but more often than once per week; and
  2. I need to engage with a chavruta – a learning partner — whenever possible, to generate some creative and intellectual sparks.

As for now, it’s time to rest and recover…and take a few days off from the blog.

Onward into the rest of 2015.


Learning through Parody

(#18 of 27, revisiting “Generic Brand Video: In less than 3 minutes, every global corporate t.v. ad“)

Still funny, still true:

…and here’s another one spoofing a closely related genre of commercial:

(Oh, and someone ought to do a parody of the last 15 seconds of YouTube videos where the authors beg for clicks and follows. Enough of that already, College Humor.)

Gotta love the high quality, well crafted meta-humor.  Also, it serves a useful purpose: cultural advancement.

Parody Improves Art

Great parody demolishes a clichéd genre, forcing it to evolve or die off.

dr evil air quotes rightFor example, the Austin Powers movie series merciless tore apart a set of classic James Bond tropes and ultimately superseded them in popular imagination. That in turn contributed to a great deal of pivoting and now potential re-invention within the James Bond franchise. A well done lampoon can reinvigorate a classic.

As discussed previously (Keeping it Fresh: Why Variety and Novelty Matter in Education, Instructional Design, Leadership Development, and More) for art to remain relevant, it must periodically shed some of its formulaic tendencies. Biting satire provides an acid to dissolve longstanding decrepitude.

repetitive behavior perceptual spectrum

However, none of this improvement can happen until the makers of the art — or carriers of the culture — decide to self-criticize and improve.

Note too that parody is effective precisely because it is playful — or even better, when it’s done with a nod of admiration.

Criticism is most easily heard when it is delivered from a place of affection. With just a bit of warmth and flair, the satirist can aid their subject, if their subject is willing to listen.

Thought du Jour: Clarification

(#17 of 27, re-blogging)

Note: Just to clarify the statement below, by “kinda” I meant “mostly but not entirely” — that was my point. But perhaps that just muddles things even more.

Dan Spira

Any attempt to write a textbook on the subject of how to deal well with ambiguity kinda misses the point.

Dendrite Reflection

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Clear Ideas, Tangible Feelings — Alphabet versus Emoji

(#11 of 27)


Revisiting a quote from Gustave Flaubert,

“The art of writing is the art of discovering what you believe.”  

If Flaubert were alive today, he would be absolutely appalled by the rampant usage of emoji.

He’d say that emoji are a verbal crutch, a way to get out of clarifying and communicating exactly what we think.

“Vague. Lazy. Trite. A slippery slope to incoherent illiteracy,” he’d declare… except he’d declare that in French… and no doubt deploying le mot juste to deliver a devastating denouement of instant messaging patois.


Yet, for all my Flaubertian appetites and tendencies (minus some of his personal choices — we can discuss that another time), for all my aspirations of becoming a worthy wordsmith, I happen to think that emoji have great potential.

Untapped potential, in fact.


Emoji after RockwellBut first, please read the New York magazine article, “Smile, You’re Speaking EMOJIThe rapid evolution of a wordless tongue,” by Adam Sternbergh. It provides an essential understanding of what emoji are, where they come from and how they can be used.

For Sternbergh, emoji are…

  • a new form of punctuation
  • non-verbal communication frozen and standardized into unicode characters
  • a constructed language that breaks through global linguistic barriers
  • user-specified hieroglyphs
  • yet another example of the disproportionate influence of Japanese culture, with all of its positivist biases and kawaii peculiarities, on the rest of the world  (not unlike the disproportionate British influence on world culture via the English language… what is up with these island nations…)
  • an efficient compressor & transmitter of complex, unspeakable emotions

I’d add to that list the following possibilities:

Let’s be clear, however:  Some people don’t like emoji, and don’t want to be usin’ none of this newfangled language.

emoji-angrypurpledevilEmoji Haters

“The word, although prevalent in our day, has lost its reasoning value, and has value only as an accessory to images.


“These related images provide me with practical content: a common truth that is especially easy to swallow because the ready-made images that showed it to me had been digested in advance.

Make no mistake here: this is how modern people usually think. We are arriving at a purely emotional stage of thinking.”

– Jacques Ellul, The Humiliation of the Word (1981)

There are people who avoid using emoji out of a desire to maintain clarity of thinking… or at least, clarity of a certain kind of thinking.  The concern here is that, by using emoji instead of words, they will miss opportunities to refine their thoughts and improve their ability to articulate themselves in writing. According to this view, the round-faced glyph is an enemy of reason and rationality. McLuhan would agree, albeit gleefully.

However, I’d offer that if a person refuses to use emoji — but then uses emoticons anyway — then they’re not so much sticklers for language and reason as much as they’re mainly/vainly concerned about not being taken seriously.

Is there really that big a difference between this… emoji-wink

…and this…?   emoticon-wink



*smiles and winks*


Well, okay, I sorta get it… maybe it’s similar to the way that I’m a font snob. My distaste for tasteless typefaces might be analogous to their eschewing of smiley faces… and girly-girl bubble-hearts, shooting stars, rainbows, blue diamonds… emoji are often used like stickers, only without the scratch-and-sniff.

That said, even with my puritanical zeal for Helvetica, I can’t fully empathize with the emoji-haters. There is absolutely no reason (no reason!!) to use the abomination known as Comic Sans (or its close cousin, the horrible Hobo STD!!) in ordinary graphic communication, whereas expressing immediate visceral adoration for something with the image of heart-filled eyes is truly indispensable. How ELSE can you do THAT??


But, that’s just, like, my opinion, dude.

Question for you, the reader, to reflect upon: As you read this blog post, does the fact that it is interspersed with emoji-related images make it easier for you to read, or harder?

Do the pictures break up the monotony of text for you, or do they otherwise distract from your reading focus?

Also: How does your understanding of the author’s tone and intent get affected by all of these goofy little pictures?

A new dictionary definition to consider:

Emoji – n. – A way to connect directly between limbic systems, circumventing the pesky, stifling cerebral cortex.

emoji-lightbulbHow do I emoji? Let me count the ways…

Here are just three of the ways we can say good night, via text message:




Although each of the above messages conveys the same general idea using the same medium (instant text messaging), each message also provides a different feeling and activates a different sub-medium, i.e. a different form of reading/looking and thinking.

McLuhan differentiated between television, large-screen television, and stadium-television-with-instant-replay.  If he were around today he’d have a field day with all the different ways we can play with our emoji.

A good rule of thumbing:  Use the style and type of emoji that your conversational partner is comfortable with.  Just as you would with other aspects of communication, over time you’ll tend to develop a distinctive dance with each of your conversational partners.

Another idea that, if it hasn’t already been done, will be done:


Build your own library of emoji using your own pictures. This would make the communication feel more personal and less trite… although it would also undercut the power inherent to cartoons, i.e. how a simple drawing causes the reader/viewer to project themselves into the image and fill it with the details of their own head-universe.

emoji-finger-to-fingerClash of the Text Titans, and a conclusion

It’s true, I love Flaubert. I aspire to his command of language and to his discipline of clearly defining and articulating what he really thinks. I enjoy his elegant economy of words. Flaubert wants his reader to become an aristocrat.

However, I also love McLuhan and share his not-so-secret disdain for the unimaginatively fragmented style of thinking inherent to alphabetized hyper-literacy, as well as his crush for sensual new forms of multi-modal, multi-faceted communication.  And yes, I enjoy his dense, heavily referenced and meta-aware sentence style. McLuhan wants his reader to become an anthropologist.


I think Flaubert and McLuhan would agree on some things, though.

I think they would agree that the alphabet and the icon are two completely different things.

They’d also agree that being lazy sucks.

So go ahead… use emoji.

Hell, use expletives too.

But try to use them artfully and with purpose.

“The art of emoji is the art of letting others embrace what you’re feeling.”

– Not Flaubert

How does that grab you?


2015 Blog Feed-forward: Building on an Elephant’s Memory

“Should old blog posts be forgot, and never brought to mind?

Should old blog posts be forgot, from days not long ago?”

For the next 31 days I’m going to flip it and reverse it, blogging backwards and revisiting all of last year’s posts.

I’m doing this for three reasons: Focused output, reflective practice and sheer experimentation.

1) Focused output

Running Track HurdlesAfter doing a 2014 blog self-assessment in the previous post, I decided that 2015 will see significantly more output in terms of number of blog entries. The intent here is quality and frequency of entries, not necessarily quantity of words or pictures. In past years I’ve set goals such as 1+ posts per week. Clearly, not aggressive enough to establish a solid habit. One year I posted 66 times, but then slipped after that. Last year saw a mere 27, which included the aforementioned self-assessment piece.

The good news is that 27 is a convenient number for a daily regimen of 31 days with weekend breaks.  Also, those previous 27 posts provide a straightforward editorial calendar to follow, making follow through more likely.

Daily challenge accepted!

2) Reflective practice

infinite-mirrorsSomeone, I forget who, once told me that I have a good memory. I don’t know if that’s true. I’ve never had my brain’s synapses directly tested to see whether they retain highly stable electrical firing patterns. I don’t know if such a test even exists (yet). What I do know is that I’m a big fan of reflective practice.

In my previous post I referenced a piece by Clay Shirky on the shutting out of distractions to be able to focus and learn. The critical importance and advantage of reflective practice is a recurring theme of this blog.

Reflective practice is how you put time on your side, a kind of compound interest for talent. It’s also one way to develop your brain to have an elephant’s memory, with higher than average long term recall. Here’s a decent post about it for people in the instructional design business.  Here is an even more rigorous piece about it by Maria Popova for people in any business. As with the Shirky, I challenge you the reader to read the Popova link without being interrupted or distracted.

For the next 27 posts (including this one), I will revisit the corresponding mirror image posting from 2014 and re-write, re-interpret, revise, extend, shorten, or in some cases simply re-post.  In fact, tomorrow will be a straight re-post (or “re-blog”).

3) Massaging the medium

66st-leap-of-faithI became a fan of Marshall McLuhan in college, while at the same time being trained by outstanding teachers at the McGill School of Architecture. Because of that, any time I’m given a medium of expression I like to explore and play with it.

The pre-dated blog entry was something I did in my early blogging days of 2007, and in many ways was a bootstrap for me to gain writing momentum. It was also a way for me to address the transient and disposable nature of a real time, date-based medium. The flipped, reversed and compressed editorial calendar of January 2015 follows in a similar spirit.

I also like chiastic structures and spoonerisms; these show up from time to time in my posts and paragraphs. That said, when I do something experimental, sometimes I’m happy with the output but other people don’t seem to like it. On the other hand, sometimes I’m not happy with the output but other people seem to like it.  Who knows what kind of internal or external feedback I’ll get from this next month.

Experimentation, reflection and focused output — the next 31 days will be a kind of turning-over-and-pressing-down-of-the-mulch of previous posts, allowing some of last year’s musings to ferment and become consolidated into my memory, from days not long ago.

Or maybe it’s just the Curious Case of the Blogging Button.

Onward with words, into 2015.

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