Hi, everyone. Hope you’re all doing OK.
There are lots of reasons to be anxious or upset right now. I’m going to avoid talking about them here! Not to invalidate the gravity of U.S. current affairs… rather, I don’t feel equipped to discuss them in any meaningful way. Hopefully this issue can serve as a brief respite.
Reminder: I’m Josh Rubenoff, a product designer and org culture enthusiast. I use this newsletter to work and think in public. You probably subscribed on my website or via Twitter @joshsj. If you’d like to unsubscribe, there’s a link at the bottom.
In August, I wrote about my approach to defining design goals. It’s written for software teams, but I think you can apply its principles more broadly.
We can easily conflate advocating for users with fighting for them. In a fight, you have no choice but to defend your position, centering your priorities above those of others. Fights are zero-sum, and that’s how we can sometimes see our work: as a power struggle between ourselves and our teammates.
But advocating for one group doesn’t automatically mean that others have to lose. Even in a design-hostile environment, it’s possible to champion user needs without being domineering or defensive.
When we collaborate with people who have radically different perspectives, it’s so easy to come into conflict. To give a software-centric example, a designer might feel the sales team is requesting features that compromise their work.
Too often, we limit our arguments to the issue in front of us and we’re likely to walk away feeling resentful. Rarely do we take a step back, try to understand the other side’s underlying values and incentives, and try to find a way for them to coexist with our own.
If they can’t, then it’s probably more effective to move past whatever we’re arguing about and focus on changing the organization’s values instead.
I’ve animated a few motion graphics for Kiva.org this year. In March, I spent a week on this launch video for their new mobile app:
Then in May, I spent a few hours converting it to an Instagram post for Sofia Vergara, which (to my mild bemusement) is by far the most popular thing I’ve ever done. Weird.
Most recently, I made these fun video bumpers for their new rebrand:
I find the animation process exhilarating in a way that software design rarely is. With enough knowledge and experience, you can form a relatively predictable product development cadence. But even experienced animators can sometimes approach finished storyboards with no idea how they’ll bring them to life. After hours of methodical problem-solving, experimentation, and lots of tedious trial and error, pulling it off can be extremely rewarding.
I think the difference comes down to the aesthetics of each medium. Code, for the most part, feels like it’s ultimately knowable. Moving pictures will always, to some degree, feel like magic.
On that note: if you need an animator or designer, I’m available! After many months of writing case studies, I finally finished my portfolio.
I focused on trying to make it a fair representation of my skill set, so hopefully it gives you a sense of what I can do.
Hitting virtual theaters next week, Frederick Wiseman observes the city of Boston and its mayor for 4.5 hours. It feels like a love letter (or farewell letter?) to competent civic services… possibly spilling over into propaganda. By the end I was kind of in awe of the breadth of what Boston’s government provides. Plant greenhouses for public parks! Historical archives spanning centuries! Empathetic pest inspectors! Almost feels in conversation with Michael Lewis’ The Fifth Estate in that respect. The film closes with Mayor Walsh’s State of the City address, and it feels insufficient and small compared to the city’s vast footprint.
Speaking of Walsh, what a fascinating guy: seemingly built in a lab to be Boston’s mayor in the 2010s. His extemporaneous speeches are insanely good, whether he’s tailoring his biography into a story perfect for the occasion or striving to create an authentic emotional connection with his audience. Yet his roots are so clearly in Boston’s past, and it’s not obvious he’s the best fit for its future. When he orates from a script, he sounds stilted and bored, and it’s telling to see him fall back to what’s on the page when discussing a topic like the racial wealth gap.
I guess the viewer’s reaction to the City Hall meetings will depend on their comfort level with bureaucracy and bloviation. As a former government worker, I still find it somewhat upsetting to see trained professionals take 3 minutes to communicate a single idea.
Ephraim Asili’s The Inheritance depicts a Black liberation collective in Philadelphia as they hold house meetings, steal each other’s food, and host real-life revolutionary activists and poets. A beautiful live-action / documentary hybrid that WILL give you flashbacks to any and every co-op experience you’ve had. (Currently without distribution, but check your local virtual film festival.)
Christian Petzold’s Undine sets the classic mermaid myth in a divided contemporary Berlin. Heady in concept but so wonderfully plain in its narrative structure, performances and cinematography. (Its original fall release has been delayed, but it’s currently playing festivals.)
Midnight in Paris documents the week of senior prom at a Flint, Michigan high school: from family and school preparations to the prom itself to the motel where kids smoke and watch TV afterwards. I was charmed by the directors’ commitment to showing these kids as they are, in all their immaturity and joy and situational anxiety, without heavy-handed judgment or editorializing. Hopefully this will find distribution soon.
As formerly mundane events like going outside or touching your face carry elevated emotional weight, I’m finding classical Hollywood melodrama ever more enjoyable. Here are a few entry points I’d recommend:
All That Heaven Allows and Caught are free on YouTube.
Assuming we’re all alive next week, I’ll write more soon.
Thanks for reading!