We act as though comfort and luxury were the chief requirements of life, when all that we need to make us really happy is something to be enthusiastic about.

– Charles Kingsley


Featured artist: Jen Leembruggen

Dense Discovery
Dense Discovery

Welcome to Issue 109!

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At the peak of our city-wide lockdown, the mornings felt unusually quiet. I woke not to the noise of commuter traffic or human interaction, but the sound of birds. For the first time in this apartment, I got woken up by the natural sound of sunrise.

I thought of that experience when listening to this audio portrait of Gordon Hempton, a professional sound recordist. (Listen to it with your headphones if you can.)

For over thirty years, Gordon has travelled the world with a microphone in hand, building a vast archive of pristine sounds. More than anything, his work taught him how to listen. He dedicates his life to one particular sense, and so he has some interesting insights to share:

“Our natural state in the wild is to hear something, because you’re listening 360° 24/7. If it’s interesting, you look in that direction. And if it’s still interesting, you begin to approach it – increase the resolution – smell it, touch it, and the ultimate commitment, to taste it, as a way of sensory data acquisition.”

Gordon explains how human noise pollution increasingly forces us to filter what we hear. Our attention is no longer attuned to certain sounds, especially natural ones. In other words, we don’t spend much time thinking about what our ears take in. Towards the end of the audio essay he talks about our collapsing ecosystem as a result of this lack of attention:

Yes, our planet is in trouble, but it’s not an environmental crisis. These are the symptoms of our spiritual crisis. In modern history, we have fallen out of love with planet earth. Now, we have an opportunity to fall back in love. It’s not about what’s wrong or broken out there. The problem is in here – within us. Who are we? Who are you? The best way to discover that is to be quiet and notice how you feel. (Slightly edited)

I’ve often thought about how so many of us don’t have a relationship to the natural world anymore. We usually see nature as something we visit – a holiday destination, a sight-seeing stop. But we don’t really consider us part of or dependent on it. I don’t know how to repair that disconnect, but I like Gordon Hempton’s idea of starting with listening. Really listening. – Kai

Dense Discovery is a weekly newsletter at the intersection of tech, design, sustainability, and culture read by over 31,000 subscribers. Do you have a product or service to promote? Sponsor an issue or book a classified.


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Sorted³ →

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Schedule your events, tasks and notes on a single timeline across all your Apple devices.

“I’ve tried too many productivity apps to count, and Sorted³ has to be among the very best. The more you use it, the more impressed you’ll be with its elegant design.” – App Store review


Apps & Sites

Letter.wiki →

Thoughtful conversations

Can two individuals with contrarian views still have a civilised conversation online? On Letter.wiki they can: a beautifully simple platform where two people exchange their opposing views respectfully through long ‘letters’ in an open forum.

EmailThis →

Email yourself links to revisit

On my iPhone I use a shortcut (see issue 90) to email myself things I want to revisit at a later point. EmailThis does the same, but as a desktop browser extension. With one click you can send open tabs to your inbox to check out again later, optionally with some personal notes or keywords.

Linear →

Bug & task tracker

Linear is a web-based progress tracking app that helps software teams keep an eye on projects, sprints, tasks, and bugs.

Ilo →

Twitter analytics

For those wanting to understand their Twitter stats better: my friend Dan created an analytics tool that dissects your Twitter activity and gives insight into the performance of your tweets.


Worthy Five: Daniel Benneworth-Gray


Five recommendations by book designer Daniel Benneworth-Gray

A book worth reading:

Alistair Hall’s new book London Street Signs is a fascinating look at the history of the city through its lettering.

A recipe worth trying:

Okay it’s not really a recipe as such, but a bagel filled with crunchy peanut butter and slices of apple is one of the highlights of existence.

A newsletter worth subscribing to:

Happy Readings, a fortnightly assortment of literary loveliness from the makers of The Happy Reader magazine.

An Instagram account worth following:

high.school.high is a collection of old yearbooks, a great source of inspiration for nostalgic, naive type and offbeat design.

A phrase worth knowing:

Buffalo buffalo Buffalo buffalo buffalo buffalo Buffalo buffalo. A reminder that language can be broken and ridiculous and magical.




User Friendly →

The hidden rules of design

We often talk about user experience (UX) design as if it’s solely a discipline practiced in the digital world. User Friendly tells stories of user experience design (challenges) in the real world “such as what the nuclear accident at Three Mile Island reveals about the logic of the smartphone; how the pressures of the Great Depression and World War II created our faith in social progress through better product design; and how a failed vision for Disney World yielded a new paradigm for designed experience”.


Icarus Complex Magazine →

Exploring climate challenges

While the main stream press refuses to cover the climate crisis in meaningful ways, independent publishers are getting more creative and audacious. Luxembourg-based Icarus Complex (in print and online) wants to “look at the issues and solutions around climate change in a holistic way, and inspire individuals and institutions to not only take, but also demand both institutional and governmental action.” And they do so with some wonderful editorial design.


Overheard on Twitter

Our greatest risk is not our kids’ video games. It is our parents’ Facebook groups.



Food For Thought

I Don’t Know How To Explain To You That You Should Care About Other People →


I shared this short essay with lots of friends when I came across it in 2017 and now is as good a time as ever to resurface it: “Personally, I’m happy to pay an extra 4.3 percent for my fast food burger if it means the person making it for me can afford to feed their own family. If you aren’t willing to fork over an extra 17 cents for a Big Mac, you’re a fundamentally different person than I am.”

Make me think! →


A great thought piece on designing technology and why we need an approach that focuses on user empowerment, resilience, and empathy, rather than just hiding away complexity. “Whenever we are about to substitute a laborious activity such as learning a language, cooking a meal, or tending to plants with a – deceptively – simple solution, we might always ask ourselves: Should the technology grow – or the person using it?” I love the animated doodles, too.

Your Phone Wasn’t Built for the Apocalypse →


An unexpectedly interesting read about how camera sensors see the world in light, not colours, and how we built technology around them to fill in the gaps based on our perceived reality: “Camera sensors are color-blind – they see only brightness, and engineers had to trick them into reproducing color using algorithms.”

Houses are becoming commodities to buy and sell and not homes. →


I migrated to Australia during an unparalleled real estate boom, witnessing how housing turned into a currency for investors. I like John’s take in this opinion piece: “Housing policies and programs must be anchored in key principles; use value and not exchange value; building communities and neighbourhoods and social mixing and sharing. Society is more important than markets. Markets must be the means to serve society.”


Aesthetically Pleasing

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Honestly, who doesn’t like a well-maintained, accessible public toilet? The Tokyo Toilet project finally gives them the attention they deserve. “Toilets are a symbol of Japan’s world-renowned hospitality culture. Public toilets will be redesigned in 17 locations throughout Shibuya with the help of 16 creators invited from around the world. We invite you to take a look at the uniqueness of each of these facilities.”

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My cursor is currently hovering over the ‘purchase’ button of one of Angela’s (aka ‘Riso Chan’) artworks.

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Gosh, what a fairy tale world! Based in northern France, Les Jardins D’Étretat is “a garden laboratory that combines experimental topiaries with open-air sculptures and UNESCO World Heritage-listed views.”

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MADE Sunflower is a modern serif typeface with old style elements – free for personal use.



Pixelswithin is a branding strategy and design agency. Hungry entrepreneurs only.

The powerful interactions in Muse for iPad were created over years in a research lab. Now that Muse is out in the App Store, you can learn about them in The Muse Interface Handbook.

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Structure fuels creativity. If you’re juggling a lot, learn how to choose the right tasks to work on to propel your business or creative project forward in this free training.

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The Week in a GIF


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