Amid a world of noisy, shallow actors it is noble to stand aside and say, ‘I will simply be.’

– Henry David Thoreau


Featured artist: Brian Rau

Dense Discovery
Dense Discovery

Welcome to Issue 125!

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I rarely read and share articles on design. Most pieces are self-aggrandizing and posit design as the magical force that rights all wrongs – usually through the use of technology. It’s a vision of design that’s been heavily shaped by decades of Silicon Valley thinking and funding.

In a recent post titled How To Put Faith in UX Design, Scott Berkun writes an almost perfect summary of my feelings about the state of web design.

“We have a narrow view of how design fits into the world, even into the world of business, and that works against us. ... Founders (...) don’t start companies to ‘make great user experiences’. Instead their goals, as explained to investors, are to generate profits, growth and value for shareholders. How society, the environment, customers and employees fare is often secondary.”

Silicon Valley’s libertarian view of design – with the user at its centre – is mostly void of moral judgement.

“ can have a great user experience in one sense and be exploited, or exploit others, at the same time (e.g. Uber, Facebook or even heroin).”

Through generous funding and, let’s be honest, a bit of brand worshipping (Praise be to Apple!), the design discipline exploded and matured in the last decade. Designers have added research and psychology to their tool sets. But even with those powerful new tools, most designers remain mere lube to the corporate engine.

“To believe most corporations, given their history, would, without regulations and against the wishes of their stockholders, invest in good design and ethical practices above other considerations is about as foolish as hoping anglerfish will go vegetarian.”

So what to do? Berkun’s conclusion is a simple, but often not so obvious one. Broaden your idea of what ‘design’ is:

“If most of the big design decisions are made by people who you think are bad at design, or are unethical, you need to broaden what you think design is. The VP, the PM, the engineer, if they’re making decisions that ‘should be yours’ or are ‘terrible’, then they’re designers too and powerful ones.”

As I argued here before, we’ve all become pawns to the ‘great user experience’ narrative as created by Silicon Valley. The good news is that we’re starting to see through it. I believe we’re slowly gaining the agency required for constructing a new narrative of what good design could be. – Kai


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Apps & Sites

Underline →

Bare-bones newsletter app

I love do-one-thing-well apps. Underline is a fresh take on the sadly neglected Tinyletter – a very simple app to send newsletters, not marketing campaigns. Or in its own words: “Basically just a text box and a send button.”

Block Party →

Moderate your own Twitter feed

Block Party gives you more granular control of what/who appears on in your Twitter feed. If online harassment is an ongoing issue for you, Block Party offers several options to block and filter content.

Iconduck →

Open-source icon finder

If you’re ever in need of a simple icon or illustration, give Iconfinder a try: a massive directory of over 100,000 free, open-source icons and illustrations for direct download – without intrusive ads or sign-up forms.

Jazz Keys →

Type to piano tunes

Play the piano while you’re writing your next blog post: Jazz Keys entertains you with soothing acoustics while you’re typing away.


Worthy Five: Andres Colmenares


Five recommendations by post-technological strategist Andres Colmenares

A video worth watching:

Sonic Forest, a fascinating and revealing journey into the rich ecosystems and cultures of the colombian Pacific coast from the perspective of a psychedelic cumbia artist.

A question worth asking:

‘What could be better?’ A question that led to this critical and speculative response by critical designer Ted Hunt to the open letter published by Larry Page in 2015.

A concept worth understanding:

The concept of Waiting/Weighting/Wading Time through the lens of Black Quantum Afrofuturism co-founder, Rasheedah Phillips.

A book worth reading:

The Shock of the Old by David Edgerton. I discovered this book through Gauthier Roussilhe, when I asked him about a book worth reading. It offers an alternative and highly relevant perspective on the history of technologies.

A piece of advice worth passing on:

Try changing your phone screen to grayscale for at least seven days. I did it two years ago, and have not changed it back since as it helped me to significantly improve my mental wellbeing.




The Good Ancestor →

How to think long term

A super interesting, new book about how we can become better long-term thinkers. “We live in the age of the tyranny of the now, driven by 24/7 news, the latest tweet, and the buy-now button. With such frenetic short-termism at the root of contemporary crises – from the threats of climate change to the lack of planning for a global pandemic – the call for long-term thinking grows every day. But what is it, has it ever worked, and can we even do it?”


Building Consentful Tech Zine →

Technology with consent at the heart

The idea of ‘consentful tech’ borrows from Planned Parenthood’s definition of sexual consent and adapts it to our interaction with technology: “A lot of us have heard about consent with regard to our physical bodies, like in the context of medical decisions or sexual activities. But what does consent mean when it comes to our data and our digital lives? Consentful technologies are digital applications and spaces that are built with consent at their core, and that support the self-determination of people who use and are affected by these technologies.” (The printed zine is sold out but there’s a free download.)


Overheard on Twitter

If a monkey hoarded more bananas than it could eat, while most of the other monkeys starved, scientists would study that monkey to figure out what the heck was wrong with it. When humans do it, we put them on the cover of Forbes.



Food For Thought

How to be lucky →


An interesting dissection of ‘luck’, why its perceived occurrence is not random, and what we can do to increase your chance of ‘getting more lucky’. “You might think of serendipity as passive luck that just happens to you, when actually it’s an active process of spotting and connecting the dots. It is about seeing bridges where others see gaps, and then taking initiative and action(s) to create smart luck.”

How SEO Is Gentrifying the Internet →


A great essay on why the SEO industry is making the internet worse and why we should pay closer attention to (and demand more transparency of) the underlying search algorithms. “For the average internet user, this SEO arms race has made the internet both less interesting and less usable. When we want to discover whether blueberries are poisonous for cats, we have to sort through hundreds of words answering irrelevant questions like ‘what are the health benefits of blueberries’ and ‘can cats eat vegetables’. When we get frustrated and try the next result down, we’re greeted by a story that looks and reads much the same as the one we just abandoned.”

After Minimalism →


David Perell takes a look at contemporary minimalism. By comparing it to late-stage modernism, minimalism has reached its dead end, he writes. “A friend once told me that depression isn’t feeling negative things; it’s feeling nothing at all. If that’s true, we shouldn’t be surprised that minimalism is the aesthetic of our age of depression.”


Aesthetically Pleasing

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The 3D character designs by South Korean illustrator and animator Jungmin Ryu are utterly adorable.

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drone.globe is an Instagram feed showcasing extraordinary drone photography.

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This short documentary offers a fascinating look behind Bellerby & Co., an artisan globemaker based in London. I really want to spin that globe!

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Indonesian agency Dirtyline Studio offers an impressive collection of free (for personal use) typefaces such as Cigra and Casta, ideal for display use.



Reflect & Reset is a free 14-day guided journaling experience to help you foster gratitude and reconnect with your authentic self – so you can live your best life.

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