Make improvements, not excuses. Seek respect, not attention.

– Roy T. Bennett


Featured artist: Ray Dak Lam

Dense Discovery
Dense Discovery

Welcome to Issue 140!

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One thing I love most about sending out a weekly newsletter is getting to know thoughtful, smart readers through the conversations in comments or via email. In response to my thoughts on individualism in DD 134, a reader from South Africa introduced me to ubuntu.

Ubuntu describes an African philosophy of shared humanity. It’s one of those untranslatable words (see below for more) that originates from the Nguni languages of Zulu and Xhosa and can be interpreted as ‘I am because we are.’

Wikipedia has a definition of ubuntu by scholar Michael Onyebuchi Eze that I think is worth reading in full:

A person is a person through other people strikes an affirmation of one’s humanity through recognition of an ‘other’ in his or her uniqueness and difference. It is a demand for a creative intersubjective formation in which the ‘other’ becomes a mirror (but only a mirror) for my subjectivity. This idealism suggests to us that humanity is not embedded in my person solely as an individual; my humanity is co-substantively bestowed upon the other and me. Humanity is a quality we owe to each other. We create each other and need to sustain this otherness creation. And if we belong to each other, we participate in our creations: we are because you are, and since you are, definitely I am. The ‘I am’ is not a rigid subject, but a dynamic self-constitution dependent on this otherness creation of relation and distance.”

‘Humanity is a quality we owe to each other.’ In other words: in a world of absolute individualism – which our system in the West arguably steers us toward – a sense of shared humanity is hard to come by.

My fascination with the term took me on a short internet deep-dive and I learned about the various modern interpretations of ubuntu. The only time I had heard of the word ubuntu before was in relation to the Linux distribution platform whose name as an open-source software was inspired by this concept.

I’m grateful to the DD reader (thanks Rian!) who introduced me to the origins of this word. Very timely too, as I’m sitting here in my apartment in Melbourne, hoping that our shared sense of humanity will help get us out of lockdown number four. – Kai


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Improve Representation SPONSOR


All Hands Mockups →

A Figma plugin by MetaLab x Nappy

Drop your designs into one of several hands in two easy steps. Simply choose your frame, choose your hand, and voilà, you have a free mockup that celebrates diversity. Get your hands on them now.


Apps & Sites

Organise →

Workplace action tools

Organise is a gathering place and a campaign management tool for people who want to instigate change at their workplace. Among other things, it provides templates for petitions, open letters and surveys that can be launched and distributed anonymously within an organisation.

Splitbee →

Analytics & conversion tracking

A lightweight, GDPR-compliant analytics tool with some basic conversion optimisation features built right in. Indie software created by two brothers in Vienna.

YourWeek →

Minimalist weekly to-dos

I like the simplicity behind this to-do list approach: one list for things that need doing this week, and another list for things that need doing some time in the future. Move tasks from one side to the other as needed.

Eunoia →

Words that don’t translate

As a German speaker I know quite a few untranslatable words (a favourite is fremdschämen – to feel embarrassed by something somebody else did). This website has over 500 of them in more than 70 languages. So much fun to browse...


Worthy Five: Alessandra Canella


Five recommendations by service designer and mother Alessandra Canella

A newsletter worth subscribing to:

Better Allies is a weekly email about how to build inclusive workplaces and be a good ally.

A question worth asking:

Is there a thing in your life you thought you would love but you actually don’t? I always thought I wanted to be a manager but making the decision that, at least for now, it’s just too much for me to handle has been quite liberating.

A saying worth repeating:

‘Chi non mangia non fa briciole’ is Italian for ‘The person who doesn’t eat doesn’t leave crumbs behind.’ It means that doing something might cause a bit of a mess, but it’s still better than not doing it at all. In other words, imperfect action trumps perfect inaction.

A Twitter account worth following:

The folks at @positivenewsuk bring uplifting news from around the world to your Twitter feed

A podcast worth listening to:

How to Fail by Elizabeth Day is an interview podcast with people who didn’t succeed at something. I like it because it’s a reminder to embrace our failures.




The Anthropocene Reviewed →

Essays on modern life & the human experience

There is a podcast by the same name that describes itself like so: “John Green reviews facets of the human-centered planet on a five-star scale.” A friend of mine really enjoyed this collection of deep-felt essays (or reviews, rather), so it’s on my looong reading list now, too.


Silicon Values →

Free speech under surveillance capitalism

While we touch on many of the topics in Jillian’s new book in the latest issue of Offscreen, only her book will give you all the context required to make sense of the complex issues around free speech and content moderation. “The internet once promised to be a place of extraordinary freedom beyond the control of money or politics, but today corporations and platforms exercise more control over our ability to access information and share knowledge to a greater extent than any state.”


Overheard on Twitter

It’s wild that we continue to assess the economy not in terms of how well it meets people’s actual needs, but in terms of the aggregate market prices of commodity production.



Food for Thought

Stop Trying to Raise Successful Kids →


Even for people who don’t have kids, this is a great read with a lot of thought-provoking observations on the type of role models adults can/should be. “Today, parents and teachers are rightly investing more time and energy in nurturing confidence and leadership in girls. Unfortunately, there isn’t the same momentum around developing generosity and helpfulness in boys. The result is less attention to caring across the board. Kids, with their sensitive antennae, pick up on all this. They see their peers being celebrated primarily for the grades they get and the goals they score, not for the generosity they show. They see adults marking their achievements without paying as much attention to their character.”

The everyday racism of offshore call centers →


More excellent reporting by Rest of World: a first-person experience piece about working in a Filipino call centre. “During my four years in the industry, I could not count the number of new call center employees who broke down when they were called names and shouted at by Westerners on the phone. Veterans consoled them by telling them to pull themselves together, to not take it personally. The queue was too long; there was no time for drama. Some stuck around and grew immune to verbal abuse over time. Others just quit before their second shift.”

Tools for Systems Thinkers: The 6 Fundamental Concepts of Systems Thinking →


These days we hear a lot about ‘systems thinking’ because a complex world requires complex solutions. This post is a great starting point that briefly explains some of the easier-to-grasp concepts: “So, when we say ‘everything is interconnected’ from a systems thinking perspective, we are defining a fundamental principle of life. From this, we can shift the way we see the world, from a linear, structured ‘mechanical worldview’ to a dynamic, chaotic, interconnected array of relationships and feedback loops.”

Points of No Return →


A well-written, well-visualised longread on the seven most critical climate tipping points. “The particular danger, according to the Nature paper’s authors, is that even though change in a tipping element may happen slowly on a human timescale, once a certain threshold in the system is crossed, it can become unstoppable. This means that even if the planet’s temperature is stabilized, the transition of certain Earth systems from one state to another could pick up speed, like a rollercoaster car that’s already gone over the apex of a track.”


Aesthetically Pleasing

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Jonk is a French award-winning photographer that captures overgrown, abandoned places.

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Really enjoying the playful use of colours and coding references in this brand refresh for software development agency LA Developers.

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Wow! The setting, the use of space and light, the simple but elegant materiality of this “contemporary interpretation of a country farmhouse” on Tasmania’s Bruny Island are just remarkable.

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Designer Barrett Reid-Maroney offers a beautiful collection of really unique, expressive display fonts.



The flood of GitHub notifications from contributors can take the fun out of open source projects. That’s why I built Lotus: keep up with notifications without feeling overwhelmed.

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The Week in a GIF


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