Web design that looks fresh after 10 years

What’s the secret of creating products that age well?

I’ve been cleaning up my old disks this weekend and found these screenshots of webpages from 8-10 years ago. I used to send these pictures to designers to explain art direction choices, so this collection is essentially an insight into graphics trends a few years after the millennia.

Shortlisted here, five webpages that look a bit more fresh than the rest. Let’s revisit them briefly: which designs could you get away with today (and why)?

www.elmwood.co.uk

www.elmwood.co.uk

www.theartofasbestos.com

www.theartofasbestos.com

www.marumushi.com

www.marumushi.com

www.31three.com

www.31three.com

www.foxie.ru

www.foxie.ru

A fun exercise for the next art direction meeting: how would you change your products right now to make sure they will look ok-ish in 2026?

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AI might actually kill us all

A friend asked me yesterday when artificial intelligence is going to take over the world and kill all humans. It’s a rather casual question at a Summer barbecue party, a question that I predict to come up more and more frequently in the next years.

AI was uninteresting for a long time. Yes, it was hot for a while in the 90s, but then it has not-worked for so long that it acquired a bad reputation. Even when it did work it was doing only computer stuff like playing silly games or fly airplanes: none of them feels really human or seems to be that hard in the first place.

ai-1

Now however, artificial intelligence is capable of mind-blowing things. It understands what you say to them. It responds. It translates what you see or hear, on the fly.

Have you ever seen kids say “Siri, do you love me?” It’s not uncommon at all. (And, apparently, you don’t know what sexy means until you’ve heard a guy with a slight Indian accent slowly enunciate “I want to have sex with you” to his texting app.)

Next-generation AI is all around us. It drives our cars, watches over our home and family, translates texts on our phone.

The problem with humans and our inventions is that we have a tendency to mess things up at first try. The more power we give to semi-perfect artificial intelligence, the more damage it can cause: Tesla’s autopilot made the decision to drive under a trailer last week, killing the driver in the accident. And, Google’s Nest thermostat seems to have an appetite to freeze people’s houses every now and then.

On the big picture, AI does make our life safer. The real problem is that when it goes wrong, we don’t even understand what has just happened. In normal accidents we tend to know what was going on: the thermostat broke. The engine stalled. The driver fell asleep.

When it comes to AI, most of the time we have no idea what was going on in the computer’s “brain”.

This isn’t a human move

Whenever your phone’s camera uses face recognition to identify the areas to set the focus on, it uses simple algorithms that search for a face’s core features like skin colours or the a position of the eyes.

Modern AI can go many steps further: it can also recognise things like whether you have a hat on, whether you’re smiling, or if it really isn’t you but a dog. Or an orange. Modern AI can actually tell what it sees on a picture.

ai-2

Unless it can’t. In an experiment on the University of Wyoming, researchers were able to fool cutting-edge deep neural networks using simple, random-generated images. For example, artificial intelligence looked at this first picture and said, with a over 99 percent certainty: it’s a centipede.

ai-3

What’s interesting here is not that researchers can bring up a state-of-the-art image recognition algorithm and trick it into being wrong. What’s interesting is that most of the time no one can tell where exactly did it go off track.

When you show a picture to a kid and they say something funny, we can understand how their brain worked: it’s not a cat, it’s a lion. When it comes to deep neural networks, even if they are right, we don’t even know why exactly they are right. We don’t share the context with them.

[End of the outtake from my article in Yakuzuzu Issue 7. To continue, read “AI might actually kill us all” there.]

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The best quote I’ve read this week

“It is impossible for a man to begin to learn what he has a conceit that he already knows.” — Epictetus

It’s so simple and so smart: you can’t learn something you think you already know.

And another share-worthy quote from a James Altucher blog post:

“The floors are empty. That’s the Citigroup building over there. That’s probably some ad agency there. That’s a bank or a law firm over there. All empty desks, empty floors, empty buildings.

“The middle class has been hollowed out. There’s no need for paper shufflers anymore. No need for middle management. It’s either outsourced to China or technology takes care of it. Millions of people in middle management, in middle class jobs will be fired or replaced by cheap labor and technology and there’s nothing anybody can do about it.

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Predicting the global economy

Let’s all look at this chart: the International Monetary Fund forecasts the global economy’s growth each year.

Predicting the Global Economy

Breaking it down, these are the numbers of 2010:

Predicting the Global Economy

…so the IMF forecast seems to be rather optimistic:

Predicting the Global Economy

That’s a near miss, the actual numbers in 2011:

Predicting the Global Economy

Sure enough, that’s a depressing trend, but it’s probably over, right?

Predicting the Global Economy

Nope, still doesn’t seem to be correcting. Maybe next year? Or the year after that? What do you think of the 2016 predictions?

Predicting the Global Economy

From this interview with George Soros:

“…it’s much better to face harsh reality than to close your eyes to it. Once you are aware of the dangers, your chances of survival are much better if you take some risks than if you meekly follow the crowd. That is why I trained myself to look at the dark side.”

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It’s the same person

Dust Brothers are famous for their work on the soundtrack of Fight Club, many of Beck’s songs and on what’s pretty much Hanson’s only hit.

What’s astonishing is that all those works are completely different from each other: not many people would put Fight Club’s soundtrack and MMMBop on the same playlist.

While writing this post, I’m listening to Dead Man’s Bones’s In The Room Where You Sleep. At the mic, it’s the same person who played Lars in the movie Lars and the Real Girl, then, a few years later the hot guy in Crazy, Stupid, Love: Ryan Gosling.

Danny Boyle directed and John Hodge wrote some of my all-time favourite movies like the Shallow Grave, Trainspotting or The Beach.

This sort of genius is not uncommon. Creativity seems to be this unstoppable thing that pursues you to stay up late and follow the voice in your head. People who have the voice don’t seem to be able to get rid of it. They are bound to meet like-minded folks and then put out whatever they are capable of producing together.

Another one of my favourite examples used to be Prince: he wasn’t only a musician but mastered many instruments, produced movies or wrote crazy songs for other artists.

It will never seize to be inspiring.

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Users can’t be copied

“My philosophy on consumer-based Internet companies is that you don’t need to worry about the business model initially. If you get users then everything else follows. Basically any technology can be copied, any concept can be copied. In my opinion, what makes these companies valuable is the users. That can’t be copied.”

— Mark Fletcher, founder of Blogline, in Jessica Livingston’s Founders at Work.

After many failed attempts on building social networks, I couldn’t agree more. My few successful projects that worked out well, worked only because the idea had enough traction before the product became any good.

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Ready to Binner-Party

The Real Junk Food Project cafés rescue food waste from supermarkets or restaurants, and turn them into meals. The dishes are safe to eat, but the cafés are not allowed to sell them directly. They operate on a pay-as-you-feel basis instead: you can eat for free, but are also welcome to give a donation of however much you can afford.

Naturally they feed people who have barely eaten for days, but that’s not the whole picture.

It’s all about showing people how ridiculous it is to throw away perfectly good food just because of a date on the package. The movements are picking up proper steam, and everyone is eating garbage now: picture people in suits and a Danish prince.

I talked to one of the project’s directors, and wrote a piece for Yakuzuzu Magazine. Read the whole article: Ready to Binner-Party

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Bitcoin to save Prague (and tourism overall)

Thanks to the snow and a missed connection, I’ve had unexpected hours to kill in Prague. I’ve bought some cakes, wrote this article – and realised the true value of Bitcoin.

These unforeseen opportunities to discover a city are usually loads of fun. This time however – having seen the Czech capital a few times already and being held back by the sub-perfect weather conditions -, I just decided to jump in a warm cafe and spend the time with work. I assumed that eating out some place in the former Eastern European Bloc is the cheapest option anyway. And I learned that it isn’t.

Do you know how much a coffee costs in Prague?

£5,40. That’s almost twice as much as it is in London.

Well, let’s be fair: the price the cafe asks for is very reasonable. The problem is that this is not the price you will eventually pay. Czech has its own currency, which means you look at significant banking- or exchange costs.

The cafe I chose didn’t seem to accept AMEX cards. Coming from direction Germany and talking about a small amount of cash, my best option was to exchange Euros (which I previously withdrew from my sterling account, to make it more financially rewarding).

So I went to the cafe, checked the price of one cappuccino and the most expensive looking cake, went to the exchange, queued for cash, and went back for the warm beverage.

Now, I understand that governments need their own currency to make corruption easier and to be able to confiscate the economy around the election campaign time, for all sorts of populist reasons. It’s just that it makes the world a little worse.

Wouldn’t it be awesome to be able to pay with a currency you are already familiar with, without the need to deal with fake-looking Monopoly money, dodgy exchange booths and shady folks?

Cryptocurrencies are not only for the Internet.

Hey foreign merchants, just so you know: if I ever see a Bitcoin badge on your cafe’s window, I will go in. Even if you play minimal techno in Balkan punk style. Even if your seats are made of stones.

This is happening right here and right now, people – and it’s moving really fast. There will be more currency options, the markets will lose their volatility, and I’m waiting for the day to be finally get paid in BTCs.

I’m definitely in for Bitcoin (and Litecoin, Namecoin, Quarkcoin etc.) – but trying to stay on the safe side. For the start, I’ve set up a server to collect market infos and created an app to display price charts. So far the server is slow, so only the 24-hs BTC view is free as an Android app: BTC Charts for Android (coming soon for iOS and the web).

(Please debate on Twitter.)

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Which cities does the music from?

Here in Berlin we like to think that this city is: the European capital of music. This is where artists can flourish, where all cool stuff comes from, where early adopters get what they want the most. Only that the European capital of music is not Berlin. It’s Oslo.

The alternative point of view: Wimagguc
From the paper: The geographic flow of music

Last.fm has a great pile of data about what people in the world are listening. This is a detailed snapshot of user’s taste in space and time. One can see what kind of music people are listening to and also how the taste of music changes: a flow across genres and place.

Based on this data, a research shows that music preferences are closely related to nationality, language and geographic location. Also (with a similar method I used in my masters thesis!) they figured that some cities are consistently early adopters of new music – the interesting part is that these hubs are not that easy to guess.

In Europe for example, would you have guessed that the capital is Oslo? Or that all North-America is following Montreal?

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Selfridges London on Google Maps

If you have ever lost in a subway or a shopping mall, you know that indoor maps are indeed useful. I’m not the kind of person who wants to consult info points and -graphics every time looking for the right exit in the underground – but having a map in my phone that helps in these situations: that’s a real deal.

Selfridges London on Google Maps - by Richard Dancsi

I have read sometime in July that the indoor function of Google Maps will be available in the UK, but I didn’t pay too much attention: with my age I already know how to get around in shops and how to look for those signs that give me directions. What’s really great though, is the ease of use. No matter which section, floor or department you are at, the phone is always in your pocket – and you always know which way to go next.

A faster, more effective, happier way of getting around indoors.

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