Indie Publishing
Field Notes

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Letter to the editor

Posted on Feb 29 2020 in Letters

Hi Kai,

I wanted to send a note of thanks for the work you’ve created and shared. I’ve sticky-noted so many things in my Offscreen issues over the years. 🙂

Personally, the last year has been filled with a lot of questions and thinking about life decisions. I decided to quit my job near the end of 2019 mainly to take a break from the ASAP-ness and noise of the tech world, and now I’m in that transitional stage of looking for a new team to work alongside. Offscreen’s content is something I go back to often when thinking about my next steps.

When I was getting into the web development world in a professional sense (2015), I remember seeing ‘People Behind Bits and Pixels’ on the cover. Then Issue 16’s cover had ‘The human side of technology’ on it. There was always a focus on people and their experiences. It was a nice contrast to some of the companies I came across. When it was time to choose my first employer, I knew I wanted to be part of a company whose team valued and work exemplified traits like kindness, empathy, connection and communication. Reading the stories within Offscreen was part of that decision.

I think it’s safe to say that recently sometimes it feels quite heavy, globally. The last few issues have felt charged with a certain energy. A combination of a call to action, a call of warning, a call of urgency, a call to slow down, etc. They’re a good reminder that there are definitely things we need to change in not just tech, but as a collective society. They’re also a lovely reminder of hope for the future, and things that people have done/are doing to move the needle.

There’s a few folks I donate to/‘patronize’ on a regular basis. Every once in a while I take some time to think about why I’m supporting these people to make sure I’m allocating resources to causes I still believe in, but I never really have to think about why I’m an Offscreen Patron. It’s an automatic ‘continue to support’. I always know that I’m supporting quality – especially of the calibre and bent that we need more of at this time.

Thanks again + hope you’re well,
Emily

Just launched: Issue 22

Posted on Dec 16 2019 in News

Today we’re launching Offscreen Issue 22! Subscriber copies are being sent out today and we’ll do another round of shipments this Thursday, Dec 19th! If you are not a subscriber, make sure you place an order by Wednesday so that we can get your copy into the mail before the holiday break!

In this issue we share thought-provoking conversations with:

  • Cennydd Bowles
    The designer and ethicist with a strong call for a new ethical awakening in tech and design, led by individual and collective action.
  • Jenny Odell
    The artist and educator provides a less capitalistic perspective on productivity, one that values observation, care, and maintenance.
  • Paul Ford
    The author, programmer, and CEO talks about his journey from idealist to realist, critically examining the power dynamics that shape our current understanding of ‘technological progress’.
  • Anab Jain
    The designer, futurist, and film-maker creates visceral experiences to showcase what our shared futures may look like.

As always, we relied on the generous support by our sponsors to make this issue happen: DuckDuckGo, Harvest, MetaLab, Hover, SiteGround, and Postmark. And of course, a big ‘thank you’ to all Patrons of this issue.

Editor’s Note of Issue 22

As a sneak peek, here’s this issue’s editor’s note:

If you practiced digital design in the early 2000s, you may recall fighting for a seat at the table where business decisions were made. ‘Take design more seriously!’ was a common plea from designers at a time when our discipline’s contribution was often seen as superficial – a nice-to-have.

Two decades later, design has spread its wings. Designers are no longer just polishing up interfaces – we conduct research, study behaviour, and employ psychology. We put the desires and emotions of users at the centre of everything we do to make products more captivating, more efficient, and immensely profitable. Design is big business.

Actually, design is now so deeply intertwined with business goals that in many cases it’s become nothing but a slave to perpetual growth-market dynamics, dismissing any idea that doesn’t involve ‘solving customer problems’. With such a narrow-minded focus on one outcome – customer happiness – designers have turned into one-dimensional problem solvers who ignore possible consequences for anyone or anything else other than the customer. The business of design has made us oblivious to the complexities of the world. We now relentlessly prioritise individual needs over those of our communities, our societies, and our planet.

The looming threat of environmental and societal breakdown confronts us with some difficult questions: can we still justify putting the needs of humans at the centre of solving problems when the solutions we come up with are incompatible with a sustainable future? Is it time to move beyond our unidimensional thinking and encourage a new design philosophy that considers not just the best outcome for humanity but accounts for our interdependence with all life on earth? Does design need to break free from the shackles of efficiency and compliance, and strive for more speculative, provocative solutions – many of which may clash with the capitalistic conventions of today?

While the interviews in this issue may not provide clear-cut answers to these urgent questions, I hope our conversations will inspire you to think more deeply about the harms of the user-centred design thinking that is so pervasive in our industry. I hope they will help plant seeds for a more regenerative, planet-centric design approach. Because if there has ever been a time to take design more seriously, that time is now.

– Kai

View the details of issue 22 here →

Blind Spot Protector

Posted on Dec 02 2019 in Essays

This essay by Lisa Sanchez first appeared in Offscreen Issue 17.

I’m standing in the pristine lobby of a tech company. Elevator bells are dinging, up and down. Young, beautiful people slip past me on either side, clutching silver MacBooks. My heart is racing, though it shouldn’t be. I’m the interviewer, not the candidate! Still, I get nervous every time, no matter which side of the table I’m on. I have no idea what my candidate looks like, but I find him in the small crowd eventually. After confirming his name, I extend my slightly sweaty hand.

“Hi! I’m Lisa,” I say, willing myself to exude confidence. I'm reminded of recent feedback: Speak up! Look confident!

“Who?” he asks, bewildered.

“Lisa,” I say, as my sad little tent of internal confidence collapses.

“Who am I meeting with?” he says.

“Me?”

“I mean the hiring manager.”

“That’s me.” My voice contracts to a squeak. Fortunately the lobby crowd has dispersed.

“How’d you get that job?” he asks. He is older and taller than me, with a salt and pepper beard. His voice booms from above.

I hear my response like an echo from far away. Something about an acquisition. It sounds like an apology. Then I guide him toward the café, offer him something to drink, and politely conduct our interview. Part way through, I have to remind myself that I am not the one who’s supposed to be proving myself in this conversation.

His voice is one among many others that regularly question my presence, at work and in the world. I’m often asked about my accent (though I’m sure I don’t have one), my olive skin, and my last name. To the question where I’m from, ‘Pennsylvania’ rarely suffices as an answer. I’ve been informed, usually indirectly or playfully, that my apparent age, quiet voice, small stature, femininity, and curly hair do not add up to the term ‘boss’.

Even years later, I’m still reflecting on his question. Stripped of its condescending tone, it’s a valid question, and one I'm asking myself: how did I get here, and why does it matter that I am? The answer begins with how far I had to come to get here.

I grew up in a rust belt town of three thousand in Pennsylvania, born to one white parent, one Puerto Rican. My dad did seasonal field work, planting trees and pruning vines. Later he worked in manufacturing. I spent most of my life feeling different and trying to make it seem like I wasn’t – among peers with more privilege, among friends with ‘matching’ parents, and starting in graduate school, mostly among men. It wasn’t until recently that I began to embrace my otherness as a competitive advantage. I don’t just look different, I am different. I see things differently than the majority of my peers in technology, and that different perspective has remarkable value.

Sometimes I think of myself as a blind spot detector. It’s an exhausting role to play, but I can hear one more way in which a turn of phrase may be interpreted, see one more possibility for how a team might proceed, add one more lens through which to evaluate a candidate for a job.

Did you know that female drivers are 47% more likely to die in a car accident? According to a study by the University of Virginia, this is partly due to the fact that vehicle safety features are largely designed for and tested on male bodies. It’s no coincidence that women hold only about a quarter of the automotive jobs in the US, and make up less than 17% of the industry’s leadership. The car industry badly needs more blind spot detectors.

The percentage of women in technology is similar. Our efforts to improve diversity in this industry are often focused on incremental change. One more woman at the table or one more percentage point of people of colour in technical roles is considered a win. We don’t approach our product or business objectives in such an anæmic way. When it comes to diversity, what would radical transformation look like?

How might we create workplaces filled with so many different kinds of people that there would be no ‘type’ – either in particular roles, or in the company as a whole? How might we create workplaces where there is no qualified person who ‘doesn’t belong’? What possibilities might we unlock if all members of a team were remarkably different from one another? A team like that would not require a blind spot detector: it would already be equipped with powerful 360-degree vision.

Enjoyed this essay? Support indie publishing and buy available issues of Offscreen for more thought-provoking reads in beautiful print.

Uniquely Yours

Posted on Aug 19 2019 in Essays

This essay by Brian Bailey first appeared in Offscreen Issue 16 (now sold out).

There is a good chance you’re working on something new right now: an app, a game, an open-source library. You’re enjoying the challenge and the creative process. The final result, you tell yourself, will be useful to a lot of people. Then, over coffee, a well-meaning friend brings up a discovery she recently made online. “Isn’t this pretty similar to what you’re working on?” You put on a brave face, but your heart sinks.

Back at home, you critically examine your idea’s doppelgänger and confirm that someone is indeed doing something very like what you’re doing. In fact, they seem further along and have already solved a few problems that had you stumped. You take a deep breath as a wave of discouragement passes over you: ‘I’ve poured so much time and effort into this!’ A strong belief in the originality of your idea had fed your confidence, but now it’s just another version of something that already exists.

I recently spent a day with an inspiring book on modern architecture around the world. What struck me was the incredible variety. Just as writers strive to do with words, and artists with paint, architects work to push the boundaries of what’s possible, though they all begin with the same materials and are limited by the same physical laws. Cooking, photography, poetry – and, yes – apps and websites are all similar in that regard. Within artistic pursuits, original, significant expression can sprout from the same ingredients and constraints.

We humans tend to be shortsighted, though, and that tendency is nowhere so obvious as on the internet. Whenever a new project is revealed – whether it’s a prototyping tool, a podcast, or a to-do list app – a chorus of naysayers greets it with, “Do we really need another one of those?”

The answer is ‘yes’. Always yes. The web provides room for endless varieties of similar ideas to take root and co-exist, each with a unique twist. Niches thrive online. There are designers who wonder why there isn’t a prototyping tool that works the way they think. There are people waiting for the to-do list app that finally clicks for them. And there are many searching for a conference that speaks to who they are and what they stand for.

A few years ago, some friends and I started an online community called Uncommon in Common. A social network: how original! As we all know, there have been thousands of such things; some are home to over one billion people. It’s a solved problem, you might say. Well, there just wasn’t one that suited us. We wanted a welcoming, peaceful front porch filled with thoughtful conversation. We wanted a place that encourages a healthy relationship with our screens, a community free of ads and addictive feedback loops. Free of FOMO. We jokingly referred to it as ‘the next small thing on the internet’.

Uncommon isn’t an idea that appeals to a billion people. It may never be home to more than a few thousand. But for the people who stumble upon it, there’s the joy of finding the place they’ve been searching for – a place just for them.

Imagine a band recording its first album. Months of practice and sparsely attended shows have led to this moment. On their way to the recording studio, the car radio plays a new guitar-driven, uptempo song about relationships, eerily similar to theirs. Do you think they would turn their car around in defeat? ‘Well, we thought we were on to something, but it turns out someone else had the same idea.’

Here’s the thing: originality isn’t what sets your idea apart. You are.

Whatever you are working on, you have your own motivations, skills, beliefs, and priorities. You have past experiences that shape your work, and hopes and values that shape its future. Even though something else solves a similar problem or fills a similar gap, the end result will never be the same.

There is room in this world for you and your idea. There is room for another band, another book, another conference, app, game, or community – because only yours is uniquely yours. You don’t compete against someone else’s project. The competition is between you and unfinished. Believe in it, see it through, and share it with the rest of us.

Enjoyed this essay? Support indie publishing and buy available issues of Offscreen for more thought-provoking reads in beautiful print.

We’re back! Issue 21 starts shipping this week.

Posted on Jul 29 2019 in News

After the release of issue 20 in August 2018, I’ve taken some time off from Offscreen to focus on other things, like walking across Germany, launching Dense Discovery, and doing some contract work at a lovely agency here in Melbourne. Almost exactly a year later, I’m excited to announce that Offscreen is back with a new issue and some minor changes I’m outlining below.

Issue 21 will start shipping later this week. As always, to be part of the first big batch leaving our warehouse, make sure you order your copy today.

As a subscriber you will automatically receive the new issue, but it’s worth checking your account to make sure that your shipping details are up-to-date. Use the link in your confirmation email from us to access your account or request a new link here: my.offscreenmag.com.

In this issue we share our thought-provoking conversations with:

  • Kim Goodwin – The design leadership coach and author who passionately advocates for a human-centred design approach that permeates all levels of an organisation.
  • James Bridle – The artist, writer, and ‘tech-philosopher’ who warns of a future in which algorithms cloud our reality and impede the democratic process.
  • Renée DiResta – The researcher and writer who was one of the first to uncover the spread of harmful disinformation and conspiracy theories on social media.
  • Nathan Schneider – The professor of media studies who advocates for the economic model of cooperatives as an alternative to the robber-baron tech economy.

View the details of issue 21 here →

As always, we relied on the generous support by our sponsors to make this issue happen: DuckDuckGo, Harvest, SuperHi, Hover, SiteGround, and Ueno. And of course, a big 'thank you' to all Patrons of this issue.

Changes in issue 21

Starting with this issue we’re introducing a few changes to materials and format:

You’ll notice that we’re (back to) using an uncoated paper called EnviroTop. This is in part due to our previous, coated paper not being available in the grammage we needed. But to be honest, we also kinda missed the lovely texture of uncoated paper. Just like the previous stock, EnviroTop is made from 100% recycled paper.

We reduced our sponsors from eight to just six. Finding sponsors has been time-consuming and at times difficult given that businesses these days prefer to spend their ad dollars on hyper-targeted, click-based online campaigns. Removing a quarter of our funding meant that we also had to reduce our production cost, and one way to do this is to reduce the overall page count of the magazine...

To achieve this we removed three regular features: the Gear section, the company profile, and the Workspace photo series. This allowed us to reduce the content from 158 pages to 128.

We understand that some of you will miss these features, but making Offscreen a little leaner hopefully means that we can sustain the publication more easily.

Feel free to get in touch if you have any questions or feedback.

Thank you for your ongoing support! We hope you enjoy the new issue as much as we enjoyed making it.

– Kai