First-order Retivability


The Concept

My current design philosophy began with the above toolbox. 

The toolbox in question belongs to Adam Savage, who you probably know from Mythbusters. Adam built the toolbox when he was working at Industrial Light and Magic as a model maker. Impressing his coworkers was the main impetus for creating the box, but he built it with a certain design philosophy which he calls first-order retrievability, and that is why I love it.

I don't know if Adam coined the term, but he has certainly popularized it. Googling "first-order retrievability" will give you page after page of people trying to replicate the toolbox.

The whole idea behind the concept is efficiency. If something has to be moved in order to get to something else, that lessens efficiency, and slows you down. It's not intuitive. If you design something with a first-order retrievability mentality, you are ensuring that everything is out, visible and easy to use. Adam talks about his process of reorganizing his personal shop using this mindset in the video below. (I've fast forwarded to the good part for you.)

I've heard of others designing with the first-order philosophy. Casey Neistat has set up his movie studio to be as easy and convenient to use as possible. He told Gizmodo the reason for doing this, like Adam, is primarily speed. He even goes so far as to leave all his power tools plugged in so they can be used at a moments notice.

Taking it further

Neither Casey nor Adam are web designers. The first-order concept only applies, for them, in the practical design of their work spaces. I want to take the concept out of their shops, and apply it to the internet.

When designing things, I want to organize them for speed. For instance, I am constantly finding myself waiting on my phone when I want to take a Snapchat. I'm usually taking a snap because the particular moment I am experiencing is funny/interesting, and I want to share it with friends. The process of unlocking my phone, hitting the home button, choosing Snapchat and then waiting for it to load can be made faster with a better processor, but it can also be made faster with fewer taps.

In other areas of design, the same idea can be applied. When going to a website, I usually want to get to content as quickly as possible. I don't want to faff about in bloated, unnecessary menus before getting to the content I visited the site to read. Everything should be as efficient to use as possible, even if it means your website lacks the artistic flair necessary to make it into a 21st century Louvre.

In recent web design projects, I've been trying to keep this concept in mind. No unneeded taps, nothing hidden behind three horizontal lines that doesn't need to be. Imagine pulling your phone out of your pocket and having a button on the lock screen to open Snapchat directly. Apple did this with its camera app, and the functionality is great. Less swipes, taps and gestures to get to the same place means more of the funny moments I want to share make it to my friends.

Of course, there will always be a need for menus, sub menus, even unhelpful lock screens (on occasion.) But considering first-order retrievability, even giving a name to the idea of simplicity and efficiency in design, is extremely helpful. It has proven to work well for Adam and Casey, and I don't see a reason websites and apps can't take the same principles to heart in order to maximize and streamline the time we spend with their products.

A new podcast platform

Last week I wrote about virtual reality and how it is the final frontier of media. I can't say anything even close to that for podcasts.

The medium has obviously exploded in the last several years, which many people attribute to Serial. No one will argue that people are listening to more podcasts, and there is a lot of excitement in the space. WNYC started a new company focusing on podcasts, Gimlet media is tearing it up in the space with its podcast about making a podcast company, and Midroll Media, a podcast advertising and production company, was acquired by E.W. Scripps.

The problem that is restricting podcasts goes back to the roots of the medium. In essence, every podcast you listen to, no matter how engaging or entertaining it is, is just an audio file. The only thing separating it from terrestrial radio is the ability to to auto-download your favorite shows. If podcasts are to become as ubiquitous as streaming video, or even as promiscuous as VR is predicted to be, it has to become viral.

In his newsletter about podcasts, Nick Quah points out that nearly 22 months have passed since the chilling realization that audio isn't viral. No one has fixed that yet.

I'm guessing that there are people out there working on it. Gimlet talked about the need for a new podcasting platform in one episode of StartUp, but told listeners that they would prefer to focus on content rather than become a tech company. Fast forward the Soundcloud embed below to 2:25 to get to the good stuff.

Even though we technically can share audio online, it's not with the same speed or ease as we share GIFs, photos, or even videos. To share that section of StartUp with you, I had to go to Gimlet's website, click on their shows then StartUp, go through several pages of  episodes until I found the one I wanted, clicked on the link to the Soundcloud, listened through until I found the moment I wanted, find the embed code, copy paste that into this post, and then tell you where to start listening because I couldn't do that with natively. It's doable, and really not the biggest pain in the ass, but the GIF above it was dragged from my desktop onto the post and it automatically loaded in place. Much simpler.

For podcasting to become viral, it has to mirror the ease of use that comes from photos, GIFs and videos. The app Pocketcasts tries to do this by making it fairly easy to share a link, but it's still far from perfect.

The next revolution in podcasting will be a platform. As Matt said in the StartUp episode, it will probably (more like hopefully) be open-source. It will allow creators to post their episodes to a single app that is cross-platform, and easy to use. It will allow for the gathering of usage information, like how far a listener listens, when they listen and what other shows they like to listen to. It will have a programatic ad platform which will allow marketers to see the data gathered about listening habits, as well as collected demographic information, and will allow those marketers to buy targeted advertisements based on that data. Audio files may not change, but the platform will allow them to be augmented with rich data about the topics being discussed, segmentation where the discussion changes topics, and the point where ads are read so video or display advertising could accompany the audio. The platform will make it easier to find new shows based on your interests and the shows you already like.

And above all else, it will be social.

The podcast platform of the future will allow you to find your friends, through Facebook or Twitter if you desire. It will let you see what they are listening to and enjoying. It will let you take your favorite, bite-sixed moments, and post them to your feed or to external social media. Social aspects will be baked into every pixel of this new platform, and hopefully provide the catalyst needed to let audio go viral.

One of the first viral audio pieces I came across, posted of course, not as audio.

Of course, there won't be one solution that fixes everything, no one app or platform can completely solve the problem. But, if made and thought about correctly, it could bring podcasting into a much more modern format.

Several companies are well positioned to make this happen and build the platform. Gimlet had the idea but decided not to go further. Midroll media is focused on advertising and content right now, but combining the two in a meaningful way is plausible and could be the start of something really great. They even have an app, but it's only for their shows and it's kinda terrible as it sits. Spotify wants to expand their brand and they have a decent platform to do so.

Maybe none of these companies will create the new platform, but I think it is inevitable. It will come eventually, or the medium will die. I hope it's the former, and that company already has one loyal fan who is really excited to download that beta.

Recording the Process, and Giving Back

I've started recording making of videos, mainly of my digital creations. Since deciding to do them, I've only remembered to record two of my projects. One of which you can see below.

I love making these, and they look really nice when they are done. To be honest, I started recording them because I've been applying to internships, and I wanted to have something to show my process. Even though many people will only care about the final product, getting to know a person is an important part of finding a good fit for a company. If I can show a prospective employer that I not only can make interesting graphics, GIFs and videos, but that I can make them in a way that shows digital best practices, then I am one step ahead of the game.

Making these videos isn't entirely selfish though. I'm in love with the open source movement. The Coral Project is a really good example of this. They are taking audience engagement and commenting to a really interesting place, and their work would be much less exciting if they decided to close it off. I've learned so much from people posting their code, behind-the-scenes videos, and tutorials, that I feel it is only fair to give back to that community in any way I can. It's a small contribution thus far, but I have to start somewhere.

Hopefully I will be making more videos like this in the future. Some of my work, like what I am doing for the Scripps Innovation Challenge, is necessarily shrouded in mystery. The result of the challenge will hopefully be made widely available when it is complete, but until then it will be kept under a watchful eye. To hold you over, here is another video, and if you'd like to see the source code for any of my graphics, the best place to do that is at The Post's Github page where I am the only current contributor.

Skimping in Seattle

I was busy this summer. I worked in the deli of a local grocery store chain, and on my off days, explored Seattle or the surrounding area (including Canada)! Here are some photos from my travels over the last month or so. 

I've singled out portraits as one of my photographic weak points, so I was working towards improving my skills in that area.

My kind hosts for the summer have been my Aunt and her family, and spending so much time with them has meant they became my most common portrait subjects. 

That cute kid in the rings above is my little cousin. The shirt he is wearing is from his little league all star team. I followed his team through their journey in their local tournament, which was a great experience. Following the tournament allowed me to shoot sports again. I may not be shooting the Ohio University Bobcats that occasionally grace ESPN, but the emotional investment was just as high, and the games just as stressful to spectate.

The team has historically had very little success, but came in third of 13 teams this summer. I'm sure it will be a team they will cherish the memory of for a long while.

These last set of images don't really have a nice segue, or even category, they all would fit under, but I like them. So here are a couple random photos from the last month or so.

So that's about it. I had a wonderful time in Seattle, and came to love the pacific northwest. I had a lot of good coffee, shot a bunch of interesting subjects, and got to experience life in a completely different area of the country. It was a summer well spent.

12 Hours in the City

Starting around 11:00 a.m. yesterday, my uncle, the famous Seattle Sketcher, and I went to explore the wonders of downtown Seattle. We started at the Seattle Folk Life Festival, a merry place of hippies, art and music.


Though I don't have any pictures, the fennel crusted fried chicken with a kale slaw and pickled and charred jalapeno aioli sauce on a potato ciabatta bun I had for lunch upon arriving was phenomenal. After eating, we set out to tour the stalls, ad performers.

The festival was fun for all ages. All the young ones seemed to flock to the large fountain toward the center of Seattle Center, where the festival was being held.

Then, after a short ride on the mono-rail to the heart of downtown, and a coffee break at the starbucks, we set off to explore. We had a date with the rest of the family at Safeco Field later that night for a Mariners game, but that wasn't until 7, so we had some time to kill.

Being the prolific urban sketcher that he is, my uncle was able to tell a story for almost every old building, iconic landmark and back alley. He led me on a whirlwind tour through Pike Place Market, the gum wall below, the very first Starbucks, and the historic waterfront. 

After the tour, we walked the several blocks to the game. The Mariners lost 9-4 to the Astros, but it was still a good game, and a good day. Big thanks to my uncle for showing me around and hanging out all day. I had a blast. 

This man was trying to sell kettle corn and peanuts outside the field. 

A Gathering Place

Tomorrow, The Post will release its third installment in a five part series highlighting Athens area non-profits. The Gathering Place is the focus of the most recent Aiding Athens. The Gathering Place is a small, unabashed home located at 7 N. Congress street. 

The house is home to mentally challenged "members" and people who have dedicated careers to helping these members.

I went out this past Saturday to shoot photos for the Aiding Athens series. I sat on the back porch of the Gathering Place for about four hours, gathering a narrative of these people. 

The writer for this story and I are thinking about volunteering there next semester because of how touched we were by the place. They are normal people doing great things. The members of the Gathering Place are extremely loving people, who genuinely love the help they get. The friendships formed there are equally moving. A single roof brings together so many diverse people for the purpose of healing, and they manage to accomplish that with a silent fervor I hadn't yet experienced before.

Candles for the Fallen

Chardon High School

February 27th, 2012, 7:30a.m.

  • 1 student stood up
  • 10 shots were fired
  • 6 bullets connected with a person
  • 3 kids were stripped of their future
  • 3 others were to be marked forever by a hole
  • A town of 5000 was forever changed

2 Years Pass

February 27th, 2014, 9:15p.m.

  • 15 degrees
  • 30 people gather around
  • 1 student stands up
  • 2 songs are played
  • 7 candles are lit
  • 7 speeches are made

Two years ago, TJ Lane stood up and fired a .22 caliber pistol into a cafeteria of peers. He killed three people that day, and injured three others. It was a terrible tragedy, but soon forgotten about by all but those effected by it. I hadn't heard about the shooting before last night. I guess it gets overshadowed by Sandy Hook, and Aurora, but it is no less tragic.

I had the privilege of partaking in a candle light vigil for the victims of the Chardon shooting last night, and I truly mean privilege.  It was a beautiful event. Beginning with a song in the freezing cold, Chardon alumni, friends, and residents gathered around a few flickering candles to pay their respects. Several people spoke. They told us about being in the school that day, attending the vigil that night, and the overwhelming support and love the felt in the wake of the tragedy. Then, a prayer was said. A final song was played and the people gathered, toughed out the deathly cold, and just survived for a moment together. Held hands. Were comforted by hugs. A broken community came together to heal.

It has been two years since the people of Chardon went through the events of February 27th. With 30 people, 7 candles, 2 songs, and an infinite amount of love, they muster on and even turn their pain into a force for good.

It doesn’t take a lot to perform an act of kindness for someone, and it can make a world of difference. Let’s turn our pain into something good.
— Kelsey Crowley, Chardon High School graduate

Day Tripping

My friends and I awoke at 6 a.m. to spend 7 hours of our day with two Nat Geo Photographers, Ami Vitale, and Melissa Farlow. They were speaking about photographic story telling. 

Dont ever think your story is over. Stay longer and the story just gets richer and richer
— Ami Vitale

Both photographers condensed their years of storytelling into these hours. They spoke of travels to remote villages, dressing up in panda suits, and cameras destroyed by wild mustangs. A far different set of experiences than I have had in the small collegiate town of Athens. 

My friends and I had a great time there and on the way there, it was great spending pressure-less time with some of the greatest people I've ever met. 

We had a fun time at the conference too. We finished puzzles, played dress up and ate food in an art museum, how could that experience be anything but amazing?

I loved the seminar. I loved the time with friends. Meeting professionals at the top of the field I wish to join, and getting a few decent pictures out of the deal, all made the trip a great one.

Night on a Parking Garage

With the gear in our arms and the picture in our heads, my friend Tessa and I set out last night to capture pictures of the night sky. The ultimate goal was a spectacular milky way, filled with countless stars like the ones seen in Nat Geo. So we set off for the highest place we could find on campus. 

The final resting place of the journey was the Athens Parking Deck. It was a good starting place, we learned a lot about astro-photography up there, but there was ultimately too much light pollution to get good exposures. Our hopes and dreams of capturing the galaxy were dashed, but compromise was found as we still got good shots from our rooftop vantage point.

Then, like the Nat Geo photographers we were trying to emulate, we froze. It was in the twenties and hours of exposure to that cold takes its toll on one's fingers. Thus, we ran to the nearest shelter, the small elevator building.

The only part of us resembling Nat Geo photographers was our frozen extremities, but the trip was a positive step towards that goal. There was a failure on the galaxy photo front, a final captured breath emulated one in a weird sort of way.

Snow More Friends

I'm from North Carolina. In North Carolina, it doesn't snow. So after a few inches graced the grounds of Ohio University, I had to go shoot it. 

I went with my friend Maggie, and we explored almost all of campus and uptown Athens. 

Senior Dance Concert

Last week, I had the pleasure of shooting a dance concert put on by seniors in their Capstone course. I spent several hours with them, including warm ups, where I got to immerse myself in the entirely foreign dancer culture.

As a journalist, I get to use my job as a credential to experience how an entirely different group of people function and operate. I get to see dancers rolling around on the floor, which to them is apparently completely normal.

The dancers were great. The way they interacted with each other was both strange and wonderful, weird and beautiful. 

The concert itself was wonderful as well. I am not a dancer, I don't have a fluid bone in my body. So seeing people able to move their bodies in a wonderful way was fascinating. 

I also liked the lighting at the concert. But that is just the photographer in me talking.

Shooting a Concert

Tonight... I shot my first concert, and it was the best concert I've ever been to. 

Headlining was Fitz and the Tantrums, and Capital Cities. The crowd was small but still was energetic and made for a great atmosphere. 

The lighting was amazing. Capital Cities had a giant pair of sunglasses behind the drummer that lit up, and Fitz had their own giant LED heart behind them which changed with the music. It made for great photo opportunities.