Choicelessness

Wearables and Usability I.V

Posted in books, technology by johnsnavely on August 13, 2008

Aside: How did Romans do decimal points? (bars and commas? Maybe that’s why the empire fell…)

I just finished reading this graphic novel called Tekkon Kinkreet last night and I want to post that instead of usability. So here’s my beef with “usability”.

It’s a natural part of the design process to question assumptions and even break rules. Far too often I see usability clamping down on a design long before it’s anything interesting to make usable. Many years ago, my former boss, Steve Gano, surprised me in a discussion we were having about how to visualize some scientific data in a flash interactive. I called up some of Tufte’s rules and he responded by handing me a stack of books with diagrams, graphs, maps, and visualizations that didn’t fit Tufte’s model, but were beautiful and legible all the same.

“Usability” is often treated as if it’s an absolute concept, a certain UI is inherently more usable than another. But in fact usability is based on a number of subjective and relative factors. People constantly come up with new ways to use things and new things to use.

Anyhoo, I finished Tekkon Kinkreet last night and I enjoyed it a lot.

The book is a loose coming-of age story of two street kids named “Black” and “White”. Black is slowly becoming an angst-y teenager prone to outbursts, moroseness and violence. And White is a prototypical giddy Japanese kid, whimsical, hopeful, and also prone to violence. They live in a carnival city populated with garbage, bums, yakuza, and corporate sleezebags. And it’s all drawn in a very beautiful artoonist style.

The story itself is fairly simple, but it manages to avoid being juvenile, a problem that most graphic novels never solve. (Another solution might be to relish puerility. Lost Girls, which I also read over the weekend, does this with aplomb. It was so bad it belonged in MOBA, a distinction which might mean that the book has gone full circle to come round to genius. Anyway, if you ever wanted to see an “erotic” graphic novel that looked like it was drawn by a 12 year old girl with color pencils, you should check it out.)

Back to Tekkon Kinkreet. The storyline is simple, while the characters and drawing style are pretty unusual. The clothes in the novel are odd animal suits or strange leotards. And, although much of the story takes place perched up on roofs or telephone wires, the buildings have an odd circus quality to them, leading one to believe that the setting is sometime in a fantastical, perhaps mildly dystopian, future.

Once I finished the book, I checked to see when it was published: 1994!

Honestly, this is more evidence that comics are one of the last remaining forms of worthwhile pulp and, as such, are strong indicators of trends in visual production (art, movies, etc) in the future. At my last visit to the comic store, I realize that there were lots of books here that if I didn’t buy, I would never see again. With a few exceptions, they aren’t in libraries or online. It’s a pity, really.

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2 Responses

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  1. Jenn Tran said, on August 17, 2008 at 10:09 am

    Wow John,

    We just watched the movie equivalent to the book. It was amazing, disturbing, strange, beautiful. Had no idea it was a book. Hope you get to watch it soon.

  2. johnsnavely said, on August 20, 2008 at 3:02 am

    Cool. I have queued it up in Netflix!


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