A conversation with Eric Rodenbeck about usefully cool design and engineering

My guest for this week’s ITConversations show is Eric Rodenbeck, the creative director of Stamen Design. His 2008 ETech talk wowed me, and inspired this meditation on time, space, and data.

Near the end of this interview, as we were discussing the tension between graphic design and engineering sensibilities, Eric said:

When it was just me, working as a designer, I was having fun, but I wasn’t able to be effective. And when Mike [Michal Migurski, Stamen’s technical architect] was doing tech work for PR companies, it wasn’t all that great. But when we came together, suddenly we had something.

Even in a design studio that we control, though, it’s hard to address that split between the lush sexy design versus the tech. Versus! Why is it always versus?

Exactly. Eric also notes another false dichotomy: cool versus useful. We violently agreed that coolness and utility are two sides of the same coin.

For that reason, it would fun to also talk to Eric’s technical partner Mike Magurski. In this interview, we learn that he created the original API for Oakland Crimespotting by scraping this police site, which (still) produces map images like this:

Mike’s task was to identify and locate incidents by writing code that would scan those images for “purple bras, boxing gloves, and hypodermic needles.” Which is funny, but also sad. So many more usefully cool things will be able to happen when publishers of data finally start to learn how to publish data.

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9 thoughts on “A conversation with Eric Rodenbeck about usefully cool design and engineering

  1. Great and inspiring interview. The implications for teaching and learning are enormous and I will be working through them for months (if not years) to come. Thanks.

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