Khoi Vinh: The “Why” of Mixel
Khoi Vinh knows something about communicating ideas. He opens by telling us that for most of communcation design’s history, good design is good storytelling. And to be a good storyteller, you must follow these basic principles:
- A coherent worldview.
- Fine-tuned management of every detail.
- One-way communication of the information from the author to the audience.
All this, Vinh says, boils down to control. In the analog world, presentation and content were inseparable. Ford Motors builds a car. A marketer names it a “Mustang.” And the designer gives it a logo with a pony. Companies could focus on their “core competencies” to connect with their customers. Conversely, here are some challenges today’s designers have to face when designing products for the digital age:
- What browser are they using?
- Is it an iPhone or an Android?
- How many features should it have?
The list goes on and on.
What customers really care about above all else, Vinh says, is great content. Typography and stunning layout? Icing on the cake. What users want is ownership and agency. The focus of the design market has shifted from corporate clients, who want to broadcast a message one way, to the customers themselves, who want to do things their own way. Today’s users would rather create their own messages: they want to make things themselves, and they want to share them with the world.
It used to be that if you carried a camera everywhere, taking pictures of everything from sunsets to traffic cones to your food, people would think you’re crazy. “Why do you need to record everything?” But this has become the way we communicate. Independent journalism exploded when laptops became affordable. Suddenly you could be anywhere and compose anything. The conglomerated industries are beginning to lose ground as every device becomes a potential source of news, art and entertainment. Vinh believes that innovation will save the economy. That only comes from people who can imagine things that aren’t there.
And so we turn to products. Client services, in Vinh’s view, are restricting the creation of great products. “We designed something wonderful…but then our contract ended.” (This is a subject Vinh has written on before, in his post on The End of Client Services and his follow-up In Defense of Client Services) So Vinh showcases an example of what he’d like to see more of: beautiful, wonderful apps that let users be creators themselves.
Vinh’s Mixel is a delightful collage-creator app for iPad that allows “non-creative” people to go nuts with visuals and regain some of the creativity that fell by the wayside since childhood. The app uses what Vinh calls “object-oriented art,” which means that all images are hosted on Mixel’s server and are “live.” When you open a new document, called a mixel (obviously), you’re assembling different images without editing the source files. Because that file is linked to everywhere someone is using it, you can actually see how everyone else is using it in their artwork.
Khoi drives home the appeal of Mixel’s ready-made art menu: “Making something out of nothing is really hard. Self-selection is the biggest challenge. It leads to users thinking, ‘I can’t do this.’” It’s a lot easier to start creating something in a sandbox than in an empty box.
All in all, Mixel sounds like a great tool for designers. As the success of Pinterest has shown, there’s definitely niche there for collaborative moodboards. (Olioboard, anyone?) Oh, and if you want to use Mixel, it’s completely free.
You just have to put $500 down on an iPad first.
In addition to making great things on the web, Khoi Vinh has written a book: the eminent guide to grid systems on the web, Ordering Disorder: Grid Principles for Web Design (Voices That Matter). You can read more about Khoi at his personal blog Subtraction.
posted by Cori Johnson