Most delightful backyard app

I kickstarted a gift for my mom ages ago and it arrived the other week. Bird Buddy is a “smart” bird feeder that pings you with little notifications when birds show up for lunch. 

Essentially a nanny cam for the birdhouse, it also takes pictures of your visitors. The unboxing and setup were pretty seamless, and the app is pretty sharp. It’s also just pleasant to have apps and tech around that exist solely to offer nice reminders of nature and beauty throughout the day, right?

The big question: is it squirrel-proof? Friends, nothing in life is squirrel-proof. But they built the apparatus to take the roughhousing and weather conditions outdoor camera monitors are subjected to.
-Quinn McHenry, Technical Director

Most surprisingly effective touch interface in a museum setting

The New York Historical Society’s Gallery of Tiffany Lamps has been on display for a few years now, but I just discovered it this fall. A must-see if you love design, and want to learn more about the women who defined the Tiffany style.

The space is totally immersive … darkness punctuated with 100 illuminated lamps and dramatic lighting. And though it’s packed with interactive features, the showstopper is a hands-on Design-a-Lamp experience. Visitors can select colors for Tiffany’s famous “Dragonfly” design and see your creation as a three-dimensional illuminated lamp. 

Totally unexpected and utterly delightful. It’s a great example of how digital touch interfaces and LED lighting can complement and accentuate museum exhibits, rather than work against them as noisy distractions.
-Joana Kelly, COO

Most interesting take on AI-generated art

I was late to the whole AI-generated art party, but Midjourney has really impressed me recently. I’ve been using it to help replace the aging art in my game Starbase Orion (see left image below).

Like similar AI algorithms, Midjourney makes composite images out of your text prompts, and the results are remarkable. Some pretty basic phrases result in surprisingly nuanced and intuitive results, just take a look at the community showcase.

Currently in alpha testing, they’ve just released Version 4 for subscribers on Discord. v4 features a major upgrade of knowledge, crisper details, a more sophisticated understanding of your prompts, and better handling of multiple characters and objects.
-Rocco Bowling, CTO

Most beautiful, rusty, and ramshackle art show

The best thing I saw all year was the colossal Bernd and Hilla Becher show at the Met. With their epic, large-format photography of decaying industrial structures, the Bechers were hugely influential artists of the late twentieth century. 

They chronicled the life and death of gas tanks, grain silos, water towers, and more throughout Western Europe and North America. The images are stark and moving, with great formal elegance. The rusting wrecks stand in silent testimony to the ebb and flow of powerful forces, both natural and man-made. I haven’t been able to stop thinking about them.
-Fred Lee, CXO

Most intriguing new social network

Nope, not Mastodon, though you should check it out. I’d love to highlight another option in this space: micro.blog. It’s a network of independent microblogs, and I’ve been thinking about sharing my words there more.

It’s a small social network that prioritizes owning your own content, with a focus on blogging. Building a safe community is a priority, with some serious checks on fake news, harassment, and ads. Read this short article on why it was created.

There’s a free version and affordable tiered-pricing options if you want something more robust. Take a look at their algorithm-free Discover timeline to get a feel for how it all works.
-Aaron Vegh, Developer

Most powerful connection between soundtrack and TV show

Labrinth and Euphoria, hands down. Labrinth has a beautiful voice, and is an incredible musician, but the Euphoria soundtracks stray from his usual tone in a really exciting way. It’s a very powerful body of music!

Euphoria is so much a show about atmosphere, the trippy, twisty aural and visual design echoes and amplifies the characters’ state of minds in a way never seen in a show. Euphoria as a show/plot is inseparable from the soundtrack — the sound is such an important part of the equation here and adds so much to the whole experience of watching it. 

Labrinth’s moody, epic sound often gets defined as “genre-bending,” but that does a disservice to the complexity of the work. He works with no boundaries: club electronica in one scene, Zendaya ballad in the next, Bridgerton-esque classical farce in another. 

It’s almost like he’s the first composer to figure out that it’s ok for soundtracks to jump from genre to genre and not lose the story. Why? Because that’s how real people engage with music every day — it’s very welcome to see that mashup depicted on screen.
-Ella Ezratty, Associate Producer

Most exciting virtual experiences that reflect physical experiences

I have to tip my cap to what Gucci has been doing for the past few years. Not only are they still committed to excellent physical brand experiences, but they are also extending these experiences holistically to the digital space in exciting ways. 

I first noticed this with the Flora campaign, then I realized they’re doing all kinds of digital exploration with the Gucci Garden, which plays straight-up like a video game. Also check out their Miley Cyrus-infused collaboration with Roblox, and the recently-launched Metaverse Gucci Vault Land.

Whimsy is a dangerous idea for brands like Gucci. It’s easy to lean into tone-deaf self-seriousness, even (especially?) when they’re aiming for something light and airy online. Gucci dedicated a lot of resources to making digital spaces that are genuinely worth exploring, and the art direction does what all good art direction should do. Namely, getting customers to say, “Oh look, what’s that over there?”
-Christie Pedersen, UX + UI Designer

Most engaging UX in online sports wagering

The state-by-state legalization of sports wagering, and the influx of new sites and apps in its wake, have happened at light speed. There are a bunch of different players jumping into the space, and competition is understandably fierce.

Based on what I’ve seen, there is a wide disparity in the user experience and interaction design between competitors in the space. To my eye, FanDuel is setting the pace, with web and mobile products that look fantastic and are incredibly easy to use.

FanDuel clearly cares about quality UX and has done the real work to serve up engaging, relevant experiences to online sports wagering. With numerous online gaming services to choose from, differentiating through good design and UX is a winning business strategy.
-Gavin Fraser, CEO

Most disruptive UX in an app

Founded in 2015 by two L.A. entrepreneur-sneakerheads, GOAT is an online marketplace for new and used sneakers, apparel, and accessories, and its mobile experience is simply stunning. Everything is so clean and seamless.

In particular, I like the app’s modularity. Each tab seems to be its own universe, with very stylish modules to visualize pieces of clothing, shoes, and accessories. Also, the 3D animations and short videos make the app feel alive. The simple fonts and color scheme (mostly B&W), make it easy for the eye. Retailers everywhere should take notes

In addition to all this UX and UI eye candy, the checkout and GOAT verification flow when you purchase an item is fast and easy. The best resale experience on the market.

Most consistently thought-provoking podcast

My family discovered You’re Wrong About this year and it was a game-changer, a perfect addition to the road trip playlist. Easy narratives have a way of solidifying themselves into facts … particularly when the media machine takes an interest. 

Host and creator Sarah Marshall brings a wry, candid, critical, and often laugh-out-loud sensibility to the take-it-for-granted truths we’ve collectively formed around people and events in history. In particular, her lens focuses on women who end up scapegoated, abused, and ultimately defined by the media’s never-ending quest to exonerate men and shame women. 

But the show’s topics range farther than that: the mythologizing of serial killers, the prison industry boom, the junk science of CSI, the ridiculousness of The Amityville Horror, political fictions around welfare and lawsuits, and much more. The central conceit, that we’re wrong about things we think we know, never gets old and never lacks for material.
-Tilda Aldinger, Content Manager

Most disturbing use of a color in a major film and/or television franchise

Onscreen science fiction often stays away from white in the color palette, favoring black, red, and about 10,000 shades of gray. Why? Because space is dark, man. But Star Wars traditionally deploys white in a specific way, mainly by signaling the virtuousness of the rebellion and its leaders, ships, bases, droids, princess, and number one farmboy recruit.

In Andor, however, that rebellion is still taking shape. The color during this time is owned by the Empire, and specifically by the Imperial Security Bureau (a galactic NSA/KGB mashup) as self-proclaimed, immaculately-clad doctors. They are a personified evolution of Stormtroopers, the Empire’s faceless disinfectants.

For both groups, executives and soldiers, white represents the antiseptic. Anton Lesser’s pitch-perfect autocrat defines this explicitly in public health terms:

“We are healthcare providers. We treat sickness. We identify symptoms. The longer we wait to identify a disorder, the harder it is to treat the disease.”

Their ultra-crisp uniforms should be in a detergent commercial. They are impossibly pressed, and unfathomably clean, which in turn renders almost any other setting or group of people “unclean.” Their headquarters are a modernist office fever dream: sterile, angular, spotless. The prison Andor is held in is entirely white, the ultimate cleansing environment for the underclass. White is health, everything else is squalor.

Table setting via color is one of Star Wars’ go-to storytelling devices (swampy green = connection to nature, rosy mauves = elite classes above the fray, and so on). Painting the Empire’s death apparatus in white brings banal fascism front and center in ways Star Wars never really committed to before. It’s a total inversion of what we’ve known, and a rare Star Wars design choice that feels cautionary about the world we live in now.
-Matt Brown, Head of Content

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