Thoughts on Engineering, Photography, and Design.

Hey, I'm Ryan Heath. I design & develop things for a living and play with cameras for fun. This is where I share my thoughts on all of that — and probably more — along the way.

The Shape of Design

A subset of the Foreward in a book I’m currently reading:

In that way, this book is not unlike a more ubiquitous tool and platform, the U.S. Interstate Highway System. Today, we take it for granted, mostly, but its numbering system at one point had to be designed. At a time when telephone poles lined dirt trails, Bureau of Public Roads employee Edwin W. James and committee were asked to come up with a more expandable system as roads were growing in the 1920s. They designed what we know today as the Interstate Numbering System. Prior to that, people relied on color codes for direction. Telephone poles were ringed with color bands lined highways, corresponding to individual dirt trails across the country. As trails expanded, telephone poles became painted from the ground up, sometimes fifteen feet high, so trying to distinguish among colors became dangerous.

E. W. James changed that. He decided that motorists would be able to figure out where they were at any time given the intersection of any two highways. North/south highways would be numbered with odd numbers; east/west with even numbers; and numbers would increase as you go east and north. The Interstate Numbering System was designed for expansion, anticipating the future contributions of people, cities, unexpectedness. It’s a tool. It’s a platform. And it’s still not done nearly 100 years later.

Love that perspective. The Foreward is by Liz Danzico. The book is The Shape of Design.

The Real Thing

Earlier today I watched Mike Matas: A next-generation digital book. If you follow him at all, you’ll know he’s an expert in design and UI, proven through his work on Mac OS and the iPhone. So naturally, before I started the video I expected his vision for digital content to be a good one. I was not disappointed: it was a really good one.

However, as good as the interactions and ideas were in their approach, I still see the value in regular books. I would hate the day the world goes all digital. Maybe it’s because I’m a designer and hence a visual person, but I find enjoyment in owning a physical book. Most of the books I buy are design-related, and things like textures, quality of the paper, the cover art, the spine, and content imagery are often just as inspiring (see Hardboiled Web Design). Those features – real, physical features – should not be taken for granted.

Plus, what would this shelving unit look like if physical books were obsolete?


Something tells me they would lose their appeal if it were just an iPad sitting on its dock.

I’m all for digital books. I personally own a Kindle and I read content via iBooks on my iPad all the time. Digital books absolutely have their place in todays world, I just hope it’s not at the expense of the real thing.