Charlie Mulhollandin conversation with Vasilis van Gemert

Read the transcript

Charlie Mulholland worked at Sony before, by chance, becoming a teacher. At the moment he teaches the course Design Ethics, among others, at the CMD school of digital design at the University of Applied Sciences in Amsterdam. And he’s really good at it. Of course we talk quite a lot about ethics. For instance, we wonder out loud if a design school like ours should take an ethical stand. And Charlie tries to answer the question Jer00n asked on Twitter whether he believes technology is making things better or worse for what it means to be truly human?

We talk about mediocrity. Charlie thinks there’s this cynical kind of mediocrity which is caused by people who basically don’t care. And then there’s the more innocent form of mediocrity which may be caused by tinkerers who use an endless array of increasingly accessible tools. Which can be considered to be a positive form of mediocrity. And we wonder if anything can, and should, be done about it, and if education should play a role in it.

One thing I’m really happy about is that Charlie took the time to explain what the book Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance is about. People told me before that it is about quality, but I never really bothered to read it. And now I don’t have to. Thanks Charlie, you really are a great teacher!

And another thing I’m happy with, and perhaps another example of Charlie’s greatness as a teacher, are the extended show notes he sent me!


Transcripts are necessary, but alas, they are not free. You can help by donating a (small) amount on this Patreon page.

Vasilis: You’re listening to The Good, The Bad, and The Interesting, a podcast about the definition of quality. As you might know, there’s a transcript of this podcast as well. Unfortunately, transcripts are not free. If you want to you can help me pay the bills by supporting my patreon campaign at In this episode Charlie Mulholland, my colleague, finds out if Vasilis van Gemert is going mad. We also talk about the different definitions of design. Charlie answers the question if it’s really true that he’s banned from the teacher of the year competition because he kept on winning it. And we talk about design ethics. Among many other things. And this time I didn’t start with the question what makes a thing good? because Charlie started talking before I had the chance.

Charlie: It is really scary how you have no conception, for example the speed that things are said which I just I can’t hear, it’s this that sort of like changing the models, quite interesting.

V: That’s pretty nice because they read a book in half an hour.

C: That’s true. I can’t even listen to podcast at one point five it annoys me too much. I get nervous about it. But he was showing me what he had done and I was starting to get nervous because the screen reader. It was like very interesting. Almost weird that I was becoming uncomfortable. It was almost sort of like revenge maybe I don’t know. Not quite but […]

V: Cause I started the recording already.

C: Okay, cool.

V: I hope you don’t mind.

C: Well I don’t mind. Well I just talk anyway, you know me.

V: So you know what the podcast is about a little bit, right?

C: Yes.

V: It’s about the definition of quality. Not really THE definition but I always thought that MY definition of quality was THE definition of quality. Until I came working here and I found out no there are many more.

C: Many definitions.

V: And they are valid as well in their own way. So I decided to start this podcast and ask many different designers and lecturers here at our University.

C: Okay, ‘cause I am not a designer, as you know.

V: You are, you teach design.

C: I teach, now I teach ethics and theory and methods but not, actually no […] yeah okay I design courses.

V: It depends on the definition of design.

C: Yeah that’s true. Absolutely, you’re right. We won’t go there though, will we?

V: No, well we could if you want to.

C: I was doing that today with a group of students. ‘Cause I did the minor Design Thinking and Doing and this week because one of our colleagues Laura was ….. South By South West. She teaches design theory […] she does a seminar design theory so I did it. And this week was what is design. So we were reading Chris Jones “What is Designing” from his book “Design Methods’ and we were reading Kees Dorst “Understanding Design”, which is always interesting so I just had that discussion this morning.

V: It is interesting and it changes everywhere and every agency has their own definition of design.

C: There’s an interesting idea ‘cause sometimes you try to define design and it’s a real slippery concept and there’s a lovely […] ‘cause I studied Philosophy and Wittgenstein the Austrian philosopher in his book ”Philosophical Investigations” came up with a concept which […] if you think about for example a game if you want to define a game, you might say a game has a competitive element or a game is between two people but then you can always find exceptions. And what he suggested that there are certain things which are called family resemblance terms so the idea is that if you have something that maybe is not definable, purely, but you know what it is. It is a bit like the old line about pornography you can’t define it but you know it when you see it. It’s like good design, you can’t necessarily define it perfectly but you can know it when you see it. And the idea is for example design is a family resemblance term it is very hard to define exactly the criteria that says this is design but there is enough similarities between different types of design to give us an idea of what design is. You can’t perfectly define it but it is like members of family look the same.

V: It is also, there is a bit of a problem with I think the word. It is being used in so many different ways […]

C: Yeah that is true.

V: That it lost its meaning a little bit.

C: Yeah it is all like a container term. The Dutch always call it container term.

V: Okay.

C: I always remember Dutch people as container term.

V: It is also the people use it in ways that are contradictory to each other.

C: Yeah that’s also true.

V: So they say […] so I was at Momkai once and they showed me so this is where the designers are. Aren’t you all designers? They meant the visual artists.

C: Yeah that’s one of the classic ones; it’s visual, that’s true. That’s often why I’ve got to say I am not a designer because visually I am appalling, as most of my students will tell you. But yeah cause I was brought up to believe that design is about visuals and I don’t believe that anymore but I still find it difficult to call […]

V: Well I think it changed what design means that changed in the last 20-30 years definitely.

C: Yeah I agree. Cause I first started working in communication, multimedia design, that area I started in Rotterdam and when they set up the course I was one of the people I got into teaching by accident by actually helping set up the communication, multimedia design course in Rotterdam at the Willem de Kooning Academie, which I know you’re now doing a Master there.

V: I am studying there now.

C: And I was doing that and what I did was I just started helping them […] I was doing the marketing side, ‘cause I was sort of like marketing person in my past. From the dark side. And most of my job actually, not most but more than half of my job was design research but it wasn’t called that then. So I was working to help the Japanese designers understand the European market, understand trends that sort of stuff.

V: That was at Sony?

C: Sony, yeah.

V: Sony.

C: So I worked at Sony there for a number of years. And what I did when I went to the Willem de Kooning I started teaching purely by accident and one of the things I found was this idea of design, a lot of my colleagues who came from the Willem de Kooning Academie so the art school, saw design as graphic design. And I was not really an expert in this area. I worked a lot with interactive media stuff as a client very often with agencies but I saw very much that the visuals were part of it but it was much more than just brochure-ware. And I used to get into discussions with the graphic designers because they would just say things like yeah but it looks, it doesn’t look good and I go yeah that’s important I agree but it works well. And when people use it they understand it and I started to learn more reading up and then I started to understand ideas like mental models and affordance those sort of things. I started to get some theory that helped me talk to […] and it changed over the years.

V: So recently I have been […] well my master is about when is a thing good for somebody who makes it and when is a thing good for somebody who uses it.

C: Yes interesting.

V: These are two different […] Often they use different criteria while I guess if you are a designer and you design things for people to use then I would think that these things will be the same but that’s not always true.

C: No. I suspect it’s not. Again that comes to the idea what is good. If we go back to your question in this podcast series the idea of quality cause good there is a quality judgement there and what maybe you find good is based on your understanding of somebody else. No matter how empathic you are it is quite hard to exactly understand their mental model of how the world should be. And maybe their understanding of quality or good in this sense is slightly different. And that’s partly based on experience, based on all sorts of stuff. And I suspect designers can never fully set themselves in the role of a user. Cause designers have this ability to just go to look above things and it is very hard to look as if the world is a design and then turn it off.

V: I see two kinds of designers. The designers who want to test everything and they do and they want to test it on real users not as much on data but on […] We’re in a usability lab right now.

C: Yeah that’s true.

V: There are designers who love these things. Want to observe people using this stuff and then adjust their stuff to what they see. I think that is very interesting. On the other hand there is people who just don’t care.

C: Or they have the ability to sort of like get it right based on watching and observing just general life. Almost their intuition from patterns for example. One of the classics is there is a lot of people when you talk about user centered design which I used to teach in the first year for many years here. People always go yeah but Apple doesn’t do user centered design, they don’t do usability testing but everybody likes their products. And part of me says yeah but possibly because those designers have developed a sort of like ability to know what works and what doesn’t work over a number of years of experience. You are not gonna go into this from day one and be a genius designer.

V: And I am not sure if they don’t do research?

C: Oh I am sure they do research whether they do testing and the classic user centered approach I don’t think maybe they do but they definitely they do research, I am sure.

V: And on the other hand I always say you don’t have the budget of Apple so let’s leave Apple out of this.

C: I agree with you totally there. But it is interesting that one of the arguments I often got with user centered design is this, and user centered is not the only approach. There is all sorts of approaches to design which are all have their own version of good or quality as well. Which is an interesting question around that.

V: Good is a very interesting question as well. Who gets to decide what is good.

C: That’s one of the courses again I […] sorry sounds like I am just talking about all my courses but I do design ethics for students and one of the questions is is you […] it is based on there is a Dutch philosopher called Peter Paul Verbeek who wrote a book and a number of articles around the idea of that designers set an understanding of what […] an idea of good into the objects they design. So part of it is the way you design it has an idea of quality and what is good built into it. And the question then you can ask is whose decision is it about what’s good. So for example, a good example of this, which I think he uses, is a paper cup. And a paper cup has built into it this idea that’s okay to throw things away. Use once, throw away. And that built into the design, it is deliberate but maybe not thought through but it is deliberate. Who decides that that’s the right way to do things? It is a very interesting question.

V: So it is good for some, for instance from a business perspective from somebody who sells coffee it is probably a clever idea but from somebody who cares about the environment it might not be.

C: Yeah absolutely.

V: And then again it might be because you can recycle stuff.

C: At least the paper is recyclable this is true. But for example if you look at here [the HvA] they don’t say whether you can put the cups, the paper cups or the cardboard cups into the recycling […] I think an awful lot people just put it in the normal rubbish maybe it doesn’t get recycled later.

V: Yeah that’s true. Ok so that’s what your course is about.

C: That’s one of design ethics I do, that’s one of the things. The key issue we focus on with design ethics though has mostly to do with the idea of autonomy. Cause design changes people’s behaviour partly deliberately partly just purely by accident. And the idea is again whose idea of what is good in behaviour terms gets built into what you design. So I try and talk to the students. I also talk about things like security, data, privacy, that sort of stuff. But the big thing we focus on is the idea of […] a user has a certain level of autonomy if you force them to do things in a certain way are you respecting that autonomy? And also are you allowing them to be morally responsible for what they are doing? If for example your car won’t start unless you put your seat belts on are you now responsible for putting your seat belts on or is that been delegated to the car and can you be blamed or praised if you walk out of a crash. Silly example but essentially what it is is as soon as you take autonomy away from people you also take to a certain level their responsibility for their actions away.

V: Okay. I thought design ethics, I didn’t go farther than the ethics of the designer. So for instance is it ethical to work for an agency that produces arms.

C: That’s also a question we can talk about. Again another example we give to students they hate this one but it is a really great example. It’s from Stephen Anderson and he talks about when he was working for a health insurance company and he was asked to improve the user’s experience at the front end so using the persuasive techniques of getting people to sign up for the insurance. While he was doing it he looked at the back end about the claiming part and that was a disastrous user experience that was really complex. And he said to the client do you want me to work on that and they said no thank you. And the reason was is because people were giving up and it would save them money. So what he did he then had to say do I stop or do I carry on? And in the end I think he decided to say no I am gonna carry on because I already made a promise but I will in future make sure I do not do so little background research into the client before I start working for them.

V: I think it is a very interesting questions because these stories you often hear are from very talented people who get to decide what they work for, who don’t have a shortage of work.

C: Absolutely, yeah.

V: And we here in Amsterdam for instance there is no shortage of work. Here in the Randstad, around Amsterdam, we can work anywhere. If we don’t like a job and we are pretty decent developers or designers we can find another job right away.

C: Yeah.

V: There is no problem for us. So we have a very luxury position. But if you are growing up, I don’t know, I always use the North of France or something which can be pretty depressing and there’s not that much work there. And maybe the only thing in the far neighbourhood is a weapons factory.

C: It’s a difficult decision. When I do this exercise with students they hate it because one of the things they think about is yeah but what if this is my only client? And ethical questions like that are not just black or white they are very very grey and there are other factors. For example if you have a family to feed then maybe you have to take that job. So it is very hard to be black or white about these sort of things but my personal view is, and this is an ethical position as well, that it’s important that our students here can think about these things. I try really hard and I am not always successful to try and explain that my opinions are not necessary the only options but maybe I might not agree with how they think about it but if they can argue their case and they at least show that they think about these things then for me that’s important.

V: They considered other options as well, right?

C: I try my best not to tell them what they should think except I think that they should think. If that makes sense. It is a really difficult one. It’s a very difficult line to walk sometimes.

V: But is that true? We are a design school. Can’t a design school have an ethical stand on things?

C: It could be. Definitely some design schools have had that. Without a question. I am not sure that we ever have. And whether I should decide it is a different question.

V: You are the expert.

C: No I am not an expert. That’s something […] there is also a thing about what’s our ethical position. That’s a really interesting question from outside sometimes […] If we do ethical design does that mean that we shouldn’t make a profit. That we shouldn’t work for companies that make profit. And I personally think it is possible to make a profit without being unethical. So I don’t see that we should only work for non-profits. Although I do worry sometimes if we are working for profit organizations whether literally we are helping a company that has more than enough money do something. You think to yourself is that really fair? I don’t feel qualified to make a decision. I think it is an interesting question should we make these decisions? And to a certain extent maybe we have a culture and a character, we have a tendency towards non-profits in terms of the projects we do with our students because partly we can help non-profits and we are a public organization as well.

V: I think it is pretty interesting to see that. I heard that from a lot of people who work at advertising agencies where most of the time they don’t […] where you could consider a lot of the work that they do as evil or selling crap or doing unnecessary stuff and they actually know this, many people. And what they do is they often do, every now and then they do a side project or they do a project for good or something like that. Would that to clean their soul or something?

C: I don’t know. Advertising people are an easy target for comedians and people who are maybe are cynical about capitalism.

V: Or have the luxury position to not have to work in that […]

C: That’s also true, yeah absolutely. I have the luxury position I don’t work in an advertising agency. I am not saying that there’s anything wrong with that. But I can choose maybe to not work in advertising and yeah I did work for a large commercial organization. I am not sure […] It’s like advertising, marketing anything in principal is not inherently evil. It is how it is done and how it is used. I think that that’s what […] It is very hard to say advertising is bad. To a certain extent you can say we wouldn’t know about some of the things we use if it wasn’t for advertising. And there is arguments for it. But how it is done is the question. In terms of the people working in advertising maybe it is not to clean their soul but maybe it is partly also for them to feel that what they are doing is not just using their talents to help other people make money but also using their talent to do some good for someone who maybe needs help. It’s like lawyers in America do, well lawyers overall, they do a lot of what they call pro bono work and that’s partly because they decide they have enough time, they have enough money themselves so they want to put something back and help people who need help.

V: Do good for the common good, right?

C: Yeah. There is nothing that unusual about that. Well maybe […]

V: Couldn’t it be that they don’t see their own work as evil?

C: I am not sure. I am fairly optimistic about people. I don’t think anyone goes to work everyday and goes I am going to do evil today. I really don’t believe that. Maybe people prefer not to think about it. But I don’t think anyone really goes to work and says I am gonna really mess someone up today or I am going to […] I don’t know maybe people who design cookie trackers and that sort of thing maybe they do. But the majority of people don’t.

V: There are people who actually enjoy creating dark patterns.

C: Yeah, there are dark pattern people yeah.

V: And dark patterns it is actually fun to design them. But then to bring them into practice I think that’s another step.

C: It is the thought experiment that’s interesting. That’s true yeah.

V: Yeah it is a nice thought experiment.

C: B.J. Fogg used to do a lovely exercise is to help students think about ethics by getting them to design an unethical game but they had to explain why it is unethical. So it is a really nice sort of reverse thought experiment to help you understand ethics by designing something that’s unethical and then explaining why. It is a really nice exercise.

V: But I think some business people actually go to work with the idea today I am going to crush the competitor. Some bankers I am gonna destroy that guy who wants to sit on my seat. Things like that. They actually think like that. There are psychopaths.

C: Oh I am sure there are psychopaths. Yeah there are psychopaths. I am not sure […] there is a really interesting question whether psychopaths actually have […] whether they are immoral or amoral, they just don’t think about ethics. Maybe they don’t even consider this to be […] yeah they have no ability to understand it in an ethical sense. That might be […] I think Peter Singer used that argument once, it’s an interesting argument a psychopath has an inability to understand the whole concept of ethical and unethical behaviour. That they just have no real context for it. So yeah there are psychopaths. But I think the majority of people, most people go into their work they don’t want to do bad. They prefer to do, if they could they love to do good. And maybe that’s naive of me to think that but part of me still wants to always believe that because I think if I started to believe that most people didn’t want to do a good job, didn’t want to help other people then I’d probably give up.

V: No I am sure […] I think there is probably evidence that says that most people want to do good.

C: Yeah. I mean the world is sometimes messed up but it is not that bad.

V: It is not everybody doing that on purpose but people were forced doing shit, right. Soldiers in the Second and the First World War they didn’t want to kill people they were forced to. If they didn’t they would be killed, right, there was no really a choice.

C: No. To a certain extent the Second World War part you were fighting for something. The First World War was really […]

V: That was just fucking crazy.

C: You were fighting for rich people’s power. The Second World War there was something more moral about it but still. Difficult one.

V: Definitely. I had a question. That was a question a student just has asked, you actually answered it already.

C: Oh did I?

V: Why are you a teacher? And you said that was a coincidence.

C: It was an accident. Why am I still a teacher is because I love it. I love teaching. Again I worked for Sony, I had a lovely, I really enjoyed when I was working for Sony. Apart from the flying, which I am terrified of, I loved my job. It was a really nice job. Once I got to the places it was great but I was looking after interesting products, I worked with really nice people, I worked with interesting and good designers, the engineers I worked with were great. It was a really nice job, it was fantastic, good fun but it was the thing about the advertising people that we were just talking about. It was nice but was it worthwhile? It was nice. And people had work because of that sort of stuff but […]

V: But if you wouldn’t have gotten into teaching you would probably still do it?

C: Oh I don’t know actually I was getting to the point […] The teaching thing was an accident but once I discovered teaching I actually get an awful lot out of it myself and that’s why I like teaching a lot.

V: And you are really good at it as well I think.

C: Well I try my best I really do. If we are talking about quality I really try to deliver quality as a teacher.

V: You have been teacher of the year for 10 times I think.

C: No.

V: Is it true that you are not allowed to compete anymore because nobody else would win? Is that true?

C: No what they did and I sort of understand, students choose it and it is completely democratic in that sense within the department. So what happened is I taught in the first year so part of that means that you get to see all the students and you become well known amongst students and I try my best to make lessons interesting and educational. And what happened was I got voted for quite often and in the end I think it wasn’t just me but that happened in lots of different departments. So lots of faculties, cause what happens is each faculty has one nominee and I think I was nominated a couple of times and I saw the same people each time. And I think what happened was they wanted to make sure that it was varied a bit more. The teachers that were well known were getting in the way of the good teachers who maybe have a smaller class. So they changed it a bit and one of the things they did in the end was they decided that if you are faculty nominated as a faculty nominee that you are then taken out for a number of years so that other people get a chance to get recognition as well. I think that is really important. What I like about “docent of the year” I am very British about it and I find it a bit difficult and I can see you are enjoying that discomfort.

V: I think it is hilarious.

C: Yes. But one of the things I think is great about it is the students choose and it’s nice […] you know say one person has one class but every student in that class votes for them that says a lot. And that person should be recognized as much as someone who maybe does a lecture in front of a 100 people every week. I think they are trying to make it so that it is not just whoever got the loudest voice. And I have got a fairly loud voice.

V: And you talk a lot.

C: I do talk a lot, yeah I know. You are not editing this are you?

V: No, you talk sense. It is sensible the things you said. Okay. So you are banned from this competition.

C: Not banned. I am like a number of my colleagues from other faculties we have been taken out of the running for a couple of years I think but I can’t remember how long. So that it’s not just always the noisy ones.

V: So what’s the secret then? Do you know? Are there any things that […] I mean we all wanna be better teachers? Do you have any things that we should do?

C: I don’t think I do anything different from my colleagues. Seriously a lot of my colleagues I see people working and teaching and what I see is people are very professional, they love what they are talking about and that I think is a killer. That one, knowing that someone who is teaching you enjoys and is genuinely interested in what it is they are teaching I think is really important. And try to be consistent maybe in the way you give feedback. If you make mistakes you don’t pretend that it is not your mistake. Being open and honest and being consistent. We’ve got colleagues who are very strict but they are consistently strict and those teachers are respected as teachers who are gentle and not as strict. And it is about consistency it is about that students can trust you and that enthusiasm for your subject and consistency I think is a really important part of it. I think.

V: Okay.

C: Enthusiasm is probably the big one though. The passion for what you do.

V: Yeah those are the teachers I remember.

C: Yeah, me too.

V: Of course.

C: Before I came to the HvA I actually taught for three years and I had no training. So I used my favourite teachers as a model. That was my model of how good teachers were. Fortunately the students seemed to think that too so it worked. Because it was the ones who were enthusiastic who didn’t take themselves too seriously but took their subject seriously. And that was really cool.

V: That’s a nice one. And that’s pretty British too I guess.

C: A very British thing yeah. That inability to take yourself too seriously but being serious about things, yeah that was my […]

V: That’s so good from the British, I love it.

C: It does have advantages, certainly it works for […] The Brits know all about it obviously but it works quite well with […] My experience Dutch students quite appreciate the ability, the self-spot, which is the Dutch phrase for it.

V: Yeah. We have a word of it. So we know it as well.

C: Yeah I know.

V: It really works. I always miss it I go to many conferences and when there are only American speakers I really really miss it. I always miss the British speakers.

C: It is partly it is a cultural thing. I have two Australians in my minor this year and they also […] The difference between the Brits and the Australians and the New Zealanders and the Americans is that Americans are very passionate and very serious and they can tell great jokes, no question but they sometimes come over in conferences as they don’t want to undercut the seriousness by maybe making jokes about themselves whereas Brits have to undercut the seriousness otherwise people go hang on I don’t trust him he is too serious. That’s what I grew up with.

V: Okay. So how long have you been in the Netherlands for now?

C: It will be 21 years in October so I should really be speaking Dutch in this I know but I do […] my Dutch, I hate hearing myself speaking Dutch.

V: Yeah and Dutch is an awful language.

C: No it is not, it’s a nice language in some ways.

V: It can be beautiful but it is really hard.

C: The big one is I hate my accent and I hate my grammar and especially when I am writing. If I am teaching and I am just talking but this is being recorded and part of my brain doesn’t like that so I get too nervous about it. If it is just talking I can do it because I think ah it is gone. But as soon as it is set down in concrete I […]

V: It is an impossible language to learn. My mother is from Greece, she came here I think when she was 24 she still doesn’t get it. She does get it but these details she will never get.

C: Yeah there are really strange details. There are really strange little things. I always have trouble with, as all English speakers with anything more than one case. I mean THE basically thank you that will do. At least you guys got rid off all the different cases, you only have got essentially what three now?: de, het and then you have the masculine and feminine versions of de. I don’t know. Anyway. Maybe I am wrong.

V: Not really masculine feminine is not really something.

C: No but for example German or if you go to one of the Slavic languages like Czech it makes no sense to me, why are there more versions of the. Doesn’t make any sense. That one always kills me. So I put a tje at the end of it and say het.

V: Okay my mother has that as well and she doesn’t understand the word er.

C: Also yeah I can see that.

V: The English somehow has it but […]

C: A little bit. But things like erop uit I have no understanding what that means.

V: Another question another student asked Jeroen Verkroost, I don’t know if you know him.

C: I think, yeah.

V: He asked it on Twitter. Does Charlie believe technology is making things better or worse for what it means to be truly human?

C: Yeah that was an interesting question.

V: That was a very interesting question.

C: I saw that question come up actually and I thought that’s a really […] I think it is an interesting question cause there is a sort of assumption maybe behind that question which is there is almost assumption, and maybe it is not in this case and I apologize in advance if I offend anyone with this. But there is a sort of assumption that technology is something different from us […] that by technology has made us less human. Because of technology we become less humans and it’s all the post human people and all these sort of people who think that technology will make us different. You could argue and actually we are human because of technology. In a way we are a fairly rubbish mammal, you know we don’t have much hair, we are not very strong, what we have got is opposable thumbs and a great brain and technology is the thing that actually allowed us to survive.

V: We need technology.

C: We need technology. There are philosophers who sort of have this idea when you talk about philosophy and technology there is almost a sort of idea that technology is something terrible. That it makes us not human anymore. You could argue that actually technology is the thing that made us; you could argue that writing is technology. You know the ability to share […] languages could be technology.

V: Actually it was. At a time people reacted to books like they reacted to television 20 years ago.

C: Yeah moral panics.

V: People shouldn’t read books because […]

C: People shouldn’t write things down because then they won’t remember that.

V: Yeah, indeed.

C: Donald Norman has the book “Things that make us smart” you know, have you seen that book of Donald Norman? He talks about things like the pencil because basically our brain, the cognitive load of remembering everything is too much for our brain certainly in working memory so a piece of paper and a pencil is a technology that allows us to be smart ‘cause we oh I make a note there and then come back to it later. That’s technology. The technology itself I think, to answer the question, I don’t think it makes us less human it is what we do with the technology. The risks that we take maybe we could do that. But I am also fairly optimistic about people and I actually believe partly, I still worry sometimes cause I grew up during the Cold War as well so I grew up with the possibility that we blow ourselves up.

V: Yeah with technology.

C: With technology. But I think partly we […] in an odd way we always win against technology. There’s an element for example you can see it in jokes. People make jokes about things because they know it is more dangerous than they think. They partly make a joke and it’s sort of partly as almost hacking the technology, making it less powerful. Maybe I am wrong. But I sometimes think that the moral panic people who think technology is terrible, the people against Facebook, seem to think that the ”normal person” doesn’t understand how dangerous it is. I suspect the normal person does and thinks to themselves yeah I know it is dangerous and that’s why I make jokes about it. But I also think it is useful. And I think we have the ability to make it fit our worlds.

V: And when you look at artificial intelligence there are some very […] some people are very scared about it and some people actually not at all. They love the idea.

C: The thing is you have always got […] you grew up with Sci-Fi movies and that, Terminators and all those sort of things and the whole thing about artificial technology will start to see us as pointless or as a play thing. And I wonder partly whether that’s the wrong worry. That is so big, it is the sort of Ray Kurzweil the singularity thing. And I wonder whether that will ever […] maybe eventually yes but in my lifetime? Maybe the question about artificial intelligence is more important and will they think we are a play thing is whether for example machines with artificial intelligence should be allowed to make kill decisions in a war field. That’s not huge. In a war zone there are robots currently that could technically make a kill decision for a human being.

V: Isn’t that already happening?

C: Certainly there are robots that can do it. I think under the Geneva I am not sure I think military doesn’t […] I think the military don’t do it. But certainly police […]

V: Ok, they are talking about it.

C: And it is talked about. And I think maybe if people get distracted with this whole thing are they gonna take over us they will miss the much more important questions like should AI be looking after the stock market. Which the stock market is hugely influenced by AI.

V: Is one AI right now, right?

C: And that is actually perhaps more scary. They are not going to take over the world but it may ruin us. And those are perhaps the more […] so sometimes that whole question about technology making us less human is almost a distraction from the real questions that maybe the moral and societal questions around technology those are the […] too distracting and maybe we should get back to some other parts of it.

V: I think we make these AI’s too human. Because they are not human, they don’t care. It is not human intelligence; it’s single focused, single point intelligence.

C: Yeah that’s a really interesting question as well.

V: They don’t care at all about humans.

C: No. Well actually in a way they are not ethical because […] I don’t think they […] they don’t see us, they are not embodied that’s another question that’s often about when you think about computers and robots the embodiment if they had a body at a certain point then they have to start caring about other things with bodies. The body makes you empathic. That sort of thing is a possible way to think about it. So yeah they don’t care but actually they are not […] it is literally they are running an algorithm and that maybe is more worrying than whether they suddenly care about us so much that they want to kill us. That’s much more worrying than the big question of will it take over then they care about us. But actually the fact that they don’t care and we are nothing more than thing, well not even that actually. They are running an algorithm there is no other thing than the algorithm and that makes for me and I am not an expert, not even close to an expert, so anyone who understands AI will probably be laughing at me now. Fair enough.

V: We are both not. I don’t know anything about it.

C: But the question sometimes this whole big thing about technology making us less human, AI’s is maybe distracting from what are more pressing issues and much more things that we can do something about.

V: Another very interesting thing about this thing about technology is […] At least when I worked at Mirabeau the things that people tried to was to try people to stay on your website.

C: Yes.

V: To get them to keep on using your product instead of making the life of the person who is using it better. And I think if I look right now there is a trend that goes in that direction that says the product we are creating has to make the life of the person who is using it better. And the purpose shouldn’t be to make the product better, make the product happier but to make the user happier.

C: I think that some people have that and I think there is other people who spend their time trying to find ways of keeping you on their site for […] the infinite scrolling and that sort of stuff.

V: It actually has a name. PsyOps. Had you heard of that?

C: No. PsyOps comes?

V: Psychological Operations something like that.

C: I didn’t know it was called that. I know PsyOps is Psychological Operations I can’t remember where I heard the term PsyOps. Maybe from some old Sci-Fi movie, maybe that’s where it comes from it’s like that whole CIA. Did you hear about the Samsung televisions and the CIA and it was called weeping angel. Weeping Angel is almost certainly from a Doctor Who Sci-Fi series when I grew up with […] yeah weird. PsyOps okay I can understand that so you are using […] this is the thing about behavioural design. A lot of behavioural design techniques, and this is where it gets to the point of maybe dark patterns […]

V: Fake news.

C: Sorry?

V: Fake news right now, right. Which is a huge organization the biggest news organization I heard that recently is a fake news organization that has just these millions of blogs, the only thing they are doing is producing news with a certain bias. Which, wow!

C: And that has partly to do with the […]

V: Psychology on an enormous scale.

C: Yeah. But it’s also partly to do with the way media is funded. The changing for example in America especially but even in Europe now the public broadcasters we pay for from taxes for example and newspapers can’t get the advertising revenue or they don’t get the money anymore and then they have to find ways of getting money and then in comes the clickbait so I mean one of my favourite newspapers The Guardian has sometimes, when I go to their site they have clickbait type of advertisers on because it just gets served to them and yeah it’s terrible. Maybe it is partly we should think to ourselves okay maybe we have to accept to have a free and useful media we have to actually pay something towards it.

V: Either we have to pay for it or if we want to keep it open we have to accept the fact that we have crap as well.

C: Yeah and is that crap a good idea? This is one of the things […] a guy came up with the concept. It is called “The tragedy of the Commons” and what it is is you imagine a common land you got enough room for ten farmers to have ten sheep that graze on that. And the common land will suffice and survive if everyone keeps to that ten. And one farmer says well for me just one more won’t do any harm so I’ll do it and the problem is those individual rational decisions if everybody does it then the common land is dead. For me personally it is much cheaper not to pay for media but if everybody does it then the media becomes a complete waste of time. So maybe and that’s where the whole laissez faire free invisible hand of economics can come in and cause problems because we can just go yeah that’s the decision. In a way Facebook and Google we give away our privacy and individually yeah it’s no biggie because it’s maybe Google knows a little bit about what I like to watch and what I like to eat and that sort of stuff but it is no big thing. But unfortunately because everybody does it what happens is the value of privacy goes down. And this is maybe with media this whole thing if we have to accept fake news maybe we have to say okay kids maybe we need governmental intervention to say okay we are now going […] and that won’t happen for example in America, certainly not in the next four years but it could happen for example in Europe. We’ve still got the BBC’s and we’ve still got the NPO’s that sort of stuff maybe we just have to accept that maybe we pay a little bit more tax to keep that quality of media. I personally for example since this whole fake news thing I have actually started subscribing to The Guardian because I feel guilty that I was free riding so part of me felt I really got to start paying something now.

C: I pay for The Correspondent.

V: Yeah exactly.

C: As long as they try and you know keep the bargain and keep producing it is never objective but at least thoughtful news and thoughtful commentary then […]

V: Indeed.

C: Not fake no you are right. It is worrying that one.

V: It is a very big industry. I didn’t know it was that big. But it is a very large industry. Very deliberate.

C: It is basically clickbait. I mean who has not clicked on a clickbait story. I have. There is a sort of like guilty pleasure in that.

V: And the weird thing is on The Guardian as well. I scrolled to the bottom and suddenly there are these four articles that look a little bit like […]

C: Right, related content. Yeah. It is really. I know.

V: There is weird stuff in there.

C: Yeah I know. Part of the reason […] when I started seeing on the Guardian was the part of the reason I think I am free riding here I better start […] You know Trump getting elected and the starting […] I am thinking to myself oh I really have to do something about this myself. It is not very much but again one or two if everybody gave something it would be a little bit easier. And it is a tough one though. Because of course since the start of the Internet we have always loved free and free and quality maybe don’t go together. Coming back to the nature of quality.

V: I should ask somebody who creates fake news.

C: That would be interesting.

V: You know the quality of fake news.

C: Have you ever […] there is a whole discussion about the idea of bullshit. The idea of bullshit, there is a difference between lying and bullshitting and this is another philosopher Harry Frankfurt wrote a book called “On Bullshit”. Highly recommended to anyone. And he tries to explain what is the difference between bullshit and lying, and bullshitters don’t care about the truth. Liars care about the truth so much that they are actually saying […] they are trying to convince you that something that is not true is true. Bullshitters actually don’t care whether you believe it or not they just want to be heard.

V: They can say the exact opposite tomorrow because they don’t care.

C: Because they don’t care. And I think that is a really interesting definition of bullshit. It seems less worrying than lying but actually to a certain extent it is not, it’s worse than lying because actually you don’t care about the truth at all. That’s what Frankfurt is suggesting or my interpretation of what Harry Frankfurt wrote in his book “On Bullshit” and I think that’s a really fascinating idea that’s why I like philosophy by the way. Cause they sometimes come up with this slightly different way of looking at things which makes it […] But I like that one. Lying is not as bad as bullshitting.

V: I cannot read philosophy. I always fall asleep after the first sentence.

C: I can understand that.

V: I just cannot read it. I can listen to it and I can think about it as well but […]

C: That’s the joy of the podcast.

V: There is another book, a philosophical book; I saw you had an e-reader with you “The Zen of motorcycle maintenance”?

C: Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance, yeah.

V: Some people said to me that that book is about quality. Actually I had to read it when I was a student because I didn’t want to follow a course and then my teacher told me well then read this book and we can discuss the book. And I didn’t finish the book because I didn’t like it.

C: No I can […]

V: I couldn’t read it but I hear about it a lot. So maybe I just missed, I probably missed the point.

C: The thing about Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance is when it was […] It had got a reputation. I have this thing where if it is hyped then part of me says no I don’t want to read it. I’m zagging here I’m not zigging I’m zagging and that’s one of the things. Fortunately I never got told to read it but I didn’t read it until I was about yeah maybe my mid 30s. It wasn’t something that everyone must read it when they are young and […] I think you have to read Albert Camus when you are young like the Outsider or something like that. But no one told me fortunately I had to read it so I read it later and the problem is it’s a novel but it has a philosophical thing in it. And that I think confuses […] It confused me. Sort of like it took me a while to get […] because the novel is vaguely interesting and maybe as a 16/17 year old it is not close to interesting. It is about some middle aged man going across America with his son on a motorbike and to be honest with you that’s a bit weird for 16/17 year old, self-indulgent rubbish maybe. SO maybe that’s an issue with it when reading it when you are young. Part of me because I was mid 30s I didn’t have kids so I did never understand that bit but I could sort of see he was slightly cynical and a bit you know his view of the world had been changed somehow and that was what maybe called on for me a little bit so I finished it. But the thing about quality in it it is a story of essentially a guy who went insane because he spend too much time trying to define quality.

V: Okay.

C: That’s why I thought of it when you were telling me what you were doing with this podcast. When you told me originally when I listened to the first episode I am thinking oh my goodness […]

V: Is Vasilis going insane?

C: I am thinking oh no is Vasilis gonna go mad. Cause actually it is based on truth because it is a novel you don’t quite know how much is real and how much is hyperbole or rhetoric but essentially he went mad because he tried to define quality and as a result he had electroshock therapy and he definitely, Robert Pirsig the guy, did have electroshock therapy and it changed his personality. So the person who is riding across America with his son is actually the same guy who went mad but he is now seeing himself as a ghost, his previous self as a ghost and he is trying to use that as a device to explain the theory of quality that the original character had.

V: I get it. That’s actually pretty interesting.

C: It is actually quite interesting. The idea of quality I think is really interesting because what he tries to do is he suggests, and I rather like […] if we go back to the design and the idea of trying to define design, he suggests that you can’t define quality. He suggests that everything comes from quality and he literally says that mind and matter, subject and object are defined by quality. So you first get this impression of quality, then you make sense of it through mind, matter, subject, object and then based on those experiences you develop your own idea of what makes quality. It is almost that you […] instead of quality being something that’s inside things or is manifested by things, so it completely switches. It is like the Copernican revolution of quality is what he defines […] so instead of saying that the earth is the centre of the universe he says no, quality is at the centre of the universe and everything else he defines through quality. You can never perfectly define quality because quality defines everything else. And it is an interesting idea. He suggests that our romantic view of quality, the artist view of quality is based on a different time frame. So the immediate impression you get of something is often the artistic romantic view of quality. If you don’t analyse it, it also is quality but you have looked at it through a historical lens and you are looking at quality as a concept over time and it is a really interesting […] it’s very metaphysical and a bit fluffy at times but I like it as a way of thinking about quality that instead of trying to define quality you are saying no, quality is indefinable. We interpret quality. It’s a really interesting way of thinking about things again.

V: I overread those paragraphs in the book.

C: No, it is really late in the book. If you stopped after about […] cause I had the same when I started reading it. The first two parts are a bit weird and then I fortunately managed to get through so you get about a 100 to 200 pages in and then you start to get to the meet of the quality thing. And if you don’t get that far, and a lot of people don’t, it gets you there. There is a second book he wrote called “Lila” which is even more about quality and I read that but that was a struggle. This is more accessible because it is semi fiction and you sometimes lose it a little bit. But I just thought it is an interesting thought experiment again. I like thought experiments. But I do understand why people don’t finish it.

V: Yeah I didn’t read it. There is this interesting discussion I started. Actually a listener to this podcast, Bob, he started emailing me about that I use the term mediocre quite a lot where I actually I am […] I think that a lot of the things that are produced, the products that are produced or the websites that are created are mediocre and I don’t mean that in a positive way. And he says it is fantastic that mediocracy. So he calls it fantastic because everybody can create wonderful stuff right now and maybe it is not really mediocracy what he is talking about but more the democratization of tools and of design and of all these things. That because we have all these tools and we can just stitch them together and we created our own thing that’s fantastic. And what I say that is I call that ‘klooien’ tinkering maybe.

C: Yeah, yeah.

V: That we tinker and we create stuff, which is nice but is it good enough?

C: It depends what the goal is isn’t it? Good enough for what? is the question. For example the democratization of the tools is an interesting question. I once remember Alan Cooper. There was a student asked Alan Cooper a question which was basically he was talking with someone else about photoshopping. Should Photoshop be easier? And one of our students, delightful, said yeah but if the tools are easy then everyone can design. And Alan Cooper beautifully turned around to him said: young man I love you like a son but I cannot agree with the words you said because it was very elitist about the idea of what is design. Design is not Photoshop and also it is not […] just because you can use the tools doesn’t mean to say you are a designer. What it is the question for example anyone can make a website easily to a certain extent for them if it is good and they are happy with it and they are proud of it and they have spend it […] you know for them it was rather then just go there is my website but they you know they had pleasure and enjoyed doing it.

V: Or are proud of a website where they can share their knowledge which is fantastic.

C: Yeah and this is all good. If it is just knocking together something […] It is like with music you can work with samples and you can put together a whole track in 15 minutes and it would probably sound okay whether that is quality is a different question. If someone has worked really hard and you know worked, not just drag and drop, and thought about it and had a plan, maybe it is not good, but it makes it for them a real challenge. Maybe mediocre could refer to […] for me I do understand what you mean by mediocre but it’s partly more to do with maybe the intention. You are not going to great something good you are trying to create something just to get you know […] it is like a product that will make money but it is not really […] there is no heart, there is no soul in it. Some of the old, gif type websites from the 90s to a certain extent.

V: Yeah. GeoCities websites.

C: GeoCities websites. There is a sort of love in there, an affection for what they were doing and maybe it doesn’t look good but you see a heart and a soul in it.

V: The interesting thing is that the aesthetic that came from GeoCities you still see it right now.

C: I know.

V: Today we create GeoCities sites. The best designers create them.

C: Yeah.

V: And now we call them brutalist websites.

C: Oh is that what they are called now?

V: It has a name. Brutalist.

C: Okay. Brutalist architecture I know but brutalist websites that is new for me, thank you. I’ll write that one down. But it is interesting the idea of mediocre I suspect you do mean mediocre as a bad thing and I think I understand when you talk about that it is like things that are not together without any trying […] it is almost cynical. There is a cynicism about mediocrity in that sense.

V: Yeah you have cynicism but on the other hand I think okay when you don’t really know what you are doing and you are just tinkering and tada it is done. You may think it is good but there are several levels of complexity that you don’t know about that you probably didn’t solve. And there’s the interesting thing that maybe this is not anymore the responsibility of the people who create stuff but maybe it is a responsibility of the people who create their tooling that have to make sure that when you use their tool the thing that comes out is not just it works but that it works really well.

C: I remember the first website I ever tried to develop myself. This was back in 2000, just around 1999-2000 and I used Microsoft.

V: What was it called Frontpage?

C: Frontpage.

V: Yeah.

C: And I worked really hard and I tried my best and I even learned a little bit of html and everything. And Microsoft Frontpage at the time delivered awful html you would have looked at it and laughed.

V: Back then I probably wouldn’t know […]

C: Well no because it was a long time ago. You were too young. But you look at it now […] And in a way I was proud of parts of it. And it wasn’t good you are right it was mediocre. But what it did do is it was part of a gateway into doing it again but differently. Maybe the responsibility of the builders of the tools is to help the people through the learning curve if they want to go further they could go further.

V: Or make sure that the output is good.

C: Yeah.

V: So if you look at it there are some tools that actually create pretty decent websites. Tools like if you find Wordpress for instance I think the default themes there are pretty good.

C: Yeah.

V: They are optimized and they work and there are good practices in there.

C: And then the person perhaps can focus on the content. In a way a website for example like a Wordpress site is partly just a publishing tool for […]

V: And a CMS, a content management system, it can give you the opportunity to just do anything with it. Which is actually what pretty many expensive CMS do which I think is a bug or you can help the person working with the tool to create good content. So in that case I think yeah it can be that we […] in that sense are we now maybe what we have to do is educate the toolmakers?

C: Maybe yeah. And maybe also […]

V: Because everybody can create anything. So do we need to educate designers or do we have to educate the toolmakers?

C: Are the toolmakers the designers? In a way are the designers making things that allow people to create their own things? I don’t know. It is an interesting question. I am wondering […] I hope and I believe there is a place still for designers and maybe it is to help people realize their own dreams in terms of content or whatever. It also depends, for example, if you make a website the question is why are you making a website. Is it just to try and experiment and play? Like the Geocities with all the […] that was partly just playing around. And it was probably a gateway for a lot of people who went into create really interesting stuff later.

V: Absolutely. Everybody who works as a professional web developer or web designer now they started tinkering. They started with tinkering.

C: Yeah, absolutely.

V: I think right now what we as an University or a design school have to say okay do we have to get them beyond tinkering.

C: Yeah.

V: Is that something?

C: Yeah I think getting beyond tinkering is […] this is one of my little hobby horses is being […] okay to go beyond tinkering you have to start looking at what you did and analysing it and saying how could I do it better. And you start to have to be reflective about what you are doing and saying okay […] that is where maybe where the quality thing comes in it is not just that you produce good things but you can do it consistently because you are constantly learning and reflecting and going okay so that went well. That I think is maybe what our jobs is, is to help designers, we come back to designers, by being constantly not just tinkering, not just photoshopping, I think we got beyond that now fortunately. When I first started working in Rotterdam a whole number of students thought that design was just being able to Photoshop.

V: They still actually […]

C: I know.

V: It is a job description.

C: Yeah and that is not design in my view. But a good designer is more than just photoshopping, it is being able to look at something and say deconstruct it maybe then find a way to reconstruct it but improve it and keep doing that. That I think is something that we can work on.

V: And I think there will be […] no we need designers more than ever because we create stuff that we didn’t know existed. In five years time we will have stuff that we cannot use yet, right, we can’t imagine yet. We need designers to imagine this stuff what can we do with it.

C: Yeah and also make it accessible. Cause one of the things, a lot of things with new technologies it is like Frontpage was clunky as hell partly because it was in the early, it wasn’t 1996 but it was late 90s and the whole web thing was clunky as hell. It was early adopter city. It wasn’t mass market. So often when things are new they are clunky and designers are the people that get it from clunky to a certain level of elegance later. But at first often things […] the classic new product adoption cycle so you got the innovators who will do anything just because those are the tinkers and play with things and the early adopters who then go okay this does something I need […] that’s why I needed a website I couldn’t afford to pay anyone else to do it for me so I learned. I found Frontpage terrible but that’s what happened. And I didn’t need to go any further but some people go further with it. Now you know you got these tools like Wordpress which makes good places for people to put their messages on. I have a friend who has a Wordpress site that does their whole thing. You know it is a whole website that does all their stuff, it does all the e-commerce, everything is on Wordpress.

V: Yeah it is fantastic.

C: Perfect. And that is for mass market. At this point it is still a bit clunky but it is much less clunky than it was years ago. And I think designers partly are there to help the mass eventually get to these tools and hopefully deliver nice things with those tools maybe.

V: So designers have to change right? We cannot keep on doing the same thing that we do right now for the next 20 years because in 5 years time it will be democratized.

C: Yeah, to a certain extent I think you are right. Although I think there are principles about design that still stay there. I think there are certain things about designing that haven’t really changed. The tools, the output has changed, but there is sort of like a thought process, an attitude. Especially an attitude. It is part of a designer’s DNA if you want. And that I think is also what you can teach people.

V: Is it DNA or is it something you can teach people?

C: I think you can teach it but it becomes part of you […] It is almost […] I am a great believer in the Greek approach to the idea of what is good. The virtues, the idea of virtues. You learn to do good things by practising doing good things. And I believe that you can teach people to be designers. I think there is an element of talent there and there is an element of willing to try there but there is a sort of an attitude partly, it is a way of thinking. You look at the world and go that could be better. And you don’t look at the world and go that’s not working very well […] the classic consumer thing is oh well or that’s my fault. Designers tend to look at the world and go that could be better how could I do that and how did they do it in the first, why did they do that in the first […] That’s a designer’s attitude. And I think that will stay the same. The tools, the problems may change but I think that stays the same, and I think that is part of what our job is here.

V: Yeah. A few people have said that. They create stuff because they have the urge to make things better. So they look around them and they see this is not good enough.

C: Yeah.

V: It needs to be improved.

C: Some little itch in the back of your head that says oh that’s annoying. I have it as well but I am not […] when I look at certain things I just go oh why did they do that, that is so annoying. And that is really, that is one of the things I try to get students doing UCD years ago. When I first started doing user centered design I started to try, because it was first year students, one of the things I always thought my job is to get students to suddenly be able to look at the world and go that’s wrong! That needs to be. That is not good. And I always loved it if students came up […] sometimes they come up and go Charlie look at this and I go what and they go such bad design look and I go. Such a lovely feeling because they would literally be saying I see what you are saying with this you can make the world better, that things don’t have to be as they are now. I like that.

V: You can teach people that attitude.

C: I think you can. I think you can. And that attitude I think is part of the core. It is not the only thing. There is also creativity, there is also analytical thought, there is all those sort of things that are an important part of design. But I think those […]

V: And empathy.

C: Empathy, yeah. But also ability to not […] I think designers have an interesting job they have to be able to empathize but they also then have to be able to step out because if you are completely in it then what happens is you can’t see anymore the wood from the trees. You become maybe too involved and that makes it difficult. It’s really interesting balancing for example creativity and analytical thinking, both important for design. I think arrogance and humbleness is really interesting. Designers have to be humble to accept that other people […] listen to other people, hear what they are saying but also have to be arrogant and have to say but I can make it better. And that’s a really weird balancing act. And not all designers get that right.

V: It is really interesting there are so many contradictions all the time.

C: Yeah design is incredibly contradicting.

V: And also when I look at quality there is all these people contradicting each other and the interesting thing is that it doesn’t matter.

C: No.

V: So they contradict each other but not really.

C: No. I think it is fascinating. Actually one of the reasons I love teaching design in a design world is because there is so much uncertainty that in a way I find it liberating. I try to sometimes explain to students if you understand the idea of wicked problems. Wicked problems can never be defined perfectly. They are ill structured, there are so many difficult conflicting needs that there are infinite possible definitions of the problem which means there are also infinite possible definitions of the solution. In a way that is liberating cause what you are doing is is you just are trying to do it better. You never going to make it perfect, it will never happen. But you can constantly try to make things better.

V: And should that be the goal of any designer to make it better than before?

C: That’s an interesting question. Part of me says yes.

V: GroenLinks for instance they have this slogan they say if you want a change. I say well I only want a change if it makes it better. I mean a change can also mean that they make it worse. I don’t want that.

C: In a way there is a question if you […] you could change things and it could be make no real difference then the question is what is the point.

V: Indeed and it happens a lot.

C: Yeah.

V: It happens a lot. We have a redesign and […] It is different but I am not sure if it is better.

C: There was a […] do you ever listen to 99% invisible?

V: Yeah.

C: I love that podcast. It is my fave, one of my faves, obviously this one as well. But one of the things I love about they did this thing on, this week I think is about logos and logos get changed and they get changed back because […] Interesting. Basically you do all this work and it doesn’t make any difference. Some companies change logos and it is like why have you bothered.

V: I also said if you need a logo then the rest of your identity is probably crap. So focus on the rest of your identity and then skip […] dump the logo.

C: I think logos can be useful as a cipher for […] You know like a little symbol, a little icon, token. It can be handy. But you know changing it and making a big thing about change. Uber changed the logo. It doesn’t make Uber a nicer company, oops sorry did I say that aloud. Sometimes changing logos is a way of avoiding talking about the real problems. So yeah maybe. But I think design there is an element where maybe again if we talk about quality. Quality I think is partly about intention. You are trying to learn, you are trying to improve or something like that. In a way if you want deliver quality then you have to make it better than it is now otherwise what was the point? So in a way, and I am sure people who will disagree with me on this, but in a way I suspect that it is important that if you want to actually design you have to start out by thinking I am going to make it better. Cause if you go out and think meh, then where is the pressure, where is the enthusiasm for what you are doing. I think that leads to mediocre. The first time you try something if you are enthusiastic you will keep doing it, you keep trying to get better. If it is like meh, then what you will deliver is mediocrity. That is where it becomes cynical. Where you change the logo to try and take people’s attention away from something else. That cynicism is dangerous maybe.

V: Yeah or change the logo because you need the money.

C: Yeah.

V: Instead of […]

C: Persuade the client to change the logo because you need the money?

V: Yeah could be as well.

C: Yeah I am never comfortable with agencies that have that […] there are people who go […] When I used to work for Sony ‘cause we were seen by a lot of agencies. You know we had money. We did we had lots of money. And then it is like oh Sony it is all […] see if we can persuade them to buy this. The classic is you see a script for a television ad and it is an opening scene a beach with palm trees and you think I know what they are doing here. They want to go to the Bahamas. The agency, the people in the agency want to go there so yeah do you really need to do your ads there, no. So I don’t know.

V: Charlie […]

C: Thank you.

V: Do you have more to say?

C: No I […]

V: You have much more to say.

C: Shut me up is gonna be the hard thing. No. I really really enjoyed the conversation. Really interesting.

V: Me too, me too. Really nice. We can go on for more hours but I am actually pretty tired.

C: I know you have been talking all day. Me too but […]

V: I wondered do you have any things you want to say to maybe the two students who manage to still keep on listening right now?

C: Thank you.

V: Oh yeah?

C: Thank you for listening. No I mean keep on doing it. I do this because I love it. I teach because I love it. I teach on this course because I love it. I love my students, I love my colleagues, I really do. I am grumpy sometimes, I get depressed easily but when I do things like this when I talk to students, when I see the passion and enjoyment that a lot of people have I love it. So if they kept listening to the end thank you and keep going cause basically it says something about them as well. So thank you.

V: Thank you Charlie that was a really really nice conversation.

C: Thank you.

V: This was episode number 23 of The Good, The Bad, and The Interesting with Charlie Mulhulland and me, Vasilis van Gemert. I hope you liked it. If you did, or didn’t, feel free to let me know via vasilis at, or you can find me on twitter @vasilis. There’s a transcript of every episode of this podcast. If you want to you can help me out with paying the bills by supporting my patreon campaign on There are a few people who support these transcripts so far, like CMD Amsterdam, my employer, and Job. Your help would really be appreciated. Next time I will talk, in Dutch, to Sjoerd Linders, who designs the traffic flows in the city of Amsterdam.

This transcript was funded with the generous help of CMD Amsterdam, Job, Peter van Grieken, Peet Sneekes, en Jan Jaap Rijpkema. If you want to you can help as well by donating a (small) amount on this Patreon page.