The Art of Noticing, No. 0: Typographic Offenses


So, as promised, here is the first, beta, soft launch, I'm-trying-something-different newsletter, in connection with my forthcoming book The Art of Noticing: 131 Ways to Spark Creativity, Find Inspiration, and Discover Joy In the Everyday. It comes out in May.

I wrote the book because I have become obsessed with attention and noticing and screening out all the distractions we're now confronted with 24/7 — and, above all, finding enjoyable and rewarding ways to discover the overlooked and underrated.

As a result of that obsession, I keep noticing new stuff that relates directly to the book's themes. But the book is done. So the idea for this newsletter is to share that new stuff anyway.

1. Find A Typographic Flaw Worth Penalizing. The Art of Noticing is set up as a series of exercises and prompts and quasi-games -- things you can actually do to build your attention muscles or just get off your phone and enjoy noticing stuff that everyone else missed. I still constantly get ideas for new useful or fun prompts, and this one of them:

Hoefler & Co. offers The Typographic Ticket Book. (Via Kottke.) The prompt would be to pay attention to signage and other public typography, and fixate on the flaws. With this "ticket book," you can impose a citation for anything from "Poor Typeface Choice" to "Insufficient Letter Spacing" to "Excessive Use of Boldface."

Clearly you don't actually need this ticket book to play this game, but it's a fun exercise: Spend a day looking out for typographic treatments (on billboards, bumper stickers, packaging, wherever) that bug you. Ask yourself what, exactly, the problem is. Or flip the assignment on its head, and look for type treatments you find particularly delightful.

This ties into a couple of prompts in the book, notably Find Something To Complain About.

2. "This ingenious hack turns anti-terror bollards into furniture." In Fast Company, Katharine Schwab writes about a creative response to the proliferation of bollards installed to ward off vehicular terror.

Could these increasingly common devices serve a second purpose — and bring strangers together on city streets? That’s the idea behind three prototypes by the Peruvian designer and architect Beatriz Pero Giannini. The three chairs–called the rocker, the slider, and the wobbler–sit atop bollards and function like seesaws. If one person sits down they’ll probably be uncomfortable, but if two people sit together it brings each design into balance. By encouraging people to sit down together, Giannini hopes to bolster a sense of community among strangers.

A great example of the potential results of another prompt in the book: Change Is to Could Be.

3. "In an all-sharing world, what we don’t share will define us." Stephen Marche in the essay "The Crisis of Intimacy in the Age of Digital Connectivity," for Los Angeles Review of Books.

4. I'm very excited about the new book Sara Berman's Closet, from Maira and Alex Kalman. Alex (a source in The Art of Noticing) runs Mmuseumm, which places unusual exhibitions in even more unusual spaces. Maira (you might know her work) is his mom, and Sara Berman is her mom. A few years back, Maira and Alex recreated Sara's meticulously organized closet, and Alex installed the results in an alley in Lower Manhattan. Later it moved to the Met. Now it's at the Skirball Center in L.A.

What's so great about this closet anyway? Yes, it's visually striking. But it's also an example of a sort of memoir or biography via an organized collection of objects. This is what the book explores, in text and (Maira's distinct) illustration. Here is a New Yorker video about the closet. (Also: Here is a radio/podcast piece I did about Mmuseumm for The Organist.)

Reading + slideshow events coming up in NYC and L.A.; more info here.

Okay, that's it! I would really, really value your feedback (suggestions, critiques, positive reinforcement, constructive insults, etc.) on this beta version of The Art of Noticing newsletter. Reply to this email or use

Thanks for reading -- and Happy Thanksgiving!


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