Spotlight: Linked by Air

Linked by Air is the graphic design partnership of Dan Michaelson and Tamara Maletic. Their staff additionally consists of two designer/programmers and an intern. Linked by Air also works with several other programmers and designers as needed for larger projects. They work in all media, specializing in particular in design for technological contexts, but a thread that ties much of their work together is cities and the people who move through them.

Tell us a little bit about yourself and what you do. Tamara Maletic: We are a group of designers, programmers, and artists passionate about finding innovative ways for technology to help realize, inform and enrich our and our clients’ ideas. We perceive most projects as collaborations, whether among ourselves, with clients, or with other designers, programmers, artists. Our work often sets up simple or more intricate processes for things to happen and evolve over time. We enjoy designing for the condition of change. All of us also enjoy teaching, and see teaching as another platform for advancing the field.

What is one of the bigger challenges you and/or other designers are struggling with these days and how do you see it developing? Dan Michaelson: In most of our work, form and functionality are tightly intertwined. It’s often not clear whether we’re proposing a new feature, or a new way to depict or use an old feature. In a pragmatic way, this ambiguity can be very helpful to us as designers, because we hardly ever get into arguments with our clients about what something should look like. It usually seems to be how it is for a good reason. I think that dynamic is true to how culture ought to work, and I think more and more design shops will lean this way. But this approach also presents challenges from budgeting and resource allocation perspectives, because there is huge variability in the complexity of what we might create. Whereas if we were just painting the surface of things, our time might be more predictable and easy to manage. And, we get squeezed by development shops less focused on visual design and typography but even more focused on software development, which compete for both our clients and our potential hires.

­If you had one wish what would it be? Tamara: I would love to do a project with an extraterrestrial creature.

­How has living in New York City affected your design practice? Dan: Well, it’s great to be near peers with overlapping approaches (but also different of course), some of whom are right in our building on the Lower East Side. Many of our clients are here in New York too. All of that is what cities are for, isn’t it? We’re also inspired by the physical city, its dynamics and its form, and that’s reflected in our work for clients like the Center for Urban Pedagogy, our work on the all­night New York City big urban game Midnight Madness, our work on the street photography app Away With Words, and even in our upcoming app for kids, SeeSong…and many more. Our studio is a corner unit with three windows facing the gleaming aluminum mesh rear facade of the New Museum, and three windows facing old brick tenements. Tamara called it the future and the past when she first saw the space. Place and the movement of time are inseparable in New York, and the mashup of those two aspects is an engine that has driven much of our most interesting work.

­What products or companies are you interested in right now? Jeffrey Scudder: For a pop entertainment company, the problems and questions that CCP Games raise are totally unprecedented. As stewards of the largest real time simulation game on the Internet (Eve Online), they are just beginning to realize the power and value of a healthy, virtual economy. Hint: It’s not actually virtual.

 

 

Dan: I found this account of a battle in Eve Online riveting. It involved 4,000 players, led to the destruction of in­game spaceships worth $300,000, and was caused by an unpaid bill.

­Tell us a joke. Jeffrey: Why did the bicycle go to sleep? It was two tired.

Dan: The question of whether machines can think…is about as relevant as the question of whether submarines can swim. – Edsger Dijkstra

­What artists or designers are you interested in right now? Jeffrey: I loved Guy Ben­Ner’s exhibition earlier this year at Postmasters Gallery. In his 2013 video Soundtrack, he extracts 11 minutes of continuous audio from Stephen Spielberg’s 2005 adaptation of War of the Worlds in order to create a more domestic, and sensitive narrative starring his family and his neighbors. Ben­Ner’s manipulation of film is highly sophisticated, and perhaps only possible in a medium whose grammar is highly standardized.

­What is your snack/beverage of choice when working in your studio? Jeffrey: In the spring and summer it’s iced coffee. Once I finish and take the lid off I can snack on the ice if I don’t wait too long.

­What do you do when you’re not designing? Dan: Watch Orphan Black and Adventure Time.

What are you listening to right now? Jeffrey: January 07003: Bell Studies for the Clock of the Long Now by Brian Eno.

­Can you share one of the best or worst reactions you have gotten as a result of your work? Dan: This isn’t directly my work, but in 2006, students in the Exhibition Design course I was teaching at Yale chose to represent all of their work as letter­size color printouts. They papered the gallery with them using Scotch tape, in a perfect grid on all the walls and the floor, with some work tiled to epic scale, other work presented at book size, and everything in between. The school’s gallery is basically a giant cube with a triple­high ceiling. In a front antechamber was the color printer that did all the work. We had calculated per second how long it took to put up one sheet using a rolling scaffold (a metaphorical pixel printer), and this allowed us to budget the team’s time as well as the cost of printouts. The outcome of all this analysis and negotiation was a vast mesh of different colors, scales, and content that read at many different levels. The effect was so strong that one of the secretaries from the school is said to have cried during her visit to the show.