Fear, regression and creativity

It’s scary to be a child. We start off as helpless infants totally dependent on our caretakers. As soon as we leave the safety of our mothers’ wombs, we had to start getting used to fears and anxieties as the world unfolds itself in ever increasing complexity.

I remember a nightmare when i was three, the frightening image of a top hat-wearing skull woke me from sleep. It might have been Baron Samedi but I have never seen him as a child. As an adult, darkness don’t unsettle me much anymore. I remember when I was five, I cried from fear of abandonment when my mother was late to to pick me up from kindergarten. These days, lateness is merely an annoyance we tolerate of one another. I remember dreams of threatening situations in which I froze, throughout my adolescence. Although I still dream of danger I no longer freeze in them.

As we grew older, we traded our neuroses with the other four of the big five as we learn to regulate our emotions, as if numbing the amygdala against future anxiety. With the amygdala taking the back seat for the emergence of executive functions which are critical for the growing up to thrive in an increasingly cognitively demanding environment, we had sacrificed our innocence.

Some of us are meant to be kids. If you find yourself stifled in a boring and depressed adult world, if you realized becoming an adult was simply the only way we knew to cope with our childish fears, if you think the world would be a better place run by children, you are one of us.

The return to innocence starts with controlled regression. ARISE, or Adaptive Regression In the Service of the Ego is a psychoanalytic concept recognized for decades, but little appreciated today. While regression is not considered a good thing in most fields and implies a return to an earlier or inferior state of being and functioning, Joel Gold (Psychiatrist; Clinical Associate Professor of Psychiatry, NYU School of Medicine) describes adaptive regression as an important ability we all need.

There are numerous vital experiences that cannot be achieved without adaptive regression: The creation and appreciation of art, music, literature and food; the ability to sleep; sexual fulfillment; falling in love; and, yes, the ability to free associate and tolerate psychoanalysis or psychodynamic therapy without getting worse. Perhaps the most important element in adaptive regression is the ability to fantasize, to daydream. The person who has access to their unconscious processes and can mine them, without getting mired in them, can try new approaches, can begin to see things in new ways and, perhaps, can achieve mastery of their pursuits.

When you play a game the first time, you have no idea what comes next. You can only react to situations. You build up tools and strategies which you apply systematically to later challenges and hopefully you would have enough competence to defeat the final boss by the end. Most people are content with playing on as long as they do not die. I prefer more control over my game. Regression allows you to start over at an earlier level with the acquired tools and strategies. The game gets easier and most importantly you get to experience it more deeply than the first go. You would have the creativity of a child and the coping ability of an adult.

Levi Ackerman

This is the Nendoroid figure of Levi Ackerman, a 34 year old elite soldier who fights man-eating humanoid giants in the Attack on Titans anime and manga series. Nendoroids are plastic figures of neotenized anime, manga and video game characters. It is what I see when I imagine an arisen adult.

Children may be the answer to an ageing population. Arisen adults are the answer to a boring, screwed up world.

Brandon vs Whitney

After being busy with client work for a while I’m back writing and at the same time I wanted to renew the site with a simpler and more fluid design, and a new font to go with the format.

I narrowed down to Brandon Text by HvD and Whitney by Hoefler & Co. and decidedly chose the former.

Brandon Text and Whitney Comparison

Originally developed for New York’s Whitney Museum, Whitney is utilitarian, safe and solemn. It’s a perfect typeface for institutions and serious publications. Unfortunately this also made it boring. The letterforms are so upright that a Whitney paragraph resembles a regimented military parade. Brandon Text, on the other hand is relaxed and livelier, without appearing playful. If Whitney is as described by Hoefler, an extroverted typeface then Brandon would be friendly and warm.

Is Whitney the new Trajan?

DN × iPhone

Introducing Designer News for the iPhone.

Nothing more, nothing less but the full DN experience.

Designer News for iPhone

Scroll, tap and swipe.

Gimmick-free interface not just for designers, and that’s a good thing.

Designer News for iPhone

Content that fits.

One of the few entries that feature landscape orientation.

Designer News for iPhone

Designer News for iPhone

PS: This isn’t the official DN app. It’s my entry for the Design+Code Giveaway contest organized by LayerVault. I started using LayerVault because of this contest and I have to say it’s much better suited for a design workflow than Dropbox. I probably won’t be switching because I have just too much space on Dropbox. Early adopter bonuses you see.

Font files off Typekit

I have a Typekit subscription and have full access to all their fonts. Adobe also recently introduced the ability to sync fonts to the desktop via Creative Cloud for use in mockups, print design and word processing. It’s really convenient because before this one has to have the actual font file installed to be able to design with it before using it on a web project.

Often people who use Typekit already have desktop licenses for fonts they want to use for a website. In fact Typekit was originally intended for this purpose. There are however those who signed up for Typekit because they want nicer typography for their blogs – solely for the web, and are thus unlikely to own desktop licenses of the the fonts they need. Typekit’s desktop sync feature really helps designers to avoid using pirated fonts just so they can design with them before using them legitimately fonts on production sites.

Unfortunately not all fonts on Typekit are available as desktop fonts. Yet or ever I don’t know. I chose Rooney Sans Web from Jan Fromm for a web project to match its rounded sprightly identity. I realized there is no desktop version I can sync to in Photoshop. I could have just designed the site in code but I didn’t want to concede to the sense of defeat.

Ripping font files off Typekit

Typekit’s implements @font-face with the Data URI scheme and fonts represented as base64 with the mime type of font/opentype, as revealed by the web inspector in Safari.


The full base64 string contains all the information required to reconstruct the font file. The first step is to convert the base64 string into a binary format. The service I use is Base 64 Decoder. Be sure to copy the entire string and without the first comma and everything before it.

For example if your string is:


Remove data:font/opentype;base64, to make it look like:


Paste the string into the decoder:


Then press Decode. The binary output will be sent directly back to the browser as a stream which you can save as a binary file.

Next we need to convert the binary file into a font file. I used OFC. Just upload your binary file and it will present you the option to download the file as a variety of formats. Since Typekit indicates the font as having the OpenType mime type, I downloaded it as OpenType. I’m not sure if other formats would work. I like OpenType fonts anyway.

The output will then be downloaded as a tarball which will expand into the font file. Install the font and you can start using it on the desktop.

This is great for using fonts unavailable as desktop fonts in the design phase but Typekit fonts are meant for web use and wouldn’t be optimal for print use. I wouldn’t recommend pirating Typekit fonts this way for print. Please support foundries and designers by purchasing the proper license for actual print use.

Good taste

The widely accepted notion of taste is of a sociological concept defined as a person’s personal and cultural patterns of preference. Of what looks good and what is cool. Is there an objective measure of beauty? How does taste work?

Taste or more accurately aesthetic taste is emotional. It’s the ability to discern the pleasant and the polar opposite of the emotion of disgust. Like the other senses, we perceive pleasance, beauty and goodness as sensory signals. Some of us have better equipment just like how bloodhounds with three hundred million scent receptors have better sense of smell than the average dog with only two hundred million.

We would all agree taste is subjective. I wouldn’t be able to get everyone to agree with my idea of what’s beautiful. Unlike manners, there isn’t a universally-agreed objective standard of beauty we can measure our tastes against. So agreement-seeking humans resort to ineffective workarounds like the HiPPO, design-by-committee and focus groups.

How can we blame them? It’s an evolutionary impulse that we seek agreement. Groupthink is so wired into us that it is better to lose in togetherness than to upset the pecking order or worse, risk winning.

The illusion of objectivity

To avoid disagreement, we often turn to standards. We seek objectivity. Ancient Greek philosophy had the most influence on the western sense of what’s beautiful. Plato and Aristotle both agreed there exists a divine form of aesthetics that beautiful objects partake in, in order to be beautiful.

It’s foolish because there is no such thing as a true objective beauty. Even if the whole world agrees on one standard of beauty, it is still a universal subjective.

If a man says that canary wine is agreeable he is quite content if someone else corrects his terms and reminds him to say instead: It is agreeable to me,” because “Everyone has his own (sense of) taste”. The case of “beauty” is different from mere “agreeableness” because, “If he proclaims something to be beautiful, then he requires the same liking from others; he then judges not just for himself but for everyone, and speaks of beauty as if it were a property of things. – Immanuel Kant

The only problem with Kant’s statement is the word everyone. We need to recognize that aesthetic judgement requires agreement but it doesn’t have to be a universal one. Forget about divine standards. Instead of universal agreement, we only need group compatibility.

I propose defining good taste as the perceptivity to an object’s compatibility with a group. The group is the key here. The difficulty in getting a group to agree on something is inversely correlated with size and diversity of a group. We see that it’s harder for the general population (a larger more diverse group) to like Acid Rock than for hippies (a niche group).


Taste evolves. Our tastes change as life circumstances change our health, temperament and moods. It’s evident taste is grounded in the tenets of biology. Taste is a sensory capacity. It includes the capacity to pick up stimuli signals and the range of these signals. Much like hearing.

A highly sensitive person (HSP) is a person having the innate trait of high sensory processing sensitivity (or innate sensitiveness as Carl Jung originally coined it). According to Elaine N. Aron and colleagues as well as other researchers, highly sensitive people, who compose of about a fifth of the population, may process sensory data much more deeply and thoroughly due to a biological difference in their nervous systems.

The attributes of HSPs can be remembered as DOES:

  • Depth of processing
  • Over aroused (easily compared to others)
  • Emotional reactivity and high empathy
  • Sensitivity to subtle stimuli

Empathy is the capacity to recognize emotions that are being experienced by another sentient or fictional being. Sensitivity, emotional reactivity and empathy are mutually reinforcing. Each grows the other. HSPs are known to have higher empathy. Several studies have found HSPs to have more mirror neuron activity (associated with empathy) and stronger emotional arousal than others when looking at pictures that are emotionally arousing, including happy and distressed faces.

Sensory pathways

Sensory signals enter our sense organs and pass through the limbic system before reaching the neocortex for higher processing. In HSPs the amygdala which is located in the limbic system and responsible for emotional regulation, fear response and consolidation of memory, is hyper-responsive. Sounds sound louder, lights appear brighter. HSPs generally experience their environment more intensely. This neurological basis of high sensitivity suggests some of us are genetically and physically built to better pick up and process emotions. The amygdala also underlies empathy and allows for emotional attunement and creates the pathway for emotional contagion. The basal areas including the brain stem form a tight loop of biological connectedness, re-creating in one person the physiological state of the other. Psychologist Howard Friedman thinks this is why some people can move and inspire others.

From the sense organs to the limbic system to the neocortex, the entire neural pathway is responsible for aesthetic judgement. As sensory signals reaches the neocortex, they undergo further processing and emerges into our consciousness and we then form thoughts around them. This cortical processing enriches the initial emotional response to paint more meaning into our consciousness. The brain with high capacity for emotional response is like a skilled artist. High sensitivity brings in rich signals of colors and textures for the artist to paint into feelings we experience at a more conscious level. The more skilled the brain, the more signals it has the better it paints.

Another way of looking at it is to imagine the range of stimuli one can experience like the color gamut (how big the range of colors an output device can display) of a computer display.


A more sensitive person is like a display with a higher gamut. The higher the gamut of a person, the more his gamut overlaps those of others and the more he can relate to the colors experienced by others.

Taste as aesthetic empathy

While not exactly mind-reading, empathy is the ability to feel and think what other people feel and think and relate to others. Since having good taste is very much the ability to make aesthetic judgements that others are likely to share, it’s not unreasonable to say good taste is aesthetic empathy.

Someone with good taste will most definitely be a highly sensitive person. The better the HSP’s artist mind can paint the wider and deeper his empathy will be. The capacity for emotional response is like water. Emotional experience is like dye. A spoonful of dye in a small cup of water is crowded. Pour a cup of dye in an ocean and you’ll find its molecules diffused across what feels like infinite space. Thus it feels like the ocean better understands the dye which it has completely assimilated.

My final point is being a HSP does not equate to having good taste. High sensitivity only serves as a potential. Having the colors does not mean one would paint well. Other factors, biological, psychological and intellectual play important parts as well. After all, one-fifth of the population are HSPs. It’s mad to think one of five of us have even any taste at all. I’d also like to make a bold claim that non-HSPs are unlikely to have good taste and I welcome you to challenge it.

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